We recorded Michael W. Smith’s “Waymaker” on May 22, 2020. The pandemic had gone past Easter and the kids had mostly finished up with online school, we had no idea that it would last this long. We were frankly flipping through the channels on a Friday night and stumbled upon it. I’ve always had a soft spot for Smitty with his singing and piano playing, and I’ll never forget hearing “I’ll Lead You Home” from Disney’s Magic Kingdom at a Night of Joy concert. That song was crucial to bringing me back to a relationship with Jesus. The Waymaker special featured a song called “Surrounded” that he covered in 2018. Originally a spontaneous moment of declaration and praise, “Surrounded” is written by Elyssa Smith of Upper Room Music.
Smith wrote at the time, “The thought of doing another live worship project has been something I have processed for a while now. The question I have asked myself most is not so much what do I want to do, but what do I need to do. What do WE need to do as God’s church and as God’s children? What expression of worship does God desire from us… have we missed something? The reality is, it is not the style of our expression God is concerned with, it is the heart. God wants our honesty. God wants our vulnerability. God wants us to come to God as we are, not as we want to be. I feel God moving through God’s church and God is calling us TOGETHER…. to be one voice and one heart. One bride. Every nation, every tribe, and every tongue. Every social class. Every denomination. Let’s get together and rejoice! In what God has done, what God is doing, and what God has yet to do.”
The lyrics are really simple, like a breath prayer.
It may look like I’m surrounded
But I’m surrounded by You
It may look like I’m surrounded
But I’m surrounded by You
This is how I fight my battles
This is how I fight my battles
This is how I fight my battles
And, most importantly, WE are not doing the FIGHTING. The Triune God is the one. God is the one who beats our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks.
Our Psalter for this Sunday’s lectionary is from Psalm 62:5-8. It reads, “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”
“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was written by Martin Luther between 1527 and 1529 and has been translated into English at least 77 times. He wrote the words as a paraphrase of Psalm 46.
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.
We remain secure in the truth we know God with Us, our Emmanuel is WHO we go to, when we feel betrayed, burdened and battered. When we feel helpless or hopeless, we trust in the strong name of the Lord.
Hear now this prayer of Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Have you ever heard of “call stories?” They are the stories of ordinary people that are used by God for a purpose. The first scripture is one of the most famous call stories because Jesus took uneducated fishermen and called them to fish for people. God chooses us as we are and as we lean into that we are called to be disciples who draw others to Jesus.
The fisherman left everything, nets and all. They left family and friends. They left everything that was familiar to them: from their day to day routines to their favorite corner store or coffee shop.
How many of you were born before 1992? Mike had the kids and I watch Sneakers this week and it was made in 1992. He said he and his brothers watched it over and over again. Have any of you heard Steven Curtis Chapman song For the Sake of the Call? It came out in 1992 and my brothers and I knew as United Methodist preacher’s kids, when my mom played it, we were about to move! That and Michael W. Smith’s song, Friends are Friends Forever.
(Don’t you love the mullet!)
Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really knew for sure
Was Jesus had called to them
He said “come follow Me” and they came
With reckless abandon, they came
Empty nets lying there at the water’s edge
Told a story that few could believe
And none could explain
How some crazy fishermen agreed to go where Jesus led
With no thought to what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name
And they answered…
We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
We knew what my mom was getting at. If God called our family to another church, we had to obey. If you obey Jesus when he calls, life is going to be an adventure. Has anyone ever seen Running Wild with Bear Grylls?* I love that show. The concept came after he first had Will Farrell join him in his first survival show. In it, celebrities go on adventures with him and he teaches them survival lessons along the way. It’s always a journey from point A to point B. The celebrity doesn’t know the path and they balk when there’s heights or they have to eat something to survive like grubs or crickets or a squirrel or there’s only a small space between rocks and they’re claustrophobic. He leads and they follow. Sure they pitch fits along the way, sure they threaten to not go on…but in their fears is where I most see their humanity. They’re real people at those moments and they obviously don’t care about what the camera is making them look like. We’ve seen insights into some of the why’s and how’s of their fears and when they conquer them, it is a beautiful thing.I used to think of the disciples much like Bear Grylls, rugged, with an adventurous, live on the edge spirit. But they weren’t like that at the beginning of their trek with Jesus. They were probably very much like these celebrities, albeit the celebrities have the right kind of gear. Does God equip us with the right kind of gear for the road, no matter what road?
Did the four fishermen that Jesus called take their fishing nets with them? Nope! They didn’t know where the journey would take them. They couldn’t carry luggage loaded onto a baggage cart. As we talked about last week, we each have figurative baggage. Most of us carry “stuff” and sometimes it’s like a security blanket. That we hold onto. We carry it with us wherever we go and we’re afraid to lay it down because it’s ours – the familiar and the comfortable. Some of us like the prodigal have gotten so used to the pigs and the mud that we are stuck there and even those that are closest to us don’t know the full extent of our hurts. The words that were used against us when we were younger that we’ve never told anyone. The awkwardness of not feeling comfortable even in your own skin. The voices in our heads of who society or our “friends” or what social media tells us we should be. I dislike the way trolls can hide behind screens and say you’re too fat, you’re too skinny, you’re not smart/pretty/kind…..enough. Jesus doesn’t want us drinking the haterade. Jesus is asking you to go on a great adventure and you have to lay down your baggage, sometimes daily. Guilt. Shame. Pride. Doubt. Fear. Self-Loathing. Superhuman expectations. The pressure we put on ourselves to measure up to this person or that person. Lay it all down. Take it off your shoulders. Stop rolling that luggage around and repent. Ask for forgiveness. Let it all go. If you pick it back up, repeat and ask the Holy Spirit to block you or your behavior from picking it back up. Use a breath prayer. Every time something comes into your mind or you revert into old familiar patterns of behavior, say “Lord Jesus take this from me” or “Lord in your mercy” or “My help is in You alone Lord” or “Not my will, but Yours.”
My son Enoch when he was in kindergarten got a color for every day for his behavior. The colors were blue for an exceptional day, green for a good day, yellow for a one warning day, orange for a two warning day, and red if he had to go to the principal’s office. He would stress out and worry over his color every day knowing that we expected mostly green days, but Enoch was a rambunctious and inquisitive child, so inevitably we were happy with the yellow days. He would always get stressed out and upset if the teacher moved his color and that would affect his behavior as well. He was in this cycle because he didn’t want to disappoint us. I would explain to him that every day is a brand new day. I would often quote the line in Anne of Green Gables, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” Leave the mistakes of today and don’t carry them with you to tomorrow. I will go farther still. Leave the mistakes of all the yesterdays in the past. Ask for forgiveness and then do 180 degree turn. That’s what repentance is. I saw a bumper sticker a long time ago that said, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” Let there be no doubt in your mind that Jesus scatters your sins and my sins from the east to the west and we are free. Romans 8:14-16 says, “14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Let the mean thing that someone said about you go. Let all of the expectations that the world has placed on you go. Let all of the hatred and demonizing the other go. You don’t have time for that. You have a world to love. If you let it, hate will blacken your heart. As Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” I love this quote from Marianne Williamson about fear. “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, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be. You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. 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 own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Our second scripture for today, John 15, is all about abiding in Christ and loving one another as we abide in Christ. Abide or meno in Greek means to stay, remain, accept, obey and heed. Have you heard of the resting state on an MRI? Resting state is a method of functional brain imaging that can be used to evaluate regional interactions that occur when a subject is not performing an explicit task. In other words resting in the love and grace of God should be how we go through life. If we rest in God’s love, it’s easier to show others God’s love. John 15:16-18 says, “16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. 18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.”
We did not choose God, but God chose us that we may bear fruit in the world. God seeks to be in right relationship with all of God’s children. God’s prevenient grace, that grace that goes before we even realize it, is offered to everyone. If we abide in God’s mercy in our resting state then it will be that much simpler to live into the full matrix of human life. God says it won’t be easy, the world will hate us, just like it did him, but that’s all right. If you speak the truth in love, some people won’t like that. A word of caution here, if you are a truth teller, make sure you’re abiding in Christ, make sure you’re resting in the love of God, because you don’t want to do harm for harm’s sake. You see the enemy wants to only steal, kill, and destroy, and he will use you to attack. He doesn’t like when we tune into the Shepherd’s voice, when we listen to the voice of truth, our Savior’s voice. That voice that tells us we’re somebody.
Remember my earlier rhetorical question about God equipping us for the road ahead? God does and God will. If you abide in the true vine and live to follow God’s heart and leading, God will give you everything you need. You may be thinking that’s impossible. Muhammad Ali said, “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” With God all things are possible. With God all things ARE possible. Amen?
“A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One morning they were eating breakfast in a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.”
But sure enough, the man came over to their table. “Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice. “Oklahoma,” they answered. “Great to have you here in Tennessee,” the stranger said. “What do you do for a living?” “I teach at a seminary,” he replied. “Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a really good story for you.” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down. The professor groaned and thought to himself, “Great. Just what I need — another preacher story!”
The man started, “See that mountain over there?” He pointed out the restaurant window. “Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up because every place he went, he was always asked the same question: “Who’s your father?’ The whole town looked for a family resemblance, whether the boy was at school, in the grocery store or the drug store, people would ask the same question: “Who do you belong to?” He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid going into stores because that question hurt him too much. When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the dreaded question. But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast, he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, ‘Son, who’s your dad?’ The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question of who his father was. The new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to the scared and nervous boy: ‘Wait a minute! I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.’ With that, he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance — go and claim it.’ With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him who his father was, he’d just tell them, ‘I’m a child of God.’
The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?” The professor responded that it really was a great story. As the man turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably would never have amounted to anything!” And he walked away.
The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked, “Do you know that man who was just sitting at our table?” The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody here knows him. That’s Ben Hooper. He’s the former governor of Tennessee!”
Lo and behold, on one of our trips to Nashville, right across from a Cracker Barrel in Tennessee was a marker to Ben Hooper. God actively pursues us. God reaches for us. God chooses us. All we have to do is lay down our fears, baggage, and mistakes and trust in God’s abundant grace. All we have to is follow where Jesus leads like the disciples that we are and abide in the true vine, that’s what the world is crying out for. Something that’s real, and solid as a rock. Something that could make fishermen leave their nets and go fish for people. Something that neither moth nor rust will destroy. “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.”
(There’s a lot of calling out to God and bleeps but it’s funny.)