Posted in Chosen, Gifts, Sermon, Spiritual Gifts, Uncategorized

We are Chosen FOR Something

(Hold on to your hats ladies and gents!  This is a long scripture.  I know you can handle it!)

Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

The Parable of the Talents

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.’

This is one of those head scratching texts because it seems like such a harsh ending.  You have to remember Jesus is telling a parable.  He’s alluding to some deep truth or lesson while telling a story that conveys meaning.  It’s sometimes a comparison or analogy, and even the disciples couldn’t figure some of them out.  A common theme throughout our “Chosen Series” is that fear limits us from doing what we can with the talents God has given us.   And that’s the difference in the third slave in our scripture, he was afraid…so he buried his talent…He let fear of the Master cripple him.  God does not call us to have a spirit of fear but of boldness.  The audacity of the first and second slave to double their money.  If he was indeed a harsh Master than that was truly audacious.  Clearly the text is talking about an ancient style of money, but in the Middle Ages talents started meaning something else, like Jack’s awesome guitar skills or Derek’s voice or Joanne’s encouragement or Deanne’s teaching.

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?”  There’s that “fear” word again.

2 Timothy 1:6-7, 14, “ For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  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?  Or do you see your children or grandchildren stuck in that uncertain, stuck place discerning their gifts or callings?  Or are you in your retirement, thinking some of those same thoughts?  Where are the gifts and talents God gave me, leading me?  It’s okay to not have all the answers, just don’t shut the door on an opportunity God may have for you.  To any age group, God can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine if we trust and believe.  You may not have any idea what your actual gifts are.  Have different people encouraged you along the way and pointed out the things that you are good at?  Have they affirmed your talent?  Their collective voices may be God’s way of showing and telling you what your gifts are.  We definitely serve a show and tell God.  God has a way of using multiple mediums to get God’s point across loud and clear.  It may be a still small voice or it may be a resounding gong, but God will make a way.

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 only be faithful and obedient.  Not to be perfect or have it all together and most of us are not called to be famous, to have a million followers on Twitter or have a clothing line.  Good for the people that do.  We get into this comparison cycle where we feel like God is Santa Claus and we’ve got no gift.  Or not the one we want.  It’s always greener in someone’s field.  Don’t compare yourself to others because that only sets you up for dissatisfaction, envy, failure, and not to mention, it’s unhealthy.  Trust me, we are each given our part to play in the body of Christ.

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 light 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.  The website shares, “The Spiritual Gifts Assessment helps individuals identify their God-given gifts for living faithfully as Christian disciples day by day and find meaningful ways to use their gifts in connection with others through the community of faith.”  Everyone has been given gifts, it just may be you’ve never unlocked or activated yours or that you’ve forgotten.

I have loved the movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance” ever since I saw it in 2000.  I watched over and over again after a second brain surgery left me without the ability to speak in 2013.  I remember practicing at the pulpit, a friend helping me, as I struggled that summer and fall. “The Legend of Bagger Vance” is about a war veteran, Captain Rannulph Junah played by Matt Damon, who was a talented golfer before he went to war and some things went down and he now refuses to play the game.  He ends up in this tournament and his caddy, Bagger, played by Will Smith, and Harley the young local boy that is serving as the assistant caddy.  When he first tries to swing his clubs, you can tell he’s getting frustrated and angry because it’s not coming back so easy.  He’s forgotten how to do it, to let it flow. and Bagger says to Harley.  “Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Something that we were born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be taught to you or learned. Something that got to be remembered. Over time the world can rob us of that swing. It can be buried inside us in the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s.  Some people forget what their swing was like.”

Our arrogance gets us into trouble.  So does when we don’t try our best or we give up.  This clip is when Junah is 12 strokes back, he’s already let the self-defeating prophesy set in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60PQRpo9T-Q

You see when we humble ourselves and listen to God and God’s leading, we’re able to be who God created us to be.  If we rest, in the resting state, in the love of God for each of us we can truly use our gifts for God’s glory.

Some of us have forgotten our authentic swing.  Life happened.  Jobs happened.  Babies happened.  All the things that demand our time happened.  The callous, apathetic, nature of our world happened.  We are numb to the attacks in the world and we’re numb to the terror, heartache, and politics in our own country, some of us thinking that is our only means of survival to remain wrapped up in our apathy so we don’t have to feel the wounds of those around us.  First of all, God doesn’t cause the atrocities in the world.  God grieves and mourns right alongside us.  Second of all, God is a just God and anyone who shoots the innocent is going to answer to God for it.  I cling to and believe whole-heartedly in times like these, as Romans 8 says,  “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

We forget that sometimes.  Sometimes the stuff of the world, our baggage as we’ve spoken of gets in the way.  We get in our own heads too much and overthink things.  That basically boils down to FEAR. This is later in the movie.  Junah’s gotten into his head and he’s experiencing PTSD.  He’s about to give up the tournament….

“Now play the game.  Your game.  The game that only you was meant to play.  The one was given to you when you come into this world.”

God is going to be with you every step of the way.  Even when God doesn’t seem like it, even if you’re hoarse from crying out, God is there.

Naomi Faw writes, “In the dark night of my soul I long for someone’s comfort and no one comes.  There is no one to call.  I imagine Jesus in the Garden praying until sweat became blood and even the disciples would not wake.  This night is my garden.  When will help come?  Where is grace?  Will I be able to take one more step?  The dark night passes and no one came.  Or, perhaps Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.”

Christ was here all along leading me into the dawn.  God never leaves us or forsakes us.  Amen?

 

I promise you that if you ask God, seek God with all of your heart, God will answer you.  Seek and ye shall find.  Knock and the door will be opened for you.  The place God leads you is the place you come alive.  It’s where your passions lie and it is where your deepest desires are going to be met, the cry of your heart that you’ve not even dared to speak aloud.  It’s a journey of self-discovery and discovering God’s purpose for your life.  Not just one purpose, it’s a myriad of instances, ways to share small things with great love.  The world will see it.  The world will see people who are truly authentic and it will be shining from our faces.  Our one true authentic swings.  God is faithful and true and the Holy Spirit can guide and lead us in our gifts and graces as the Spirit moves us to claim our gifts.  God doesn’t call us to hoard our gifts or leave them unused because we are afraid.  God gives us these talents to share with the world.

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. We don’t need “our giftedness” to go to our heads.  Sometimes we want to take the credit ourselves.  It’s my talent.  I’ve gotten myself to this point.  I’m brilliant.  I’ve gotten this promotion, house, new job, etc. all on my own.

I’m reminded of Ellie Holcomb’s song “Only Hope I’ve Got.”

I take all the gifts that You have given and I stake my claim like they’re my own,
Will You help me when I forget to remember, the good I’ve got is yours alone.
Oh ’cause I don’t wanna tell some arrogant story
Or let myself believe I’m you!
I don’t wanna be a thief who’s stealing Your glory…
Will You help remind me of what is true? The ONLY hope I’ve got, it’s You.
It’s You.

We need to remember that all good gifts come from above. We need to be humble and not squander the great gifts God has given.  According to Marianne Williamson, “Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.”  As Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  I’d like to be your conversation partner in this.  If you get the results of a spiritual gift inventory and you’d like to talk to someone, I’m available.  If you’d like to share with a trusted friend, family member, or small group what you think your gifts are and where you think they’re leading you then do it.  We have to have these times of deep soul work or we grow stale.

Earlier this morning I placed stars under your chairs and I prayed over them for God to help you see what gifts and graces that God has given you.  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 gifts for God, it makes the light brighter, stronger, more full.  Notice I gave you two stars and don’t worry, I won’t give you homework every week.  Part of our calling as Christians is to not just use our gifts for Christ for the world  but to see the gifts of others in the world, the light shining brightly out of them, or dimly as it was for Captain Junah.  I want you to give someone your other star this week as a sign that maybe you see something that they don’t recognize in themselves, or if someone does something kind for you, like carries your groceries, or let’s you get in front of them in line at the gas station, or a mother that you see at Target harried by her children as a sign of encouragement.  God doesn’t just want us to accept and use our gifts, God wants us to shine our lights so that the world knows God’s love and grace and that God has given them gifts as well.

I will close with this poem called “More Than Enough.”

“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.”

Let us pray.

 

Posted in Faith, God's love, Sermon, Uncategorized

God Chooses Us As We Are.

Let’s dig into our first scripture.

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.  Each of you has a story, multiple stories, that can be used by God for the redemption of not only you, but of the world around you.  The first scripture is one of the most famous call stories in all of the Bible because Jesus took uneducated fishermen and called them to fish for people.  Just like in our children’s sermon last week.

They 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.

My brothers and I grew up as United Methodist preacher’s kids as you know.  How many of you were born in 1992?  Most of you.  Some of you may have heard Steven Curtis Chapman song For the Sake of the Call?  My mom would play it any time we were about to move so we knew anytime that song was playing, change was a’coming!  That and Michael W. Smith’s song, Friends are Friends Forever.  Here’s some lines from For the Sake of the Call and you can see why whenever I read this scripture, I think of the song.

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 lead
With no thought to what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name
And they answered…

Drawn like the rivers are drawn to the sea
There’s no turning back, for the water cannot help but flow
Once we hear the Savior’s call, we’ll follow wherever He leads
Because of the love He has shown
And because He has called us to go
We will answer…

Not for the sake of a creed or a cause
Not for a dream or a promise
Simply because it is Jesus who called
And if we believe we’ll obey
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

If you obey Jesus when he calls, life is going to be an adventure.  Has anyone ever seen Running Wild with Bear Grylls?  Bear Grylls is a Brittish adventurer best known for his Man vs. Wild tv show.  He’s a military man, one of the youngest Brits to climb Everest and he often talks about his faith.  The show was born after he had Will Ferrell join him on Man vs. Wild.

In the new show, 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 celebrities don’t know the path and they balk when there’s heights or they have to eat something to survive like grubs or crickets or squirrel or there’s only a small space between rocks and they’re claustrophobic.  They follow on wherever Bear leads.  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 as the rubber meets the road and their souls stripped bare.  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, and I still think of John the Baptist like that.  John the Baptist was wisened, ate locusts, was already very much a prophetic voice. But these were fishermen and a tax collector; they weren’t like that at the beginning of their trek with Jesus.  They didn’t have all of the answers.  They were probably very much like these celebrities, unsure of themselves but willing to follow. Albeit the celebrities have the right kind of gear.  Does God equip us with the right kind of gear for the road?

Did the two 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 in school 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 says we should be or who our “friends” pressure us to be or what facebook wants us to be…I hate that the world is so judgmental now.  That we can hide behind our screens and we don’t have to look people in the eyes, when we say you’re too fat, you’re too skinny, you’re not smart/pretty/kind/ enough and  we even go so far as to say, I hate you.  Jesus doesn’t want us drinking the haterade.  Jesus wants us to find what makes for peace.  Jesus is asking you to go on a great adventure and we all have to lay down our 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.  Repent that you looked to people, to show you your worth.  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.”

When he was in kindergarten, my son Enoch, 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 and still is a rambunctious and inquisitive child.  To be honest, we were happy with the yellow days, because Enoch is who he is, we don’t want him to stop being a Curious George.  We want him to learn a lot and not drive his teacher or his classmates crazy, but he always would get stressed out and upset with the behavior chart. If the teacher moved his color, that would affect his behavior and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.   He was in this cycle because he didn’t want to disappoint us.  I still 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 of Star Wars says, “Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.”  If you grasp hold of hate than you can’t grab onto the beautiful ways that God will use you to be an instrument of love, peace, and the fruit of the Spirit we read about in Galatians.  “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

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 forgives us. 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 because that’s not what Christ would do.  You better be abiding in the love and grace of God if you’re talking to or about one of God’s beloved children.  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.  I was listening to Francesca Battistelli, Ellie Holcomb, and Lauren Daigle, on my way back from the UMC’s South Eastern Jurisdictional Conference at Lake Junaluska on Thursday night feeling a bit discouraged and everything that I was listening to was perfectly timed and perfectly worded so that my tired and weary soul could take it in.  This one in particular hit me.  It’s Francesca Battistelli’s He Knows My Name.

Spent today in a conversation
In the mirror face to face with
somebody less than perfect
I wouldn’t choose me first if
I was looking for a champion
In fact I’d understand if
You picked everyone before me
But that’s just not my story
True to who You are
You saw my heart
and made
Something out of nothing

I’m not meant to just stay quiet
I’m meant to be a lion
I’ll roar beyond a song
With every moment that I’ve got
True to who You are
You saw my heart
and made
Something out of nothing

I don’t need my name in lights
I’m famous in my Father’s eyes
Make no mistake
He knows my name
I’m not living for applause
I’m already so adored
It’s all His stage
He knows my name

He calls me chosen, free forgiven, wanted, child of the King,
His forever, held in treasure…
I am loved

God knows what we need and when we need it if we rest in God.  God chooses us as we are not what we aspire to be or who we pretend to be on social media.  God chooses us as we are with all of our fears and mistakes, all of the distractions and things rolling around in our heads and calls us Sons and Daughters of the Most High King.  Remember my earlier rhetorical question about God equipping us for the road ahead?  God does and God will.  If you follow God’s heart and leading, God will give you everything you need.  You may be thinking that’s impossible, God doesn’t work like that.  I’ll quote Muhammad Ali who 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.” What does scripture say about that?  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 he 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. 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 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!”

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It’s a true story.  Lo and behold, 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.  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.”

Posted in Chosen, Chosen Series, Christian, Church, Grace, Sermon, Story, United Methodist Church, Worship, Young Clergy

God Created YOU

We are launching into a trilogy series called “Chosen.”

Part One: Running to You

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July 8th – “Chosen:  Running to You” God Created You.

July 17th – “Chosen:  Running to You” God chooses us just as we are.

July 24th – “Chosen:  Running to You” God chooses us FOR something.

Part Two: Choosing You

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July 31st – “Chosen:  Choosing You” We choose to follow Jesus.

August 7th – “Chosen:  Choosing You” We choose to step out.

August 14th – “Chosen:  Choosing You” We choose to be restored.

Part Three: Chosen to Act

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August 21st – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to share the Good News.

August 28th – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to bring light.

September 4th – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to love the world.

Psalm 139

The Inescapable God

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

This passage is titled “The Inescapable God.”

inəˈskāpəb(ə)l/

adjective

adjective: inescapable

  1. unable to be avoided or denied.
synonyms: unavoidable, inevitable, unpreventable, ineluctable, inexorable;

assured,sure, certain, guaranteed;

necessary, required, compulsory, mandatory;

rareineludible

“meeting the future in-laws is inescapable”

Meeting the future in-laws is definitely inescapable and I’m glad that I have good ones.  God’s love is unavoidable, compulsory, unpreventable….Do you find comfort in this or discomfort?  It sort of depends on how you see God or the nature of God.  If you see God as an all loving, omnipresent (all present), and omnipotent (all knowing) that’s our strength and our shield and a very present help in times of trouble, you are comforted by this Psalm.  You realize that even though God knows all you’ve done and said and the things you’ve hidden away and the deepest recesses of your heart, God loves you anyway.  Jesus scatters your sins from the east to the west and they’re not held against you anymore by grace alone.  Christ is the victor over all evil and injustice in this world and we work with the Holy Spirit to bring God’s kingdom to earth.  If your view of God is a task-master, one that checks off like Santa if you do this naughty thing, or that, or if you simply don’t trust God because what you see God doing in the world seems so unfair, unjust, and unfathomable, then you have an entirely different picture of who God is.  Scriptures abound painting with  all kinds of different strokes about the nature of God, but if you take the full picture, the full painting, you begin to see that God is longing for us to return home.  Just like the father in the familiar prodigal sermon.  God’s longing for us to come home so that God can throw a party just as the father did in the story.

This points to what United Methodists call prevenient grace.  God woos us to God’s self, even before we knew, even before we are aware of it.  God seeks each of us out to have a relationship with God.  God calls us where we are, in all of the mire and muck of sin, and as Jeremiah 18:1-4 says, “18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.”  God, as the potter, has the power to make all things new.  As Isaiah 64:8 says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  God creates each of us and calls us each by name.  God cares about each of us.  God seeks the heart of each of us.  To give us hope and a future.

8th grade was a very difficult year for me.  My dad was a United Methodist pastor so we moved the summer before my eighth grade year.  The exact wrong time to move if you’re a 5 foot 11 ½ inch girl and none of the guys at your school had hit their growth spurt yet.  I grew to this height in seventh grade, but we had been in the Hartsville schools for 7 years, but when we moved to Cheraw I was fresh meat.  My nicknames abounded that year:  giraffe, Olive Oil, stick.  They made fun of me for my long fingers and after a dance where some people had gone through my purse, I went home crying and being oh so dramatic and yelling at the top of my lungs to my parents, “I hate this town and everyone in it!”  I wanted to go “home” to Hartsville.  I felt out of place and wanted my old friends, old church and the familiar status quo.  Have you ever felt like an outsider?  That you didn’t belong?  Like Dorothy did you realize there’s no place like home.  It’s easy for adolescents to feel that way.  To hope that some day they will find a place where they fit.  As a teenager I always searched for this mythical home.  Even writing about it when I was 17 in a poem titled “My “Ganny’s.”

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This place has been my haven, through life’s many storms

A constant place of refuge, where things are close and warm

It’s seen my tears, it’s seen my smiles, and it’s picked me up each time

The one place that has never changed in the journey of my life

When I have felt lost – no real “home” – and confused

Or when I thought my heart was broken and my soul had been stripped bare

I go through life as a little child trying to keep on her disguise

But in these walls my face lights up for this is where my strength and hope lies

Things are brighter, life more precious, feelings really matter

Here I find my true self, amidst the family’s chatter

This place is not a castle, a mansion, or a dream

What makes it great is not itself but the things that are unseen

The simple words full of wisdom, lack of pretense, and genuine love for people and each other

Are the things I admire and respect about my grandfather and grandmother

Although I can’t say I have the pleasure of living here from day to day

This place is my strength and my rock and in my heart it will stay

A place given from God to me, to help me light my way

A place where I can dance and sing, a secret hiding place

Everyone needs a refuge, a place to feel free and loved

There’s always a light, open door, some chocolate cake and a hug

People need a “Ganny’s” to escape our stress-filled world

A home that shows the love and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord

Everyone should have a safe space, where they can simply be.  Simply relax.  Simply to take off the armor we sometimes carry around in our day to day lives.  Whether it is a societal shield or a learned behavior, to protect us from further wounding or to hide our hurt.  Why do we remember only the negative things years later, but we forget the praises in a heartbeat?  Why do we carry around our wounds?  When the great God of the Universe created us and calls us for a purpose.  God created YOU.  God created Me.  With all of our persnicketies and peculiarities.

We have to LET IT GO, as Elsa sings, or as Taylor Swift sings, SHAKE IT OFF.  We have to stop all of the negative tapes in our heads that we’re not good enough, we’re not worthy, we’re not strong enough, we’re not….enough.  Because that’s just Satan trying to keep us silent and feeling bad about ourselves.  Our baggage is the stuff we carry; the stuff we can’t shake.  At times, we carry it so long it becomes a part of us.  We begin repeating it in our heads in our litany of why we can’t do something.  It holds us back.  It holds us down.  It enslaves us, keep us in bondage, preventing us from being who God truly wants us to be.  Who God truly created us to be.  It can either be mistakes we’ve made or things that we’ve been subjected to be others.  Nevertheless, it’s a pain festering inside of us, an open festering wound. It’s time to let go and let God.  That’s where the healing begins.

It’s time to lay them all down at the feet of Jesus and he can play new words on the tape players of our hearts.

You are chosen.

You are beloved.

You are my beautiful creation.

You don’t have to DO anything to have my love.  You don’t have to BE anything to have my love.  I’m your home.  The place you belong is is resting in my love and grace.  You can hang out there forever.

If you’ve been carrying around these wounds, this baggage inside – take a moment and consider freedom from those things.  If you know someone carrying around this baggage, pray for them and that God will give you the courage and the words to ask them to lay their fears, worries, tapes, baggage at the feet of Jesus.

I’m reminded of the words from Paul encouraging Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6-10.  “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear.  God wants to take away our burdens.  God wants to be our refuge.  A very present help in times of trouble.  Don’t let anyone tell you who you are.  Tell them Whose you are and rest in that.  I know what I’m saying is easier said than done.  Some of us hold tight to our woundings like familiar, old security blankets.  Ask God to work on that with you.  God created your inmost thoughts, God knows everything about you, and God desires to give you abundant life in Christ.  Not a half life.

We cannot love our neighbors with God’s agape love until we first love ourselves with God’s agape love.  That sacrificial love that is exemplified as Christ dying for our sins.  So whatever your burdens are….Whatever separates you from feeling the love of God….ask God to reveal it to you….whatever baggage you carry with you….ask God to free you from it in Jesus’ name.  As Mother Teresa says, “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can live your life radiating that love.”  I want us all to radiate the love of God.  I’m praying as it says in Micah that we all seek to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  Aberjhani, in Journey through the Power of the Rainbow says, “Love is our most unifying and empowering common spiritual denominator. The more we ignore its potential to bring greater balance and deeper meaning to human existence, the more likely we are to continue to define history as one long inglorious record of man’s inhumanity to man.”

I will tell you if you let go and let God in, God doesn’t promise to take the pain away, God doesn’t promise it will be easy, God doesn’t promise you will not be challenged and face all that the world throws at you, but God promises to be with you.  In Psalm 139:18, “I come to the end – I am still with you.”  These are the words of David, but they could express the emotion and commitment of Martin Luther King Jr. as well. The “end” nearly came sooner than later.

The year was 1968. The place: Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis Presley is living at Graceland with his wife Priscilla and newborn daughter Lisa Marie, and is enjoying the Grammy he has just won for his second gospel album, “How Great Thou Art.” In the minds of many, he is “The King.”

Another King comes to town on April 3, 1968. Several death threats have been directed at King, and tension is high, but he feels that it is important to press ahead and speak at a rally on behalf of the sanitation workers. In the course of this address, he tells the story of an earlier attempt on his life, one that brought him perilously close to death. According to Ralph Abernathy, his friend and successor, Martin Luther King stood up that night and just “preached out” his fear.

“You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you drown in your own blood, that’s the end of you.

It came out in The New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. [Some time] after the operation, after my chest had been opened and the blade taken out, they allowed me to move around … and to read the mail that had come in from all over the states and the world. Kind letters had come in. I read a few, but one I will never forget. I had received telegrams from the president and vice president, but I have forgotten what those messages said. I received a visit and a letter from the governor of New York, but I forgot what was said.

But there was another letter that came from a young girl at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I will never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.” She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing to you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”

And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I [too] am happy that I didn’t sneeze.”

In his autobiography he wrote, “If I demonstrated unusual calm during the attempt on my life, it was certainly not due to any extraordinary powers that I possess. Rather, it was due to the power of God working through me. Throughout this struggle for racial justice I have constantly asked God to remove all bitterness from my heart and to give me the strength and courage to face any disaster that came my way. This constant prayer life and feeling of dependence on God have given me the feeling that I have divine companionship in the struggle. I know no other way to explain it. It is the fact that in the midst of external tension, God can give an inner peace.”

He died the next day after giving that speech in Memphis.  In the course of his life, Martin Luther King walked through many dangers, toils and snares, but through it all he knew that God was walking with him. He had the very same faith as the writer of Psalm 139, the ancient poet who said to the Lord, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

After this week of unspeakable tragedy in our nation, “sides” being picked in our offices, homes and especially on social media, and children being afraid to go outside and play in their yards, we can draw comfort from the knowledge that God made each and every one of us, God is with each and every one of us, and God works all things together for God for those who love God.  God was with those who were shot, God was with the people at the rally in Dallas, God is with the ones that are recovering, God is with their families, God is with each of us as we grapple with the who’s, why’s, and how’s, as we explain such events to our children. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

I will close with this prayer that Beth A. Richardson wrote after the awful tragedy and deadly violence in Orlando.

The news is bad.
We are outraged and horrified.
We are shocked and afraid.
We are overwhelmed and numb.
How many more times will we awake to such news?

Some of us sit in front of the television,
Search the internet for stories,
Watch, listen for something
That will help make sense,
That will soothe or comfort,
That will bring order back again.

Some of us can’t bear the words, the images.
The press conferences and scrolling news feeds
Freeze our brains, our hearts, our guts.

Some of us pray.
Some of us escape.
Some of us rage.
Some of us cry.

God, have mercy on our world.
Have mercy on the powerless and the powerful.
Have mercy on the first responders and those in ministry to the brokenhearted.
Have mercy on the victims, their families, their friends.

Sit with us in our terror, our sadness, our hopelessness.
And let us hold the space for others as we
Sit or cry, light candles or pray,
In solidarity, in hope, in love.
Amen.

You are chosen.  God created you in God’s image.  God created all of us in the image of God and freely forgives us no matter the baggage, no matter the doubt, no matter what.  You are loved.  Don’t let anyone or anything wrestle that fact away from you.  You are a beloved child of God, a fearfully and wonderfully made creation.  May we all feel , after this particularly hard week, God’s tangible love for each of us that calls us to a new, higher way, when we will all journey home.

Posted in Ann Voskamp, Body of Christ, Corinthians, Greater Things, Henri Nouwen, Sermon, Spiritual Gifts

You Have Something GREAT in YOU

Preached at talk 2 of 3 at the Greater Things Conference for students in L’viv, Ukraine.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

12Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to 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. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

We need to use the gifts and abilities we’ve been given for God’s glory and greater things will come. Mother Teresa of Calcutta says, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” My brother, Caleb, has the gift of empathy and zeroing in on where you are hurting and my other brother, Josh, who reminds me of Valodia, has a prophetic voice and he’s kind-hearted, which is a rare but needed combination. 1 Corinthians 7:7 says, “Each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.” It’s a natural and human thing to be envious of other people’s gifts. Some of us want to be smarter, prettier, shorter, more handsome, but we should be grateful for our own particular gifts. There will never be another YOU. So how could you use the gifts that God has given you in this particular time and in this particular place?

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

God knows you intimately. Even before you were born, God had a purpose for your life. Jeremiah 29:11-14 says, “11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”

So God created you and God has promised to take care of you. Back to our original text. What was happening in Corinth in our text from 1 Corinthians 12:1-11?

Community life together was a mixture of confusion, pettiness, envy and ambition, combined with enthusiasm and fervor, they all wanted to do everything and be everything. Attitudes of elitism, rivalry and individualism are painfully present. They struggled to define their identity as the church of God in a complex and sophisticated urban setting much like L’viv.

Paul had much work and education to do. Paul starts by changing the Corinthians’ argument – and even the use of their words from pneumatika to charismata in verse 4 – is a shift from understanding spiritual power as the property of the one exercising it (and therefore something to boast about) to understanding spiritual power as a gift of divine grace (charis) and therefore something for which to thank God and to use in the service of Christ.
Since all gifts come from the same God, there is a fundamental unity and equality between them. All the functions are required for the body to be complete, so there is no place for comparison or conflict.

The gifts are given to all 12:6b – 7 says, “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.”
Paul is countering two destructive tendencies: the tendency to exalt one gift ONLY along with those who exercise that particular gift, and the tendency to OVERLOOK those gifts that seem unimportant or not as glamorous and thus IGNORING the UNIFYING fact that we’ve all been given gifts that are particular to us through the presence of Christ at work in our lives!

This is a representative not an exhaustive list. Sometimes we are like the Corinthians trying to one up each other, but that comes from our own insecurity about our worth. Henri J.M. Nouwen writes, “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection…. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

Let’s think about growing up….what are those things that our parents placed upon us?

What are some things that our peers in school expected of us?

How are we influenced by society? How much emphasis is placed on our cultural heritage?

Sometimes we need to stop the multiple voices that we hear inside our heads and sometimes we have to get out of our own way.

Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Sometimes we need to answer those doubts and fears and say – “Get out!”

In John 10:10 it says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Author of One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes in her blog, A Holy Experience, “It’s what I sing when the enemy attacks with lies, when I feel alone and scared, when I fear the future and whispers in the shadows. It’s what my mother-in-law, a Dutch farmer’s wife and mother of nine, godly and with these big calloused work hands, said to do. What she told me once hunched over this row of peas we were picking out in a June twilight: “It’s what my mother said, Ann: When it is hardest — that is when you sing the loudest. The devil flees at a hymn.” At the last, when the cancer wound tighter, folks would ask how she was — and my father-in-law would say, “Good! She’s singing all the time.” And we knew how hard it was — and how good she knew He is.”

We started off with worship tonight both prayers and singing. No matter the language, you know when someone is earnestly crying out to God. I am grateful to the musicians and the people that said prayers for sharing their gifts with us. I am thankful for Erica’s gift of organization and scheduling. I’m in awe of my interpreters, that their brains work in ways that I can only imagine. The world would be a far better place if we start doing the things that we are intricately made to do. Think about what’s holding you back from not taking that next step. Give God your doubts and fears and ask God for confidence and reassurance. We are all needed and wanted in the body of Christ. God has uniquely made YOU to be something great.

Posted in Campus Ministry, journal, lectionary, martyrs, narrative, Sermon

Martyr of the Holy Innocents

Isaiah 63:7-9

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

God’s Mercy Remembered

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will not deal falsely”;
and he became their savior
    in all their distress.
It was no messenger[a] or angel
but his presence that saved them;[b]
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Most pastors avoid this text I’m about to read you like the plague.  It’s even called the Holy Innocents or Martyrs in the Lectionary.  You see, we’re still decorated for Christmas.   Most people don’t know it’s even part of the Christmas story, and Lord knows we wouldn’t want it depicted in any way.  But my friend and colleague the Rev. Paul Shultz, had a way of wading into texts that still made you uncomfortable, still did not give you all the answers and didn’t tie up the loose ends.  He would act like he relished making you uncomfortable, but he let slip one too many times, his care for people.  He died this past week from flu complications.  We texted on New Year’s when he first started coming down with something.  He was only 50 years old and had three kids, 1 grandchild and a fiancé Jana.  I will travel tomorrow morning to represent the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association at the visitation and the funeral because he was my co-chair on UMCMA.  Prayers for his family, students at The University of Iowa Wesley Foundation, and all those that loved him

Hear now the word of God. 

Matthew 2:13-23

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”14 Then Joseph[a] got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,[b] he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.[c] 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph[d] got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.

 

So how do you deal with the implications of an angel warning Mary and Joseph to flee with baby Jesus while hundreds of children, 2 years old and younger, were slaughtered?  This is my attempt to not gloss over and fast forward the 3 verses, but to deal with them, realizing that I have my own limited understanding of what it’s like to lose a child.

This is the journal of Divorah, daughter of Amos, of Beyt-Lechem.

Journal Entry 1

I am a young woman today, full of strength and life, and I’ve been blessed by God.  I am from, well, not a wealthy family, but a good one.  I have a good name, something that, among my people, is priceless.  The Lord led me to my love, my husband, Yoseph, and we have had three full years of joy together.  We have good lands that flourish with wheat and barley and honey, and I have praised God daily for it.  God even favored us enough to give us a child, a daughter, whom we’ve named Hannah.  She has been the most precious thing I have ever known.  Every movement, every sound, every new thing she learns or discovers – it has been overwhelming the amount of unconditional love I feel.  Her father and I would commission someone to paint her life, one day at a time, if we could.  That is how this journal came to be.  Yesterday, on Hannah’s first birthday, we bought this book of memories, with as many blank pages as we could afford, to begin to record her life.  And all of that, taken together, is an overflowing cup for any person.

But that was yesterday.  And today let no talk pass my lips of the Lord’s favor.  Let no one speak his name before me.  May no prayer to this “god” pass my lips or those of anyone in my household as long as I live.

Yesterday morning my Hannah turned a year old, and yesterday evening a Roman detachment arrived in town under Herod’s orders.  Yoseph and I could hear the crowds and shouting from here, and in only minutes they had come to our door.  They didn’t ask for the tax, or if we were harboring a fugitive, or if my husband was a member of the latest insurrection.  They demanded, of all things, our little girl.

And I cannot tell you how bitterly I fought them, four armed soldiers.  My husband was clubbed nearly to death, and these men murdered my Hannah.  Yoseph couldn’t protect her.  And no matter how loudly I screamed and scratched and hit, the soldiers just pushed me to the side.  They killed my sweet, precious Hannah and they might as well have killed me as well.   My husband keeps shaking me, asking me if I need anything, anything at all.  Doesn’t he know I can’t bear to go on?  Doesn’t he know that it’s all I can do to record every last thing I can remember in this journal?  For her short and brief life.  What made her smile and giggle……I can’t bear it.

Journal Entry 2

Almost thirty years to the day, I open up these pages again.  I’ll confess that I’ve read and re-read those last words many, many times since that day.  No birthday of my Hannah’s ever passes that I don’t come back here to remember.  On more than one occasion I even thought to record my feelings, to write to her, to tell her things I would’ve told her at 8 or 12 or 20 years old.  But it seemed wrong to change this book.  It seemed like moving on from her.

Nevertheless, I write today because new facts have come to light with regard to the history of Hannah’s life.  My husband and I’ve met again a young man named Yohanan, John, son of Zebediyah the fisherman from the Galilee.  John’s mother is my cousin, and he spent some time here on the farm as a boy.

Anyway, in the city, John had been invited to teach.  I thought it strange for the son of a fisherman, but the local Rabbi seemed to wish to almost interrogate him about the happenings of another wandering Rabbi that John has taken up with, one named Yeshua, or Jesus.  So my husband and I attended, and if I’m honest I was shocked and moved by John’s wisdom, and the “spirit” that was upon him.  We greeted him afterwards and he invited us to lunch and started to open up his heart to us.  And it was he who mentioned Hannah’s name to me.

He explained that this Jesus, whom he takes the foolish risk of calling “lord,” is none other than the Messiah.  And I told him that I’d heard all of that talk before but that I no longer have time for any of God’s Messiahs.  But he went on to say that it was because of this Jesus that the soldiers were sent to our village so many years ago, that it was this Jesus who threatened the evil rule of men like Herod, that it was this Jesus who is God’s great savior.  He spoke of the boy’s birth to a man and wife from Nazareth who had traveled to Bethlehem; he told me about Herod’s schemes and the appearance of angels in visions and dreams to deliver the child and his parents.  He started to describe the kingdom of God coming, and an age where even grief like mine would be no more.

Now that I think of it I can still remember the Roman census that year, and the rumors that were circulating in town at the time – a king was to come from the city of David, after all.  It was only a few months later that I became pregnant with Hannah, so we had taken it all as a good omen!  Our daughter, growing up to see the reign of Israel’s great king!

But that is when I remembered myself.  That is when I remembered the kind of faith that had left my home unguarded on that bloody night.  I remembered the kind of hope that naïve children cling to before they’ve grown up to see what life is like here and now, on earth.  I asked John why it is that our great God, the Lord of heaven and earth, had his son born to peasants in unsecured and unknown towns; or why this God speaks in fables and dreams while men like Herod give orders to armed legions?  Or why was it only God’s son who was warned to escape Bethlehem while Hannah was left alone to die?  And hundreds more with her?

I cannot even remember John’s reply, but my husband Yoseph had a few choice words for John that he had the audacity to bring up that terrible night as if this Jesus……    As Yoseph regained his temper, he thanked him for the lunch and sent him on his way without another word.  He wished him luck that he and his Jesus might somehow survive either Herod Antipas or Caesar or the Chief Priest, for that matter, but I feel none the better for our conversation.   There’s no way this Jesus being born could justify my Hannah being taken from me.  Here I sit, and thirty years have passed, but no words and no anger will bring Hannah to me.  I no longer know who I am or how to live.  I write, only, to keep record of what I now know of her story.  God have mercy on us.

Journal Entry 3

Today, Hannah’s story in this book comes to a close.  Very briefly I’ll say that, through John, in the past year I’ve been able to meet Jesus in person.  To follow him in the crowds, very skeptically at first.  Then, to eat with him and speak with him intimately a few times.  And the same wisdom and Spirit that I saw in John in that synagogue, I’ve felt in Jesus – as the source of it, like the sun sharing its light.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I first even entertained the idea that he could really be our Messiah.  It was gradual, as he answered many of my questions, and gave me new ones.  But something in his teaching, that the others usually overlooked or rebuked, started to call out to me.  He would occasionally speak of death, and of his own suffering.  He would hint at the need to shed his blood, and to tear down the Temple only to rebuild it again.  He spoke of a time of great personal sorrow to come, and of his own pain, and of his followers being prepared to carry a cross every single day.

And I don’t know what it was, but while the others murmured about these strange, off-hand comments of his, they rang in my heart.  While the crowds asked him not to say such things, but foamed at the mouth for the triumph of Israel over the Romans and all our enemies, it sounded to me like something deeper was at work.  So, yes, just weeks ago during the Passover when he was arrested, I was stirred to draw near to Jesus like never before.  What did I have left to lose?  What could the soldiers take from me now that they haven’t already ripped from me?

As some of his crowd fled in fear or others shouted out in their disappointment for him to be killed like a criminal, I prayed for him.  As I watched what they did to him, and how he endured, as he suffered, and felt unspeakable pain, at no fault of his own, in spite of his innocence, I thought of the innocence of my 1 year old, Hannah.  And I ached for his mother Mary, to witness the unspeakable ways they were treating him.  It was this final thought that confirmed in me that this was my Lord and my God.

I, who wasn’t one to look for a Messiah, who felt like no one on this earth knew my tragedy or could possibly feel my pain – I understood the injustice and cruelty, tyranny and evil, that was upon Jesus.  And I knew for certain that this was not God’s doing, but it was the fruit of what men and women had chosen to do, that day and since the beginning.  Then I remembered Jesus’ words about freedom.  “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  It convicted me that, in all of the many ways that I’d hardened my heart these decades, some of his suffering was my own doing.  But Jesus’s way was to come and submit to such a thing, in order to finally set things right.  In his own words, he had become the Passover lamb for my sake and for the sake of his children, and for the sake of the man next to me that day shouting curses at him, and for the sake of his own weeping mother, and even for the sake of Pilate and Herod and Caesar.

I stayed that day until the end; I followed them out of the city, heard his final words, and watched him pass into death.  I grieved and mourned.  I wondered what could be next.  And then I received word about Jesus at my home in Bethlehem, a simple message from the believers:  “the grave could not hold him.”  And today I remember his words:  “Because I live, you shall live also.”    And though, more than 30 years ago, while his innocents were slaughtered in Bethlehem, God did not intervene in that moment to spare Hannah’s earthly life, I trust that, today, she lives also.  And I will.  So, as I said, today her story in this book comes to a close, because it continues elsewhere.

John 3:16-17 —

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

This was written by Josh McClendon and Narcie Jeter.

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

The Invisible 12th

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

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

JOHN 14:15-17 –

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

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

JOHN 14:25-27 –

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Not changes of majors, not knowing what we want to do when we grow up, not parent’s expectations, not a broken relationship, not a complete failure, not asking for a do over, not even Gator Wesley “drama.”  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  So if we truly believe that, how would we live our lives differently?   If we truly believe the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives and in this ministry blowing where it will, igniting and enlivening, fanning the flame and equally putting out fires, how would we live our lives differently both as a community and individually?

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

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

May the Spirit

Bless you with discomfort

At easy answers, half-truths, and

Superficial relationships so that

You will live deep in your heart.

May the Spirit

Bless you with anger

At injustice and oppression,

And exploitation of people and the earth

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

May the Spirit

Bless you with tears to shed

For those who suffer

So that you will

Reach out your hand

To comfort them.

And may the Spirit

Bless you with the foolishness

To think you can make a difference

In the world,

So you will do the things

Which others say cannot be done.

Amen.

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

Posted in All Saints Day, Campus Ministry, Lazarus, Lydia, Ministry with*, Mother Teresa, poor, Rich, Sermon

Lydia and Lazarus – Are you a better giver or receiver???

We’re going to be looking at the Biblical characters of Lydia and Lazarus, but as we prepare our hearts and feet to be in action for National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, that Gator Wesley will be hosting, I thought I would begin with this video that shows the ever-widening divide between rich and poor.

These are some pretty eye-opening statistics.  But I invite you to not let the research/fact part of your brain take over urging you to gloss over the information downloaded.  As an African proverb says, “Statistics are numbers without tears.”  In other words, we can tune out or trick our brain into thinking that these are not real people.  Real struggle.  Real challenge.  Real hunger.

The actual title of this chapter is “Who Are Your VIPs?  You Need a Lydia and Lazarus, Rich and Poor.”  So the author of the book, Len Sweet, is setting up a dichotomy between Lydia, who represents the rich and Lazarus, who represents the poor.  I will read the passage where we meet Lydia for the first time.  It’s in the book of Acts, when the early church is first forming.

 

Acts 16:11-15

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Conversion of Lydia

11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Lydia is found in the Bible only in two places both of which are in Acts.  When it says that she was a dealer in purple cloth that was a signal to readers that she was wealthy because purple cloth was expensive so it was a sign of nobility or royalty.  Her husband is not mentioned anywhere in the passage, but it says she and her household were baptized, which most likely would have included her children and servants.  She offered hospitality in her home to Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke.

Let’s flip to Lazarus.  First off, it’s not THAT Lazarus.  It’s the only parable that Jesus ever told where he gives the main character a name.  Lazarus is Hebrew for “God helps.”  He gives all of the characters names except for the rich man.

Luke 16:19-31

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

These texts have been playing in my head all week as I’ve prepared for this sermon and this is my main take away.  We often receive from people we would think or assume have nothing to offer us.  We often receive from people we would think or assume have nothing to offer us.  Is it easier for you to be the giver (like Lydia and her patronage providing for the ministry of the early church) or the receiver (like Lazarus who depended on the alms of passersby and who only had dogs to lick his wounds)?  We’ve all heard the saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  But, and I’m speaking for myself here, it is much more difficult for ME to receive.  I love giving gifts and being generous with my friends and family.  My default position is to be a giver and I rarely can wait for Christmas or a birthday to give gifts to those that I love.  Mike and the kids get Christmas or birthday presents all year long.  My love language is gift giving.  But something about receiving gifts makes me uncomfortable.  I know it sounds silly, but I care so much getting right the appropriate reaction to show my appreciation to the giver, that I often wait and open the gift or the card in private.  And that’s not fair to the giver.  I’m robbing them of the joy of giving by hiding out so they can’t see my actual receiving.  Have you ever noticed that when you take the love languages quiz that it only asks how you SHOW your love language?  But it doesn’t take into account how you want to BE loved?  Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, Physical Touch.  What’s your love language?  Is it easier for you to give than receive?

Jesus was a good receiver.  Have you noticed that he was never in the role of host and he was comfortable in that?  He was always the guest.  That convicts me.  Because it so hard to be placed on the side of invitee rather than the one doing the inviting.  It gives up a certain amount of control and makes you vulnerable.  In Atlanta this past week, we had the opportunity to hear Barbara Brown Taylor, one of the most respected preachers of her generation, on the virtues that shape her preaching life.  She told us that research has shown the believability factor is central to you being considered a “good” preacher.  That was broken down to the visual factor, the vocal factor and the content.  The statistics may surprise you.  It did me.  The visual factor made up 55% of the votes, the vocal factor 38%, and the content of what you’re actually saying only made up 7%.  She posited that it had less to do with what the preacher says but how a preacher lives.  How the things match up, the authenticity, the integrity.  She gave us her three virtues:  reverence, courage, and self-forgetfulness.  She then challenged us to come up with our own virtues.  Mine was vulnerability.  And that surprised me.  That was the first thing that came to mind in this season of life.  I’m challenged to be vulnerable each Sunday and Wednesday as I preach, lead the communion liturgy, pray out loud, and give the benediction, because I don’t know if the words are going to come out or not and that has shaped who I am.  For those that don’t know I had brain surgery in May and I lost my ability to speak but it’s slowly coming back.  I’ve appreciated SO much the grace in which y’all’ve walked this journey with me.  I know if you asked me a year ago what my virtue would have been I would NOT have answered vulnerability.  Sometimes we need to be brought down low, to fully trust in and rely on God and the community around us.  Sometimes the “rich” need to get the fuller picture of what God has to offer them instead of relying on their own strength, their own wealth, or their own power.

We must remember the words of Mother Teresa in A Simple Path, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”  In many ways, the rich are spiritually more vulnerable than the poor because they’ve not HAD to rely on God.

Have you ever been on a mission trip where you thought you were going to serve “the poor people,” and you realized at the end of the trip that God had given you abundantly more through the people you were supposedly “serving” than you gave in return?  I’ve had countless experiences like that.  Through Salkehatchie, a work camp that we have back in South Caroling, on mission trips, in the summers I spent working at the Cooperative Ministry, a one-stop service center for the homeless that provided clothes, food, counseling, and cars to the needy.  I’m sure many of you can think of a similar time in your own faith journey.  If not, I would encourage you to go on our domestic spring break option or our international option.  It has the potential to be life changing.

But, the disparity in our world should not just be a thing that we do on a mission trip.  It’s building relationships that cross socio-economic barriers ALL THE TIME.  Sweet writes, “It’s one thing to have a heart for the poor.  It is another to use their bathroom.”  Let me repeat that.  “It’s one thing to have a heart for the poor.  It is another to use their bathroom.”   I couldn’t be blunter than that.   We should be in ministry WITH the poor.

We all come at the Communion table as one.  “In the early church, the agape feast followed by Communion (the Eucharist) was a “family reunion” where the rich and the poor shared food and fellowship together without regard to class distinctions and social status.”  And on this All Saints Sunday we remember those that have gone before, the communion of the saints, and gather with them at the table as well.  Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day – all are examples of saints who have gone on before but those whose lives we should emulate.  May we live out our faith in word and deed, may we be in ministry with not in ministry to, may we humble ourselves and in our vulnerability may God teach us and mold us and shape us to fully rely on God.