God Creates YOU – You’re Dust

College

Okay, I confess, I sort of copped out. This sermon is not going to be about sex and dating. I know, I know. But I have a plan that doesn’t put the cart before the horse, so to speak. We will start this Sunday with God creating us and lifting up the theme of Ash Wednesday because it falls on Spring Break. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” March 9th will be all about healthy communication in community and practical advice for dealing with conflict. God wants us to live life in community. March 16th will be all about guarding your heart, no matter if you’re a single person or a dating person or you’re on your way to being a married person. We’ll wrap up with, “God wants you to have a great sex life” because God does want you to have a great sex life. We give mixed messages as a church universal about sex so we’ll delve into those. What do I mean by that? Well, you’ll have to come on March 23rd to hear it in person or listen at gatorwesley.com or read it on my blog. And then we’ll go into our Lenten series as we make our way towards the cross and Easter. Sound good?

So now that you know where we’re going, hear now the word of God:

Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24
1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end[a]—I am still with you.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked[c] way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.[d]

Isaiah 64:8
8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Jeremiah 18:1-4
18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

8th grade sucked. My dad was a United Methodist pastor so we moved the summer before my eighth grade year. The exact wrong time to move if you’re a 5 foot 11 ½ girl and none of the guys at your school had hit their growth spurt yet. You see, I grew to this height in seventh grade. We had been in the Hartsville schools for 7 years so they were used to me being tall and I felt at home and self-confident there. When we moved to Cheraw I was fresh meat. My nicknames abounded that year: giraffe, Olive Oil, stick…. A teacher at the time, used me as an example in geography class, telling the entire class to remember the country of Sri Lanka, by me, because I was so lanky. Now, I’ve never been to Sri Lanka, but I can’t believe she said that. I didn’t like Cheraw very much at the time and my eighth grade self remembers being oh so dramatic and yelling at the top of my lungs to my parents, “I hate this town and everyone in it!” and running up the stairs to my room and slamming the door. I wanted to go “home” to Hartsville where I knew people and they knew me. I remember relying on the spiritual strength of my mom a lot that year.I later read the book Reviving Ophelia for my Teacher Cadet class my senior year of high school and my behavior makes perfect sense as the transition between girl and young woman. I now appreciate with fondness, love and treasured memories, the four years that I spent in Cheraw, SC “The Prettiest Town in Dixie.”

What came out of this, is an understanding that we’re all uniquely created and wired. God created YOU. God created ME. God even claims the dramatic eighth grade me that thought everyone didn’t like her, that she was skinny and awkward and lanky, and I still can recall as if it were yesterday the hurtful and negative things people said about me that year. Why do we remember only the negative things years later, but we forget the praises in a heartbeat? Why do we carry around our wounds? Because that’s what they are: wounds.

My mom continues to give me insight on me. I don’t remember if we had ever had those conversations before that year, but she has continued to give me wisdom since then. She said since I was three years old, I’ve always taken things personally. She said I came home from preschool every day for a month saying nobody liked me. Do you remember that song, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go eat worms?” I picture little 3 year old me, singing that song, but I digress. When she visited the preschool for the open house and asked the teacher about it, the teacher looked surprised and said everybody likes Narcie, but (blank name), the class bully, doesn’t like her because Narcie stands up to her. That’s the thing. I’ve been wired to be a people pleaser. If someone is mad at me or upset with me, I fester on that, all of my thoughts continually drift back to that, and it becomes like an obsession. Now, I have grown over the years. I don’t take people’s criticism that personally anymore. Well, scratch that, maybe I do. But was that nature or nurture? Was I born that way (nature)? Or was it put upon me by birth order or family system or gender bias? I don’t know. I’m still reasoning that one out. But I’ve also been wired to speak truth to power. I honestly try to not give my opinion, but I HAVE TO speak out. It doesn’t matter whether I sit on my hands or figuratively tape my mouth shut, if I feel like something’s not right….I can’t help but speak up. For a man this may come across as one way, but because I am female, I’m seen as bossy or worse. And I fully claim to be bossy! There’s no denying that. But is it nature or nurture? Was I wired that way?

Speaking of gender bias, John Eldredge in his book Wild at Heart and in the book he and his wife wrote together Captivating say that men and women were created differently. We used to have a Battle of the Sexes board game based on the popular book in the 90’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (and I realize that most of you were born in the 90’s) and the gender bias’ showed in the questions. Check your parents’ shelves for this book over the break. The game makes the assumption, that women don’t know anything about sports or power tools or camping or cars and the game portrayed the women’s cards all about fashion, make up, and other girly stuff. Now, I agree with some of Captivating and Wild at Heart, the essence of them both but I disagree with them both at times too. This is what Wikipedia had to say that sums up Wild at Heart, “”If Christian men are going to change from a pitiful, wimpy bunch of “really nice guys” to men who are made in the image of God, they must reexamine their preconceptions about who God is and recover their true “wild” hearts, writes bestselling author John Eldredge in Wild at Heart: Discovering a Life of Passion, Freedom, and Adventure. Eldredge claims that men are bored; they fear risk, they refuse to pay attention to their deepest desires. He challenges Christian men to return to what he characterizes as authentic masculinity without resorting to a “macho man” mentality. Men often seek validation in venues such as work, or in the conquest of women, Eldredge observes. He urges men to take time out and come to grips with the “secret longings” of their hearts.”

Wikipedia says about Captivating, “It proposes that women have three core desires: “to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty”(Eldredge 8). It also proposes that God made woman as the “Crown of Creation”, an embodiment of God’s beauty, mystery and vulnerability. The book rejects the idea of an ideal woman and explores biblical scripture from the view that God desires woman to embrace her glory, rather than fear her femininity. Captivating is a companion to Wild at Heart, also by John Eldredge, and argues that its model of femininity complements men’s innate desires for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”

See what I mean? It’s worth it to go through the books in small groups, like the guy’s group did last semester reading Wild at Heart together because it definitely gives you a lot of material to discuss.

My children, Enoch and Evy, are 6 and 5. I can tell you that Enoch is all Enoch and Evy is all Evy. What do I mean by that? Enoch’s first name is Daniel, but Enoch’s his name. A Daniel wouldn’t fit him. Enoch is a bundle of energy. You more often than not will see him in motion, running around Gator Wesley. He believes like Ricky Bobby that if you’re not first, you’re last. So with competitive things he is frustrated when he’s not number one. He has a sensitive heart. But strong. My mom said when he was a year old that he would either be a spy/CIA operative or a thief because he could get into anything and figure out a way to open it. Enoch called me on Friday. Although Mike had has phone locked and he has the new iPhone with all of the security measures. Enoch was able to break into it. So I answered the call expecting Mike’s voice and heard Enoch giggling with Evy right beside him. Mike said later it was the second time had broken into his phone over the past two weeks.

Evangeline Grace Jeter is Evy because that name fits her. We decided to name her that because we were obsessed at the time with the tv show LOST and I always liked the actor that played Kate who is Evangeline Lily. So there you have it. We decided to call her Evy Grace because she was born on the first Sunday of Advent. Evangeline means good news. Evy is a girly girl mixed with a tomboy. Girls in her preschool class typically flock to Ms. Davies, who loves Cinderalla, or Ms. Cardoza who’s incredibly outdoorsy and was a basketball player. Ms. Cardoza told Mike that Evy is somewhere in between. Evy is extremely sensitive. I mean she fake cries all the time because she knows she’s adorable, but I know the difference in her trying to get something and wounding. Anytime, Mike or I, say we’re disappointed in her, which isn’t that often, she immediately bursts into tears.

I can tell you that with both Enoch’s essence and Evy’s essence, they entered the world that way leading me to believe that Enoch’s strength, tenacity, and smarts comes naturally to him and Evy’s zest for life, sensitivity, and empathy makes her who she is.

The point is, we are ALL uniquely created to be US, but we’ve all been wounded at one time or another, and some of those wounds are deep. It reminds me of the Jonny Diaz song More Beautiful You:

Little girl fourteen flipping through a magazine
Says she wants to look that way
But her hair isn’t straight her body isn’t fake
And she’s always felt overweight

Well little girl fourteen I wish that you could see
That beauty is within your heart
And you were made with such care your skin your body and your hair
Are perfect just the way they are

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

Little girl twenty-one the things that you’ve already done
Anything to get ahead
And you say you’ve got a man but he’s got another plan
Only wants what you will do instead

Well little girl twenty-one you never thought that this would come
You starve yourself to play the part
But I can promise you there’s a man whose love is true
And he’ll treat you like the jewel you are

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

So turn around you’re not too far
To back away be who you are
To change your path go another way
It’s not too late you can be saved
If you feel depressed with past regrets
The shameful nights hope to forget
Can disappear they can all be washed away
By the one who’s strong can right your wrongs
Can rid your fears dry all your tears
And change the way you look at this big world
He will take your dark distorted view
And with His light He will show you truth
And again you’ll see through the eyes of a little girl

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

There can never be a more beautiful, handsome, smart, strong YOU. The words remind me of what Aibileen Clark says in The Help to Mae Mobley, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” If we praise girls for only their looks and say they’re beautiful or adorable or cute, but then we praise boys for their athletic prowess, what are we doing? What are we saying? As a society, what are we prioritizing? We need to shed our parent’s expectations, our teacher’s expectations, society’s expectations, our own expectation’s, anything that holds us back from embracing our selves fully in the grace of God.

I’m not going to ask you to write anything down, but I invite you to pray in your seat as I play the song that the dance team danced to earlier. Come up to the prayer candles and light a candle signifying a decision to appreciate yourself, love yourself more. Because we cannot love our neighbors with agape love until we first love ourselves with agape love. Hear me now saying that, We cannot love our neighbor with agape love until we first love ourselves with agape love. Mark 12:30-31 says, “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.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The first step is to love God. The second step is to love your self. And the third step is to love your neighbor. So whatever your burdens are…Whatever separates you from feeling the love of God…ask God to reveal it to you…whatever baggage you carry with you…

Stop at 5:08

“Suitcases” Lyrics by Dara Maclean

How can you move when they’re weighing you down
What can you do when you’re tied to the ground, yeah
You carry your burdens, heavy like gravity
Just let them go now, there’s freedom in release

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be afraid

Can you imagine what it’s like to be free
Well, send those bags packing, they’re not what you need
Abandon your troubles by the side of the street
Just let them go now, believe me

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be afraid

There’s nothing hold you back now, just run

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be
You don’t have to be afraid.

The Four Loves

Romans 5:6-8
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Mark 12:30-31
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.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

I love the smell of a new car. It’s beyond clean. Uncontaminated by food smells. Uncontaminated by dirt and grime. Uncontaminated by children’s sticky fingers on the windows. I have been driving around with the smell of broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower for months because some vegetable medley got sloshed in my car on the way to fall festival. I ask people when they enter my car for the first time if they smell it and they politely say no, but I smell it every time I get into the car. And it smells quite lovely!

I love my husband Mike, who I’ve been married to for almost 12 years. He’s my best friend. He’s my companion for life. He’s the one that I can be my truest, authentic self. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I choose to love him every single day. He’s my partner in crime, but more than that, he knows me, and chooses to love me anyway.

I love my kids, Enoch and Evy. I never “not” love them. It’s innate like breathing. I love them and there’s literally nothing they can do about it. Even when Enoch’s running around Wesley hyped up on sugar from my candy bowl or Evy is “tricking” my mom into blow drying her hair last night, which she never has blow dried, though she told Mom that Mike blow dries her hair every night.

I love my job. But I like to think of it as a vocation or calling. Everyone has one; that which you were uniquely made to do. That which blends together the gifts, skills, and abilities God has given you. I love being a campus minister. I love this age group. I love providing a variety of ways that your faith can come alive: worship, discipleship, service, advocacy, prayer, leadership development, and communicating the love and grace of God.

The English word love conveys such a wide variety of things and most people are wise enough to deduce from certain context clues the real meaning of the word. I LOVE this song is much different than I LOVE my brothers. I LOVE Leonardo’s pizza is much different than I LOVE Enoch or Evy.
There are many words in Greek that are translated into love, but I’ll talk about 4. The four loves that C.S. Lewis wrote about in his work appropriately titled, The Four Loves. They are storge, philia, eros, and agape.

Storge means “affection” in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents and their children. It’s rarely used in ancient works, and then almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family. So I have storge for Enoch and Evy, for Josh and Caleb, my brothers, and for my mom and dad.

Philia is the love between friends. It means affectionate regard or friendship in both ancient and modern Greek. This type of love has give and take, an equal sharing. One person is not putting in everything to sustain the friendship, but both are. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. I think of this love, as a group of college friends watching Scandal, The Bachelor, Downton Abbey, Reign or Once Upon A Time together. Or the show we were obsessed with in college, it gives y’all extra fodder to make fun of me – Dawson’s Creek. I can say much about friendship that’s in essence written on the Love Campaign banners. Several people wrote about friendship when answering the “What is Love?” question. C. S. Lewis immediately differentiates Friendship Love from the other Loves. He describes friendship as, “the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious and necessary…the least natural of loves” – our species does not need friendship in order to reproduce – but to the classical and medieval worlds the more profound precisely because it is freely chosen. A couple of verses that accentuate this are,

Proverbs 17:17
A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.

John 15:13
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Eros is a “physical” passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. I would say this is not always a rational love. Pure emotion and romance and “love at first sight” classify this kind of love. Romantic, pure emotion without the balance of logic could be said of this kind of love. “Love at first sight.” The Modern Greek word “erotas” means “intimate love;” however, eros does not have to be sexual in nature. Eros can be interpreted as a love for someone whom you love more than the philia, love of friendship. It can also apply to dating relationships as well as marriage. Two verses that accentuate this idea.

Ephesians 5:25-28
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

Genesis 29:20
So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

Agape love is the love we’ve been talking about all week in the Love Campaign. We’ll see the Love Campaign video next Sunday. That’s what the Romans 5 and Mark 12 texts are all about. The heart of the Romas passage is verse 8, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Agape means love in a spiritual, true unconditional love kind of way. It’s a sacrificial spiritual love, accentuated by Christ’s giving his life up for us. We’re also called to love the world with agape love. As it is written in Mark 12:30-31, “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.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” We’re called first to love God and to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. Sharing that agape love with all the world. This type of love is embodied in the 1 Corinthians 13 passage.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8
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 things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

We’re going to watch different clips from Rob Bell’s Nooma video “Flame” about the Hebrew words for love. The Hebrew in the Old Testament has at least 3 different words for love.

(Flame – 2:11-2:48, 3:02-4:06, 4:30-10:10)

So what do we do with all of those different types of love? What do all these Greek or Hebrew words matter to our lives now? Know which flame you’re fanning. If it’s the flame of friendship, by all means keep fanning. If it’s the flame of storge or affection between you and your family members, by all means keep fanning. If it’s the flame of agape, fan ALL the time!! If it’s the flame of eros, by all means keep fanning – if it is a healthy, balanced relationship, and there’s give and take, and healthy communication and we will delve into healthy relationships next week. We will talk about protecting our hearts, we will talk about what I mean by the words “healthy” and “balanced,” we will talk about communication and we will talk about dating, marriage, singleness. I’m not sure I can fit all that I want to say into one sermon, but I’ll make a valiant attempt. May you become aware of the flames your fanning in your own lives and may God reveal to you in God’s discernment what flames you should keep fanning and what flames you should pour water on.

Love

the love campaign
Our epistle readings for today are, Galatians 5:22-24 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

Galatians 5:22-24

“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

“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 hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 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 things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Today starts the Love Campaign where we seek to show the campuses of the University of Florida and Santa Fe College God’s love for them. The point of it is to show God’s unconditional love and point students and the entire Gainesville community to God’s grace. God draws you and I to God’s self even before we realize it. God longs to be gracious to us and to give us new and abundant life. God longs to be in relationship with each person and continues to search for the lost because God WANTS you and all of the world to believe in the words of Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us. No sin is too big or too yuck or too devastating to lay at the foot of the cross and Jesus is faithful and true in his love and grace for us scattering our sins as far as the east to the west.

Aberjhani, in the work, Journey through the Power of the Rainbow: Quotations from a Life Made Out of Poetry says, “Love is our most unifying and empowering common spiritual denominator. The more we ignore its potential to bring greater balance and deeper meaning to human existence, the more likely we are to continue to define history as one long inglorious record of man’s inhumanity to man.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. had some things to say about agape love.

Start at 1:22 and End at 2:02.

whatislove

I like his definition of agape. “It is understanding creative, redemptive goodwill for all [people]. It is an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. And when one rises to love on this level, he loves [people] not because he likes them, but he loves every [person] because God loves them.”
If you table this week at Santa Fe or the University of Florida you will be challenged in ways that we can’t prepare you. So is that a reason not to table (Evan and Amelia and the entire Love Campaign 2014 committee are holding their collective breaths.)? No. You’ll be challenged by questions, by misconceptions, by people that have “burned” by the church and some people will have very good reasons to keep their distance because not everything that is labeled “Christian” is about the love of God. Show them God’s love, respond in God’s love, and show them by your actions God’s love. You will be surprised how people answer the central question, “What is love?” Don’t be alarmed if several people throughout the week answer, “Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more.” I find myself humming along to that song repeatedly during Love Campaign week. But every answer, even the silly ones, are cutting to people’s core, because at the heart of each person THAT is one of the big questions. Am I loved? Am I heard? Am I seen as worthy? Do people want to hear about my day? Or care about me? Can I find a community that loves me for me? Where I can let them see me for my most true and authentic self? Does God love me? How could God love me and let these things happen? I may have messed up along the way, and I’m ashamed, and I retaliate in anger – at the world, at myself, at God. Because if you ask “What is Love?” it’s not easy to answer without calling all of YOU into question. You. Your core. Your deepest, most personal self.

We have to be ready and willing in arms wide open to receive people where they are. We have to walk the journey with them and come alongside them with the light and love and grace of Christ.

The scriptures say much about loving our neighbor.

1 John 3:11, 16-24
“For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.” Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

I’d like to tell you a story, “There was a young, intelligent university student named Bill. Bill was what some people call a “free spirit” or “hippie.” He had wild long hair, always wore the same old and torn T-shirt, jeans and no shoes. Across the street from the university campus was a church. The people there were rich, older and well-dressed. They wanted to help the university students nearby, but they did not know exactly how to do it.

Well, one day Bill decided to go visit this church by his university. As usual, he went wearing his only jeans, old, torn T-shirt and his dirty long hair. The church service had already started and was full, so Bill walked down the center aisle looking for a seat. People were getting more and more uncomfortable as they watched this unclean, wild-looking young man. Finally, Bill got to the front and saw there were no more empty seats, so he just sat down on the floor right in front of the preacher. No one had ever done that in this church before! By now, everyone was upset and distracted.

Then, a respected old church deacon got up and started toward the front. Everyone was thinking: “You can’t blame the deacon, he really should correct this disrespectful young man.” Everyone was watching. Even the preacher stopped his sermon when the old man finally got to the front. Then, they were all completely surprised to see the old deacon drop his walking stick and very slowly sit down on the floor next to this young hippie. He did not want this young man to sit alone and feel unaccepted. The people in the church were moved to tears. Finally, the preacher said: “What I am preaching about today you will probably never remember. But what you have just seen you will never forget!””

We have to as Christians and as followers of Christ get on the floor with people. Be willing to get dirty in other people’s lives. I don’t say the words during communion lightly when I pray that we may be the body and blood in the midst of the world, a light shining in the darkness. For some, you may be the only Jesus they ever see. Mother Teresa said a great deal about love in her lifetime and here’s two of my favorites. “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.” I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world. Mother Teresa writes in A Simple Path these words, “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can only live your life radiating that love.” From the back of the card where we give Gator Wesley’s answers to the question, “What is Love?” We believe that God’s greatest act of love was when God sent God’s son, Jesus, to walk among us, to teach us, and to show us by his life and example what love is truly about. That he laid down his life in sacrificial agape love. Before we can tell all the world about God’s redemptive, saving love, we have to claim God’s offer of free, life-giving grace for ourselves.

As Tivoli talked about the Chronicles of Narnia on Wednesday night in our Wednesday Evensong worship at 8:30, as what most shaped her and her calling towards film and her passion to let her light shine even in Hollywood, I began thinking of how that film shaped me. Aslan, the Christ figure, is seen right before this to be sacrificing himself for the traitorous Edmund, who got there by loving Turkish Delight too much and not understanding what was at stake. Edmund’s sisters, Lucy and Susan, are seen in this clip in the film, huddled in the bushes. Aslan’s sacrifice is an epic and gnarly example of Christ’s love for us.

Start at 1:03 – 4:22, 5:03 – 7:11.

So we know Christ’s love for each of us today. May we trust in the knowledge of God’s grace, not deserved or dependent on gold stars on a giant sticker chart in the sky, but offered freely and unconditionally. So may we show the campuses our LOVE this week and may we too be touched as the Spirit blows over the campuses of UF and Santa Fe igniting a movement of LOVE – for us, for our neighbors, and all the world. Amen.

TheLoveCampaign

And these are four of the songs we played at Gator Wesley in worship this morning.

Love Song by Jason Morant

Facing Your Fears – LungLeavin’ Day

Today

Isaiah 41:10
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
10 do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

John 3:16-21
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 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. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

We’re going to talk about our greatest fears today. Some of you are thinking immediately, “Is she going to make us share them out loud?” And may be working on one to say out loud, as well as the real one. Others of you, may be genuinely trying to figure yours out. It’s not a test. You don’t get an A+ or an F, although that leads me to failure. I fear failure. I fear that I’ll never make a difference. I fear that I will never do meaningful work. I fear that people won’t like me. I fear making people mad. I fear that I will spend my life doing what needs to get done, and not enjoy it. I fear that I’m putting things off….I will do that tomorrow, I will do that after I graduate from college, I will do that after I graduate with my master’s, I will do that after I graduate with my PhD, I will do that after I get a grown up job, I will do that when I buy a house, I will do that when I get married, I will do that when I get my first promotion, I will do that when I have kids, I will do that by the time I turn 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, and so on.

What are your greatest fears? Do you fear that you will never figure out what you’re “supposed” to do? What God has specifically called you to do? Do you fear getting older? Do you fear being dependent on others? Do you compare yourselves to others, fearing that God forgot you when God was giving out all the gifts, graces or abilities?

Kimberly Burge writes in an article “Crooked Little Faith” in Sojourners, “Anne Lamott is a 44-year-old white woman with dreadlocks who worries about her thighs. And she talks about loving Jesus as freely and fiercely as my 6-year-old self did. I may be giving myself such airs, but I think that I’m supposed to spread the Word of the Gospel, she says. I think that my work as a writer is of no cosmic importance except that I can spread the Word of God’s love and salvation. Anne Lamott is just brave, or foolhardy, enough to call herself a Christian evangelist. I can almost imagine her sitting down in the wilderness with John the Baptist to munch on some locusts and wild honey. But somewhere during the meal, she would probably begin to worry about how many calories are actually in a locust. Because she’s imperfect enough to think about such things — and honest enough to share her fears with the world, however mundane or absurd.”

God calls each of us to answer our greatest fears with, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” and I’m not afraid to be honest about my doubts and struggles because it brings them to the light. Anything’s better having been in the light. Things don’t seem to have the same power once brought into the light of Christ. Or the lens of Christ.

I like this quote by William Sloane Coffin in The Courage to Love, “Fear distorts truth, not by exaggerating the ills of the world . . . but by underestimating our ability to deal with them . . . while love seeks truth, fear seeks safety.” Fear distorts the truth. That reminds me of the song by Casting Crowns, The Voice of Truth. I know it’s incredibly old, yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s super old, but the words still resonate with me. “But the voice of truth tells me a different story, The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”, The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”, Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.” If we turn our fears into prayers, asking God to reveal where the seed of fear came from and asking God to heal us and answer our greatest fears then the word of God says, God will be faithful and true, scattering our sins from the east to the west and the darkness will flee from its light.

We just finished reading book 1 of the Harry Potter series to Enoch and Evy. Enoch has seen the first 3 movies, though he tricked Uncle Aaron into showing him the third, saying he had seen it before. Rookie mistake. So he saw the dementors, these wraith-like creatures that have some resemblance to the grim reaper without the hook, as they are portrayed in the third film, The Prisoner of Azkaban. Professor Lupin taught Harry to combat the dementors with a patronus spell. The dementors make you cold and they strip away all of your happiness, but even the dementors flee the light. Enoch has a wand with a light on the end that he got for Christmas, and I told him that if he has bad dreams to picture himself holding up that wand as Harry did at the dementors and crying out, “I believe in Jesus and Jesus protects me.” He doesn’t need a complicated prayer, just one, he’ll remember. Oh to have faith like a 6 year old. But what have we to fear? As Romans 8 says, “38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us from the love of God. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through Him who loves us.”

Your fears are your fears. There’s nothing inherently wrong or right about them as long as you’re voicing them and as long as you’re giving them over to God. Marianne Williamson writes, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are we not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others. I dream of a day society is liberated from our collective fears. Wouldn’t that be great?

Though fear is a natural part of life, even healthy sometimes, like when we face deadlines. Does anyone here NOT procrastinate? But I want y’all to remember these two scriptures, the first is 2 Timothy 1:7, “7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice (fear), but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” and the second is from John 16:33, “33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” Jesus has overcome the world, whom or what shall we fear? Our parent’s expectations, our own expectations , that particular class that we’re struggling with us, if we will ever be happy again, how do we get out of that unhealthy relationship, how do we break the cycle of abuse, how do we get help or much less ask for it? God knows our fears. God knows our hearts. Give them to God.

So why are we doing this sermon on fear because Cameron Von St. James asked me to. I have never met Cameron, but he commented on my blog and followed up with email. He shares, “Eight years ago, my wife Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma; a rare cancer that kills most people within 2 years of diagnosis. She had just given birth to our daughter Lily, and was only given 15 months to live. After a life-saving surgery that included the removal of her left lung, LungLeavin’ Day was born. This will be the 8th year that we celebrate! The purpose of LungLeavin’ Day is to encourage others to face their fears! Each year, we gather around a fire in our backyard with our friends and family, write our biggest fears on a plate and smash them into the fire. We celebrate for those who are no longer with us, for those who continue to fight, for those who are currently going through a tough time in their life, and most importantly, we celebrate life! We created an interactive page mesothelioma.com/heather/lungleavinday that tells the full story of our special day.”

http://mesothelioma.com/heather/lungleavinday

I thought about playing the song by Eminem and featuring Rihanna, “The Monster,” because that would fit, “I’m friends with the monster, That’s under my bed, Get along with the voices inside of my head” but I decided on Francesca Battistelli’s “Free to Be Me.”

We’re not going to burn plates because I’m afraid that it would set off the sprinklers or the fire alarms. But we’ll take the piece of paper and write our fears on there. Naming them so that they no longer have power over us. Bringing them out in the light. Giving them to God.

Prodigal Son Sermon a la the Ukraine

Preached at St. John United Methodist Church, L’viv, Ukraine

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Our text from Luke today is a familiar text to many of us. As soon as we hear the intro, “There was a man who had two sons…” some of us begin to think – oh, I know this story. This is a good one. It’s like those old favorite hymns – you know them backwards and forwards and they speak to you whether because of their foundational and transformative messages or because of their familiarity and the feelings and memories they evoke. I remember listening to the story as a child and being fascinated by the younger son feeding the pigs and wanting to eat what the pigs were eating. Could have been my love for animals or it could have been the funny pictures of pigs that we put on the felt board in Sunday School, but for some reason, that was what stood out to me in the story. My romanticized view of getting to sit with the pigs quickly changed as I got older and sitting in the mud with pigs stopped being so appealing.

One of things about the familiar is that sometimes it’s really easy for us to let the words and the meaning slip by us. When it comes to the routine, it’s easy to go on autopilot and miss what God is speaking to us today.

Because we know this story so well, we have lost some of the shock and horror at the behavior of the younger son. Since we know the beautiful ending that is coming and can almost hear the orchestra tuning up the celebratory music, we forget the harshness of the younger son’s words and the father’s great hurt. The broken relationship that is clearly present.

Culturally, in Jewish tradition a son was allowed to obtain possession of his inheritance, only after his father died or the son got married. As his father is still alive, he had no right to dispose of it. He’s demanding what he wants when he wants it, disrespecting his father and cultural tradition and acting like his father is dead. He’s all geared up for rebellion – no matter the cost or whom it hurts.

Several studies have shown people that have won the lottery or somehow received a great deal of money, for the most part end up right back where they started, no matter the amount, and some even worse off than they were before. There are a lot of reasons for this – an extravagant lifestyle, thinking the money will never run out, a false sense of reality, not thinking things through. The prodigal son easily could fit the profile of one who gambles it all away – the text tells us “he squandered his property in dissolute living” and “he spent everything.” Here he was a Jew tending pigs for a Gentile and longing to eat their slop. He had lost everything. Both his wealth and his integrity.

Just because Jesus eats with sinners, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t take sin very seriously. As seen in the consequences of the younger son’s actions – sitting in filth and coveting pig food. Sin does have serious consequences and can lead down a devastating and degrading path. Not only has the son been led to a physically desperate place, his sin is also seen as broken relationship with God and the community, as he is left in self-imposed isolation in his pigsty.

I like the phrase, “when he came to himself” in verse 17. It’s as if he’s been in this stubborn and disobedient state and he’s finally beginning to snap out of it. Praise God for those lightbulbs of awareness – the Holy Spirit – coming to us and helping us to realize how lost we are, helping us to come to ourselves. It’s not easy to face the reality of our disobedience, but it’s definitely necessary to move forward.

The road back is paved and well lit, because we have traveled this story many times. We forget how scary it is for the prodigal to come home. The shame, the feelings of unworthiness, the lack of hope. I read of a man who had committed a crime for which he was deeply ashamed. When he’d served his prison sentence and was about to be released he wondered if his family would reject him because of the scandal he’d caused and the shame brought on the family. He wrote his parents saying that he would be coming back by bus but didn’t want to embarrass them with his presence if they didn’t want him back. He asked them to tie a yellow ribbon on the ooak tree at the beginning of their street if it was all right for him to return home. If there was no ribbon on the tree when the bus passed he wouldn’t get off the bus. He was nervous on the bus and as he got closer and closer to his street he couldn’t bear to look so he asked the driver to look for him. But, he needn’t have worried because the tree was covered with yellow ribbons!

The father in this passage offers his son yellow ribbons, and following his lead, the community joins in the celebration as well. It is clear in this passage that the father is representing God. God does not stop us from making choices or from the consequences of those actions, but as our loving parent God is ready and waiting for us to come home. In the passage, the father also goes above and beyond to show his love and forgiveness to his son. The son had dishonored his father and the village by taking everything and leaving. When he returns in tattered clothes, bare-foot and semi-starved, he would have to get home by walking through the narrow streets of the village and facing the raised eye-brows, the cold stares, the disgusted looks of the village. So when the son is still far off, the father sees him and decides immediately what he must do. In compassion for his son and to spare him the pain of walking through the gauntlet of the town alone, he runs to him, falls on his neck, and kisses him. The expected thing for his father is to wait in the house and let the young man be brought before him. Let the boy fall down on his face before his father and grovel in the dust. The father may then reluctantly accept his apologies and put him on probation. This father does not do any of that. Instead, he not only runs to his son but also falls on his neck and kisses him.

A man was commissioned to paint a picture of the Prodigal Son. He went into his work fervently, laboring to produce a picture worthy of telling the story. Finally, the day came when the picture was complete, and he unveiled the finished painting. The scene was set outside the father’s house, and showed the open arms of each as they were just about to meet and embrace. The man who commissioned the work was well pleased, and was prepared to pay the painter for his work, when he suddenly noticed a detail that he had missed.

Standing out in the painting above everything else in the scene, was the starkly apparent fact that the father was wearing one red shoe and one blue shoe. He was incredulous. How could this be, that the painter could make such an error? He asked the painter, and the man simply smiled and nodded, assuring the man, “Yes, this is a beautiful representation of the love of God for His children.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, puzzled.

“The father in this picture was not interested in being color-coordinated or fashion-conscious when he went out to meet his son. In fact, he was in such a hurry to show his love to his son, he simply reached and grabbed the nearest two shoes that he could find.”

“He is the God of the Unmatched Shoes.”

Praise God that our God is a God of the unmatched shoes.

The great God of the universe came down and dwelt among us, took our sin upon himself, and died on the cross for each of us. Wow. Talk about grace in the face of disobedience. We believe deeply in God’s grace. God’s prevenient grace – that God loved us even before we knew it and God draws us to God’s self even when we don’t realize it. God’s justifying grace – where we realize the great gift of God’s salvation for us – that he died for our sins so that we can be again in right relationship with God. And lastly, God’s sanctifying grace – that God doesn’t leave us where we are, but we’re on a journey constantly growing and stretching in our faith and our understanding of God and discipleship. Grace. Nothing we’ve earned, but we’ve been given freely.
Before we close the book on the story, let’s look at the elder brother. The elder son was in the field and heard music and dancing as he approached the house. After he hears what has happened, he is angry and refuses to join the party. Again, the father could have easily reacted in anger, but he goes to his son, rushes out to him, and begins to plead with him. The son is extremely rude to his father. This son begins his speech with a Greek word that is often translated “Behold!” This version of the Bible has correctly caught the mood of the son by translating the word as “Listen!” His bitterness and anger are clear in his response. He sees himself as a slave working for his father rather than a son who is taking care of his own property.
Henri Nouwen, one of the great spiritual writers of the twentieth century, commented on the “lostness” of both sons in the story of the Prodigal Son. He wrote, “Did you ever notice how lost you are when you are resentful? It’s a very deep lostness. The younger son gets lost in a much more spectacular way — giving in to his lust and his greed, using women, playing poker, and losing his money. His wrongdoing is very clear-cut. He knows it and everybody else does, too. Because of it he can come back, and he can be forgiven. The problem with resentment is that it is not so clear-cut: It’s not spectacular. And it is not overt, and it can be covered by the appearance of a holy life. Resentment is so pernicious because it sits very deep in you, in your heart, in your bones, and in your flesh, and often you don’t even know it is there. You think you’re so good. But in fact you are lost in a very profound way.”

The thing is, whether we think we have it all figured out or if we have blatantly been living a life of disobedience, as Romans says, we have all fallen short of the glory of God. None of us has an edge on the sin market. We’re all in need of God’s grace. We are each part prodigal and part elder brother. As Karl Barth wrote, “If Jesus himself had not left the Father and traveled into the far country to share a table with sinners, we would still be there, eating those pig pods.”

And that is what we are to remember. Our text for today does not begin with the parable, but with Jesus interacting with the Pharisees. Our parable and the two that precede it, that of the lost sheep and the lost coin, are in direct response to this opening grumbling made by the Pharisees, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” We are called to do the same thing. I feel like I’ve been saying this all weekend, but we have got to share the light of Christ to all the world, to be the salt, to eat with sinners and Pharisees alike. If we share our little sparks in our daily walk with Jesus, may they become a raging fire, fanned by the flame of the Holy Spirit.

Spark by The City Harmonic

Jesus Can Use YOU to do Great Things

Preached at talk 3 of 3 at the Greater Things Conference for students in L’viv, Ukraine.

Greater Things picture

Mark 2:1-12
Jesus Heals a Paralytic

2 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

They were determined to get their friend access to Jesus. To have such strong determination or perseverance you’ve got to have something within you or around you that spurs you on. For some, it’s the dream, their heart’s desire, for others it’s the support of family and friends cheering at home, for others it’s the memory of someone or an important event that keeps them going, and for others it’s their faith – faith in themselves and in their own community.

This morning we’re going to look at people who went the extra mile or went the distance to help a friend. The thing that spurred them on and gave them the strength to keep going, was their faith. Faith in God. Faith in the healing power of Jesus.

Remember the leper? In Mark chapter 1, verses 40 – 45. “40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling* he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”

The leper proclaimed his healing freely and spread the word. It reminds me of Acts 4:20 that says, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” His life was changed, and he could not suppress the Good News inside of him. The Good News that Jesus had seen him and healed him.

So, thanks to the proclamation of the former Leper, Jesus had a full house when he got home. Another section only in Mark, “So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.”

So where is this located in Jesus’ ministry? It’s still pretty early. He’s been preaching for about a year. Luke 4 tells us that when Jesus went back to Nazareth, after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, he was so thoroughly rejected by the people that he grew up with, so he left Nazareth and made Capernaum, which was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, his home base for the three years of his public ministry.

Okay, so now we know where he was and how he got there, and we also know why the word had spread. This home was so crowded that it was standing-room-only. People in the United States for the most part are avid movie watchers. So when I was a teenager the nearest movie theater was an hour away by car, so we would pile in to my mother’s mini-van, squeezing in every person we could. The most people we got in at one time is 14 by folding down the backseat and fitting 8 people on it and the most it would legally hold is 7. It was ridiculous, but we wanted to get every person we possibly could in there. And that was for a movie. Not for getting a chance to hear Jesus speak the word. Needless to say, the place was packed.

The people were, whether they knew it or not, there to worship God and hear God, in the person of Jesus, “speak the word.” Maybe they were curious about the crowd or what all the fuss was about. Maybe they had heard about his healing of the leper and they wanted to see this Jesus, this healer. Maybe they didn’t quite understand how they had gotten there – whether with a friend or a neighbor or just randomly walking over.

While the crowd struggled to get closer to Jesus, these four men came bringing a paralyzed man on a stretcher. A friend recently visited what was then Capernaum, in his group included a couple of people in wheelchairs and he noticed that even today, Capernaum is not an easy place in which to maneuver if you are disabled. The roads are not paved smoothly, stairs and vertical rises make it difficult to get around, and you really have to rely on your friends to help you travel there if you can’t walk.

If you had been in their place, what would you have done if you had arrived at the house and seen all those people crowded and overflowing out into the street? You might think – hey we must be in the right place – what a great thing is going on here. Or would you sit back and wait for the crowd to leave? Would you think – let’s just go home. We’ll never get in. We’ll try again the next time he’s in town.

If they had quit at this point, they would have a really good reason for going home. But these guys were determined. They had heard that a healer was in town and they want to bring their friend healing. They were on a mission. They had to see Jesus.

Who do you say that I am?

These men believed that Jesus was the Great Healer, God come to earth, the Son of Man.

Matthew 11:4-5 “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

This was a bold move of faith.

These four men weren’t thinking of themselves. They did not need a miracle for themselves, but they had a friend who did. They went to a whole lot of trouble to get him the help that he needed. Because he was important to them and they cared about him.

Thoughts on friendship:

• A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.

• Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don’t say.

• A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

A friend perseveres.

This wasn’t an easy task. It’s not like they thought – oh, cool a crowd – let’s jump up on the roof, lower him through and call it a day. In Palestine, the roofs were flat. They would be used for rest and quiet, for drying clothes and storing things. In 1 Kings 17, we read about Elijah living on the roof. In Acts 10, Peter is up on the roof praying. So generally there were stairs going up along an outside wall. Although they were determined, and possibly had outside stairs, they weren’t supermen. This wasn’t easy.

They actually had to tear up the roof to let him down. I never noticed that or remembered that before from this passage, and part of that is because in the accounts of this story in Matthew and Luke, they don’t say that they had to dig through the roof. To me, though, there’s something really powerful and special about them having to actually dig through and get dirty to help make this miracle happen.

According to some scholars, the roof was usually made of beams about 3 feet apart. These beams would be filled with twigs, then packed with clay and covered with dirt. So as you can probably imagine, as these four are pulling away chunks of clay, bits of dirt, and dried leaves are falling all over those below.

And the people who stood in the room, who most likely had some small rubble or debris dropped on their heads were no doubt probably a little upset. The men had to know this when they concocted their plan. They risked a lot because they had faith in who Jesus is and what a tremendous impact he could have on the life of their friend.

I wonder what Jesus was doing during this creation of a skylight in his home? Does he stop speaking the word or does he just continue going just like a preacher does when there’s many distractions during church? Does he stop and watch maybe with an amused look on his face, or does he began to shake his head and chuckle to himself at the enthusiasm or boldness of these guys?

How would you feel if you were one of the crowd? You’re sitting there during an exhilarating afternoon listening to Jesus, when all of a sudden some crazy guys start tearing open the roof over your head and get you all dirty. You waited and maneuvered a while to get your spot in the house, and here these people are skipping all the steps to get to the front of the line. Or more appropriately, through the roof!

I think sometimes we see the obstacles and how much it will cost us or offend other people, and we go ahead and decide what’s not going to work and who’s not going to respond and what and why something can’t be done. And we’re defeated or making excuses before we even start. Before we even get off the ground. Or get up the steps carrying our friend. We decide that we know best and it totally won’t work.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t want us to use our brains or that we should not reason out the situation first, but I am saying, that sometimes the impossible is made possible. God does work miracles. Bring the dead to life. Give sight to the blind. Heal the leper. So in continuation of that, God calls us to also envision the possibilities to see miracles around our community and world. We’re called to dream and work to make miracles a reality as the hands and feet of God. Just as we did this afternoon, feeding the hungry and helping any way we can in the cause of the revolution. God’s work is done by people who believe in the power of God, who do what they can, relying on God to supply the rest.

The central ingredient is faith, and faith is so important to this story, both as the motivation of these men that empowered their determination and as the starter for Jesus’ healing of the paralytic. Four short words in verse 5, “Jesus saw their faith.” Most people would say, “You can’t ‘see’ faith. Faith isn’t in the physical, visible realm.” But it is. And Jesus saw the faith of these four men. Their faith was evident. It shone through their actions.

These four friends had the faith to believe that Jesus would welcome them and that Jesus could change their friend’s life. What a gamble. They took a bold step of faith to make sure their friend had a chance for healing.

Their friend couldn’t walk – so they carried him.
The crowd blocked their path and access to Jesus – they went around or by passed them.
The roof was in the way – they ripped a hole in it.
They are people on a mission. They were determined. Spiritually and physically they were determined.

Verse 5 says, “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” They had faith, Jesus saw it, and did the miracle and worked the healing that they had faith would take place.

Do we have that kind of spiritual determination? We all have people we know, friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members who are in need of healing. What are we doing to be present with them in that often lonely and desperate place? Sometimes we need to intercede, whether by prayer, through encouragement, or by our actions.

I wonder, if the salvation of the people around me depended on my faith and my direct actions, how much more seriously and intentionally I would take my time with God and the Christian community and to what extent would I live out my faith?

Sometimes it means doing what one writer calls, “getting your hands dirty in other people’s lives.”

James writes in chapter 2 verses 14 thru 16, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if a person claims to have faith but has no deeds?…Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

God loves us so much that God took extreme measures to provide an opportunity for healing for each one of us. God loves us so much that God came and dwelt among us showing us and providing us with that healing. God loves us so much that God draws us to God’s self, guiding us and leading us.

As the body of Christ today, as I shared last night, we have to use our particular gifts that God has given each of us to show God’s love to the world. Some in the body are particularly gifted to service or prophesy or exhortation or whatever it is that God has called you. In Romans 12:15, Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with them that weep.” In other words, we are to care for one another. To love one another. To truly empathize and connect with the other. This connection means that we move outside of the box of our own concerns and problems and become open and present to the needs of the other, the community around us.

What a tremendous difference it would make if we would just spend a bit of each day looking for someone who has a need. How do we meet these needs? How do we intercede? By both meeting physical needs, like the feeding ministry or sorting the first aid supplies, but also spiritual needs. Our lives truly lived are how the world knows God. Imperfect as we may be, the world needs to know that we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Lawrence Kushner in Honey from the Rock writes, “We understand that ordinary people are messengers of the Most High. They go about their tasks in holy anonymity. Often, even unknown to themselves. Yet, if they had not been there, if they had not said what they said or did what they did, it would not be the way it is now. We would not be the way we are now. Never forget that you too yourself may be a messenger.”

We are all new creations in Christ Jesus and the transformation doesn’t stop there. John Wesley believed in God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. In prevenient grace, God draws us to God’s self even before we know it, in God’s justifying grace, we see that Jesus died for us – for you and me – and that becomes real to us, and in God’s sanctifying grace, God does not leave us as we are. God makes all things new. Once we’re Christians, the work doesn’t end at the point of salvation. It’s only just begun. We are continually striving to be more like Christ, walking in his ways as disciples and sharing the personality of Jesus. You don’t snap your fingers and become perfect or a perfect example of the Christian faith. It’s a continual process, a life-long journey, where you will inevitably stumble and fall. Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. God’s grace extends to all people, you just have to ask for it.

Ann Lamott, who is a former addict and alcoholic, writes, in her book Traveling Mercies, “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up, I found that life handed you these rusty, bent, old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”

Do the best you can with the gifts God has given YOU and they will be MORE than enough. Wesley encourages, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” May we be lights in the world sharing Christ’s light with everyone we encounter. Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.” Let me repeat that. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Let us pray…Holy God, may you give us the courage to step out in faith like the four friends did. May you give us to share our lights with all the world. May you reassure us that we don’t have to be perfect to receive your grace. We can do no thing to earn your love and grace. May we feel secure that you’re making all things new and may we feel your love and grace for each of us. May your Holy Spirit rest upon the Ukraine right now and all of us gathered in this place that we would unite with the prayers of all of the world gathered earnestly seeking your presence and your movement. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.