Posted in Acts, God, Holy Spirit, peter, pride, Transformation

God’s People Expanded

May 15th – 5th Sunday of Easter – God’s People Expanded

I was asked recently what Bible character I most relate to.  What would you say?  Pete Horlbeck said I preach like John.  I would like to think I’m saintly like Mary who shouted for joy when she sung about God using her as God’s vessel to deliver us all.  Or obedient like Ruth.  Or strong like Samson.  Or wise like Deborah.  Or tenacious and undeterred like Paul.  I am much more like look before you leap, foot in my mouth Peter.  

Matthew 14:22-33 says, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.  After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.  Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.  But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” he said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”  And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

When he saw the wind, he was afraid, and he began to sink.

In Matthew 17:1-8, “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”  When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”

Peter, James, and John got an up close look at glow in the dark Jesus, shining in his divinity, so much so that Peter didn’t want to leave.  He offers to put shelters up for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  He’s taking the mountaintop experience to a whole new level planning to hang out on top of the mountain permanently, but God with a big, booming voice cut that out.  I preached last week on the rising of Tabitha/Dorcas.  Peter knows how to do it from watching Jesus heal Jairus’ daughter.  Again, Peter gets an up close personal seat to all these events.  Though he’s not named, I’m sure Peter was among them fighting over who is the greatest disciple after he shared the Passover meal with him on the night in which he was betrayed because he directly mentioned him by name in Luke 22:31-34, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  But [Peter] replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Big words.  And words that he’s going to have to prove later that night.  Later on Luke 22:54-62:

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.  And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.  A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”

But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.

About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”  And he went outside and wept bitterly.”  So it all came true.  Boasting in all his pridefulness in front of his fellow disciples, but as soon as he was out in the world, he’s like a dog with his tail between his legs.  Giving Peter the benefit of the doubt, he may have meant it at the time.  We all do when the boat is rocking merrily along, but when the ship hits the sand all bets are off.  When we get a full gulp of adversity all of us quake in our boots.  That’s what distinguishes this Peter, the one in our text today, from the one in the Gospel accounts.  We see Peter transformed.  We see Peter following the leading of the Holy Spirit.  We see Peter having a hand in God’s people expanded and we should do the same.

 Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

We see Peter transformed.  

A farmer purchases an old, run-down, abandoned farm with plans to turn it into a thriving enterprise. The fields are grown over with weeds, the farmhouse is falling apart, and the fences are collapsing all around.

During his first day of work, the town preacher stops by to bless the man’s work, saying, “May you and God work together to make this the farm of your dreams!”

A few months later, the preacher stops by again to call on the farmer. Lo and behold, it’s like a completely different place — the farmhouse is completely rebuilt and in excellent condition, there are plenty of cattle and other livestock happily munching on feed in well-fenced pens, and the fields are filled with crops planted in neat rows. “Amazing!” the preacher says. “Look what God and you have accomplished together!”

“Yes, Reverend,” says the farmer, “but remember what the farm was like when God was working it alone!”

Simon Peter is long-past questioning his dependence on the Triune God.  He understood that he was doing nothing by his own strength, but the power of the Holy Spirit coursing through him.  Peter is not the leap before you look, foot in his mouth, disciple who’s full of himself.  But he’s fulfilling what Jesus said in Matthew 16:15-18, “He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”  The gates of Hell will not prevail against the church.  Nor against Peter, himself.  Remember when Jesus said in the Upper Room where he shared the first Lord’s Supper with the disciples?  “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

The devil may win a few skirmishes, but he will never win the war, if we surrender to God’s will, God’s calling in our lives.  Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love writes, “Until your knees finally hit the floor, you’re just playing at life, and on some level you’re scared because you know you’re just playing. The moment of surrender is not when life is over. It’s when it begins.”  Peter had his knees hitting the floor moment and he is forever changed and his faith has been transformed.  You see, his friends in Jerusalem, didn’t see his vision in a dream in Joppa, so he lays it out step by step, bit by bit.  He doesn’t cow tow or stutter or appear sheepish in any way.  He just lays it out there that God’s people, holding the keys to the kingdom, need to be expanded.  Underline several times the word need.  Peter was exemplifying what Saint Teresa of Avila once said: ‘We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can — namely, surrender our will and fulfill God’s work in us.’ 

So, there in Jerusalem, in the midst of his circumcised brothers, Peter reached the conclusion of his account and humbly asks in verse 17, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”   After these men heard Peter’s “step by step” explanation and understood that they were complicit in opposing God’s will, “they were silenced.”  What a reversal that was to get the Jewish Christians to welcome the Gentile Christians so whole-heartedly that  “they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

We see Peter following the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

Only a vision of the Holy Spirit could lead Peter to throw out the customs, what was ingrained in him from birth.

In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey tells of a time when he was giving the children’s sermon.  He held up a bag, and pulled a package of barbecued pork rinds for them to munch on. Next he pulled out a fake snake and a large rubber fly, which led to squeals from his young audience. Yancey and a few of the children then sampled scallops.

“Finally, to the children’s great delight,” he writes, “I reached cautiously into the bag and extracted a live lobster. Larry the Lobster we called him, and Larry responded by waving his claws in a most menacing fashion.”

Yancey explained to the congregation that Levitical laws specifically forbade everything they had just eaten. No Orthodox Jew would touch any of the contents of his shopping bag. This is why the message in Acts 11:9 is such radical news: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 

Peter knew that this would be a stretch to the people in Jerusalem, but he was hoping, he had faith that the same Holy Spirit that drew him to that conclusion, was working in them too. 

The famed Methodist preacher Halford Luccock once published a book of sermons called Marching Off the Map. The title comes from a sermon of his in which he referenced a story from the life of Alexander the Great.

After Alexander’s unprecedented string of victories that opened the way for his army to travel from Asia Minor through Persia and into Afghanistan, his generals came to him one day and informed him: “We don’t know what to do next. We have marched off the map.”

This, says Luccock, is the critical moment of decision, and it doesn’t happen only to world conquerors. Frequently, in life, bold and adventuresome people come across situations in which there is no precedent to guide them.

In such times we are faced with two choices: turn around and return to the security of what we already know? Or forge ahead, marching off the map?  Do Peter and the people of Jerusalem trust the Holy Spirit to lead them into a new way, marching off the map?  They all shout a resounding, “ Yes!”

We see Peter having a hand in God’s people expanded and we should do the same.

Rita Snowden tells a story from World War II. In France some soldiers brought the body of a dead comrade to a cemetery to have him buried. The priest gently asked whether their friend had been a baptized Catholic. The soldiers did not know. The priest sadly informed them that in that case, he could not permit burial in the church yard.

So the soldiers dug a grave just outside the cemetery fence. And they laid their comrade to rest. The next day the soldiers came back to add some flowers — only to discover that the grave was nowhere to be found.

Bewildered, they were about to leave when the priest came up to speak to them. It seems that he could not sleep the night before, so troubled was he by his refusal to bury the soldier in the parish cemetery. So early in the morning he left his bed, and with his own hands, he moved the fence — in order to include the body of the soldier who had died.

Grace means we move the fence.  Grace means we don’t judge a book by its cover.   Grace means we don’t live our lives based on a series of assumptions.  But oh my golly, we live to be let into exclusive clubs.  We secretly relish being on the “inside” instead of the “outside.”  It’s safe on the inside, where you have a certain status and it’s comfortable.  It’s hard to welcome the stranger, the people who are different from you, the ones that don’t use the same words, or language.  Maybe they don’t speak churchese.  But the Triune God demands, demands for us to draw the circle wide.  There’s hymn “Draw the Circle Wide” with lyrics by Gordon Light and arrangement by Mark Miller in United Methodist Worship & Song Hymnbook 3154.

God the still-point of the circle

Round you all creation turns

Nothing lost but held forever

in God’s gracious arms

Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still.

Let this be our song: no one stands alone.

Standing side by side, draw the circle, draw the circle wide

Let our hearts touch far horizons

So encompass great and small

Let our loving know no borders

Faithful to God’s call

It reminds me of Paul’s words in Galatians 3:26-28 “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

We don’t have to hog all the love for ourselves.  God’s love is available to all.   Our lives can be transformed just like Peter’s.  If we ask the Holy Spirit to remove all of the bravado and pride, so that we can follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Lastly, we can draw the fence or circle wide.  Showing the world God’s love every chance we get.  Oh, the Holy Spirit, will guide us and lead us where to go, what to say, and how we should say it.  Our God loves a good show and tell story, the believers of the Way, surely saw how the Holy Spirit had transformed Peter, and the world will see us transformed little by little, step by step as we walk in the ways of Jesus, showing compassion when we are hurt, speaking words of love and grace, when it’s so easy to offer judgment and angst, and letting our little lights shine in a world that’s constantly seeking to dim and eventually snuff them out.  The Holy Spirit used Peter and may the Holy Spirit use us.

Posted in Acts, Holy Spirit, Jesus, peter, Sermon

A Mighty Woman

I heard a DJ ask people to call in and share their mother’s best advice.  

“Whatever you’re doing, make the place better than you found it.”

“The world is full of people all too eager to put you down. Don’t join the chorus and say bad things about yourself, to yourself. Your heart is listening.” 

“Never forget your umbrella.”  “My mother always used to say this. She meant it literally, and figuratively. For her, and eventually for me, it was about being prepared for whatever life decides to rain down upon your head. I say the same thing to my daughter over, and over again.” 

“It’s OK to be shy, but it’s not OK to never try.” 

“If you open it, close it. If you turn it on, turn it off. If you take it out, put it back. If you empty it, fill it. If you fill it, empty it.”

“Just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean you should.”

“Every relationship takes compromise, but don’t push down parts of yourself to make your relationship work. It takes two equal people to be partners, not one person, and one half-person.”

“Always prepare early. Give yourself enough time so you have peace of mind and don’t have to rush.”

“We don’t even know what we don’t know.”

“Do not feed the fears.”

What say you, what advice did your mom’s or mother figures give you?

Jessica Larijani, SUCCESS director of digital content, writes, “My mom puts her whole heart into everything she does. For my sisters and me. For my family. Her friends. Even strangers. I admire her for so many things, but especially her generosity.

“I know what she’s doing right now without asking: sewing. She started as soon as there was a need and she hasn’t stopped since. She is part of a mask brigade making and donating protective wear to health care workers and first responders. She’s sewn almost 500 masks since the start of this pandemic, and I know she’ll keep going as long as there are requests.

“My mom’s mission has always been to help others, and her selfless dedication to that has shown me that nothing matters quite like giving kindness. Our actions leave an impact, and we can all make a difference in this life if we just choose to look for the opportunity to help.”

Our actions in this life leave an impact, not only on our children, but on everyone around us.

Acts 9:26-43

36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

What is grief, but love made real?  I wrote that line down when we first watched Marvel’s WandaVision.  We binged it all over again on Friday in preparation for watching Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and I wrote it down again.  What is grief, but love made real?  Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, the account of the early stages of the Way, known today as Christianity, cites one such story about a mighty woman who had died and as Jessica from SUCCESS magazine said, Dorcas put her heart in everything she did and she was loved and cherished in return.

So what is happening in our text today?  What lessons does it have to teach us?  They carried her body to an upper room of her house.  Nowadays, the scene is often played out in a funeral home, a chapel, a sanctuary, or at a graveside.  

The grieving friends of Tabitha, or Dorcas in Greek because Luke realized this story would be told to both Jews and Gentiles, are gathered to­gether in her home. She must have died recently, for she hadn’t been buried yet.

As the sad news spreads through town, her friends and loved ones come and pay their respects. I would imagine the initial conversations at the door are all essentially the same. “I just heard the news.” “I can’t believe it!” “How did it happen?” “Was anyone with her?” “She was such a wonderful person!”  The same questions that we would ask.

My grandparents all had large families and I remember funeral homes a lot as a kid.  The whole family gathered with all the drama and hijinks that comes with whole families gathered.  It gave us a chance to see aunts, uncles, and cousins we wouldn’t see until next Thanksgiving or Christmas.  It gave us a chance to see family we don’t normally see.  It gave us a chance to see the children and the grandchildren of the people that our grandparents’ talked about.  It gave us a chance to share memorable or poignant or funny stories of loved ones and when we were younger to play hide and seek or tag in our funeral clothes until inevitably we were told to stop.  But one time something peculiar happened.  All of us in the family would each dutifully walk up to the casket, pay our respects, and make a mad dash to the couches and wing-backed chairs over in one of the side rooms.  One time, my dad and his two brothers walked out of the viewing room with quizzical looks on their faces.  They each took another pass looking at their aunt’s face.  Something was definitely wrong and they couldn’t figure it out.   I don’t know who noticed first or who said it first, but one of them said, “Aunt blah-blah-blah, is smiling!  She never smiles.”

That certainly was not the case with Tabitha.  Aunt blah-blah-blah, to protect the innocent, may have lived a life “devoted to good works and acts of charity.”  I don’t know if what my dad and uncles said was right because I was little.  However, Dorcas certainly was devoted to good works and lived love as the growing crowd of grieving friends and neighbors attest.  They reminisce together, sharing their favorite stories of Dorcas. With­out the help of videos or pictures, they have to use their own recollections of her.  They don’t have a set time for the visitation like we do now.  Instead they share for hours, telling their favorite stories, recalling their happy memories together, trading the tales of her life.

While they didn’t have slideshows of pictures to spark memories, they have something even more personal because she made it.  They have the things that Tabitha her­self had made.  For each one of them.

Evidently this saintly woman was masterful at making clothes. Not just skillful, but generous, as well. Was there a friend or a neighbor who hadn’t received something from her hands? The remi­niscing turns into a lovely sort of show-and-tell as the townspeople bring out the tokens of Tabitha’s kindness.

“She gave this to me for my last birthday,” one woman tear­fully shares, as she holds up a lovely shawl. “She was so thought­ful! She never forgot a birthday, you know.”

“She was always thinking of other people,” another chimes in.

“This robe,” says another woman, drawing attention to the one she’s wearing, “I’m sure she was making this robe for herself. But when I visited one day and commented about how pretty it was, she held it up against me and said, ‘A perfect fit! It’s yours!’ “

On and on the stories went.

You and I don’t get to hear those stories and the truth is we don’t know any of Dorcas’ backstory.  Scripture doesn’t give us a glimpse of her life up to now.  We have no record of any of her words.  If we were going to wear our historian hats – the only part of her biography that is preserved for us is this story on this one particular day; and she was dead for most of it. 

And YET, for all intents and purposes, we feel like we know her, don’t we?

We feel like we know Tabitha because we’ve all been loved by someone like her.  Perhaps it was your grandfather, your aunt, your sweet next door neighbor, a favorite Sunday school teacher, that one camp counselor who was there when you first encountered Jesus and you realized that he died for you.  All of those people who loved you into being who you are.  Those generous folks who share their love with the world, not just the rich and fancy, but ALL people.

Personally, I don’t know how many Christmas stockings that my Great Aunt Clair made when we were kids, but I know that I still have mine.  She made my mom and aunt long-sleeved denim Winthrop shirts specifically designed for each of them because she was a proud Winthrop alum.  She always gave me books that were Newbery or Caldecott Winners for Christmas.  I would read every book that I received, mostly the latest Nancy Drew, before I would read those.  Sure, they weren’t a fun whodunit mystery, but those “boring” award books taught me lessons that stick with me to this day.  I have a whole host of books and quilts and prayer shawls and cross stitch pictures and pottery and a woodworked chair that my grandfather made that I will cherish long after the Saints who have imbued their spirits of selfless goodness and love long after they have gone and I remember the people that made them.  

So it was with Tabitha. The family members, friends, and neigh­bors had all gathered together in her home, clothed and armed with the loving handiwork that she had left behind. Together they oohed and ahhed. Together they reminscised. Together they showed the symbols of her goodness and love to the apostle Peter.

Peter, the leap before he looks, the foot in his mouth, and yet, the rock on which Jesus built his church, had become a pillar of the early church and he was staying in the nearby town of Lydda. He was just a few miles from Joppa where Tabitha had lived. So the Chris­tians there sent word to Peter, urging him to come to Joppa right away.

When Peter arrived, he was taken immediately up to the room where the body of Dorcas lay. There he was surrounded by the grieving loved ones, each one with an article of clothing to show him, each one with a story to tell him. Surely Peter was moved by the stories of the mourners.  Surely his heart was touched by the good works of love she had left behind.

Then he did something unusual. Peter sent them all out of the room.  They hadn’t asked him anything.  

He abruptly told them – all who had gathered  – to leave the room.  It would have seemed strange to them, he didn’t know Tabitha.  He hadn’t heard anything about Dorcas until he came to her house.  He’d never even laid eyes on her.  I can’t imagine what they whispered to one another as they walked down the stairs, leaving Peter alone in the viewing room.

He told the people to go because that’s what he had seen Jesus do.

Years before, when Peter and the disciples had chosen to follow Jesus along the dusty roads of Galilee, Peter had been in a similar bedroom. The twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus had died, and the house was full of mourners and Jesus sent them away. Or at least out of the room.  Accompanied only by a few disciples and the grieving parents, Jesus spoke to the little girl. And in speaking to her, he raised her to life.

So, now, the disciple followed the example that he had seen set by his Master, his Rabbi and did the same thing.  He sent the mourners out of the room, and then he spoke to the corpse. “Tabitha, get up,” Peter said, and the dead woman opened her eyes. Then she sat up. And then, Peter called all of her  friends and loved ones back into the room and you could have knocked them over like a feather.

They thought she was dead.  They are bursting with joy!  They can’t believe their eyes!  Now they get to say all those nice things TO her, instead of about her.  Their grief is turned to love made real in the flesh.  They could hug her and she could hug them back.

It was not Peter’s strength that brought about her healing, but by the Spirit of Jesus working within him and through him and for him.  He saw his rabbi do it and he had faith and trust that the Spirit of the Lord would do it again.

Peter stays with Simon, the tanner, but he soon goes on his way, on to the next place where he will stay, where he will preach, where he will heal. He leaves Tabitha, alive and well, in Joppa. She is among the good love works that Peter leaves behind.

Earlier, we caught a glimpse of the good love works that Tabitha had left behind. Tunics, cloaks, robes, shawls. But Peter has his own profound collection. Healed bodies, lives transformed in Christ, and a living Tabitha — these are among the good works that Peter leaves behind.

Peter’s example and Tabitha’s example challenge us. We see what each left behind, and we ask, “What is it that I leave? What is the impact and effect you or I having been in a community, a church, a school, a workplace, a family?  What is the good, the love, the mercy we leave behind?  A life well-lived?”

Where Tabitha had been, she left behind symbols of love and generosity, tokens of caring and love. Where Peter had been, he left behind life and health, gladness and rejoicing.

We don’t have to be an artisan to leave an impact, but as Mary Oliver asks “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Are you going to live love or are you going to live in fear, anger, and let the root the bitterness creep in?

We consider the example of Tabitha, and we observe that the good works she left behind remind us of her Lord.  Afterall, he is the original artist and he gifted her with the creativity and skill with which she made everything.  He modeled for  her the love and the generosity that she shared with all of the people in her community. 

We consider Peter and we see that the works he left behind also remind us of his Lord. When we look at Peter, we remember Jesus who sent his followers out in Matthew 10 “to proclaim the good news … Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”  We remember Peter who went about doing good in Acts 10:38 and when Jesus told Peter and the rest of the disciples in John 14 that they would do the works he had done and even greater works.  The Holy Spirit was with Peter.  And with Tabitha/Dorcas.  And it can be alive in us.  Helping us leave behind good love works.  Giving us the strength, perseverance in the darkness of this world, and the Mighty will to do it, we can point people to our one and only Savior in whom all of our good works are inspired and are from.  That’s the best advice of all.  We point people to our Savior by our good love works so they can see, feel and know Jesus.  Amen.

Posted in Acts, Ananias, Holy Spirit, Jesus, paul, Transformation

Ultimate Transformation

The next five weeks are going to take a deeper look at the Holy Spirit at work in the book of Acts.  Last week’s lectionary reading was the resurrected Jesus appearing to the disciples in a locked room and breathing on them the Holy Spirit, the ruach, the very breath of God that ignites, sustains and transforms.  Call this a 5 week special feature:  Ultimate Transformation with Saul and Ananias, A Mighty Woman with Tabitha/Dorcas and Peter, God’s People Expanded with Peter and the Gentile expansion pack, Dreams not Beans with Paul and Lydia, and finally Freedom with Paul and Silas.  All leading us toward Pentecost which for all intents and purposes IS the Holy Spirit’s day.  Blow, Spirit, blow!

You know that we have access to the Holy Spirit right here and right now.  The Holy Spirit is our advocate and comforter, interceding for us when we don’t have the words to cry out, intervening as a hedge of protection, guiding and leading us to where we should go and even giving us the words to say. 

I preached last week upstairs that we serve a show and tell God.  God shows us the ultimate transformation when Saul becomes Paul.  Saul is high on the hog, a big man on campus, a titan of Wall Street, a superstar of the Jewish faith when he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus.  The Lord revealed his plans to a hesitant Ananias who says, yes, Lord, and he gets a firsthand look at what our Lord Jesus can do.  The practical point for today is two-fold – if we think we’re too far gone, irredeemable, not worthy or good enough our Jesus loves home improvement projects and if the triune God is telling you do something, no matter how crazy it sounds, we as members of the Way should hop to it!  If we follow the Spirit’s leading everything that was lost will be found in the sweet name of Jesus.

Acts 9:1-20

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

If we think we’re too far gone, irredeemable, not worthy or good enough our Jesus loves home improvement projects.

Extreme Makeover Home Edition first made the big home reno transformation scene with, “Move that bus!  Move that bus!”  Now it’s common place with Fixer Upper, Home Town, Zombie Houses, Love it or List it, and the list goes on.  We often get sucked into watching those shows because we want to see the great big transformation – the huge reveal at the end.  It’s rare that we see a transformation from sinner to saint as dramatic as that of Saul to Paul.  We know that there are stories out there, however and here is one such story. The story of Cain Lackey from Patrick County, Virginia.

Cain Lackey was known as the Meanest Man in Patrick County. He was rough and tough.  The year was 1892 and Patrick County, Virginia, was a place of dirt fields and mud roads. There wasn’t always enough food. People died because there were no doctors. Some places were almost impossible to get to because of the roads.

For all that, it was still very beautiful. There were the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, and the music of winding rivers racing over the boulders in their streambeds. In the western part of the county were rich fields and long grasses. There were dairy farms, and orchards so plentiful that the smell of the fruit was like perfume.

Two ministers, Brother Dove and Brother Elgin, were standing at the edge of a swamp.  Down below, a tough, wiry man was digging a ditch. Brother Dove was a revival preacher, new in town, and Brother Elgin warned him about the man who was digging: Cain Lackey, the Meanest Man in four counties.

Brother Elgin proceeded to tell Brother Dove about Cain Lackey, how he could carry a railroad tie the way most men carried a two-by-four, how he could out-wrestle and out-fight anyone else who’d ever passed through. And he told him about the famous fight against a man known as Champion Ben, who he’d laid flat with a single punch, and how it had required twelve men to pull Cain Lackey off the former champion.

Brother Elgin also told him about the man’s father, who kept him from school, worked him from dawn to dusk, made him sleep outdoors all summer long, and how Cain had built a working mill by himself at the age of ten.

No one could level another man with his fist like Cain. No one was stronger or meaner.  “Well, he certainly looks like the strongest man in the county,” Brother Dove said, watching the way Cain Lackey thrust his shovel into the swamp, and sent great clouds of mud into the air behind him.

“I’m going to invite him to the revival,” Brother Dove said suddenly.

“He’ll never come,” Brother Elgin said.

“He’ll definitely never come if we don’t ask him,” Brother Dove replied.

Brother Elgin watched as the Brethren minister descended into the swamp. Brother Elgin could see Brother Dove step first ankle deep, then knee deep into the swamp, getting mud and gunk all over him. He watched as Brother Dove stuck out his hand to Cain Lackey. After a moment, Cain took the hand.

A few moments later Brother Dove was walking back to Brother Elgin. Mud clung to his boots and pants.

“What did he say?” Brother Elgin asked. Cain Lackey had already returned to digging. Not much seemed to keep him from work.  “He said he’d come. Is he as good as his word?”

“Yes.  If he tells you he’ll come he’ll be there. He’s just that way. He’ll do what he tells you. But if he tells you he’ll give you a whipping, he’ll do that, too.”

That night at the revival, the church was full. People had come from miles around to hear Brother Dove. There were young people and old people. There were children and mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, and plenty of babies. All the windows were open, and still it was hot, very hot inside, yet no one left. No one wanted to leave, because when someone like Brother Dove came to preach revival it was something special, very special.

The songs were the sorts of songs that everyone already knew. A sweaty man in the front of the church moved his arms up and down, right and left, to direct the singing, but everyone already knew the songs.

Brother Dove looked out over the congregation, and then he saw, in the doorway of the church, a big man standing. It was Cain Lackey, all right, and he had a child in his arms.  He hadn’t thought about it, but he now knew that Cain Lackey was married, and had children. There was a beautiful child in his arms. There was no room for anyone else in the church, but when Cain came in the door, people were afraid of him and made room for him to sit down.

Opening his Bible, Brother Dove began to read, and to talk. It got hotter and hotter in the building, and Brother Dove was dripping with sweat, and so was everyone else. It had gotten dark outside, and it was getting dark in the church as well. He could barely see into the back row, and he wondered, what did Cain Lackey, the Meanest Man in Patrick County, think about what he was saying?

When it was time for the closing song, some were crying in the church, and some were squeezing forward so that Brother Dove and Brother Elgin and all the other Brethren ministers could pray for them.  Many people were coming forward.

Brother Dove could see a dark shadow, a silhouette of a man, standing at the back of the church. Cain Lackey was standing, but he could see there was no way Cain Lackey could come forward, even if he wanted to. The church was too packed.

And then he saw something that surprised him. Cain Lackey was standing on top of a church bench. He was holding a little girl in his arms, and she was fast asleep. This person who was supposed to be the worst person in Patrick County had a little girl asleep in his arms, and he was coming forward by walking on top of the church benches.

The other ministers stood back as if they were shocked, but Brother Dove welcomed Cain Lackey, and hugged him very tightly, him and his daughter. Then Brother Dove invited Cain Lackey to kneel while they prayed together. All along, the singing continued. Then a cool breeze blew in the window, a breeze that brought relief and comfort.

When he was through praying, Brother Dove raised his hands and suddenly everyone was quiet. No one was singing. No one was crying. Everyone was listening.

“Today you have seen a miracle of grace,” he said. “God has called this man to do great things. You will be the ones who will see these things. Welcome this man into our church!”

Cain Lackey went on to learn to read and write. He became a minister and built many churches. He was elected to public office and spent tax money to build roads to improve access to rural areas even though it made him unpopular. He worked to provide social services for poor people who had been ignored by other politicians. He smashed stills where he found them. He changed lives. Most of all, he lived a life of grace and service to Jesus Christ.  A life transformed.

Saul, much like Cain Lackey, had a reputation of being a very bad man, a big bully like I said in the children’s sermon.  Saul was a man to be feared.  Saul was very zealous in the Jewish faith.  He called himself a Hebrew among Hebrews, so fervent in the faith and traditions of his own people that he stood by and watched over the cloaks of the mob that dragged Stephen off and stoned him to death.   Paul himself recalls elsewhere how he was fervent in persecution, determined to eradicate the Jesus movement by any means possible. In Galatians 1:13 he says that he “violently” laid hands on Christians. It was an overall empty life.

Saul’s conversion is the greatest act of transformation in the New Testament. It’s one of those “if he can change I guess I can change” stories that we need to prove that our gospel truly transforms lives.

If the triune God is telling you to do something, no matter how crazy it sounds, we as members of the Way should hop to it!

God uses Ananias, an ordinary Christian disciple to heal Saul.  This is the only time this particular Ananias is mentioned in scripture except when Paul is giving his testimony in Acts 22:12,  “A certain Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well-spoken of by all the Jews living [in Damascus].”  When the Lord called to Ananias in a vision, he answered, “Here I am, Lord.”  After he’s given his instructions, Ananias vocalizes his fears and hesitations.   Word on the street was that Saul was evil and he had authority from the Chief Priests in Jerusalem to bind anyone invoke the name of Jesus. 

Every call from God is a personal call. God’s call comes to us person-to-person. It is not a conference call. Some of us respond by putting God on hold. Others of us use call-waiting and take other calls first. Then there are those of us who try to return the call collect – making God pay for calling us.  And yet Ananias answered Jesus.  He trusted Jesus, even if he may have harbored doubts and fears, and it is to Ananias, not Saul, that the purpose and plan for the new apostle’s life is first revealed. 

Ananias follows Jesus’ instructions.  The text doesn’t say if he had doubts or hesitancies, but the only way I “out” myself to Saul as a member of the Way with his reputation was to hear a voice from the Lord.  And even then…Ananias must have his own real transformation from righteous and respected Jew to faithful follower of the Way.  His was a transformation not recorded within the Bible, but he had to have one because he addresses this fearful enemy of his people as “Brother Saul” — demonstrating with his words his trust in the Lord’s transformative abilities. I would love an insight into Ananias thought process as he does the unthinkable. Outing himself as a follower of the Way and being the Jesus’ instrument bringing Saul healing. And while the vision’s words does not make the source of Ananias’ healing ability clear, Ananias himself knows better than to take credit for such a miracle. The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ presence here on earth, is the source of this healing. Saul is no longer an outsider persecuting the church; he is now a true brother in Christ.

“Here I am, Lord.”  Ananias’ behavior in this story gives us a game plan for what we should do. God wants Ananias, an ordinary man, a simple disciple, in an act of courage to lay hands on Saul – essentially to make a pastoral call on this terrorist. Here is Ananias’ reaction. Step 1: He answered. Step 2: He confirmed the assignment. Step 3: He went. Step 4: He laid his hands on Saul.  Step 5: He affirmed his new family member, when he called him “Brother.”  

Ananias understood and lived as a good Jew, who was now a follower of Jesus, a disciple of the Way. Proverbs 3:5-6 which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  He embodied the hymn “Trust and Obey.”

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word

What a glory He sheds on our way!

While we do His good will, He abides with us still

And with all who will trust and obey

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey

If we follow the Spirit’s leading, everything that was lost will be found in the sweet name of Jesus.

Lee Strobel once knew the emptiness and lack of direction of living without the Triune God – God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit – in his life. Though he was a successful journalist, by his own account he was not a happy man. He describes himself at that stage in his life as “profane and angry.” To prove his point he cites a time when he came home one night and kicked a hole in the living room wall just out of anger with his life. Can you imagine the impression his conduct made on his five-year-old daughter? But Jesus Christ came into Lee Strobel’s life and changed his life radically. He says that five months after he gave his life to Christ, his little girl went to her mother and said, “Mommy, I want God to do for me what he’s done for Daddy.” Strobel says that God changed not only him, God changed his family and changed his world. When true God-given transformation happens it leaves nothing untouched and changes your whole wide world.

It was hard to argue with a testimony like that.  The scales had fallen off Lee Strobel’s eyes and he could now see both physically and spiritually.  Just like Saul.  The text says, “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.”  It was quite the transformation!  A week before he had given himself the task with the Chief Priests blessing to round up believers of the Way and today he’s preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.  What blasphemy! To those Jewish ears.  But what a transformation!  A testimony!  Saul could sing quite literally, “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

He who was lost, is found, indeed and he’s ready to preach Jesus’ transforming power far and wide.  Saul was not irredeemable.  Ananias trusts in God’s leading.  The result is revival then and now if we show and tell the world as the Spirit leads in the sweet, sweet name of Jesus – the One who has the power to transform our lives.

Posted in Authority, Autopilot, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Mark, Sermons, sin, worry

What have you to do with us?

In our text today, we see Jesus preaching in the temple with authority.  He doesn’t have authority because he outranks the people like in the military, nor does he have authority because he’s the boss of people.  Jesus was a carpenter. He had no positional authority in the community. His authority came from his wisdom and knowledge and his competence at interpreting God’s Word. Even as a boy Jesus wowed people with his wisdom and his grasp of scripture.  The people in Capernaum could not possibly have known that his authority came from God.   All they knew is that they had never heard an individual teach like Jesus taught.

I’ve always imagined Jesus as one of those people whom you might not see enter the room.  He doesn’t seem like one who would ever make a grand entrance. But before long you would feel His presence. You might not even be aware of it at first because it was something subtle. But pretty soon you’d find yourself drawn to Him, like everyone else. Why? Because His words rang true. His words sprang from the heart and they resonated with power and authenticity. It was as if He had a direct line to God. And that’s what amazed His listeners.  There were no gimmicky tricks or false promises to get folks to open up their wallets to support His ministry. There was no phony manipulation. Jesus was truly concerned about everyone who came to hear Him. Jesus wanted them to understand, to know, to learn about God’s love and forgiveness and this is why this passage is so important.  Jesus has authority over everything and if we give Jesus authority over our lives then he will make us clean.

Mark 1:21-28
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

We’ve all faced the challenges of 2020 and its dragging into 2021.  How are we to respond in the face of so much mess?  So much in this world we can’t control.  From the tensions of our politics to loneliness and isolation.  We turn to Jesus.  He has the Authority to cast away the evil and bitterness that creeps in.  He has the Authority to cast out the complacency and apathy that we so easily fall into.  And most of all Jesus can cast away the doubt and fear that seems to plague us like a lion that’s stalking its prey.  The demons ask, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”  And we confidently and boldly answer EVERYTHING. 

We give authority to Jesus, the Lord of our lives.

First, Jesus has the Authority to cast away the evil and bitterness that creeps in.  I don’t know about you but I’m generally a positive, glass half full person.  I seek joy.  It’s been hard, y’all.  It’s like we’re horses that used to be free to roam all over the hills and the meadows, and now we’re in downtown Charleston carrying tourists on our backs with the eye guards that block our vision.  I’ve started recording the Today Show.  I watch the little bit of news at the beginning of the broadcast and fast forward to Hoda’s Morning Boost.

https://www.today.com/video/-who-can-be-quiet-the-longest-not-these-4-year-old-twins-99255365842

We are called to bring joy.  We are called to shine our light.  We are called to fix our eyes on Jesus in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”  The sin that so easily entangles us.  I appreciate the word entangle as it gives us this image. 

Our sin ensnares us but if we fix our eyes of Jesus and rest in His authority and love we’re standing on solid ground, we won’t slip or fall. 

We don’t want to be arrogant, and think of ourselves better than what we are, because that also is not of God.  The elder brother was just as sinful in the prodigal son passage.  He may not have cashed in his inheritance, but he was resentful to the point of bitterness.  Hebrews 12 goes on to say in verse 15, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  We can’t let the negativity of the world, the gloomy days, the circumstances creep in and make us see with shrouded eyes.  Jesus is the mighty One, our Savior, and He lives within us who claim Him as Lord. Don’t ever forget: “Greater is He that is in you, than He that is in the world.”

Second, Jesus has the Authority to cast out the complacency and apathy that we so easy to fall into.

I’ve always loved Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mockingbird.  It’s based in the South and one of the main characters is a lawyer, Atticus Finch.  Atticus Finch is defending a black man in a system in which he doesn’t have a chance of winning. But he defends him anyway, because he knows that the system is unfair and evil and he feels as if he has a moral obligation to take the case. In the end he lost the case, the innocent man is convicted, and the innocent man is later shot and killed.

The lawyer’s daughter, Scout, is in the courtroom at the conclusion of the trial. She is sitting in the balcony that is segregated for blacks. There is no room on the main floor. The courtroom is packed. The verdict is given. The judge leaves. The white people downstairs all leave the courtroom. The people in the balcony remain.

He was defeated. But he was on the side of truth and righteousness and peace. So he won.  He didn’t let complacency with the status quo, nor did he let the excuse of apathy of the racial situation in the South get him down.  He stood up in truth and empathy and stepped into another person’s shoes.  We have to act with humility and live out God’s grace especially during these times of challenge. 

Jesus didn’t ignore the unclean Spirit or act like he wasn’t aware of it.  He called it to the front and rebuked it.  He wasn’t apathetic or complacent, he did something about it.  We have a responsibility to not be lulled into bobbing along on the log.  We have to STAND UP.

Mark doesn’t tell us word for word what Jesus taught, but he emphasizes the result of that teaching.  He does that throughout his Gospel.  He shows us the results that Jesus’ teaching had on others. It should be evident in our lives that we are under the authority of Jesus Christ.

Third, Jesus can cast away the doubt and fear that seems to plague us like a lion that’s stalking its prey.

Matthew West has a song out now called “Truth be told” that says:

Lie number one you’re supposed to have it all together

And when they ask how you’re doing

Just smile and tell them, “Never better”

Lie number 2 everybody’s life is perfect except yours

So keep your messes and your wounds

And your secrets safe with you behind closed doors

Truth be told

The truth is rarely told, now

I say I’m fine, yeah I’m fine oh I’m fine, hey I’m fine but I’m not

I’m broken

And when it’s out of control I say it’s under control but it’s not

And you know it

I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it

When being honest is the only way to fix it

There’s no failure, no fall

There’s no sin you don’t already know

So let the truth be told

There’s a sign on the door, says, “Come as you are” but I doubt it

‘Cause if we lived like it was true, every Sunday morning pew would be crowded

But didn’t you say the church should look more like a hospital

A safe place for the sick, the sinner and the scarred and the prodigals

Like me

Like us. We’re so afraid to let our doubts and fears show.  We’re so afraid to set aside our masks and be honest.  Under the authority of Jesus Christ, under the Lordship of Jesus, he wants us to bring our true, honest and authentic selves to the table.  He wants our mess, not our curated lives on Instagram.  He wants the church to be the hospital the Great Physician is working through.

Singer and songwriter Gloria Gaither put it this way: “Jesus. The mere mention of His name can calm the storm, heal the broken, raise the dead . . . I’ve heard a mother softly breathe His name at the bedside of a child delirious with fever, and I’ve watched that little body grow quiet and the fevered brow cool. I’ve sat beside a dying saint, her body racked with pain, who in those final fleeting seconds summoned her last ounce of ebbing strength to whisper earth’s sweetest name Jesus, Jesus . . . Emperors have tried to destroy it; philosophers have tried to stamp it out. Tyrants have tried to wash it from the face of the earth with the very blood of those who claim it. Yet still it stands . . . Jesus . . .” Friends, that’s authority.  And we have access to that authority.

Every Sunday morning during the first block of songs, I pray that the Holy Spirit reign in this place and us gathered here and at home.  I pray that we would be renewed and refreshed in the service.  I pray that hearts will be awakened and moved.  I pray that whatever needs to be extinguished in our lives, be extinguished.  I pray that whatever needs to be lifted up, awakened, and urged forward will be.  I pray to Jesus cast anything not of You from this place and this people and bind it at the foot of your cross, covered in your precious blood in Jesus’ name.  I pray this prayer each week knowing and trusting in the authority of Jesus that he can make a way even through all of the distractions in our hearts and our heads.  All the technical difficulties.  The Holy Spirit can intercede even with my stumbling speech.  The Holy Spirit can even reach through those screens and grab you in the name of Jesus.

Jesus has an intimate interest in our lives and if we invite him, if we abide, or make a home with him as he has made with us then our lives are going to be more.   Jesus won’t take away the problems or the challenges, but Jesus will be with us to help carry the load.  As it says in Matthew 6:25-26, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  Trust that if you’re seeking him first, you are seeking his authority over your life, then he will be faithful and good. 

Back before this pandemic when I would travel for meetings or even going on vacation, I rarely used cruise control.  I’m too much of a control freak.  It’s hard for me to sit on autopilot.  Releasing that control to the One who holds the future, the One who knows each step that is part of the Master plan, is scary for me, but freeing.  I’m not talking about an autopilot that relinquishes our free will, I’m talking about one that frees us from the bitterness, complacency, and the fear.  Jesus setting our course.  The Enemy wants to twist us up inside and Jesus offers the vaccine to that jumbled mess of our lives, that sweet, precious relief that only He can give.  As John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”   So when the demons ask, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”  We with a bold confidence can answer EVERYTHING. 

Posted in Abundance, Courage, Fear, Fears, Gifts, Holy Spirit, Jesus, parable, Sermons, Spiritual Gifts, Talent

The Parable of the Talents

Matthew 25:14-30

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.  The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.  As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

This parable has so many interpretations.  Some look at it as a prosperity Gospel text – if you earn more, then God will bless you with even more.  A get rich scheme.  Some see God as the harsh master, punishing the slave that buried the coin.  But Jesus never actually says it represents God.  I’m choosing to look at the text this way.  God wants us to take courage and use our gifts, knowing that we have something to offer, and living up to our potential.  God wants us to use our gifts for the greater good, for God’s glory!

Y’all know me, I don’t like being still.  I don’t like feeling lazy.  I’ve created an indention on my bed that doesn’t match the other side – my baby tooth cracked in August and it had to be removed, COVID, fractured ankle, and tomorrow I get the implant.  Lord have mercy.  I have a definite fear of missing out and in more ways than I’d like to admit, my sense of worth is tied to my work.  I feel like if I’m not producing anything or cleaning something or washing or folding clothes, then I’m lazy or people think I’m slacking off.  Those are my own negative tapes and fears of not measuring up.  I think it was fear that made the slave bury the master’s coin in the ground.  Fear is a dangerous thing.  It can put these ideas in your head, these tapes – you’re not good enough, you’re not worthy, you’re not…and it can twist your pictures of people.  Maybe he was not a harsh master, maybe he didn’t do what the servant says he did.  Maybe the servant’s own insecurity had colored his vision.  Fear does that.  It clouds things and twists things, so we don’t see clearly.

I’ve used this before, but I need to hear it every now and then.  Marianne Williamson writes in Manifesting the Glory of God, “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 and talented?  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.”

Sometimes we’re afraid to let go of our fear.  It’s like stepping out of our most worn, comfy pajamas into “real clothes.”  2 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”  We need to take courage, to take heart, Jesus overcame this world.  Jesus overcame every single one of our fears and he’s ready to answer if and when we choose to listen.

 Getting over your fear is hard.  Its  journey and daily choices along the way.  It’s retraining your brain and relishing in the love of God.  As Dorothy Day writes in On Pilgrimage, “Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may, at any moment, become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself: “What else is the world interested in?” What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is Love. Love casts out fear.”  God is love.  In 1 John it says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  Perfect love casts out fear.  And there’s no more perfect love than Jesus’ love.

Perfect love, Jesus’ love leaves no room for the enemy to weasel in.  When we’re feeling down and discouraged, Jesus helps us say, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”    If we profess that Jesus is Lord of our lives. We should mean it. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If he’s Lord of our lives, Jesus can give us the strength to let go of our big and small fears, insecurities, shame – we can let go of all of the “stuff.” Once Jesus helps you let go of the fear, you can grab hold of all the gifts he’s given you!  We all have something to give.

1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-7 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 

For the common good.

I heard Quaker theologian Parker Palmer tell a story about abundance once. The way I remember it is that Palmer was a passenger on a plane that pulled away from the gate, taxied to a remote corner of the field and stopped. You know the feeling: The plane stops and you look out the window and see that you’re not on the runway and the engines wind down and your heart sinks. The pilot came on the intercom and said, “I have some bad news and some really bad news. The bad news is there’s a storm front in the West, Denver is socked in and shut down. We’ve looked at the alternatives and there are none. So we’ll be staying here for a few hours. That’s the bad news. The really bad news is that we have no food and it’s lunch time.” Everybody groaned. Some passengers started to complain, some became angry. But then, Palmer said, one of the flight attendants did something amazing.

She stood up and took the intercom mike and said, “We’re really sorry, folks. We didn’t plan it this way and we really can’t do much about it. And I know for some of you this is a big deal. Some of you are really hungry and were looking forward to a nice lunch. Some of you may have a medical condition and really need lunch. Some of you may not care one way or the other and some of you need to skip lunch. So I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. I have a couple of breadbaskets up here and we’re going to pass them around and I’m asking everybody to put something in the basket. Some of you brought a little snack along — something to tide you over — just in case something like this happened, some peanut butter crackers, candy bars. And some of you have a few LifeSavers or chewing gum or Rolaids. And if you don’t have anything edible, you have a picture of your children or spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend or a bookmark or a business card. Everybody put something in and then we’ll reverse the process. We’ll pass the baskets around again and everybody can take out what he/she needs.

“Well,” Palmer said, “what happened next was amazing. The griping stopped. People started to root around in pockets and handbags, some got up and opened their suitcases stored in the overhead luggage racks and got out boxes of candy, a salami, a bottle of wine. People were laughing and talking. She had transformed a group of people who were focused on need and deprivation into a community of sharing and celebration. She had transformed scarcity into a kind of abundance.”

After the flight, which eventually did proceed, Parker Palmer stopped on his way off the plane — deplaning, that is — and said to her, “Do you know there’s a story in the Bible about what you did back there? It’s about Jesus feeding a lot of people with very little food.”

“Yes,” she said. “I know that story. That’s why I did what I did.”

She was living out of the “abundance of Jesus.”  Being the hands and feet, walking and talking the talk.  She made ready what it says in 2 Timothy 1:14, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”  You see we all have a good treasure entrusted to us and we are able to use it with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

We all have something to give.  If we use our gifts to God’s glory, God will give us far beyond what we ask and imagine.  It talks about “abundance” in this parable and if we all give what we have, what we are able to, that’s what it’s like to live in abundance.  To give what you can out of the blessings that God has given you.

Luke 21:1-4, “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  See, this is not a parable of prosperity Gospel.  Jesus recognizes when we’re withholding our treasures and when we are giving out of our “abundant living” all that we have.  Jesus sees potential in everyone and everything.  He sees us as we could be without the fears and the baggage.  When we let the Holy Spirit work and live within us, we don’t worry about hoarding our gifts.  We give them freely.  If we know nothing is ours, then we let our gifts freely flow through our fingers to where the Spirit needs and where the Spirit leads.   

The story is told of a team of engineers who worked for Thomas Edison in his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. For many months, they pursued a line of research that ultimately led them nowhere. What had started out so promising turned out to be a blind alley. In fear and trembling, they went in to see the boss, to tell him of their failure.

Edison surprised them all by congratulating them. True, they had come up with no useful invention, but they had increased the scope of human knowledge. They had eliminated certain possibilities that would, in the future, allow others to direct their own efforts more effectively. Most of all, they had fulfilled their assignment. They had not buried their talent in the ground. They had risked much in a quest for great reward.

The problem with playing it safe is that, all too often, it means not playing at all. The call goes out, in the church, for people to pitch in and help in some way, either financially or by exercising other spiritual gifts. Too often the voice of fear in our heads wins out. “Not me,” it says. “I couldn’t do that.” Or there’s “Not now. Now is not the right time.”

Always, the immediate follow up questions should be: “If not me, who?” and “If not now, when?”  Who are you to play small?  You’re a child of the Most High King.  Who are we to play small? We are the body of Christ? Jesus’ ambassadors on Earth, We have been entrusted with a treasure, our gifts and graces and the Holy Spirit here to activate them “for such a time as this.” What are we waiting for? Are we going to let our fear, the enemy’s whispers, stop us? Are we going to bury our talents in the dirt? No, with Jesus’ help, we are going to stand up and be who God created us to be, as the new creations that the Potter wants us to be and knows that we are.

To view the actual worship service, click here: https://vimeo.com/showcase/bethanyumcworship

Posted in Demonize, Evil, Faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Other, Peace, UMC

Walk by Faith.

We left two magazines at the store, they’re part of my ritual of self-care, so I went back to pick them up.  Mike had just gotten back from fixing a bass pedal and he asked how I was.  My heart is cloudy and rainy like the sky in Summerville this afternoon and as I listened to Needtobreathe’s Difference Maker from their Wastelands album.  The jumbled thoughts from the Judicial Council decision and our divisive political climate where weighing heavy on me.  As I preach Children’s Sabbath on Sunday, I’m struck by the theme “Walk by Faith.”   I didn’t know who to call, to express my grief, looking for hope, so I began talking to Jesus, as the tears began to fall.

I wish there weren’t “winners” and “losers.”  I wish we didn’t demonize the “other” side.  I wish we could listen and not be planning our counter-attack in our head.  I know, love and respect some clergy that will leave the UMC if the Traditional plan passes at General Conference and I know, love and respect some that will leave if the One Church Plan passes at General Conference, not to mention the people in the pew.  I also know, that God will still be God, and some of my blog readers and most of my friends don’t much care what happens in our denomination.  (smile)  But earlier, I turned on the news…….I have no words, much less for an explanation for my 9 and 11 year old who are full of questions.

As I was mulling these things over in the car I realized, I need to “Walk by Faith.”  I don’t know how to navigate the denomination divide/political climate/interpersonal relationships with all kinds of the land mines out there!  But I know Who makes crooked lines straight.  I know someone that says He’s the way, the truth and the life.  I know that I will ask the Holy Spirit to guide and lead me in the coming months of navigation.  The Devil is alive, y’all.  Evil is real.  He seeks to disrupt.  He seeks to divide.  And isn’t he having a field day in our lives today??!!  Progressive.  Conservative.  Moderate.  Libertarian.  Liberal.  Evangelical.  Democrat.  Anarchist.  Republican.  And everyone in between.

We all need Jesus.

I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

We all need hope.  We all need the light.  We all need to seek the good in the world.  We all need Jesus.  When the world is at it’s darkest, when all hope seems lost, we TRUST and MOVE and have our very BEING in the One who commands even the wind and the waves with a Word.

My prayer as we continue to be bombarded by all sorts of “stuff” is that we rest on the Almighty love and grace of God.  We trust Jesus to shield us and He seeks to work all things for our good.  Remembering as we go on the twists and turns of this journey who we are and Whose we are.  Holy Spirit come down and heal our hearts.  Give us the ears to listen and the words to speak.  Give us your boldness to speak up.  Blow peace where you will, igniting, uniting, and sometimes dividing when we do more harm than good.  Give us your wisdom and discernment and shine your all-encompassing light on every thought and situation. Help us to seek to be followers of Jesus who walk in the way that leads to life.  We walk by faith, not be sight.  Please give us Your vision for Your kingdom come.  Amen.

PDBlog_WalkByFaith

 

 

Posted in calling, Center, Creator, Doubt, faithful, Fear, Frederick Buechner, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Journey, Passion, Spiritual Gifts, Talent, Treasures, Uncategorized, Variety, Vocation

God Chooses Us FOR Something

Do y’all remember what we talked about last week?  God calling the disciples and they left their nets because we can’t carry our baggage with us on this crazy, awesome journey of being a disciple of Jesus.  God chooses us just as we are.  Remember the story at the end about Ben Hooper, we’re all children of God and we should go claim our inheritance.  Let’s continue with our Chosen Series.

Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Let us start with a definition of “talent.” tal•ent

  1. natural aptitude or skill. “he possesses more talent than any other player”
    synonyms: flair, aptitude, facility, gift, knack, technique, touch, bent, ability,expertise, capacity, faculty;
    2. a former weight and unit of currency, used especially by the ancient Romans and Greeks.

A talent is a large sum of money, equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years. As a result of the wide circulation of this story, “talent” came into the English language in the Middle Ages as a term for God-given abilities, “gifts and graces.”  Isn’t it fascinating that just from this biblical passage that we get the first definition from the second one.

Queen Elizabeth II says this about talent.  “I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”  So she says it’s all about working together.  Bringing all of our talents to the table.  Larry Bird, basketball player says this about talent, “A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.”  Larry Bird knows what it is to work hard.  He says you can’t merely rely on talent alone, but you have to work hard to develop that talent.  Soledad O’Brian, broadcaster, says this, “I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?”  A common theme throughout our “Chosen Series” is that fear limits us from doing what we can with the talents God has given us.

2 Timothy 1:6-14 says, “14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”  Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.  God gives us this treasure that God’s entrusted to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Do you hear that?  We’ve been given this jewel and if we hide it, just like in the parable of the talents, we will not be rewarded.  God wants us to share it with others.  God doesn’t choose us simply for the sake of choosing; being chosen doesn’t mean that you’re better than others.  When God chooses us, we’re chosen FOR something.

I read an article from Relevant a few years ago called “So You Have No Idea What Your ‘Calling’ Is.”  “Words like “calling” and “vocation” sound great until you realize you don’t know yours.  We have to consider our talents and passions and seek out wisdom. And when we do start to figure it out, we may have to come to terms with the fact that our place in the process might look a little bit more like making someone’s day by brewing an incredible cup of coffee rather than revolutionizing the whole industry through fair-trade initiatives.”  Have you ever felt like that?  Are you, or your children or grandchildren stuck in that uncertain, stuck place discerning their gifts or callings?  At each stage of life, we go through the same thoughts and questions, whether we’re 8 or 98.

You see the God that knit you together in your mother’s womb is calling you forth to share YOUR particular gift, your unique talents with the world.  Whether big or small, no act of love, no sharing of your gifts, is insignificant.  We’re called to be faithful and obedient.  We’re not called to be famous, to have a million followers on Twitter or have a clothing line.  Good for the people that do.  Most of us will not.  Don’t compare yourself to others because that only sets you up for dissatisfaction, envy, failure, and not to mention, it’s unhealthy.  We are each given our part to play.

1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11 (NRSV) says, 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

Everyone has been given gifts spiritual and otherwise.  Ask God to help you see and know your specific gifts, those that you bring to a world full of darkness.  There’s a great explanation and test on The United Methodist Church’s website – http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/spiritual-gifts.  Take a spiritual gifts survey, ask a trusted mentor or friend what they’ve seen in your life, use your own God-given discernment and let the Holy Spirit tell you what makes you – YOU.

This next clip admittedly is from a kid’s movie, The Rise of the Guardians. Jack Frost has just been invited to join The Guardians, those who protect children, and he’s being questioned by Santa Claus.  The movie asks the question, “What is your center?” What are the things that make you – YOU? What makes me Narcie?

So Santa’s outside can be intimidating, but his center is full of wonder.

This next scene is at the end of the movie where Jack Frost defeats the villain Pitch ie. the Boogeyman.

Jack’s center is fun.  I would also say mischief making, when he gives kids snow days.  He defeats the villain with joy!  What makes you – YOU? What is your center? Why did God place you on this earth in this particular time, in this particular place? Not in a braggy, self-centered kind of way. Too much self-love is a detriment and can lead you on the path of destruction. Ie. The dark side.  Not to mention getting your head through the door.

But if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, if it feels like you’re not worthy or good enough.  If you’re feeling like the kid from Polar Express, that God forgot you when God gave out the gifts, you’re not alone.  All of us struggle with doubt and fear and dark nights of the soul.

Sudha Khristmukti’s “More Than Enough” is a poem that speaks to this.

“Something is better than nothing,” I say to myself.

Still another voice persists:

“Will my gift, which appears so meager, count amidst this sea of other offerings?” I ache with doubt. And yet I saw how my leaking faucet filled a bucket last night. One drop at a time. More isn’t always the most, and less isn’t always the least. Approachability. Availability. Dependability. Listening ears, understanding heart. Words of encouragement, being present   when it matters most. Selflessness and the gift of self. If the smallest act to even one life becomes significant enough, it might just make a world of difference. The endless possibilities lie with the One who can use the whole of what we think is merely a mite, a part. Here and now, if we simply present whatever we are, whatever we can, and whatever we have, somehow it would be more than enough, more than worthwhile.”

I promise you that if you ask God, seek God with all of your heart, God will answer you. If not, come see me, and we’ll pray together and ask God to help you to see, know, and feel God’s great love for you. Frederick Buechner writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” You don’t have to figure everything out now. It’s not a snap your fingers sort of thing. It’s a journey. It’s a process. There’s no pressure but as Mother Teresa says, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” We can ALL l do small things throughout the day, throughout our lives with great love.

We can also use our good treasures that God gives to each of us for the world.  I prayed over the stars you can pick up as you come forward for communion, I also put some on the back table as you leave.  These stars are symbols to help you remember to discover or fully claim who you are called to be and what you are called to do.  Your stars that you pick up represent the gifts and graces you have been given as well as a tangible reminder of the hopes, dreams, and passions as you envision your gifts being used to bring about the kingdom of God.  To help you see that you’re enough. Help you see you’re worthy to approach the throne of grace with confidence. You see these stars symbolize our lights shining collectively in the world. When you claim your talents for God, God is faithful and will multiply them in ways that we can only imagine.  It makes the light brighter, stronger, more full. These are not gifts to hoard; they are gifts to share with the world. Like “This Little Light of Mine” says, don’t be hiding your light under a bushel because the world wants and needs to see your light.

Posted in Church, God, Holy Spirit, Uncategorized

Lift Up Your Eyes to See

My mom reads the Upper Room Daily Devotional every morning.  I grew up seeing her waking up 30-45 minutes early to do her quiet time with God.  She not only reads the theme verse and the suggested verses in the Upper Room, she reads the whole chapter.  I took a page out of her book this morning because the theme verses intrigued me so much.

Isaiah 40 (NRSV)

God’s People Are Comforted

40 Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
    their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
    lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead the mother sheep.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
    and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
    and weighed the mountains in scales
    and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
    or as his counselor has instructed him?
14 Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
    and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
    and showed him the way of understanding?
15 Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
    and are accounted as dust on the scales;
    see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,
    nor are its animals enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him;
    they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God,
    or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol? —A workman casts it,
    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold,
    and casts for it silver chains.
20 As a gift one chooses mulberry wood
    —wood that will not rot—
then seeks out a skilled artisan
    to set up an image that will not topple.

21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
    calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
    mighty in power,
    not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

Isn’t this an awesome passage of scripture?  I referenced verse 26 yesterday in my devotion for Somerby before giving them Epiphany Star Gifts.  It reminds me of the old Silers Bald song, “Starry Host.”

At times I  may doubt you,
Or even start to wonder if You will provide,
But who am I to question Your grandeur
The answer's right before my eyes

He who brings out the starry host,
One by one, and calls them each by name
Because of His great power
And mighty strength
Not one of them is missing

Lift up your eyes to see.  We see new life springing up everywhere and I’m not just talking about our warm temperatures.  In terms of mission, we adopted 3 Starfish families this Christmas and gave out Christmas food and gift baskets for 4 more families, Point Hope has 7 people going to Sellers tomorrow to participate in the Annual Conference Work Blitz, and we’re meeting after church to be a partner church at a local homeless ministry.  In terms of discipleship, we have breathed new life in our Sunday School classes and opportunities in this newsletter for Families, New Members, and a new Common Grounds Connect Group.  I’ve seen through our “Point Hope Prayer and Encouragement” facebook group and our Tuesday morning prayer time y’all’s deep care for one another and your openness to lay your requests before God and this church so that we can pray for and with you.  We even have people serving at The Citadel for their dinner and worship through Charleston Wesley Foundation on Monday night.  I could go on and on.

God is doing beautiful things in and through Point Hope United Methodist Church by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.  I’m looking forward to leaning into our theme this year “Love God & Love Neighbor” to see how the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us to continue to grow as disciples of Jesus and to share God’s love and grace with the community around us. This chapter of the Bible is titled by the translators “God’s People are Comforted.”  Let’s not simply be comforted but let’s offer God’s comfort to the world.  Lift up your eyes to see the wonderful sprouts rising in our midst and keep your eyes open for all the myriad of possibilities…

Posted in Campus Ministry, Duke speedo Guy, Grace, Holy Spirit, Sermon

The Invisible 12th

We’ve reached the end of our sermon series on Len Sweet’s 11 indispensable relationships that you can’t be without and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.  It’s certainly challenged me as I’ve prepared these sermons.  My prayer is that you can realize the profound impact your web of community has on your past, present and future and you can search out those relationships that will help you to grow stronger, speak truth over your life, or give you a good kick in the pants.  Nathan – your editor, Jonathan – your true friend, Jethro – your butt kicker, Barnabas – your encourager, and Deborah – your back coverer.  These relationships come in many different forms and it’s not supposed to be a checklist where you say, “Oh, I have a one of those – a Nathan, someone who both comforts and convicts me, so I don’t need another one.”  Although, I’m not sure you would want another Nathan.  Likewise, some of us seriously don’t have that many close friendships.  Introverts breathe a sigh of relief.  There’s nothing wrong with friends or colleagues or mentors playing multiple roles.  I’ve agreed with Sweet’s basic premise but I have to admit to taking some poetic license every once and a while.

So this chapter is called “The Invisible 12th:  You Need the Paraclete.”  Josh mentioned the paraclete in his sermon on Barnabas because part of its definition is encourager.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary simply defines paraclete as Holy Spirit.  Helpful, I know.  Paraclete comes from the Greek word that can signify “one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts and/or who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court.”  In the Greek New Testament the word appears most prominently in the Gospel of John where it’s used as counselor, helper, encourager, advocate or comforter.  There are two examples I’ll use here, both in John 14.

JOHN 14:15-17 –

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be inyou.”

What words jump out at you?  Advocate, forever, Spirit of truth, abide, and the claim that the Holy Spirit is in us.

JOHN 14:25-27 –

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  But the Advocate,the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Sweet begins this chapter with these words, “Sometimes – Jethros fail.  Sometimes – Yodas are no-shows.  Sometimes – Jonathans turn into Judases.  Sometimes – Deborahs fall asleep.  Your VIP’s turn into duds.”  That’s when we have another promise, “He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” [Ps 121:4]  God works the late shift.  God always has your back.  And every other part of your being as well.

Las Vegas statisticians set the spread of points between the winners and losers in football.  And all sports.  And they even had a bet when the royal baby would be due.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that big money flows in and out of Vegas for college football games.  This may be something you didn’t know, but they always give the home team a three point advantage just because they’re playing at home.  There’s nothing like the energy of the home crowd.  I had written this sermon prior to the game and what struck me was how many fans sat through to the bitter end.  “In all kinds of weather, we all stick together.”

Texas A&M might have first come up with the 12th man concept, but every team has EMBRACED it.  So I triple-checked with Mike before explaining this because I wanted to make sure I got it right.  The 12th man or 12th player is a term for the fans within a stadium during football games. As most football leagues allow a maximum of eleven players per team on the playing field at a time, referring to a team’s fans as the 12th man implies that they have a potentially helpful role in the game. The presence of fans can have a profound impact on how the teams perform and an element in the home advantage. Namely, the home team fans often create loud sounds or chants in hopes of distracting, demoralizing and confusing the opposing team while they have possession of the ball; or to persuade a referee to make a favorable decision. It’s like the commercial that says we’ll never know if somehow in some way we can affect the outcome of the game

 

or the Duke speedo guy that made North Carolina’s Jackie Manuel miss two free throws back in 2003

And little known fact, the speedo guy became a pastor.  We never know the affect the crowd, that 12th man on the field, will have.  That mysterious, invisible 12th is the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit never fails to appear.

The Holy Spirit is more than a voice from the great beyond a la Obi Wan Kenobi telling Luke Skywalker to trust in the force.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t get much fanfare or a theme song, unless you count the cacophony of voices that day on Pentecost.  “The Holy Spirit is our garment of protection, our armor of light, our spiritual bodyguard and our battle companion.”

My dad is bald.  There’s no other way to say it.  I have very few memories of him with hair.  He jokes, “They don’t put marble tops on cheap furniture,” but I’ve heard that joke tens of thousands of times.  So our family has an assortment of throw blankets or afgans or comforters, all throughout the house because my mom is hot-natured and my dad will be wrapped up in a blanket with a ski cap on top of his head and thick socks on his feet year round.  It’s ridiculous.  But now I do it too.  You’ll find me in the evenings with a blanket on year round.  I don’t know why I do it.  Maybe it’s the fact that I married someone warm blooded as well.  But there’s something comforting about it.

Do any of your churches back home knit prayer shawls?  I’ve gotten my fair share of them with both of my surgeries.  This is what Indian River City United Methodist Church in Titusville, Florida sent me.  With it was a card, and the card reads.  “Dear Lord, please bless this prayer shawl.  Please comfort the recipient and hold her close.  Let her know that the stitches of this shawl were made with loving hands to reach to her heart and bring her peace.  As this shawl lies close to her, let her feel the prayers and love that have been knit into it.  Let her know that, even in the middle of the darkest night, she is not alone.  Let her feel Your constant promise that, no matter what travail she must face, You are beside her.  Lord, may Your grace be upon this shawl, warming, comforting, enfolding, and embracing.  May this mantle be a safe haven…a sacred place of security and well-being, sustaining and embracing in good times, as well as difficult ones.  May the one receiving this shawl be cradled in hope, kept in joy, graced with peace, and wrapped in Your love always.  In Jesus precious name, Amen.”

I think of the Holy Spirit in that way.  Wrapped around us tight, going with us into life’s conflicts protecting not only our backs, but also our sides, our fronts, our insides, our whole being!  Psalm 34:7 says, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”  And these words from Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”  People on the front lines of battle, when you’re feeling attacked from all sides, and you’re fighting with your roommates, struggling in your classes, and don’t know what way is up or down – you need the Holy Spirit to intervene on your behalf.  In Romans 8:26-28 it says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.”

The Holy Spirit is part of the Godhead.  God is 3 in 1 – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  God is our chief advocate, who makes a way when there’s none, who braces us for impact, who goes with us.  A group traveled to Anna’s dad’s and Kelly and Kenneth’s uncle’s funeral this past week.  His name was Scott Swygert and he lived life to the fullest, squeezing out every moment.  Countless stories were told by friends and family about his tremendous impact, so much so, it was clear that he exemplified all that it means to be a Christian.  Rev. David McEntire concluded the service by reading this passage of scripture.  Also from Romans, chapter 8:31-39, where it starts off with the question, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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 from the love of God.  Not changes of majors, not knowing what we want to do when we grow up, not parent’s expectations, not a broken relationship, not a complete failure, not asking for a do over, not even Gator Wesley “drama.”  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  So if we truly believe that, how would we live our lives differently?   If we truly believe the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives and in this ministry blowing where it will, igniting and enlivening, fanning the flame and equally putting out fires, how would we live our lives differently both as a community and individually?

We would take GRACE seriously.  Such a good Methodist answer.  And not just grace for ourselves, but for others.  In God’s prevenient grace, God draws us to God’s self.  God’s prevenient grace is available to all. And all means all.  In God’s justifying grace, we realize that this gift of Jesus sacrifice on the cross was for each of us.  It’s nothing we earned for good behavior.  It’s only through the grace of God.  In sanctifying grace, God does not leave us where we are, it’s a lifelong journey of growing and stretching and seeking to be more and more like Christ.  You may have noticed that I also mentioned grace for others.  Ie.  Matthew 7:3, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”  If we always see ourselves as the exception to the rule or think that we have it all figured out, while we judge others’ commitments, looking down our noses at them in judgment – we DON’T take God’s grace seriously.  That’s not very grace-filled.  As Macklemore says, “Those words aren’t anointed.”

That’s the thing about the Holy Spirit, you can’t control, you can’t contain – because the Holy Spirit won’t be boxed in.  The Holy Spirit has the dual roles of being great sustainer and comforter, working to guide and lead us, as well as convicting us when we need it and often don’t want to hear it.

May the Spirit

Bless you with discomfort

At easy answers, half-truths, and

Superficial relationships so that

You will live deep in your heart.

May the Spirit

Bless you with anger

At injustice and oppression,

And exploitation of people and the earth

So that you will work for Justice, equity and peace.

May the Spirit

Bless you with tears to shed

For those who suffer

So that you will

Reach out your hand

To comfort them.

And may the Spirit

Bless you with the foolishness

To think you can make a difference

In the world,

So you will do the things

Which others say cannot be done.

Amen.

Holy Spirit, please comfort us now, with your healing and perfect peace that transcends all understanding.  Holy Spirit, please work within our lives, giving us the tenacity to discern in our personal relationship with you.  Holy Spirit, we ask that you guide and lead us in all that we do, as individuals and as a community.  And you spread forth your love and grace, that all may see and know your truth, your power, your redeeming love.  We boldly pray all these things in your name and we join Christians all over the world with the prayer you taught us to pray saying,

Posted in Balance, Busy-ness, Centering, Faith, Guidance, Holy Spirit, Lent, perseverance, Rest

Renew, Restore, Uphold

As we continue through our Lenten journey, looking towards Holy Week – these verses are a challenge, a promise and a prayer. “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. . . . Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” – Psalm 51:10, 12

The sentences above was my facebook status this morning.  The passage came from the online Upper Room readings this morning.  I don’t know about you, but I needed to hear them.  It is so easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and all of the things that “have” to get done, that at least for me, the things that I treasure sometimes get pushed aside.  There’s only so long that we can spin like tops like in Inception without completely stopping and getting skewed.  

I think some of us see God as the One that keeps the top spinning.  We see God as the strength to get us through the next thing and the next and the next.  This time of year when there’s just a month left in the semester, in many ways I cling to that image of God giving us the strength, perseverance, and grace to keep moving and going and completing the things that we need to complete and remembering the things we need to remember.  

For some of us, it’s harder to see God as the One that sometimes is this one to stop the top mid-spin.  If you’re in the middle of dancing to a good song or jamming in your car, you don’t want the song to suddenly go off either by someone changing the channel or an emergency test or you arriving at your location.  Sometimes though it takes this sometimes awkward pause to wake us up to realize that we’ve been running on our own steam and in our own self-centeredness and self-involvement and that we haven’t connected to the One who sustains us in awhile.

It’s not that we haven’t been doing what we need to do.  It’s not that I haven’t gone to worship or small group or done the “minister” stuff, but no matter how long the to do list is and no matter how many directions our minds are pulled in whether in worry or day dreaming or whatever, sometimes we need to press the pause button and reconnect with the One who is providing us with the music.

My prayer for myself and each of us is that if we’re speeding through this Lenten journey and we’re thinking we’re in the home stretch, that we’re just as attentive now to God’s leading as we were when we started this journey on Ash Wednesday.  My hope is that we’re just as committed, disciplined and awakened to God’s joy and presence now as when we first believed.  May God speak to us in clear and powerful ways and may we have ears to listen and hearts ready to receive.  May our lives be renewed and restored, and may we trust that God will uphold us today, tomorrow and forevermore!

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This is a true outside of Wesley where I've gotten to watch some persevering green silk worms slowly and surely make their way. May we fit into God's rhythm the same way.