Category Archives: Sermon

It’s Not About Getting Fed – Psalm 100

We all like to eat, don’t we.  I mean, just consider this great covered dish meal that we have just finished, and all these fellowship meals that we have enjoyed each Wednesday.  Many of us are looking forward to next week when we will enjoy our Thanksgiving feasts (a day that begins a season marked by a tendency to overeat as much as anything else).  Eating is a good thing, I mean, we need the nourishment to give us the energy to do the things we all need to do, right?

Yes.  Eating is a good thing.  Yes.  It gives us the energy we need to do what’s set before us.  The trouble becomes, though, when we carry the attitude about eating into every other aspect of our lives.  Suddenly the value of anything becomes what we are getting out of it, whether or not it is feeding us.  An especially troubling area where we have taken this attitude is “worship.”

Somehow, somewhere along the way, we developed the notion that worship is about us.  It’s not a recent development.  It has been around as long as I have been in the ministry…sadly, it was an attitude that I had before I entered the ministry.  What am I talking about?  I am talking about the almost innumerable times I have been told over the last twenty-two years, “I used to go to church at (fill in the blank church)” or “I used to come to worship” or “We need to change something, pastor,” “I wasn’t/I’m not getting fed.”  We’ve made worship about what we get out of it…it somehow has become about us…about our getting fed…and when we don’t get fed at one church, we either start complaining or we start church hopping.  The trouble is, my brothers and sisters, that this notion about worship is not only wrong, it is blasphemous, because it makes us the focus of worship.

We need to refocus and rethink our attitudes about worship.  In the membership class that I lead, when we talk about worship, we turn to a reflection from a 19th century Danish theologian and philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.  Kierkegaard, using the model of the theatre, proposed that too often we think of worship is that the pastor, choir, musicians are the actors, God is the off-stage director, and that the congregation is the audience.  He called for churches to rethink that understanding.  He suggested that true worship is found when we understand that those up front leading worship are the directors, the congregation are the actors, and God is the audience.[i]

The problem with making worship about getting fed…with considering ourselves, as members of the congregation, the audience…is that it is making the central focus of worship not God, but us.  The focus of worship can never be about us.

A big clue about how wrong it is to make worship about us, about getting fed, should be the pitfalls.

First, to make worship about feeding the people, the congregation, is a prescription for failure.  Why?  Because we are all picky eaters.  Let me give you some examples from what could be any church.

There is the question of traditional hymns versus contemporary Christian music…there are more churches than you could possibly imagine where that is an ongoing battle.  One group really likes traditional…the other group really likes contemporary.  Both say they are not fed by the other.

There is the order of worship.  Some like the sermon in the middle with everything from our prayers to our affirmation of faith to the offering and communion coming as a response to the Word proclaimed.  Others would rather keep the sermon at the end, where there can be an Invitation during the final song and then everyone goes home.  Each claims that the other does nothing for them in worship.

Then there is the question of screens or other visual enhancements of worship.  Some, particularly visual learners, claim that the screen illustrations or “props” in the chancel area help them more fully delve into the sermon…others claim it is a distraction.

If you want proof that feeding the congregation by trying to make everyone happy is the wrong route to go, forget all of these other things and simply be the one in charge of the worship space’s thermostat.

Another pitfall is that making worship about being fed, leads to worry and anxiety on behalf of those leading worship…because it becomes about performance.  Not only is there worry about whether or not the matriarch or the patriarch of the church will like what is being served as worship…or whether or not it will attract the younger crowd…there is simply worry about performance, whether our efforts will meet the approval of the connoisseurs of the congregation.  What if I mess up?  What if I forget what I am supposed to be doing?  What if someone laughs at me?  (All of this worry stems from a whole different sermon and that is that often we are not as gracious as our loving God.)  This is why when I talk to a group of children or anyone getting ready to help lead worship, or offer a program in worship, that they need to remember that what they are doing is not something they are doing for their parents, or grandparents, or friends, or even the congregation, whatever they are doing, they are doing it as an offering to God

It is not about what music we do or do not like.  It is not about what order of worship we do or do not use.  It is not about whether we have screens or not.  It is not about whether the preacher delivers a moving message or not.  It is not about us.  It is never about us.  It is, always has been, and always should be, about God.

True worship is about turning the entirety of ourselves over to God.  It is about gathering with our brothers and sisters and turning our attention, not toward ourselves, not toward our brothers and sisters, not even really toward those leading worship, but together turning our attention to God.

It is about, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, worshipping God in “Spirit and in Truth.”  It is about, whether we like the music or not, singing to God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, praising His Name.  It is about baring our very souls before God in prayer, offering God thanksgiving for the innumerable blessings He has poured out upon us, and, at His invitation, casting all our burdens at His feet, and leaving them there.  It is about opening up our hearts and our ears to hear the Word of God, regardless of how eloquent or how poorly the person proclaiming the message is.  True worship is about emptying ourselves in the presence of God.

And you know what, my brothers and sisters…if we do that…if we truly empty ourselves before God…offering God all that we are.  Then we will, surprisingly, find ourselves filled.  As a friend of mine from Biscuitville put it once, when we were discussing worship, “It is not about getting fed, but if we aren’t getting fed, it may be because we are holding our mouths closed.”[ii]  For you see, we all come into worship full—full of struggles, full of happiness, full of confusion, maybe just full of ourselves.  God is already here.  If we hold our mouths and minds closed, maybe because we don’t like the way things are or for some other reason, we remain full of all we brought in…leaving no room for God to pour himself into us.  However, if we open and empty ourselves—through prayer, praise, and hearing, seeking to worship God rather than get fed, emptied, we have made room for God to fill us with Himself…and we depart, fed and full.

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

[i] A Disciple’s Path, pg 56

[ii] Carolyn Kendrick

Longing For Armistice – Isaiah 11:1-9

 

As we consider the veterans that we just recognized for their willingness to lay their lives on the line to protect us and protect others around the world, it drew my mind to my own father.  It makes me think of my dad for reasons you probably wouldn’t expect.  My dad, whom some of you have met, is a retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 with more than forty two years of full time service in the Army National Guard where he served as the Heavy Mobile Equipment Leader at the CSMS.  He was one of the first trained to repair the M1 Abrams tank, and was actually on standby to go to Desert Storm to lead a team in tank repairs when that action came to an end.  Most of his service with the guard, the part that I think he enjoyed the most, was spent in disaster recovery.  However, that’s not the real reason that Veteran’s Day draws my dad to mind.  Yesterday was my dad’s birthday…he was born on Veteran’s Day—born at eleven o’clock on November 11th.  Well, technically my dad is older than Veteran’s Day.  It was his tenth birthday when it officially became Veteran’s Day.

Before it was Veteran’s Day, though, it was a still a holiday…November 11th, beginning in 1918, 99 years ago, was known as Armistice Day.  It was celebrated as the cessation of hostilities during World War I, with the armistice signed at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month.  It was established as a national holiday not just in the United States, but in many of the nation of the Allies…today it is celebrated as Veteran’s Day in the United States and Denmark, as Remembrance Day in Canada, England, Australia, South America, and many other places.  It is a day in most of the nations in which they remember those soldiers who have risked their lives, but it is also a day, from the very beginning that celebrates peace.  Sometimes the idea of peace would seem like something that runs contrary to a day in which we remember the men and women who have served in the military.  I think, though, it is our society that tends to glorify war and the killing that goes along with it—from video games to Hollywood to even songs in the popular culture, we encounter the idea that war and violence should be celebrated.

However, as I reflected over this past weekend, over conversations I have had with veterans over the last thirty years (going all the way back to the 4 ½ years I spent in Fayetteville outside of Fort Bragg), there are very few, if any who loved the idea of war.  Most desired peace…most longed for a time when there would be no more war and no more killing.  Most were marked by witnessing their fellow soldiers die in battle.  Many lived with scars at their involvement with the taking the life of another human being.  Many can’t even bring themselves to talk about what it was like to be in the midst of war, or can only do so with tears rolling down their cheeks, revealing tender hearts over a tough exterior.

I believe that most veterans, and many of our active duty personnel, long for that ultimate Armistice Day.  It feels like we live in the midst of the warning that Jesus gave about the end of the age: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”[i]

Birth pangs…if wars and rumors of wars are, as Jesus says, are the birth pangs of the end of the age, creation has been in labor for centuries.  And I think we are ready for Creation to give birth to Isaiah’s Armistice Declaration:

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. “[ii]

I believe we all long for that day when there will no longer be wars or rumors of wars…that day when, throughout all of Creation, those who had once been enemies will come together…they will rest together…they will eat together…they will no longer be a need for any sort of weapons…that day of Armistice when we will “beat our swords (and guns) into plowshares, and our spears (and missiles) into pruning hooks;” that day when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”[iii]

I believe, my brothers and sisters, that is what our hearts have to long for and that is what our efforts have to work towards…that day when every veteran and ever active duty and reserve duty service person can lay down their weapons forever, knowing they will never have to take them up again.

When will that day happen?  That day will happen when we all surrender our lives to no other agenda that that of the Prince of Peace; that day when we all align our wills with the will of our Savior.  True Armistice will happen when we surrender ourselves to the One who gave up His life, “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.”[iv]  That day of celebration, of partying on the streets, will happen when the world realizes that evil took its best shot and lost.  It will happen when we realize that evil has been defeated and it is time for peace.  Will all the world stop fighting at once?  Probably not, but as we began our worship today, “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with [us.]”

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

[i] Matthew 24:6-8

[ii] Isaiah 11:1-9

[iii] Isaiah 2:4

[iv] Ephesians 2:14

Ready? Philippians 1:20-24; John 11:25-26

 

This past Sunday has turned a former humorous sermon illustration into a worship nightmare.  The sermon illustration went something like this: a gunslinger walked into a worship service and pulled out his six-shooter and said, “Anyone not prepared to meet God today needs to leave.”  With that declaration, about half the congregation left.  The gunslinger then sat down and declared to the pastor that he could continue on since only the faithful remained.  The humor in that is gone and the image is all too real now in light of Sunday’s massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas where more than than 26 of our brothers and sisters in Christ went went from praising the Name of Jesus to finding themselves fully embraced in His arms.

And while that happened over 1,300 miles away from here, it still touches our lives.  The loss of life breaks our hearts.  The reality of evil stirs emotions from within us.  It calls for a response from us.  The question is, my brothers and sisters, how will we respond?  How will the loss of all those lives affect us?

We could choose to let it cause us to become fearful.  There are some who see, hear, or read of the shooting in church and their first instinct is that it is not even safe to go to church; thoughts of abandoning gathering with others for worship crosses their minds.  Then, if they decide to come to church, the creek of every board, the opening of every door, causes them to cringe and slowly turn their heads in fear to investigate the sound.

The thing is, my friends, in a sense, we are spoiled.  We are used to driving our cars and trucks or walking to church and being able to openly worship God without any thought of danger.  However, for many of our brothers and sisters, maybe even a majority of our brothers and sisters outside of this country, the threat of torture and death for worshipping Christ is real each and every week.  They gather with others for hours worshipping and praising God understanding that at any moment their government or others might break into their service and kill every one of them…or arrest them, torture them and/or sentence them to death.  Yet they gather for worship regardless of the danger.  The same was true for many of our brothers and sisters in the early church under the rule of the Roman Empire when Nero, Domitian, and others were in charge.  Worshipping Christ ran the risk of being nailed to a cross, being burned as a streetlight, or being food for lions.  Yet those early Christians kept on worshipping… otherwise we would not be worshipping tonight.  So not coming to worship…well, that’s not a faithful option.  Christ calls us together…and if we stop, “as is the habit of some,”[i] then we ignore the Word of God, and evil wins.

I’ve encountered other fearful responses as well.  I’ve read stories and heard of brothers and sisters deciding that they needed to post armed guards or patrols outside of their churches during worship or insure that members who have carry permits come packing.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am not making this a sermon about gun control.  We live in a nation where it is the constitutional right for a person who chooses to, to have a gun.  Those who enjoy deer, duck, rabbit, or wild turkey, especially this time of year, need them on hand.  Yet the thought of armed worship, something about that doesn’t sit right as we worship the One who told Peter to put away his sword…something about it doesn’t feel invitational to those who are not already part of the congregation.

I’m not suggesting we stick our head in the sand and can pretend like nothing happened.  Something did happen.  26 of our brothers and sisters were killed…another 20 were wounded…and another lost soul that Christ died for did it.  There are simple, practical safety issues that we and other churches can take to minimize surprises, though there is no 100% plan, even the armed guard or weaponized congregation plan, that is a guarantee that nothing like that could ever happen here.

However, there is a sure fire preparation that every one of us need to make.  It is the only definite guaranteed preparation.  The biggest part of this preparation is confessional.  It is confessing that we are really not afraid of a gunman…we’re really not afraid of a terrorist.  What we are really afraid of, is dying.  We don’t want to die.  We don’t want those we love to die.  Why?  Because we’re not ready…we’re afraid they’re not ready.  Am I suggesting that we should all want to die or want our loved ones to die?  By no means…God didn’t give us our lives in order that we might wish them away.  They are a precious gift to be cherished and to be used…to be lived…to be lived in faith, not in fear.

So how are we to view them, then?  We are to find ourselves having the same struggle that Paul himself had as he wrote the church in Philippi:

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.[ii]

What is Paul saying?  Paul is openly declaring that he is good either way.  Living or dying, to him both are a blessing…living is Christ, dying is gain.  Paul says, “if I get to live, then I get to serve Christ each and every day, there is no more blessed way of living that to live for Christ.  Dying, on the other hand, if I die, I get to find myself resting in the very arms of my Savior, and it can’t get any better than that…Living for Jesus or resting with Jesus.”  Paul says, “I’d rather be resting with Jesus, but I know that there is work for me to continue to do here because others are not ready…others are not at the point of being ready to rest with Jesus…so I am glad to remain.”

Our best preparation for an event like Texas is getting to the point that Paul found himself…realizing that he is good either way.  It is asking God to strengthen us, to prepare us, in the same way that we pray within our service of death and resurrection…perhaps praying it so many times over the last twenty-two years is what has brought me to the point of being like Paul.  In the service, contained within one of the prayers, is this petition:

“Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.  And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.”[iii]

How do we get there?  How do we get to the point of being ready?  It is simply trusting Jesus…it is getting what Mary and Martha had such a hard time understanding outside the tomb of their loved one, Lazarus.  It is hearing the Word of God and acting on it by trusting Jesus when He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”[iv]  Jesus asks, “Do you believe this?”

If we do, if we truly do, then no matter what happens, here or anywhere, we are ready!

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

[i] Hebrews 10:25

[ii] Philippians 1:20-24

[iii] The United Methodist Book of Worship, Services of Death and Resurrection, pg 142

[iv] John 11:25-26

Searching For Saints Mark 12:28-34

 

 

Today, we observe All Saint’s Sunday.  A lot of times when we think of saints, our minds may go to the Catholic Church and their many saints…they seem to have a patron saint for everything.  For instance, one we are familiar with is Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers (and for the stock car race this afternoon, he is also the patron saint of automobile drivers).  There are Saint Barbara, the patron saint of storms.  Fishermen get double coverage with Saint Peter and Saint Andrew.  Brendan the Navigator is the patron saint of boatmen and mariners, along with whales and dolphins.  Other animals have their own saints, Gertrude of Nevilles is the patron saint of cats and Vitus is the patron saint of dogs.  For teachers, there is Saint Catherine of Alexandria; for salesmen and saleswomen, there is Saint Lucy of Syracuse; and for accountants there is St Matthew the Apostle.  If you have a job, there is mostly likely a “saint” of that occupation.  For those, however who are looking for employment, there is Saint Cajatan who is the patron saint of the unemployed and of job seekers.  Saint Gratus of Aosta is there for those afraid of insects and I’m not sure if this is for the parents or the youth, but Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is the patron saint of teens.  In 1999, St. Isidore of Seville became the Patron Saint of the Internet.  One of the newest saints, just canonized mid-October, was St. Manuel, patron saint of educators and scientists.

Yet, you know, we Protestants don’t really recognize the whole multitude of saints and venerate them the same way our Catholic brothers and sisters do.  And it really isn’t the Catholic Church that makes a person a saint.  So what does makes a person a saint?

Let me begin by offering to you what doesn’t make a person a saint:

There were two brothers, corrupt and evil in their ways.  They were rich and used their money to keep their ways from the public eye.  They even attended the same church and looked to be perfect Christians. 

Then, their pastor retired and a new one was hired.  Not only could he see right through the brothers’ deception, but the Holy Spirit definitely flowed through him, and the church started to swell in numbers.  A fund-raising campaign was started to build a new sanctuary.

All of a sudden, one of the brothers died.  The remaining brother sought out the new pastor the day before the funeral and handed him a check for the amount needed to finish paying for the new building.

“I have only one condition,” he said.  “At his funeral, you must say my brother was a saint.”  The pastor gave his word and deposited the check.

The next day at the funeral, the pastor did not hold back.  “He was an evil man,” he said.  “He cheated in business and abused his family.”  After going on in this vein for a small time, he concluded with: “But, compared to his brother, he was a saint.”

You cannot buy someone sainthood…however, I think in today’s Scripture passage, Mark gives us a clue as to what a saint looks like…

Jesus and the Sadducees were arguing about the resurrection (they did not believe there would be a resurrection, yet they tried to trap Jesus by asking him whose wife a woman that was married multiple times would be when she got to heaven).  Noticing the debate, and possibly trying to catch Jesus off-guard, one of the scribes comes up and asks Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?”

Without missing a beat, Jesus responded: “The first is, “Hear O Isreal, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as your self.  There is no other commandment greater than these.”

When the scribe, probably awestruck, acknowledged Christ as giving the right answer and said that this love of God and neighbor was more important than any burnt offering, Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

 

Where is Jesus talking about a saint in that passage?  Well, he does not actually say, “this is the definition of a saint” or “this is what a saint looks like,” but I would offer to you that he paints us a picture of a saint.  A saint would be those who follow the commandments of God, meaning that a saint would be one who loved God with all her or his heart, soul, mind, and strength and loved their neighbor as their self. 

What it mean to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength?  What it means is that our love for God is to be a total commitment.  It means that we are called by the Word, by Christ, to love God completely.  Our love for God is to be a total commitment of our whole lives.  It means we cannot claim love of God on Sunday morning and be either Saturday night “sinners” or Monday morning “slave-drivers.”  It means we cannot claim to love God with our thinking, but continue living any way we please, or seek to live God’s will in one area while disregarding another—we cannot say, “God, you can have my have my money but do not tell me how to run my business” or “God, I will give up my gambling and drugs for you, but leave my sexual activities alone.”  God wants it all…loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength means that we are seeking to love God with our whole lives…every aspect of our lives…all the time…24 hours a day…seven days a week…365 days a year….

Jesus says the second is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But who is our neighbor?  Mark does not go into that here…but when Luke records a version of this conversation, someone asks Jesus, “who is my neighbor” and Jesus responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan[i]…suggesting that anyone that we come in contact with, anyone that our lives touch in any way…that is our neighbor.  Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, to love everyone we come in contact with, to love everyone our lives touch, just as we love ourselves.  This does not mean that if we hate ourselves we can hate other people.  It is the premise for the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  You are to love everyone, treat everyone, just as you would want to be loved or treated.  To love our neighbor as ourselves means that we have to reach out to everyone, anyone who we interact with the love that Christ has given us, the love that we want to feel from God.  We cannot pick and choose who we love, it has to be across the board…we are called to love them regardless of their age, regardless of their gender, regardless of their income, regardless of their social standing, regardless of their education, regardless of their skin color, regardless of their background.  We are called to love them in the same way we desire to be loved.

“But preacher, Jesus said that the first commandment was to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.  Can’t we just focus on that, can’t we forget about this neighbor thing…that is even harder than loving God 24/7/365.  Let’s just do one and forget about two.”  My neighbors, it is not that easy.  We cannot claim to love God and not our neighbor…John dealt with this in one of the congregations he interacted with and wrote them: 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.”[ii]

Brothers and sisters, to be a saint, to aspire to be a saint, means loving God completely, with every aspect of our lives and loving those around us, regardless of who they might be.  I do not say all of this to suggest it is hopeless, to suggest that none of us our good enough to be “saints” (because we’re not).  I offer this because we need to know where we need to go with out lives.  And we cannot do it alone.  Sainthood is not attained by those who try to do it all by themselves.  Sainthood comes to those who look up to God and say, “My life is a mess.  I am having trouble turning my (social, business, personal) life over to you.  I am having trouble loving this person.  Help me Lord.  I want to do what is right, I want to be a saint for you.  I want to live for you in all that I do.”  And my friends, when we take that step, when we just turn to God and admit how helpless we are without him, we have begun the journey to sainthood because God will reach down from the heavens and touch our lives and give us the strength and the direction that we need if we just open ourselves up to it.  He will fill us with His Spirit to strengthen us and enable us to love as He asks us to.

Are we searching for saints?  Let us search no longer and allow God to create one anew, right now, today, in us.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[i] Luke 10:25-37

[ii] 1st John 4:20-21

Remembering The Faithful – Hebrews 11-12

 

One of my favorite apps on my phone is called Timehop.  I like it for the same reason that I like the “On this Day” section of Facebook.  What I like is that both of these comb through your history of social media posts and “check-ins” and remind you what you were doing on a given day.  For instance, this morning I was reminded that three years ago today I was watching Davey run with the Methodist University Cross Country Team at Hagan Stone Park and that nine years ago today I was playing Heroclix with Davey while waiting on the arrival of a grandbaby (that would not arrive for 21 more days). 

Remembering…the act of remembering events of the past is important to so many of us for a variety of reasons.  For some it is a passion, for others it is simply nostalgia. Some seek to remain connected to their heritage, others just have a love for history.

The act of remembering is stressed all throughout Scripture…the call to remember the faithfulness of God.  The Hebrew people have many festivals that were part of their acts of remembering—from Passover to the Festival of Booths and others.  Even part of the weekly Sabbath rest was an act of remembering.  Jesus continued the implementation of festivals for the purpose of remembering.  When he gathered for the Passover meal with His disciples, as they gathered together to celebrate and remember God’s acts of saving His people from slavery in Egypt, Jesus took bread and wine and established a new ritual…one that we will observe Sunday, and He called His disciples to continue to celebrate what we now come to call The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, celebrating God’s faithfulness in saving His people from sin and death.

However, tonight’s reading stresses a different kind of remembering.  It is not about remembering the faithfulness of God.  It is a call to remember the faithfulness of God’s people…and rather than simply scanning back the social media posts of the previous decade (not that the people of Scripture had the opportunity to make social media posts—if folks remember dial-up internet connections, think of how long it would’ve taken to post something via stone tablet, papyrus, or carrier pigeon).  The author of Hebrews scanned back thousands of years to nearly the origins of humanity to consider the faithfulness of Abel all the way to Jesus.

In a book that begins by focusing on the surpassing greatness of Christ, why the sudden shift from Scriptural focus of the faithfulness of God to focusing on the faithfulness of God’s people?  It is often thought that this book was written to the the early Jewish Christians.  This group had likely faced persecution after persecution…from both the Roman Empire as well as from their Jewish brothers and sisters who had not come to see Christ as their Messiah.  In light of this persecution, the author of the book turns to the “faithful” of history to give them courage to hold on.

Remember Abel and his acceptable sacrifice…

Remember Enoch who walked and talked with God…

Remember Noah and his willingness to build the ark…despite the fact no one had ever seen it rain.

Remember Abraham and his willingness to head sight unseen to a land God would show him…and his willingness to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice…

Remember Isaac…remember Jacob…

Remember Joseph remaining faithful to God despite being betrayed time and again…

Remember Moses…his mother’s faithfulness and his own faithfulness to stand up to the pharaoh…and his faithfulness to God directions of celebrating the first Passover…

Remember Rahab who faith in God came from someone that was not even part of the Hebrew community…

Remember Gideon…

Remember Barak…

Remember Sampson…

Remember Jephthah…

Remember David…

Remember Samuel…

Remember the prophets…

Each of these enduring persecution, from lions to fires to armies to torture to flogging to imprisonment to mocking…to being stoned to death, cut in half, slain by the sword…

They are to be your examples of faithfulness…but even beyond them, the author says, remember the pioneer and perfecter of faithfulness…remember Christ.  Jesus, He is the one who shows us true and complete faithfulness…Christ, who suffered to leave Hi throne in heaven and enter this world as a tiny infant; Christ, who willingly endured rejection by the religious self-righteous, by image conscious friends, by zealous friends; Christ, who willingly allowed himself to be arrested, mocked, flogged, and then nailed to a cross…and yet not once did His faith waver…

Consider each of these, but most importantly Christ, as you struggle and wrestle…and strive through the strength of God’s Spirit residing in you as it did in them, to remain faithful.

Remember…Remember…Remember the faithful and take heart, have courage, hold on…

With Christ as the perfect example of faithfulness, many since have striven to be faithful.  Today is the day to remember them.  Today is All Saint’s Day.  Today is the day to remember and honor those who have gone before us and remained faithful.  Today is a day to celebrate their faithfulness to God despite difficulties, despite challenges, despite adversity.  Each of us has someone in our lives who has been part of this great cloud of witnesses to the faith…those who’s faithfulness to God has played and impacting role in our own.  They may be a family member, they may be a friend, they may be a mentor, they may be a colleague.  Many may have entered into the rest of Christ’s loving embrace.  Others may still be active in our lives.  Tonight, is an opportunity to remember them…to give thanks to God and celebrate their faithfulness.

Tonight, I invite you to come forward as Davey gently plays and light a candle in memory of a saint that has gone before us or in honor of a saint among us.  You may light it in silence and return to your seat.  You may light it and name the person.  You may light it and share witness of their name and the impact they had upon your life.  When all have had an opportunity to come forward, we will offer a prayer and then stand as Davey leads us in our closing hymn…

 

A Dozen Doughnuts – James 1:17-18

 

 

Setting:  Person sitting at a table, doing some work, having a cup of coffee.

Enter:  Another person carrying a box of donuts.  Walks up to the table and sets the box of donuts on the table and gently pushes them over to the person at the table.  Person at the table slowly looks up.

Lee:  What is this?

Dale:  Donuts.

Lee:  Okay?

Dale:  Go ahead.

Lee skeptically lifts the lid and looks at the donuts.

Lee:  I can have one?

Dale:  You can have them all.

Lee:  These are for me?

Dale:  Yeah.

Lee:  Really?

Dale:  Yeah.

Lee:  Why?

Dale:  I don’t know.  You just looked hungry.

Lee takes out a donut and takes a bite.

Lee:  That is a good donut.

Lee takes another couple of bites.

Dale:  Well, I’ve got to hit the road.  Do you mind if I just take one for the road?

Lee kind of looks thoughtfully at the box and at the guy.

Lee:  Aaahhmm.

Dale:  Just one.

Lee:  Well, I am really hungry, and I missed breakfast this morning.

Lee takes another bite of donut.

Lee:  Probably going to miss lunch too.  And I was going to take this home to my wife and kids.

Lee pulls the box of donuts closer in, kind of protectively hovering over them.

Lee:  Really, to be honest, they have to last me the whole week.

Lee finishes off first donut…then opens up the box, looks around, takes out another donut, and takes a bite.

What is this?  Donuts!

Some of you may have some questions after this skit.  What does it have to do with worship today?  Or simply, can I have a donut?

The answer to those questions is: Everything, Everything, and there’s too many of us to divide the other ten donuts, even if we could pry them away from Lee.

Take a moment to stop and think about this skit for a few minutes.

Did the person at the table ask anyone for donuts?  No.

Did he order the donuts?  No.

Did he even expect the donuts?  No.

Did he pay for the donuts?  No.

So, I guess we could call the donuts a gift, right?  Yes.

 

James says, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

“Every generous act of giving…every perfect gift, is from above…”  Everything we have, every blessing we incur, is a gift from God…a gift freely given to us.  God gave us the gift of this world, the gift of life, the gift of love, the gift of salvation.  Our abilities and talents…our jobs…our income…our homes…our families…all come as a gift from God.  There is nothing that we can truly say we earned or deserved.  It is all a gift, and none of it truly belongs to us.  God gives them to us for our pleasure, our enjoyment, our sustenance…like the guy giving donuts to the person at the table…just because he thought the other might be hungry and might enjoy a doughnut.

Knowing this, what do we do with what God has given us?  Do we forget that it was freely given to us and try to take complete ownership of it?  When the one who gives it to us, asks for a portion of it back, what do we do?  When we consider the contributions needed to do the work of God in our community, what is our response?  Are we like the guy who received the box of doughnuts?  Do we have all these excuses as to why we can’t give to God?

Do we tell God that, although you’ve blessed me in this way I really need to keep all of what you’ve given me because we didn’t have a chance to eat breakfast and probably will miss the lunch?  Do we try and convince God that we can’t give today because we disregarded his earlier blessings and we might ignore the later ones?

Do we tell God that although you’ve blessed me in this way, I really need to keep all of what you’ve given me to take care of my wife and kids?  Do we tell God, you’ve taken care of me, but you might not take care of my family, so I need to hold on to it?

Do we tell God that although you’ve blessed me in this way, I really need to keep all of what you’ve given me, because it has to last me all week?  Do we hold on to what God has given us because we’re afraid that He won’t bless us tomorrow?

The truth of the matter is, my brothers and sisters, that if we would use any of those doughnut excuses to not give to God out of what He has given to us, then there’s a hole in our reasoning.  Either we don’t give because we truly believe those excuses and we don’t trust God, or we don’t give because we are truly selfish and don’t think of anyone but ourselves.

When we realize that all that we have and all that we are all comes from God, then we can trust that just as He has blessed us and met our needs, as in providing food for those when they are hungry, then we can freely return to Him what is rightfully His, trusting that God will continue to provide for us.  When we realize that what we have does not truly belong to us, but actually belongs to God, then we can drop the selfishness, because there is nothing to be selfish over.

If all that we have is from God, and He has given it to us, why should we have to give it back to Him?  God asks us to return to him a portion of what He has given us for a multitude of reasons…

1) It is an act of obedience…God tells us to give back to him a portion of what He has given us…and so simply because He is God and we are not, we should do what he asks.

2)  It is an act of trusting in God…God gives us what we need, and if we give it back, it is a sign that we trust Him to continue to provide for us.

3)  It is an act of gratitude…we return to God a portion of what He has given us to show us how thankful we are for the abundance He has placed in our lives.

And while there are many more, the final one I mention for us to consider this morning, comes from our reading this morning, is that we give out of our blessings from God, so that we may be a blessing to others.

“Where does it say that?” you may ask.  James writes, “In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.   What does this mean?

What is God’s purpose?  We see that in Christ, God’s purpose is to love, to redeem, to save.

God gave us new birth by the word of truth…the word of truth is Christ, Himself…the Word become flesh.  God has given us new life through Christ so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

“First fruits” are the Hebrew Scripture language of giving and offering to God.  God’s Law required that the “first fruits” were to be brought to God as an offering.  It meant that God’s people were to offer their first and best to God…the first fruits were the first born of the children (particularly the sons), they were the first of the crops harvested, they were the first of the livestock given birth to…the “first fruits” were the best of the best…and were given to God first, before provision for oneself.  “First fruits” were seen as a blessing…and as we move into the New Testament, we see that idea continued as Christ is referred to repeatedly as the “first fruit,” that which God has offered forward for the salvation of the world.

So when James says that God intends us to be “a kind of first fruits of his creatures,” God is saying that we are meant to be the best of creation…we are to be a blessing…we are to be part of the salvation process for the world.  God gives us every perfect gift that we may be a gift offering to the world…we’re blessed to be a blessing.

It is through our giving that God feeds the hungry…it is through our giving that God gives drink to the thirsty…it is through our giving that God gives shelter to the homeless…it is through our giving that God clothes the naked…it is through our giving that God heals the sick…it is through our giving that God spreads the Good News of Salvation through the world…it is through our giving of what God has given us that we become the first fruits of all His creatures…and when we do that, like the perfect shape of a donut, we complete the circle of blessing.

And to be clear, what we are giving back to God is not just our finances.  As I mentioned earlier, everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God.  Our finances are a gift…but so is our time…every moment, ever second we have, is a gift from God.  What we are able to do, our talents, our abilities, our skills, they come as a gift from God.

When we consider what we are giving to God—it is about offering back to God what is in our wallets; it is about offering back to God the hours he has given in our watches and the days he has given us on our calendars; it is about offering back to God the gifts, talents, and abilities he has bestowed upon us, returning them in service to Him.  And it is not an either/or decision—it is not about placing a whole lot in the collection plate so we don’t have to worry about offering our time and talents in hands on service.  It is not about serving in order that we don’t have to put anything in as the ushers come by.  It is about returning to God every aspect of blessing that He has bestowed upon us.

In the coming weeks, we will each have the opportunity to make commitments to return to God what He has blessed us with.

We will each receive in the mail an estimate of giving card.  This card asks for us to prayerful consider making a financial commitment to this congregation to further and strengthen its ministries here, across the Island, and throughout the world.  It will also ask for a commitment to be in prayer for our congregation.  We ask that individuals and their families prayer over these commitments and bring them back on November 19th to be prayed over by the entire congregation.

There will also be opportunities to offer back to God our time and our gifts.  In the next few weeks, there will be sign-ups posted by my office.  They will present an opportunity for our young folks to commit to times of service as an acolyte, and for our youth and adults to commit to serving as a liturgist, reading Scripture and assisting in worship.  There will also be an opportunity for folks to sign-up to assist with serving Holy Communion.  If I’m not mistaken, Brother Lee will soon present an opportunity for individuals, families, or groups to sign-up to offer the gift of our fellowship breakfasts for the coming year.

Each of these commitments are to be prayerfully made and kept by the power and presence of the God who continues to bless us each and every day…the God who readily said, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the widows of heaven for you and pour down for you and overflow blessing.”[i]

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

[i] Malachi 3:10

In The End We Are All Anakin – 1st John 1:5-10 (Wednesday Night Reflection)

 

By now, many of you know that we are Star Wars fans.  I have to admit, that while I watched all the original Star Wars movies when they were released, I waited a long time to watch Episodes I-III.  Yet it wasn’t until Joshua took an interest in Star Wars that we truly became hooked—and it wasn’t until I watched the two trilogies together than I began to realize that my thoughts on Star Wars had been all wrong.  I always thought Star Wars was about Luke Skywalker.  If you think it is, then I’m here to tell you that it is not…at least Episodes I-VI are not.

Last year Joshua declared that his favorite person in Star Wars was Darth Vader.  Last October that is who Joshua decided he was going to dress up as.  That bothered me.  Part of the reason it bothered me was that Joshua claimed his disdain for my favorite character, Han Solo, and his ship, the Millennium Falcon.  I think of Han Solo as the brother in Jesus’ parable that says he isn’t going to help his father, and then shows up anyway and gives it all he’s got.  But that’s not the biggest reason that Joshua picking Darth Vader as his favorite bothered me.  It was because Joshua is the preacher’s grandson and Darth Vader is the personification of evil—he’s the bad guy.  What is the preacher’s grandson doing liking the villain of all people?  I kept trying to convince him otherwise.  What’s wrong with Luke?  What’s wrong with R2D2, C3PO, Yoda, or any of the others?  Nope…Vader remained his favorite.  Then, last November, after watching Episodes I through IV in their story timeline rather than chronological release, it hit me.  Star Wars is not about Luke Skywalker.  It is not about the galaxy.  Star Wars is about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, who eventually becomes known as Darth Vader.  With that knowledge, when Joshua said that this year he wanted to be Anakin, I didn’t try to talk him out of it, I actually went in search of an Anakin Skywalker costume.

It’s funny.  The more I thought about Joshua being Anakin Skywalker and thought about those first six movies, and with the anticipation of the next installment of the series in December, I decided that I wanted to find an opportunity to preach a Star Wars message.  And when Joshua’s costume came in and he put it on, it hit me, when it comes down to it, we are all Anakin Skywalker.

We may like to think we’re more like Luke, a humble unprepared servant thrust unexpectedly into service, and we go, struggling to do the right thing.  We may think of ourselves as Han Solo, a care-free spirit with a tender heart hidden by a tough exterior.  Some of us, particularly the lady folks, may consider ourselves Princess Leia, an adventurous royal tomboy.  Those who are carriers of age-old wisdom or who are vertically challenged may see themselves as Yoda.  However there are very few of us who would jump up and say, “I identify with Darth Vader.  Yet the truth of the matter is, most of us, truly all of us, are Darth Vader, or at least are Anakin Skywalker.

You see, Anakin was a young man who felt torn between the light side of the force and the dark side…and we see this battle raging within him through the second, third, and sixth episodes.  The dark side pulling at him, encouraging him to give in to the pull of anger, desires for vengeance, and the craving of power—all the while trying to make it look like the right thing to do; the light side pulling him to choose to do what is right, to choose loyalty, honor, and the preservation of life.  Anakin succumbs to the pull of the dark side and its lies, and becomes Darth Vader…choosing to live in darkness.

My brothers and sisters, that is the pull that each of us faces.  That is the pull that has tugged on the hearts and minds of humanity since the Garden of Eden.  The serpent could be seen as an agent of the dark side, spinning its lies of wisdom and knowledge, pulling on our craving to be our own gods, and in doing so, lured Adam and Eve to choose sin over holiness.  Scripture is filled with stories of God’s people struggling with the decision between the dark side and the light side…between sin and holiness.

Moses succumbed to that pull when he let anger take control and he struck the rock that God had commanded him to speak to in order to bring forth water.

David succumbed to that pull when he had Bathsheba brought to his palace.

Jonah succumbed to that pull when, after Nineveh fell, he went out of the city and pouted, because he had wanted to see his enemy destroyed.

Judas Iscariot succumbed to that pull, when he chose to betray his friend for thirty pieces of silver, possibly in an attempt to push Jesus to be the warrior-king that he felt Jesus should be.

We all face that pull…we all have darkness spinning it’s lies of power and prestige seeking to lure us to the dark side…all the while hearing God’s call to holiness and righteousness.

Paul offers images of choosing between living by the flesh or by the spirit…or, as in today’s reading, choosing between living under the power, or rule, of darkness or choosing to live as citizens of the Kingdom of light.

The Gospel of John offers us the image of Jesus as the Light of True Lights that has come into the dark world to offer a better way, a better choice—and yet, as the Gospel of John tells us, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.”[i]

Sadly, like Anakin, like Adam and Eve, like Moses, like David, like Jonah and Judas, we all give in to the pull of the dark side, we all give in to the pull of sin.  If we arrogantly think we do not, then we lie to ourselves, we lie to others, and we lie to God.  Paul reminds the Romans and reminds us, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”[ii]

And John says:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

We all have sinned.  If we claim that we are holy and have not sinned, John says that makes us liars…and according to Scripture, lying lips are an abomination to God.  So in saying we have not sinned, we have created one of the most grievous of sins to God, we have lied.  Again…we have all sinned…at some point or another in our lives, maybe at some point or another today, we have chosen the darkness…we have gone to the dark side…we have chosen to be Anakin.

Yet, thanks be to God, choosing the dark side does not leave us forevermore locked into living as a member of the dark side.  As I said, Episodes I through IV are about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker.  Without giving away the key scene, let me just share that in multiple places Anakin/Vader are presented with the pull of either the dark side or the light…at any point Anakin/Vader can choose to walk out of the darkness and into the light…at any point he can redeem himself…and when it matters most, that’s exactly what he does.

God offers that same opportunity to each of us.  We have, in each and every moment of our lives, the opportunity to choose to walk out of the darkness into the light.  We cannot, like Vader, choose to redeem ourselves, but, as John’s letter tells us, the blood of Christ has already cleansed us from our sins, we have already been redeemed, we just have to choose whether we love the darkness and want to stay separated from God, as lost in our sin as Vader was to the dark side, or whether we are going to step out into the light of our Savior and surrender ourselves to the Light of the World. May we choose to grasp hold of the love of God.  May we choose to let go of the lies that evil tells us.  May we surrender our lives to the One who was tempted by the darkness in every way, just as we are, yet chose to remain in the Light; actually chose to remain The Light.  May we let the force that is the undeniable power of the Holy Spirit join us to Christ and empower us to choose to live in the Light. Maybe, just maybe, when all is said and done, maybe we all should readily seek to identify with Anakin, who is Darth Vader…better yet…may we, in our surrender to the Light, choose to identify with the Light…who is Jesus.

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

[i] John 3:19-20

[ii] Romans 3:23

Seaside With Jesus: What’s It To You? – John 21:20-23

 

Today we conclude our “Seaside with Jesus” series that we began three months ago.  We started at beginning of Jesus’ ministry understanding that with Jesus we have the breaking of the Kingdom of God into this world. Then we experienced the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John and the leaving of their lives of fishing in order to follow Jesus.  Today, along with the last couple of weeks, we conclude with Jesus once more calling Peter to leave fishing behind, and come follow Him.  (The idea of leaving the fishing behind in order to follow Jesus is interesting, given the number of boats I saw heading out or own the water as I walked to church this morning.)

Joshua really wasn’t old enough to start it until Davey had gone off to college…however, when Davey would come home the first couple of years, we would hear it.

“Joshua, it’s time to go to bed.”

“But I’m not tired.”

“That doesn’t matter, it’s late, you have school tomorrow, it’s time to go to bed.”

“But Uncle Davey’s not going to bed.  Why doesn’t he have to go to bed?  That’s not fair.”

“Joshua, Uncle Davey’s older.  It’s not time for him to go to bed.  We’re talking about you.  It’s time for you to go to bed.”

“I shouldn’t have to go to bed if he’s not going to bed.”

Is that familiar to any of y’all that have or have ever had more than one young‘un in the house?  It doesn’t have to be about going to bed…and it doesn’t have to be at home.  I bet any number of our teachers here could tell similar stories.  You ask one child to do something, and if they don’t want to do it, and the rest of the kids aren’t doing it, you get, “But Sally doesn’t have to.” or “What about Billy, doesn’t he have to go to?”

It is almost the reverse of the old conversation about “everyone else is doing it.”  You know, when a parent or teacher has to say, “Just because all the rest of the kids are jumping off the top of the bridge doesn’t mean you have to jump.”  Here, rather, the kids are saying, “If none of the rest of the kids have to jump off the top of the bridge, why are you asking me to?”

It’s that same sentiment we get in this morning’s passage from John with regards to Peter.

Remember our scene last week.  Jesus had leaned over and started a one on one conversation with Peter.  I didn’t suggest it last week, but you could almost picture Jesus leaning over to Peter and saying to Peter, let’s go for a walk.  Whether they sat right there by the campfire or went for a walk, it doesn’t matter.  The content of the conversation is what matters.  Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, three times Peter affirmed that love.  Three times Jesus told Him that evidence of that love would be seen in Peter’s actions of caring for those that Jesus would bring into Peter’s life—the sheep and lambs of God’s fold, those that Peter and the others would be grooming to become disciples as well.  As part of their conversation, Jesus gave strong hints of the death that Peter would eventually receive…a martyr’s death.

In a sense, when Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished.  But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go….” It could be heard as “Peter, remember how one time you said you would go to jail for me, and that you would even die for me, and how, when given the opportunity, out of fear, you did your own thing?  I’ve now forgiven you of that.  Now you will have the opportunity once more.  When you grow older, you are going to be arrested, you are going to be led away in chains and put in jail, and eventually, just as my arms were stretched out upon the cross, so will your arms be stretched out as you are crucified.”[i]  Church tradition, because it is not notated in Scripture anywhere, tells us that this is exactly what happened to Peter, that during the reign of Nero, Peter was crucified. Tradition also holds that, at his request, Peter was crucified upside down, not feeling that he was worthy to be crucified in the same manner as His Savior.

So Jesus tells Peter that he is going to die a martyr’s death…and Peter, while he’s getting there, he hasn’t quite reached that full maturity yet, he looks around and see’s John, the one commonly assumed to be “the disciple that Jesus loved,” and he says, “Lord, what about him?”  In other words, my friends, Peter is saying, “If I have to suffer and die like that, what about your “favorite,” will he have to?”  He doesn’t say, “If he doesn’t, that’s not fair,” but you can almost hear it behind those words.  You can almost hear Peter say, “Is this going to happen to me because I betrayed you?  What about John, I know he went all the way to the cross with you, does he get off free because of that?”  Peter doesn’t say that, but we can almost assume it, especially considering that Peter didn’t just reference any disciple, but specifically references the one with the reputation of being closest to Jesus’ heart.

Jesus’ response to Peter’s question?  Peter catches the hard tone of yet another rebuke from Jesus (remember “Get behind me, Satan” when Peter said the Messiah shouldn’t have to suffer and die, and then when Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword in the Garden after Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant when they came to arrest Jesus).  Jesus says, “If I want him to hang around until I return, what’s that to you?  Follow me!”  Jesus is saying, “It doesn’t matter what is going to happen to John.  We’re not talking about John, we’re talking about you.  Don’t worry about John…that’s between John and myself.  We’re talking about you.  Don’t worry about anyone else…worry about your response to me.  Now come, follow me!”

My brothers and sisters, Jesus speaks those same words to us, “If it’s my will that Jan remain until I come back…. If I want Houston to hang around until the trumpet sounds…what’s that to you…I’ve got something for you to do, and that’s what I need you to focus in on…follow me!”

Jan and Houston may be saying, “wait a minute preacher, don’t be putting that on us.”  Everyone else here may be saying, “wait a minute preacher, Jesus and I have not had those conversations.  I’ve not asked Jesus about what is going to happen to someone else.”  The thing is, my friends, often we do, without even realizing it—as individuals and as a congregation.

When do we do that?  Here’s some possibilities.

The annual stewardship campaign is coming up.  Prayerfully you and God have a conversation about your commitment for the coming year.  God begins weighing on your heart that He wants you to consider increasing your giving.  Yet, you begin looking around…maybe looking at your neighbors and saying, “God, what about my neighbor over there?  He’s got a new boat, and I haven’t even been able to get my old boat in the water to go after those speckled trout.”  Or maybe it is the Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes, we’ve already fixed what we were planning to, and we fill God urging us to do a couple more, and we say to God, “what about John, I’ve already done a dozen and he said he wasn’t doing any.”  Maybe it is a mission opportunity presented before us that would call us to give up something else we had planned or wanted to do, but when we don’t see someone else committing to going, we say, “well, if they’re not going, I’m not either.”

We do it as a church at times.  It happens when a possibility for ministry comes up in our community and rather than take an initiative we decide we want to wait and see what other church’s in our community are going to do.  It happens when we start comparing our worship, our ministries, our efforts to other congregations and begin thinking, “well, if the Baptist’s are not doing this” or “the Holiness church has pulled out of this” or “the Pentecostals would never be involved in supporting this…” so why should we. 

Now, I’m not talking about anything specific, whether as individuals or churches, so don’t try to figure out who I’m really talking about or what situation or ministry I’m talking about.  I’ve only been here four months…I don’t know those kind of specifics and wouldn’t call out an individual specifically in worship anyways…but I know personally, in years gone by, God and I have had some of those conversations…and I have yet, in almost twenty-two years, served in a community where at least once, a ministry conversation centered on what other churches might be doing.

To each of those responses, Jesus would say to us, “What’s it to you what I’ve got planned for them…what’s it to you what they’re doing…this isn’t about them…this is about you…this is about what I am asking you to do.  Don’t worry about them…worry about following me.”  My brothers and sisters…if Jesus tells us to do something, in whatever way he is asking us to reveal the presence of His Kingdom, here and now…we don’t need to take time to worry about what Jesus is asking someone else to do, or whether or not someone else is going to do what Jesus is asking us to do.  Because we are not called to follow our neighbors, we are not called to follow our friends, we are not called to follow our family; we are called to be faithful, we are called to follow Him!

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

[i] https://www.biblesprout.com/articles/bible/apostle-peter-die/ and other sites

Lost and Found – Luke 19:10

 

You know…I had originally considered a different message for tonight.  However, sometimes there are things that are just so big, you cannot go without addressing them.  Sometimes, you just have to talk about the elephant in the room, or in this case, the maze in the yard.

This maze was the talk of the town as it was going up.  Everybody wanted to know what those crazy Methodists were doing.  I liked how Brenda compared it in the children’s message to the story of Noah building the ark—because some of the looks we got as folks drove by were probably not a lot unlike the stares of Noah’s neighbors.

That first night the posts were up, before the walls went up, we brought Joshua to walk it, as part of his Seafood Festival substitute.  At first he was disappointed, but then, as he followed the lines on the ground, he became very determined, going back out and starting over every time he ran into a dead end.

The real trouble began, though, once those walls started going up.  Friday night and Saturday morning as we were putting up the lights and the decorations, it was nothing from someone to get into the maze and get so turned around, they could not get out.  They needed the help of either folks who had walked the maze several times and had the route down pat in their memory, or directions from one of us who were up on the ladder and could tell them each left and right turn from our perspective.

Once all the work was done, and the evening settled in, it was time for fun.  It was time to watch others enter the maze that had, at times, left our sense of direction all turned around.  We watched folks going in, some excited, some with a little fear and trembling, others reluctantly drug along by family or friends.  At one point I decided to follow folks in and watch.  I would watch as folks would make wrong turns…either because they simply made the wrong turn, because they followed someone else who was just as lost, or because they followed the directions on some very misleading signs.  Along the way, more often than not, a dead end would come with a scary moment…though some held out the hope of angels.  Some would calmly wander their way through…others would become panicky as they felt like they were trapped in an endless maze with no way out.  Eventually a few would stumble upon the exit…others would learn to turn the opposite direction that signs suggested…and still others would depend upon the mercy of someone who knew the way out to help them find their way.

The truth of the matter is, my brothers and sisters, that maze out there is a significant allegory for life itself.  We enter each day unaware of the twists and turns that we will encounter…our entire life, for that matter, is a constant maze of unknown twists and turns as we work out way to the exit.

Sometimes, we think we have a great idea of how our lives are going to be laid out.  We think we know the friends we will have, we have our school plans, we know what our careers or vocations will be, we plan out dating, engagements, marriage, and children.   And yet, it all it takes, whether it is for a single day or our entire lives, we make one wrong turn, and everything goes sideways.  Sometimes, things just happen, illnesses, injuries, natural disasters, and other unavoidable situations that are simply the result of living in a fallen, broken world.   Sometimes, we are forced down a wrong turn as a result of someone else’s decisions and actions affecting us.  However, there are other times, actually many times, the wrong turn is a result of our own choices.  We make a poor decision or we fall in with, or follow the wrong crowd, and they lead us the wrong way, often because they are just as lost as we are.  When this happens, we and we try to get back on track with our plans, we run into dead ends, we encounter consequences that scare us, we may even find ourselves aimlessly wandering around with no sense of direction…

When this happens, we need to find someone full of mercy and grace that will help us…that will reorient us…that will offer us direction…that will set us free from the maze we find ourselves trapped in.

In other words, we need a Savior.

The good news is, there is one available.

His name is Jesus.  He is the once who came, to seek and save the loss.

Like those who stood on ladders over the maze offering instructions to those decorating, Jesus comes to us from an eternal perspective.  He is able to see the whole of the maze we find ourselves lost in and offer us direction through prayer, through His Word, through those that He places in our life.  Sometimes those directions will make perfect sense…other times they will not, we are simply called to trust Him, because He sees it from a greater perspective than we have.

We can not only trust Christ because He sees things from the eternal perspective, we can trust Him because He sees it from our perspective.  He has walked through the maze we know as life.  He has experienced all the twists and turns…and yet He is the only One who has navigated the maze without making a wrong turn…and the only dead end He encountered was broken down when the stone was rolled away and the tomb was found empty—for through Him, a maze that had no real exit, suddenly had an exit…through His death and resurrection, freedom from the maze, freedom from endless circling, freedom from dying in the maze, was suddenly possible…for through the cross and the empty tomb…we now can exit the maze alive!

Thanks be to God!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Fed to Feed – John 21:15-19

 

Joe Garagiola, former major league baseball star and TV personality, tells about a time when Stan Musial came to the plate in a critical game. As a super hitter, Musial was at the peak of his career. The opposing pitcher in the game was young and nervous. Garagiola, as the catcher, called for a fastball and the pitcher shook his head; Joe signaled for a curve and again the pitcher shook him off. He then asked for one of the pitcher’s specialties and still the pitcher hesitated. So Joe went out to the mound for a conference. He said, “I’ve called for every pitch in the book; what do you want to throw?”
“Nothing,” was the pitcher’s shaky reply. “I just want to hold on to the ball as long as I can.”
Last Sunday we considered the need to fish where Jesus says fish—the importance of going into all the world, regardless of whether we have been successful in the past, regardless of the dark places we may have to go, regardless of whether the means make any sense to us—to make disciples of all people, to share with them the love of Jesus Christ and bring them into the fellowship of our family.
We pick up where last Sunday left off. Remember the Scripture from last week. Discouraged, Peter and some of the other disciples had decided to go out fishing. They had cast our their nets all night fishing. They had caught nothing. They were packing it in when a man, who was Jesus, told them to cast the nets out the other side. The caught 153 fish in their nets, so many they couldn’t get the net back in the boat and had to just drag it ashore. They set up a fire and cooked the fish and Jesus and the disciples sat around the fire and ate fish for breakfast.
Now we pick up with our reading this morning. Peter, Jesus, and the disciples have finished eating breakfast. Jesus look over at Peter and says, “Peter, I need to talk to you.”
Imagine Peter’s thoughts. Remember, we discussed last week that Jesus had never confronted Jesus on Peter’s denial. Peter is probably thinking, “Okay. Here it is. He’s going to tell me that it is time for us to part ways, that I am no longer worthy to be a disciple.”
Instead, Jesus leans over to Peter and says, “Peter, do you love me more than these?”
I have heard other pastors suggest that the “these” Jesus is comparing Peter’s love with is whether or not Peter loved Jesus more than he loved the fish that were remaining after breakfast. If that is the case, Jesus could have been asking “Peter, do you love me more than the contentment you feel from a satisfying meal; do you love me more than nourishment itself? Would you be willing to risk being in situations where you wouldn’t get to eat a meal like this for my sake?”
Another possibility might be, in addition to simply eating, if we remember that Peter is a fisherman, Jesus could have been saying, “Peter, do you love me more than you career; do you love me more than job security and guaranteed income?”
Other scholars suggests that Jesus was asking Peter if Peter loved him more than the other disciples loved him. We may want to say that Jesus would never ask a question like that, but we have to remember that Peter constantly set himself out apart form the rest of the disciples. We have to remember that Jesus had set Peter apart by not calling him “Simon,” but calling him “Peter” and saying, “upon this Rock I will build my church.” We have to remember the night Jesus was going around washing the disciples’ feet, that when Jesus had washed the feet of other disciples, and he came to Peter, Peter said, “No, you can’t do that Jesus.” Then after Jesus explained the importance of what he was doing, Peter wanted Jesus to wash his whole body. We have to remember that later that evening, Peter was the only disciple to tell Jesus, “Lord, why can I not follow you? I would lay down my life for you.” Yet, like the other disciples, Peter’s loyalty to Jesus disappeared after Jesus’ arrest. So Jesus could have been saying, “So far you have been like all the others, do you love me enough to deny yourself now?
In all actuality, either way you look at it, whether it be the fish or the disciples that Jesus is talking about, it boils down to the question, “Peter do you love me more than you love anything else, including yourself, including your own life?” If you do not think that is a possible scenario, remember that to save his own life, Peter denied knowing Jesus after Jesus had been arrested.
Jesus asked Peter three times whether or not Peter loved him. In all three cases Peter said, “yes.” Peter did not get it at first. He grew restless about Jesus asking over and over again…thinking that Jesus either was not hearing him or not believing him. Each time Peter said “yes,” Jesus responded by saying “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” Finally, after the last “feed my sheep, Jesus explains that this love that Peter is proclaiming is not going to be an easy kind of love…that this feeding and tending are going to lead Peter to his death. Jesus asked three times, just as Peter denied three times. It would not have been lost to Peter that Jesus has put him right back to where he was before Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, it would have been as if the rooster crowed at the start of this new day, this new opportunity for Peter. Jesus is saying, “I forgive You Peter; you have proclaimed your love for me; that love is going to be tested, going where I send you will put your life in jeopardy, you will die. Do you love me enough to go where I send you?”
My brothers and sisters, what does this scene between Peter and Jesus have to do with us? Everything. At some time in our lives, and if you’re like me, more than once, either through our words or our actions, we have failed Jesus. We have denied Jesus. Yet the God we worship, the God we encounter in Jesus, is full of mercy and grace. And just as Jesus asked Peter, He now comes to us and asks us, “do you love me more than these?”
Do we love Jesus more than the things of our lives?
Do we love Jesus more than the food on our table or the food at the restaurant?
Do we love Jesus more than a Saturday or Sunday of sleeping in?
Do we love Jesus more that a ballgame or a race?
Do we love Jesus more than a good day fishing?
Do we love Jesus more than a trip up to the mountains or out to the Cape?
Do we love Jesus more than our careers?
Do we love Jesus more than we love our own lives?
Do we love Jesus more than we love our friends, our family?
Tough questions…and as we consider our answers, may we remember how much Jesus has loved us. May we remember the wounds He bore to heal us. May we remember the scourging…may we remember the nails…May we remember that out of His love, Jesus gave his very life for you and for me. Without him we would be dead…dead in our sin right now…with no hope in sight.
Yet because Jesus loved us more than He loved His own life, we have hope. We have the promise of eternal life because Jesus willingly went to the cross and gave up his life and the Father raised him from the dead…so that our sins might be washed away by his blood and that we might have the promise of eternal life through His resurrection. We have been given that gift.
And like Jesus fed the disciples before asking this of Peter, just as he enabled them to catch the fish they had for breakfast, Jesus feeds us…not with drum, trout, or mackerel, but with something greater.
God has poured out His Holy Spirit upon us filling us with grace, filling us with the very love of God. We can come before God with our souls empty and hungry, even after a night of empty fishing, and find God nourishing us…pouring the Holy Spirit into our lives and filling us with what we need.
Once we are fed by God, the voice of Jesus comes calling…Do you love me? Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep…follow me.
What about that pitcher at the beginning of the sermon? What does he have to do with anything? Well…now that we have been fed by God…now that we hear the voice of Christ calling us to go into all the World and make disciples of all peoples…what are we going to do? God’s put the ball in our hands, how long are we going to hold it?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen.