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 Cross, Jesus, paul, restart, Sermon

Time to Restart

I started with word games, 4 different ones, so when one showed the commercial in the free version, I could go to the next one.  Evy got me into picture finds and I’ve become obsessed with them.  Every time the clock winds down, it turns red and flashing at the 30 second mark, and I have 3 or more left, I get frantic trying to find the silly little pictures.  It’s amazing how frustrated I get.  I don’t want to restart.  They give me that option every time or I could get 45 seconds, if I pay for it, and I don’t want to pay.  I inevitably have to restart.  I don’t want to.  But I have to.  I know the game gets easier, if I restart, because I’ve done it before, but something in me – does not want to.  Or how many of you have mashed the power button on a computer or copier when nothing else works?

Sometimes we HAVE to do a hard restart.  We don’t want to, we sure don’t want to, but sometimes we have to.  Sometimes our lives need a reset because we’ve worn a path pacing back and forth trying to decide whether to make a change or not.  We sometimes don’t want to move on.  We sometimes want to cling to the past like old comfy pajamas.  You know those that have small holes in them and you can’t bear to throw them out.  We dread the changes that we would have to make in our lives, all the work it’s gonna be to let go of the past.  We’re afraid to face the new realities, the new normal.  Paul knew that without God in the mix, we could never make real change on our own.  Paul knew this secret and he’s trying to teach us as well.

Philippians 3:13-14

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 

For us to follow Paul’s example, we have to make peace with those around us, with ourselves, and with God.

Paul had a lot of stuff in his past.  Remember who he was.  Before he became Paul.  He was Saul.  Saul persecuted early Christians.  He tortured and stoned them.  He was on the way to do more destruction of followers of the Way, until he has an encounter with Jesus and is blinded for three days. He is saved by Ananias; he is transformed into Paul boldly preaching about Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah and Son of God.  Jew and Gentile alike were puzzled and perplexed by this.  On one hand you had Saul that ultimate enemy and bad guy and then you have Paul – the greatest apostle ever….

When he says, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”  He means it.

Paul definitely has baggage.  Most of us don’t have the label of murderer.  Do you think the new Christians were scared of Saul, I mean Paul.  I would not blame some of them for being apprehensive, giving him the side eye, or being wary.  Paul had to have known it.  Had to have known how people would see him.  Annanias is hesitant as he says, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”  The Jews had commissioned Paul to be the angel of death, but the Lord was teaching Paul about mercy and grace.  The Lord talked to Ananias and Ananias went to heal Paul.  Afterwards, the scripture says Paul hung out with the disciples for a few days in Damascus.  Hung out?  Hung out?  He was sent there to kill them!  God makes a way for us to have peace with others.  God makes a way for us to have lives so transformed that it is obvious for all to see.  It must be God.  God was with Paul.  God was with Ananias.  God was with the disciples.  The Holy Spirit was working all around them in that situation and throughout Paul’s life.  God doesn’t leave us as God finds us.  

God worked through Paul and God can work through you and me.  

We have to believe we are worthy of leaving the past behind.  We have to throw out those comfy, holey pajamas.  We have to stop looking at our lives through the rearview mirror and look at the big, wide open windshield in front of us.  If we constantly are looking back then we can’t move forward.  Paul, I’m sure had some guilt, but he knew what he had to do.  Keep focused on the present goal.  “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Do you hear that?  It’s a call of God in Christ Jesus.  God still calls us even with the baggage, even with our pasts, even through our tears and shame.  We make peace with ourselves by acknowledging our past.  We make peace with ourselves when we say it out loud.  We make peace with ourselves by letting Jesus into our hearts and letting him heal us.  

One of the most powerful and visual images that I have participated in was a time at Camp Pee Dee.  There was a canoe lake and a fishing lake at Camp Pee Dee and we walked this big, giant, life-size cross to the fishing lake.  It took a lot of us kids to carry the huge thing to the lake.  As we took turns, I don’t remember if they told us to be somber or solemn or we were being rowdy camp kids, but I remember thinking about carrying this alone and no wonder Jesus fell a few times.  When we got to the lake, again I don’t remember what was said or who the minister for the week was, but they had little pieces of paper and nails and we were to nail our sins to the cross.  Just that image brings up so many emotions, we were all crying in the pool house after using a hammer to nail our sins into the cross.  That image has stuck with me.  The Triune God knows all about us, knit us together in our mothers wombs, knows when we sit and we rise, knows every thought in our heads and every action that we’ve done – and loves us anyway.  Pursues us anyway.  Died for our sins.  

MercyMe’s “Flawless” comes in to play here:

No matter the bruises

No matter the scars

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt

Or how deep the wound is

No matter the pain

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

When we make our peace with God, God is able to use us.  What Jesus says to Ananius to get him to go to Paul in Acts 9:15-16,“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; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  We may not have the proclamation power of Paul and we certainly don’t want to suffer like Paul, but Jesus uses us as his instruments, to be his show and tell in the world.

There’s a hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette called “Christ You Offer Us Your Welcome.”

You have given us a mission — to invite our neighbors in —

and your call to love and listen is a place we can begin.

We need more than open houses; we need, first, to give our hearts.

By your Spirit, make us servants; that’s the way your welcome starts.

May we set a welcome table, may we find a common ground

where no one will feel they’re labeled, where acceptance can be found.

We don’t need to entertain there, or to do things that impress —

just to hear folks’ joy and pain there, and to love so all are blest.

In much the same way, Rachel Held Evans writes, “I had questions about science and faith, biblical interpretation and theology. I felt lonely in my doubts. And, contrary to popular belief, the fog machines and light shows at those slick evangelical conferences didn’t make things better for me. They made the whole endeavor feel shallow, forced and fake. 

“What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or pastors wearing skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.”

When we take this meal, we’re following Paul’s example, making peace with those around us, ourselves and God.  But we’re also following Paul’s example because when we take this meal, it’s like a restart.  Forgetting our sins that lie behind us and pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. In this meal, we take part in this holy mystery that should forever change us if we let it.  And that’s what Jesus wants – that’s what Paul did; he was forever changed from Saul into Paul.  He proclaimed the Word made flesh and dwelt among us!  He had proclaimed hate and was a destroyer AND then HE was the biggest big mouth and planted churches and wrote several parts of the Bible.  If Jesus can transform him, what are we waiting for? 

Jesus came and saved a wretch like me and he wants us to use our gifts, talents, imperfections and peculiarities to find the lost, the lonely, the desperate, the seemingly bad guys and show them the WAY – to show them Jesus – so that he can transform their lives just like he continues to transform ours.  Jesus wants us to be the Church joined together in this common meal, in this Holy Communion, throughout all the world, all sinners, saved by grace, all broken people, put back together again, whole.  It’s time to restart and get out of our own way.  It’s time to restart and let God use us.  It’s time to restart and go ye and tell the world about Jesus!

Posted in Anne Lamott, Jesus, Mercy, Romans, Sermons

We are the Lord’s

Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

    and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

How many of you like red grapes?

How many of you like green grapes?

How many of you do NOT like any grapes?

Red grapes, Green grapes, or no grapes – we are all children of God.  

Vegetarians.

Vegans.

Absolute Carnivores.

We are all children of God.

Virtual.

Hybrid.

Fully home-schooled.

We are all children of God.

Democrat.

Republican.

Independent.

We are ALL children of God.

That last one you had some feelings about, didn’t you?

We live in an extremely divided time right now.  But Paul was facing the same thing in Rome.  He was trying to unite the body of Christ from getting stuck on surface issues, preferences or opinions.  He was trying to unite a divisive Church into getting their priorities straight.  Jesus calls us to welcome not judge.  Jesus calls us to be peacemakers not quarrel over things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  We should put our energy in things that are life-giving not life-draining, not in winning a point in an argument that is not essential.  Paul says both in living and dying, we are the Lord’s.

The old-time preacher, Donald Grey Barnhouse, tells the story of three men cast into the ocean by a plane crash. No one knows their plane has gone down. There they are, treading water, hundreds of miles from land.

One of the crash victims is a very poor swimmer. Another is a fairly good swimmer. The third is an Olympic gold-medalist.

The gold-medalist may well judge his two companions to be less-than-perfect swimmers. He may even deign to give them a few pointers on stroke and breathing, before setting off on his impossible journey toward land.

What does it matter? The poor swimmer will drown in 20 minutes; the average swimmer in two hours or so; the Olympian in 15. All of them, left to their own devices in that vast ocean, are bound to die.

No, what these men need — all three of them — is not a swimming coach. They need a savior. They need a helicopter or ship to come by and pluck them from the waves.

If all of us — as the Scriptures affirm — are sinners in need of a savior, then what sense does it make to judge others?

There are several scriptures about judging and in one of them if we judge harshly, we will be judged harshly.  Matthew 7 says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

Syngman Rhee says, “We must stand not on the judgment seat, but in the witness stand, where we witness to the saving love and work of Jesus Christ.”

Through Jesus’ grace and mercy, the only thing that saves us from God’s judgement, we are able to fully focus on the person, not our preconceived notions, assumptions, or judgments.

Did you know in The Book of Discipline, which orders the life of United Methodist Church’s, our Doctrinal History is all about this?

“This perspective is apparent in the Wesleyan understanding of “catholic spirit.” While it is true that United Methodists are fixed upon certain religious affirmations, grounded in the gospel and confirmed in their experience, they also recognize the right of Christians to disagree on matters such as forms of worship, structures of church government, modes of Baptism, or theological explorations. They believe such differences do not break the bond of fellowship that ties Christians together in Jesus Christ. Wesley’s familiar dictum was, “As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.””

We think and let think.  We’re not to judge how “Christian” someone is just like we’re not to see who’s the biggest sinner in our friend group?  That is exhausting.  Wouldn’t it be more fruitful if we nurtured our own walk with God through delving into the Word OR we live like Jesus, showing the world what he’s like, actually being his hands and feet?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

Everyone’s entitled to God’s grace and is not for us to judge.  That’s God’s job.  Our job on Earth is to show people Jesus.

We’re not called to live in Judgment House where doors are locked and bolted; where there’s no handle on the outside of the door and you can only get in if somebody lets you in. We’re called to live in Grace and Mercy House, whose door is always open and a welcoming committee is there to greet you. And if they’re aren’t there when you enter, it’s not because you’re not welcome, it’s because they’ve gone out in search of others like you who need a place to live.

Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  And Jesus gives us a choice of living in the Grace and Mercy House in freedom or in bondage in the Judgment House?  If we’re not judge, jury, and executioner, it gives a lot more time to be real with God’s people.  When Anne Lamott first started going to her church 21 years ago, she was still drinking. So she would often show up with these extreme hangovers. She writes, “But what I would hear is these very, very old people from the South, saying: “Jesus’s only as far away as his name, he’s only as far away, call on the name of the Lord” and “He shall hear you, he shall answer, he’s only as far away as his name.”

So it might be a habit that if I said: “Jesus,” or if I just said, “hi,” there’s only one person I’m reaching to. I got into the habit of calling for, reaching out to, and then experiencing this very, very dear parental response, as a mother or father might speak in the night when the child is afraid. Say, “I’m right here, what’s up?”

We never know what people are hearing or seeing or feeling or what they’ve been through.  “We must stand not on the judgment seat, but in the witness stand, where we witness to the saving love and work of Jesus Christ.”  If we do that we’ll have a much more happy and fulfilled life.  If we do that we’ll work to welcome the weak, welcome the lost, welcome the vulnerable.  If we do that no one is put on the pedestal, except the One who should truly be there…Jesus.  Vegan.  Vegetarian.  Carnivore.  It’s all about Jesus.  

So as James says, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak.”  May we stop and pause before offering words of judgment.  May we hear people’s words, stories, hearts.  May we lay down all of the hatred, bitterness, angst that’s easy to spew about other people and rest in the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus.  That’s one thing we can practically do this week.  And when the enemy weasels its way into our head, may we call on the name of Jesus’ in whom’s grace we stand united.  Amen and amen.

Posted in Easter, Jesus

Blah -> He IS.

I know I’m not supposed to be admitting this.  But I’m really not feeling Holy Week.

I was geared up last week for Palm Sunday, excitedly showing clips from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” to get at Jesus’ suffering a “traitors” death for each of us.

But I’m literally blahhhhhhh, it’s Easter.

The bulletins are printed.  The scriptures and titles picked. The slides and videos done.

I have my cascarone eggs and olive wood crosses for Easter Sunrise and Easter.  I’m not sure what I will do with them.  I’ve come up with different angles throughout the week but I’m not satisfied.

I’m up late looking for inspiration scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, emails…I’ve thought about using Tiger Woods’ redemption, the Avengers Endgame supposed “resurrection,” among other things. 

I know to preach, “He is Risen!  He is Risen, Indeed!”  And I know and trust the Holy Spirit will show up.

Maybe it’s the desire to spend Spring Break with the kids, falling on my face on Tuesday afternoon walking the dog with scrapes on my knees, my elbow and my face, an overall malaise with Notre Dame burning, the Mueller Report and Rachel Held Evans, or hearing on the Today Show this morning that church attendance is at an all time low.

Perhaps it’s the pressure of a new place.  Or all of the Easter advertising.  Or coming up with a fresh spin.  Or wanting to get it right…perfect…the most epically awesome Easter sermon ever. 

Perhaps you’re feeling blah too.

Perhaps we need to hear the story anew and afresh.  Perhaps it can be an actual personal encounter or a real Word of Grace.

“Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,

    and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,

   and I hold the keys of hell and death.

Because I live, you shall live also.”

Because He Lives.  Even when we’re feeling blah, He IS.  Even when we’re feeling trapped, He IS.  Even when we don’t feel worthy enough, He IS.  Even when all hope seems lost, He IS.  Even when………He IS.

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 Abide, Baggage, Bear Grylls, Ben Hooper, Breath Prayer, calling, Child of God, Disciple, disciples, Equip, Fear, Forgiven, Fruit, Gear, God, Impossible, Jesus, Muhammed Ali, ordinary, Prevenient Grace, Resting State, Shine, yoda

God chooses us just as we are.

Matthew 4:18-22

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Have you ever heard of “call stories?”  They are the stories of ordinary people that are used by God for a purpose.  The first scripture is one of the most famous call stories because Jesus took uneducated fishermen and called them to fish for people.   God chooses us as we are and as we lean into that we are called to be disciples who draw others to Jesus.

The fisherman left everything, nets and all.  They left family and friends.  They left everything that was familiar to them:  from their day to day routines to their favorite corner store or coffee shop.

How many of you were born before 1992?  Mike had the kids and I watch Sneakers this week and it was made in 1992.  He said he and his brothers watched it over and over again.  Have any of you heard Steven Curtis Chapman song For the Sake of the Call?  It came out in 1992 and my brothers and I knew as United Methodist preacher’s kids, when my mom played it, we were about to move!  That and Michael W. Smith’s song, Friends are Friends Forever.

scc_forthesake
(Don’t you love the mullet!)
Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really knew for sure
Was Jesus had called to them
He said “come follow Me” and they came
With reckless abandon, they came

Empty nets lying there at the water’s edge
Told a story that few could believe
And none could explain
How some crazy fishermen agreed to go where Jesus led
With no thought to what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name
And they answered…

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die

We knew what my mom was getting at.  If God called our family to another church, we had to obey.  If you obey Jesus when he calls, life is going to be an adventure.  Has anyone ever seen Running Wild with Bear Grylls?*  I love that show.  The concept came after he first had Will Farrell join him in his first survival show.  In it, celebrities go on adventures with him and he teaches them survival lessons along the way.  It’s always a journey from point A to point B.  The celebrity doesn’t know the path and they balk when there’s heights or they have to eat something to survive like grubs or crickets or a squirrel or there’s only a small space between rocks and they’re claustrophobic.  He leads and they follow.  Sure they pitch fits along the way, sure they threaten to not go on…but in their fears is where I most see their humanity.  They’re real people at those moments and they obviously don’t care about what the camera is making them look like.  We’ve seen insights into some of the why’s and how’s of their fears and when they conquer them, it is a beautiful thing.   I used to think of the disciples much like Bear Grylls, rugged, with an adventurous, live on the edge spirit.  But they weren’t like that at the beginning of their trek with Jesus.  They were probably very much like these celebrities, albeit the celebrities have the right kind of gear.  Does God equip us with the right kind of gear for the road, no matter what road?

Did the four fishermen that Jesus called take their fishing nets with them?  Nope!  They didn’t know where the journey would take them.  They couldn’t carry luggage loaded onto a baggage cart.  As we talked about last week, we each have figurative baggage.  Most of us carry “stuff” and sometimes it’s like a security blanket.  That we hold onto.  We carry it with us wherever we go and we’re afraid to lay it down because it’s ours – the familiar and the comfortable.  Some of us like the prodigal have gotten so used to the pigs and the mud that we are stuck there and even those that are closest to us don’t know the full extent of our hurts.  The words that were used against us when we were younger that we’ve never told anyone.  The awkwardness of not feeling comfortable even in your own skin.  The voices in our heads of who society or our “friends” or what social media tells us we should be.  I dislike the way trolls can hide behind screens and say you’re too fat, you’re too skinny, you’re not smart/pretty/kind…..enough.  Jesus doesn’t want us drinking the haterade.  Jesus is asking you to go on a great adventure and you have to lay down your baggage, sometimes daily.  Guilt. Shame. Pride. Doubt. Fear. Self-Loathing.  Superhuman expectations.  The pressure we put on ourselves to measure up to this person or that person.  Lay it all down.  Take it off your shoulders.  Stop rolling that luggage around and repent.  Ask for forgiveness.  Let it all go.  If you pick it back up, repeat and ask the Holy Spirit to block you or your behavior from picking it back up.  Use a breath prayer.  Every time something comes into your mind or you revert into old familiar patterns of behavior, say “Lord Jesus take this from me” or “Lord in your mercy” or “My help is in You alone Lord” or “Not my will, but Yours.”

My son Enoch when he was in kindergarten got a color for every day for his behavior.  The colors were blue for an exceptional day, green for a good day, yellow for a one warning day, orange for a two warning day, and red if he had to go to the principal’s office.  He would stress out and worry over his color every day knowing that we expected mostly green days, but Enoch was a rambunctious and inquisitive child, so inevitably we were happy with the yellow days.  He would always get stressed out and upset if the teacher moved his color and that would affect his behavior as well.  He was in this cycle because he didn’t want to disappoint us.  I would explain to him that every day is a brand new day.  I would often quote the line in Anne of Green Gables, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”  Leave the mistakes of today and don’t carry them with you to tomorrow.  I will go farther still.  Leave the mistakes of all the yesterdays in the past.  Ask for forgiveness and then do 180 degree turn.  That’s what repentance is.  I saw a bumper sticker a long time ago that said, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” Let there be no doubt in your mind that Jesus scatters your sins and my sins from the east to the west and we are free.  Romans 8:14-16 says, “14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Let the mean thing that someone said about you go.  Let all of the expectations that the world has placed on you go.  Let all of the hatred and demonizing the other go.  You don’t have time for that.  You have a world to love.  If you let it, hate will blacken your heart.  As Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.”  I love this quote from Marianne Williamson about fear.  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be.  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Our second scripture for today, John 15, is all about abiding in Christ and loving one another as we abide in Christ. Abide or meno in Greek means to stay, remain, accept, obey and heed.  Have you heard of the resting state on an MRI?  Resting state is a method of functional brain imaging that can be used to evaluate regional interactions that occur when a subject is not performing an explicit task.  In other words resting in the love and grace of God should be how we go through life.  If we rest in God’s love, it’s easier to show others God’s love.  John 15:16-18 says, “16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. 18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” 

We did not choose God, but God chose us that we may bear fruit in the world.  God seeks to be in right relationship with all of God’s children.  God’s prevenient grace, that grace that goes before we even realize it, is offered to everyone.  If we abide in God’s mercy in our resting state then it will be that much simpler to live into the full matrix of human life.  God says it won’t be easy, the world will hate us, just like it did him, but that’s all right.  If you speak the truth in love, some people won’t like that.  A word of caution here, if you are a truth teller, make sure you’re abiding in Christ, make sure you’re resting in the love of God, because you don’t want to do harm for harm’s sake.  You see the enemy wants to only steal, kill, and destroy, and he will use you to attack.  He doesn’t like when we tune into the Shepherd’s voice, when we listen to the voice of truth, our Savior’s voice.  That voice that tells us we’re somebody.

Remember my earlier rhetorical question about God equipping us for the road ahead?  God does and God will.  If you abide in the true vine and live to follow God’s heart and leading, God will give you everything you need.  You may be thinking that’s impossible.  Muhammad Ali said, “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” With God all things are possible.  With God all things ARE possible.  Amen?

“A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One morning they were eating breakfast in a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.”

But sure enough, the man came over to their table.  “Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice. “Oklahoma,” they answered. “Great to have you here in Tennessee,” the stranger said. “What do you do for a living?” “I teach at a seminary,” he replied. “Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a really good story for you.” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down. The professor groaned and thought to himself, “Great. Just what I need — another preacher story!”

The man started, “See that mountain over there?” He pointed out the restaurant window. “Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up because every place he went, he was always asked the same question: “Who’s your father?’ The whole town looked for a family resemblance, whether the boy was at school, in the grocery store or the drug store, people would ask the same question: “Who do you belong to?”  He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid going into stores because that question hurt him too much. When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the dreaded question. But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast, he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, ‘Son, who’s your dad?’ The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question of who his father was.  The new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to the scared and nervous boy: ‘Wait a minute! I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.’ With that, he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance — go and claim it.’ With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him who his father was, he’d just tell them, ‘I’m a child of God.’

The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?” The professor responded that it really was a great story. As the man turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably would never have amounted to anything!” And he walked away.

The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked, “Do you know that man who was just sitting at our table?” The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody here knows him. That’s Ben Hooper. He’s the former governor of Tennessee!”

ben-hooper

Lo and behold, on one of our trips to Nashville, right across from a Cracker Barrel in Tennessee was a marker to Ben Hooper.  God actively pursues us.  God reaches for us.  God chooses us.  All we have to do is lay down our fears, baggage, and mistakes and trust in God’s abundant grace.  All we have to is follow where Jesus leads like the disciples that we are and abide in the true vine, that’s what the world is crying out for.  Something that’s real, and solid as a rock.  Something that could make fishermen leave their nets and go fish for people.  Something that neither moth nor rust will destroy.  “38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

(There’s a lot of calling out to God and bleeps but it’s funny.)

Posted in Body of Christ, Chosen, Community, disciples, Discipleship, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, Ephesians, Faith, Family, Fellowship, Force, Holy, Jesus, Johnnyswim, Lauren Daigle, Love, Making, Marking, Mercy, Relationship, Ring the Bell, Tribe, Truth, Uncategorized

Family

Ephesians 1:3-12 (NRSV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

It’s all about family with God.  We are all beloved children of God.  Blessed, chosen, destined, bestowed, lavished. The main theme of Ephesians is the Church, which is the body of Christ and it should be a family no matter what.  With family you can be your best self or your worst self, but they still have to let you in!

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” —Jane Howard

Family is your people.  Your tribe.  The ones in your corner.  Even more so, the body of Christ, the Church, is your family on super strength with super powered vitamins because it has Jesus as our core unifier.

Verses 3-14 are all a single sentence in the original Greek and in that sentence Paul uses seven action verbs to help us discover everything that God has done to give us an identity as God’s children. Blessed (v. 3), Chosen (v. 4), Destined (v. 5), Bestowed (v. 6), Lavished (v. 7), Made known (v. 9) and Gather up (v. 10).   Each of those verbs are designed to be the markers of being one of God’s beloved children.

One of the church’s most limiting and debilitating myths is that “holiness” pertains exclusively to individuals — as though holiness were the product of a solitary spiritual journey. Listen again to the words of thanksgiving and blessing the writer uses in the text “… he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (v.4). Who did God choose to be “in Christ”? Individuals yes, but individuals in community. We are called to be a holy church, a holy apostolic church functioning as Christ’s bodily presence here on earth, a HOLY FAMILY.
A holy, apostolic church exhibits three clear-cut values that keep the body healthy and growing in holiness: It must make disciples; it must mark disciples; it must mature disciples.

This is why once a disciple is made, the church must mark the members of its community. A marked disciple bears the “marks” of a living body of Christ.  In Greek these are known as didache-diakonia, koinonia, martyria, and kerygma. First, are we a teaching-serving community of disciples? Second, are we a fellowshipping community? Third are we a bread-breaking and broken-body community? Fourth are we a praying community?  It’s all about relationship and community!

Making and marking disciples for participation in the holy community of the church is still not enough. Jesus called his followers, making them disciples. He then journeyed with them all over the countryside, teaching them, fellowshipping with them, breaking bread with them and praying with them. All these activities were forward looking, pointing towards the creation of mature disciples, able to stand firm in the faith.

The body of Christ looks forward to the future and meets the challenges of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to an ever-changing, always-longing world. But for those already feeling insecure about the ground they stand on, the future looks like a scary place. Mature disciples, well-grounded in the bedrock of a holy community, don’t need to stand fearfully rooted to one spot. We can be an active body of love, mercy, truth and justice.  Mature disciples know that the shape and the face of the church can change, as long as at the heart of this holy family is Jesus.

Mike and I went to the Goodbye Road Tour in Savannah on Tuesday night.  It was headlined by “Johnnyswim” and “Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors” with special guests “Penny & Sparrow.”

In the wake of the racially charged events at Charlottesville, the loss of rock icon Tom Petty (who was a huge influence on Drew Holcomb), and the heartbreaking attack upon an audience of music fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas; Johnnyswim, Drew Holcomb, and the guys of Penny & Sparrow wrote and recorded the EP “Goodbye Road.”*

They began the show by saying, “We don’t care how you voted, we don’t care about what you think on this or that, you’re family here.  The family that sings together, stays together.”   

In an interview Holcomb says of the husband-and-wife team behind Johnnyswim, “One of the things I’ve always loved about Abner and Amanda’s writing, is that it dives into the dark parts of humanity, but still comes out of that darkness with hope and light. When we were recording these songs, it was a hard moment. There was a lot happening in the world, and we felt a mutual sorrow about it, but we also shared the belief that sorrow didn’t have to be the entirety of the story.”

“It was three days after the political rallies in Charlottesville,” Abner remembers. “When we wrote ‘Ring the Bells,’ we were all sitting in the same room, thinking, ‘Enough is enough. We want to scream something into the world, but how do we make it productive?’ In that moment of agony and tension — the very moment you’re tempted to be hopeless — you can choose to give in to those dark feelings or rise above them. ‘Ring the Bells’ is our productive shout.”

They had us sing the simple word, “Family” throughout the show.  I’m speaking for myself, it had a huge impact on me, we shared this collective experience, this shared belief, this shared hope and isn’t that what family is at its heart?

They ended the show with Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and the family of God, our family of misfits and radicals and sometimes semi-complacent Christ followers, won’t back down.  I had tears streaming down my face, standing in my family, the body of Christ, the Church, that Ephesians writes so eloquently about.  It reminds me of Lauren Daigle song “O Lord” when she writes “I will stand my ground where hope can be found.”  I will stand my ground where hope can be found.  We are making, marking and maturing disciples and we have the solid ground of Christ to stand on.  We don’t have to stand alone.  We can stand TOGETHER.  In our family.  God’s family.  And trust me, from Lauren Daigle’s own lips: “O’Lord O’Lord I know You hear my cry//Your love is lifting me above all the lies//No matter what I face This I know in time//You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right.”  God’s got this.  Even when it seems darkest, God will SHOW up.  Jesus will leave the 99 and come to our rescue.  The Holy Spirit will always make a way.  It may not look like what we want it to, it may have us walk through sludge and muck, it may not be on our time table, but God is going to do a MIGHTY thing in and through us.  We just have to be obedient to God’s call on our lives.  We need to be obedient to God’s mark on our lives.  We need to have the spiritual maturity to roll with the punches and keep our forbearance, tenacity and integrity.

The force that binds us together is stronger than the force that drives us apart.

You are not forgotten.

You are not alone.

David Ogden Stiers says“Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” No one gets left behind or forgotten.  NO ONE. We are family and a strong, growing family at that!  And that’s what’s great about family, there’s always room for one more at the table…

***That ends the sermon.  Church pay attention – the audience was multi-generational and they were singing every word with feeling and passion.  We started listening to this album over spring break.  Actually, my husband Mike became obsessed with it.  He said they are singing what we’ve been feeling.  I surprised him for his birthday and our 16th wedding anniversary with a trip to see them live in concert in Savannah.  It was truly an emotional, uplifting, Holy Spirit experience.  We were coming together, young and old, all colors, as a family.  We were so encouraged and I’ll wager everybody was encouraged who was there.  There is a Christian culture humming here.  And Church, we need to listen.  I felt the Holy Spirit moving us to a place of solidarity and I’ve taken that with me in all the places, with all the people, and with all the the news, everywhere … the family that sings together, stays together.  Amen!

 

Jimmy Kimmel Live – Goodbye Road

Jimmy Kimmel Live – Ring the Bells

Some of “Won’t Back Down”

 

Some of “Ring the Bell”

Posted in Call Stories, calling, Campus Ministry, Elisabeth Elliot, God, Jesus, Mark 4, Mustard Seeds, nicaragua, Story, Teacher, Uncategorized

A Mustard Seed Faith

Mark 4:26-34

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Look at these giant seeds.

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But look at these tiny mustard seeds.  For the life of me, I can’t just pick up one!

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It’s amazing Jesus uses this tiny example to emphasize faith and he uses it again in another story.

Matthew 17:18-20

18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Luke 17:5-6

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

I love stories.  I grew up a United Methodist preacher’s kid and what I liked best of my dad’s sermons were his stories.  So I’m going to tell you one of my stories.  I’m the oldest of three and the only girl.  We were senior, sophomore and freshman in high school and we’re super close.  My mom went back to get her master’s in guidance when my youngest brother went to kindergarten.  My parents emphasized to us that they are both equal heirs in the kingdom and have always lifted up the priesthood of all believers.  My mom, even in retirement, is as much a minister as my dad.  All my life, I’ve wanted to be a teacher.  I was obsessed with Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth from Little Women and Anne with an “E” from Anne of Green Gables.  I would create class rolls with names from books and mark them “absent” or “present.”  I took Teacher Cadet my senior year of high school and went to Winthrop University to be a high school English teacher.  It combined my love of reading, creativity, problem solving how I would get each student excited about Chaucer or King Lear.  I didn’t care that much for grammar, but I loved teaching til they understood and the light bulb went off.

In college, I got involved in campus ministry at WNW – Wesley (UMC/Methodist) Newman (Catholic) Westminster (PCUSA/Presbyterian).  Campus ministry opened my eyes to all of the many ways the Gospel can be lived out.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism had emphasized in his teachings: personal piety and social holiness.  Personal piety – personal quiet times/devotions, prayer, studying the word individually and in groups, worship.  Social holiness – we would do homeless sleep outs in boxes on Winthrop’s lawn, panhandling the next day on one of the busiest streets in Rock Hill, volunteering at CROP Walk raising money for the hungry all over the world in particular the young girls that walk on average 10 kilometers a day for clean water, writing letters to Amnesty International on behalf of prisoners.

Tuesday’s Child Learning Center was a ministry of WNW that was an afterschool care program for homeless and at-risk kids.  My husband Mike and I were co-student coordinators and learned firsthand how we dealt with stress and parenting!  When we went on my first international mission trip to Nicaragua, we were digging latrines because Hurricane Mitch had moved all of the people around Lake Managua to a cow pasture they called Nueva Vida, New Life.  We saw lots of UN tarps and metal they had scavenged.  We were divided up two by two to dig and I was paired with a girl from the University of South Carolina who spoke Spanish.  That came in handy when on the first day, I puked in the family’s yard.  The missionaries gave me a bucket and a peanut butter jar of electrolytes and sent me to the bunk room.  The only book I had in my bag was one that my mom had suggested and given to me, it was Elisabeth Elliot’s These Strange Ashes about her first years as a missionary.  I read that book cover to cover and you know what, the Bible she had created in that specific language of that tribe,  all the hours of work she had poured into it, got washed away in a river, that made me feel better, because I knew the rest of her story.  How she went on to minister and bring her 3 year old daughter Valerie to the very tribe in Ecuador that had killed her husband Jim Elliot.  Fast forward at least 40 years and I’m reading this book feeling pretty down and out, but then I discover that one of my heroines in the faith felt down and out and discouraged too, I had hope that I could do this missionary thing after all.  It was a mustard seed faith. One that blossomed over time like the first passage from Mark!  When Mike Jeter made me get up off the bed and handed me some 7 Up, it settled my stomach (Have you ever drunk straight electrolytes????  Yuck!) and he kept me laughing with his antics and stories.  I always treasured that first trip to Nicaragua and what it taught me and I continued as a student and as a campus minister helping my students have their own “ah ha” experiences.

Fast forward again to the summer between my junior year and senior year, I was going to England on a study abroad trip and Mike and I had just started dating.  It was pre-9-11 so he walked me to the gate.  As I was about to get on the plane, he told me he loved me for the first time.  Our kids, don’t like to hear the lovey dovey kissy kissy stuff, so none of that!

I, being the international traveler that I am (twice to Nicaragua – hardly!), had the brilliant idea that I wanted to travel to Scotland the two weeks before I was due at school.  Lo and behold, I get food poisoning from the airline food.  When I land at Gatwick I bought a Eurorail pass and got some Burger King French fries that I proceeded to puke on the train. (I’ve mentioned puke twice already in this sermon.  Don’t worry that’s not a frequent occurrence.)  I turn around in Heathrow, go back to Gatwick, and make reservations for a hotel.   I proceeded to find the hotel lugging my many bags through to the Paddington train stop.  I have a scrapbook that documents this trip including the picture on the hotel wall that I looked at for days on end.  My only life line was a red phone booth in front of the hotel.  I drug my sick carcass out there to call my parents and Mike.  Many, many, many times.   I realized right away when I try to get some food that sprite is lemonade and our television channels and shows are WAY, WAY better than theirs.  The hotel didn’t have air conditioning so I probably was hallucinating frequently.  I had packed lots of cold weather clothes because I was traveling to Scotland and London was hot as blue blazes, so I ventured out and found a Gap.  I tried on one skirt and passed out in the dressing room, so I thought I would take myself to the nearest hospital but couldn’t seem to hail a taxi.  Much to my relief, a priest walked up to me and showed me how. I was standing on the wrong side of the road.  Duh.

When I got to the emergency room I spent 6 and a half blissful hours in the air conditioning watching Wimbledon and seeing all the ins and outs of a London ER which was much more exciting than tv show!  Wimbledon always brings a heatwave according to the announcers and that’s when John McEnroe breaks in and makes a crack it being July 4th and us gaining our independence, I was thinking let ME have my independence from this place.  I’ve loved John McEnroe ever since!

Why am I telling you these stories?  Because in that red phone booth my mom told me to read the book of Ezekiel.  It’s a 48 chapter book.  I’m thinking in my head, “Mom, you’re daughter has food poisoning from what feels like the other side of the world and you’re telling her to read the book of Ezekiel?”  In that sweltering room, with nothing more to do, I flipped around in Ezekiel, reading passages here and there.  Then I landed on Ezekiel 37, it reads, “The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone…. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

It became so clear that I was called to this awesome and scary thing called ministry.  I had been stripped away from all the “stuff” in my life, all of the busy-ness, and from my usual always whirling mind in my sickness, in a continent by myself, alone, afraid and crying out to God to draw near as only God can.  I had only a mustard seed of faith and God was ever present and ever faithful.  At the time, I was going more than full throttle, and in thinking about this over the past week, God had to make me pause so that I couldn’t stuff another thing in there.  You know when you make yourself busy doing the Lord’s work?  I was working multiple jobs, I was part of multiple organizations, my grandfathers had died the semester before, and I would have these brief, but critical Jesus injections, you know the ones that keep you running, but I had not actually stopped.  And paused. And discerned.  And processed.  I had gone to Exploration the Fall before where Tex Sample said, “Accepting a call to the ministry is a lot like throwing up, when you do it, you’ll feel a lot better.”  Well, I did it, and felt a lot better.  I could use all of my love of stories, creativity, and teaching in ministry.  I could use my love of personal piety balanced with social holiness for the glory of God.  I could move the mountains if I had mustard seed faith and God will give me the words to speak to the dry bones in Christ who strengthens me.

Not only did my call to ministry happen in England, I found out that <Spoiler Alert> Mike and I were meant to be together.  Remember when he said he loved me before I got on the plane, I meant it then when I answered him, but I really meant it in the days to come as God worked within my heart.  You see my dad had always been the pastor.  I believed very much in women in ministry, but I knew firsthand, what a call to ministry means for a family.  How could the Mom be there for both her kids and her congregation?  You have to have a willing companion and a true partner.  We joked growing up that when my mom started playing Steven Curtis Chapman’s For the Sake of the Call or Michael W. Smith’s Friends are Friends Forever, we knew we were moving.  God was giving me all sorts of nudges during my time there both within me and for all the world to see.  The pinnacle was seeing a familiar episode of Friends that happened to be on Nick at Nite on Friday.  You know how I said at the time British television was horrible, the only good thing, was the American re-runs. My family always likened me as Monica and Mike as Chandler, because I kept my room very neat and could always tell if my brothers had been in there and Mike was the sweet jokester and lo and behold, I remember sitting in a hotel room with my mom and grandmother watching the episode of Chandler asking Monica to marry him.  I hadn’t had the mustard seed faith to trust that God could work things out both in my family life and in ministry life.  I’m a natural control freak and doubter and I have to say honestly didn’t believe it could work out that I could have a call to ministry and my family.  Mike says that’s crazy, but that’s what fear does to you – it says, you can’t do something and you believe it.  Fear says you’re not enough when God says you are more than enough by God’s grace and mercy!

Fast forward over the past 17 years and we have been on the greatest mountaintops and walked the darkest valleys. Our faith has been tested, tried and pushed to the limit.  Sometimes in reference to God will never give you more than you can handle, I wish God didn’t trust us so much.  We found this in a store at Montreat on spring break.

all things are possible picture

It couldn’t have come at a better time. All things are possible.  ALL things are possible.  Do you hear that?  ALL things are possible.  If we say to a mountain move then it will move.  If we say to a mulberry tree, go jump in the lake, it will.  If we take the time to listen to what God is speaking for us today and if we tap into that Holy Spirit power, we can change the world.  Who knows what we could do with just a little bit of faith?  Faith moves mountains.  In your deepest heart, in your relationships, in your work place, in your neighborhoods, in our world if we have a mustard seed faith, what would it mean?  God could blow our minds.  As we share together, you’ve heard some of my story, I want to know your stories of mustard seed faith.  I want to know the battles you’re facing and the dragons your slaying.  I want to know what brings you joy and hope.  I want us to share together and be community with one another so that we can live out the faith for all the world to see and know the greatest story ever told – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – how the great God of the universe came to us Emmanuel and walked and lived among us and told these stories about common everyday things like mustard seeds.

Posted in believe, Believing, Doubt, Drought, Faith, God, god is with us, heart, Hope, Hurt, Jesus, locked, Peace, Personal Encounter, Proof, Questions, Seeing, Show and Tell, Signs, Silent, Thomas, Uncategorized

Seeing is Believing – “Doubting” Thomas

John 20:19-31 (NRSV)

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

I think this story is a testimony to the difficulty of faith – how hard it is to believe.  Merriam-Webster defines faith as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”  Belief.  I think of the words from the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and so on…”  or from the praise song – “I believe in Jesus…I believe he is the son of God…that he died and he rose again…that he gave himself for me…”  All week as I’ve thought about this text, the old Steven Curtis Chapman song has rolled around in my head, “I do, I do, I do, I do believe, I know, I know, I know, I know it’s true, Lord, I believe in you.”  Firm belief – faith – is not only foundational, but transformational.  It can be life-changing as we mentally and verbally declare – this is what we believe.  This is who we are.  So what about the disciples – where was their belief, their faith?

The doors are locked in fear.  The disciples are meeting together not just behind closed doors, but locked doors.  Their fear is apparent.  As Jesus was betrayed, they scattered like ants and that initial fear has only been heightened as they believe that their friend, their leader, their rabbi has been crucified.

But wait, prior to this, didn’t Peter and John see the empty tomb and the discarded clothes of Jesus?  Haven’t we heard “Up from the Grave He Arose” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and celebrated the Resurrection with all of the Alleluia’s?  Didn’t Mary Magdalene see and speak with Jesus and then proclaim to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”?  It seems that Thomas has gotten a bad rap.  As much preachers like to use “Doubting Thomas” in our sermon illustrations, he wasn’t the only one that needed to see to believe.  They too needed a personal encounter or experience with the Risen Lord.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  I like that he just sort of appeared.  It doesn’t say exactly what the disciples were doing – maybe freaking out or worrying over what they would do next or what would happen to them – but all of a sudden, there was Jesus – Jesus that had been crucified and buried, Jesus that they had deserted, Jesus that they loved and had followed, saying, “Peace be with you.”

He doesn’t say, “Dude, where were you guys?” or “I told you so,” but peace.  Peace.  He showed them his hands and side to prove to them that he wasn’t a ghost, that he was the same Jesus they had known, had eaten with, walked with, learned from, the same Jesus that had been crucified just three days earlier.  The text says, “Then,” “Then” they rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Not until he showed them did they rejoice.  Seeing was believing.

Again Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  And then he does an amazing thing – he empowers the disciples and gives them authority.  Not only does he react in compassion to their doubt, but he ordains them to bringing the Good News to the world.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  They have seen the journey that Jesus has taken – the ups and the downs and especially the persecution.  But he doesn’t ask them to walk this path alone – he gives them the Holy Spirit.  Actually it says, he breathed on them – just like God breathed life into Adam – He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The disciple’s faith, their firm belief, was restored.  They thought they would never see him again, and in he walks into the room.  They witnessed in person the Risen and Resurrected Lord.  They had a personal encounter with Jesus.

What does it take for us to believe?  The Gospel of John shows us that faith comes in different ways and with differing intensities to different people. It doesn’t all come in the same neatly wrapped package.  In verse 8 of this same chapter, the beloved disciple believes upon seeing the empty tomb. In verse 16, Mary believes when the Lord calls her name. The disciples here in verse 20 rejoice when they see his hand and side.  And then here comes Thomas.

He had missed out on the action, the unbelievable good news.  They had seen the Lord with their own eyes – but he had not.

Whether out of reaction to all of them seeing and now believing and a little bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) or whether he just needs tangible proof, he takes it a step further.  He not only wants to see Jesus to believe, but he says that he wants to put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in his side.  That’s a pretty hardcore and definitive statement.

You see why he’s called Doubting Thomas?  He’s been singled out throughout the ages as someone with inferior faith because he actually expressed his doubt in the resurrection. He made his reservations known out-loud.  He used his outside voice not just wondering in his head. He absolutely refused to say that he understood what he didn’t understand, or that he believed what he didn’t.   He was honest and blunt.  As I said earlier – it’s not that the other disciples immediately believed or that they weren’t scared as well, but Thomas is the one who remains firm – No, I’m not going to believe unless…  And because of that he is the poster child for skepticism. Even those that don’t know the story, have heard of a “Doubting Thomas.”  His name is so synonymous with doubt that if you look in a Webster’s Dictionary you’ll find it in two places: under “d” for doubt and under “t” for Thomas. According to Webster the definition for a “doubting Thomas” is a habitually doubtful person.

But contrary to his bad press in Webster’s, he had not always doubted.  Thomas had believed in the Lord.  In verse 16 of John chapter 11 as Jesus prepared to go to Jerusalem, Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  He had believed and he had followed, but his worst fears had been realized – in his mind, Jesus was dead and that was irreversible.  Any normal person would have that same reaction – because no one previously had been resurrected and no one ever since.  Thomas was speaking out of his grief, out of his fear, out of his anger, out of his despair.

Virginia was 19 years old and pregnant when she went to live with her 15th set of foster parents. Her case file read like a textbook example of neglect, abuse and bureaucratic failure. She sat silently in a chair, hands neatly clasped, staring into her lap. The foster parents, whose three children were in school, had been apprised of Virginia’s story and promised that this placement would be “temporary.” (Temporary was the story of Virginia’s life.)

Finally, the foster mother said, “Are you frightened, Virginia?”

“Kinda,” she replied without looking up. Then, “I’ve been in lots of homes.”

“Well,” the sympathetic woman tried to reassure the bewildered young mother-to-be, “Let’s hope this time turns out for the best.”

Virginia’s reply is one of those statements that sticks to your soul — it was flat, without change of tone and without Virginia even looking up, “Hurts too much to hope.”

Can you imagine?

Thomas could.  It hurt too much for him to hope.  In his mind, dead is dead.  His Lord was dead.  Jesus was dead.  It hurt too much to hope.

In some ways, it seems that Thomas has become a scapegoat – not only for a society who does not prize doubt, but certainty and confidence, but also a scapegoat for the church.  Somehow doubt has come to be seen as wrong, or that it is somehow less than faithful to need a sign, or a touch, or a vision, or a personal encounter.  We get the impression that we are not allowed to ask the hard questions without being labeled a cynic, or a skeptic, or a “liberal.” Since when are questions bad? Since when is it wrong to admit that we don’t understand everything? Since when is it wrong to ask God these things? Read the account of Job, the Prophets or the Psalms. All are filled with uncertainties, complaints, and questions of God. Even Jesus while hanging on the cross cried out to God, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Thomas is just one in a long line of faithful people who have raised their voices to ask the hard yet faithful questions.  If one is asking God questions or seeking answers from God, there has to be some kind of faith that God exists and can respond.  When we cry out to God, know that God will answer.  Maybe not immediately or in some of the ways that we want or desire, but God always promises to work things together for good for those that love God.  Our God is a big God and can withstand our doubts, can withstand our fears and can withstand all that we throw at God, and “God with us” will respond.  Jesus doesn’t throw the book at Thomas because of his doubts.  He doesn’t say – welp, you missed out on seeing me, you’re permanently stuck in your unbelief.

A week later, this time the doors are shut, but not locked and Jesus comes and stands among them again saying, “Peace be with you.”  Part of me wonders if he leads off with the “Peace be with you” each time because it’s still probably pretty shocking to see him alive and in their midst.  Immediately he says to Thomas – do it.  Do what you need to do to remove your doubt and believe.  “Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas’s need to grasp, to touch for proof evaporates as he sees Jesus and he responds, “My Lord and my God!”  Thomas’ fears were removed – he was given all that he needed.

Reminding me very much of Thomas, Paul Tillich writes, “The old faith must die, eaten away by doubts, but only so that a new and deeper faith may be born.”

In France, they grow a lot of grapes, but in France they do not water the grapevines. In California there’s lots of irrigation, but not in France. The French believe that it’s better to have a bad harvest one year than to lose vines due to drought. If you don’t water your vines the roots of those vines go deep, deep, deep into the earth until they touch groundwater and become invulnerable to drought. The harvest may not be great one year but the vines will return the next year.

When we say I believe, when we have a real and personal encounter with our Risen Lord, we sink the roots of our faith deeper and deeper, so deep that these roots of our faith can handle the droughts. The times we feel God is silent.  We don’t know what kind of harsh weather our lives will face; we don’t know the twists and turns awaiting us on this journey, but we trust in the deep, eternal well of God’s faithfulness because we have seen and know. We send our roots deep into the waters of life with God, not because God removes all of our obstacles, all of the storms, but because God walks with us through them.

Jesus knows our doubts just as he knew Thomas’s.  He knows our hearts and if we but ask him he is faithful and true and will answer our doubts.  The Bible says, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you – if we seek the Risen Lord, we will find him.  These encounters come in a variety of ways, they meet us where we are and speak to us in ways that only God can.

Father John Dear in Blessed are the Nonviolent, writes,

“In the summer of 1982, a few months before I entered the Jesuit order, I visited the Holy Land to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

On the day I left the United States, Israel invaded Lebanon. When I stepped off the plane in Jerusalem, soldiers carrying machine guns searched me. I had unwittingly walked into a full-scale war.

I visited the “Chapel of the Beatitudes,” a small, eight-sided stone church that stands on a hill overlooking the sea. I remember sitting there one afternoon, carefully reading the familiar words inscribed on the chapel walls:

Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those persecuted for the sake of justice, for Jesus. Love your enemies. Be as compassionate as God.

I walked onto the balcony and surveyed the magnificent Sea of Galilee. It suddenly dawned on me: I think Jesus is serious.

I turned to the sky and called out to God, “Are you trying to tell me something? Do you want me to hunger and thirst for justice? Do you want me to be a peacemaker? Do you want me to love even my enemies?

“All right,” I declared, “I’ll work for peace and justice for the rest of my life — but on one condition: if you give me a sign!”
Immediately, two Israeli jets swooped down at me from the sky above the Sea of Galilee. They roared over me, causing a sonic boom. Moments later, they dropped bombs along the Lebanon border.
Trembling, I made two decisions in that moment. I would devote the rest of my life to working for peace and justice. And I would never ask God for another sign.”

We serve a show and tell God.  I bet that if we thought about it, each of us would have stories to share about the ways that Jesus has met us where we are.  The signs and wonders, the little God things, the assurances, the encounters that strengthen our faith, that help us to believe when we’re down or all seems lost whether it be a word from a friend, that special passage we flip to in God’s Word, or the song that happens to come on the radio when we need to hear it most.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Blessed are you – who have not physically witnessed the Risen Lord – have not physically seen the nail prints and the scars, but who have come to believe, to know this Jesus.

The text says that this story was written “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  God knows our need for a first-hand encounter. That is why God came to us in the person of Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us.  Jesus does not shrug away from our doubts and questions.  He wants us, he longs for us to believe.  God searches and finds us even when we don’t want to be or don’t think we need to be found.  Jesus breaks through the door of our hearts breathing his Spirit over us literally blowing away our mountains of doubt.  May we let Jesus speak to our hearts, just as he spoke to Thomas.  May Jesus take away our doubts.  Ask and you shall receive, seek and ye shall find.

It doesn’t end there though – After the Lord breaks into our hearts and we have declared “my Lord and my God,” there is a life that proceeds from that point. God calls us out of our locked rooms into the world.  The disciples knew – they had seen and believed, but they could not believe for Thomas.  We can’t believe for our friends and family.  Thomas had to make the decision for himself.  They didn’t ridicule him for his disbelief or kick him out of the fold.  May we also – welcome those that are seeking, that are questioning, those that have never heard the Good News or who have a Christianity that’s contorted beyond recognition. May they see Jesus Christ alive in our hearts and lives. The ways we love each other; the ways we respond to those in need; the ways we strive to live as Christ followers – the hands and feet of Christ.  May we go forth knowing in our hearts that we serve the Risen Lord and may we let that light, that truth be known to the world!  Thomas believed; may we believe also!