Worship Announcement

WE ARE OPENING THE BUILDING AGAIN FOR SERVICE THIS SUNDAY!

 
You might ask yourself, who will be leading the service? Well this Sunday, we will have an abbreviated version of worship by your church council, band members, and audio-visual technician. Come out donning your mask and hear what is in store for Joyful Life in the next couple of months! The council met last Sunday and created a plan to open the building as we transition to redevelopment. This plan will be shared this Sunday morning with a peak at who will be leading our services beginning September 13. Hope to see you in person this Sunday!

Aloha!

Gerald Evans – Council President

Holy Ground

Exodus 3:1-12; Matthew 16:21-28 – August 30, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO EXODUS 3:1-12

There arose a “Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.” He oppressed the Hebrews and asked them to make bricks without straw. This new Pharaoh was threatened by the sheer numbers of the Hebrew slaves and issued an edict that all the Hebrew baby boys to be killed when they were born.  Two of the Hebrew midwives named Shipra and Puah defied those orders and baby boys continued to be born. (It was a midwife crisis!) Because the Hebrews continued to increase the Pharaoh issued another order that all the baby boys to be killed, but one boy was put in the river and rescued and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter.  The royal princess named that baby Moses. That baby boy grew up as a prince of Egypt. One day saw an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave and in anger he rose up and killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.  Moses fled and went to the land of Midian where he went through a midlife crisis and changed his career from a prince to a shepherd.  One day, while Moses was minding his own business Moses heard God’s call. Hear the word of God from Exodus 3:1-10

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW 16:21-28

Centuries later in another deserted place Jesus is with his disciples.  Peter has just made the most brilliant statement of his time with Jesus.  Peter said about Jesus, “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God!”  Jesus congratulates Peter on receiving this revelation directly from God.

But as we continue reading in chapter 16, we see Peter, the Rock, who got it right just moments before, now gets it wrong.  What he says moments after getting it right, is so contrary to what Jesus’ mission is that Jesus accuses Peter of being in league with the ultimate enemy – Satan.

***

I once read about Queen Isabella of Spain who finally agreed to let Columbus try a fourth time to find a route to the Indies.  She said that she had only bathed twice in her life when she was born and the day she was married. (eww).

Moses had not bathed in a long time.  He was dirty and sweaty.  He arrives at this place on the barren north forty where he has taken the flock to graze. There is nothing holy about that place. There is no shrine, no temple. Moses is minding his own business, tending sheep, when he stumbles his way into this unlikeliest of places to encounter God… on a mountain.  Suddenly this bush flames up. In West Texas we know about burning bushes.  a piece of glass reflecting light can light a fire that will burn acres of bushes. California knows about burning forests.

This burning bush fires Moses curiosity. It is burning …but it is not.  It is burning but it is not being consumed.  It is not enough that a bush burns but does not burn mysteriously, but then the BUSH STARTS TALKING!

On Animal Planet the other night I saw a dog that could say “I Rove you.”  (in a Scooby Doo accent) But at least a dog has vocal chords.   A bush does not.

This unburning talking shrubbery not only talks, it calls Moses by name!  twice!  “Moses. Moses.”

There is something about somebody calling our names that makes us pay attention. It could mean life or death, particularly if we are crossing the street at the time.  When my daughter was in the 7th grade, she was crossing the street from her Jr. High in the crosswalk and someone called her name and she stopped, and a car hit her.  It was a glancing blow.  It hit her arm and her arm knocked the side mirror off the door of the car.  The woman who hit her wanted us to pay for the damage to her car because Abbey stopped in the crosswalk. She was in the cross walk in a school zone!   We did not pay.

Moses hears his name and he is drawn closer. Next comes an invitation to make contact, physical contact. The voice from the bush says, “Moses, take off your shoes.” Too often, I think, we interpret this to mean, “Take off your shoes so you don’t defile God.” If that were the case, though, we would leave our shoes on, because our smelly feet would be even more offensive than our sandals, wouldn’t they? (Remember Queen Isabella?)  Consider instead that this was an invitation to make contact.  Moses cannot touch the bush, but his feet can come in contact with the ground with which the bush is in contact.

God, who centuries later would come among us as Jesus, is not worried about remaining antiseptically remote from us. God wants to come and be with us, to make contact, not to avoid it.

God says to Moses, “Take off your shoes.  I know, Moses, that you are a murderer and a fugitive. I know all about you. I am God — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. I created you.  Come on, take off your shoes, Moses, and spend some time with me.”. Take off your shoes and come into direct contact with me. Touch me. Experience me. Moses. It has been a long, hard road for you, Moses. Relax. And do not worry. Take off your shoes.”

Holiness does not depend on the condition of the place nor the condition of the person. Holiness depends on the presence of God.  What makes this deserted place on top of a mountain holy is the presence of God.  God is present wherever you are watching this service. It is a holy place. It is holy ground.  I wonder… would you join me in a little experiment?   I want to invite you to take off your shoes.  This is your mountain this morning. The Lord is present even on the other end of a screen.  Your feet are on holy ground.  Get ready for God’s call to you.

After a while, Moses is asked by this voice from the bush, “Do something for me, will you, Moses?  My people in Egypt are suffering from heat, overwork, exhaustion, dehydration, loss of liberty — and I feel for them. Go and help them, will you, Moses? Tell them I sent you. I will be with you. You will not see me, and that is the tough part, Moses. You will not see me any more than you see me now, but I will be with you. I promise.”

Moses answers God something like this. “God, I’ll look like a fool — saying you sent me, especially if you’re not visible. They’ll say, ‘We don’t see him. What’ll I do to prove it was you who sent me?”

God answers, “You can try a few miracles, but in the end you can only say, ‘God sent me.”

Then Moses falls back on his disability. “I can’t speak very well, God.” (Even though he grew up speaking Egyptian).  He is basically saying, “Here I am, send Aaron.”  To that, God replies, “I know that Moses.  But you are the one I want.  You can take your brother Aaron along. He would love to try public speaking. He enjoys getting up in front of crowds. I’ll be with both of you.”

When God calls your name, especially when he says it twice, we better take it seriously.  When God calls your name, whether it’s to serve as an elder or a deacon or to sing the choir, to teach a class or to take a call to be an interim pastor for Joyful Life Lutheran in Magnolia, or to take a person to lunch or to share your faith with a friend or…a stranger.  …take it seriously.  as Moses took it seriously when he answered God’s call.

In our gospel lesson Peter has just answered Jesus’ question about who people say that he is. In verse 21 we read, From this moment on. From what moment on?  From the moment Peter made his insightful comment, “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.”  From that moment on Jesus began explaining to his disciples what was ahead for him for God’s call on his life.  From that moment on Jesus began to speak about the cross.   

Perhaps you already know this, but it is the key to understanding this scripture. Peter, the disciples, the crowds, the Jewish leaders, all of them, the whole nation saw the coming Messiah as a military man who would unite the country to overthrow the Romans.  They were oppressed.  They expected their savior to deliver them from their oppression just at Moses delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. 

But from the moment that Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God Jesus began to tell his disciples of his defeat and death on a cross.

But Peter will have no part of it. “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Let us suppose for a moment that it never did happen.  Let us assume what it would have been like for Jesus to not go to the cross. Where would that leave us?  

The Christian faith without the cross is a sect without a savior. It would leave us with a man from Nazareth who proclaimed great truths but who never demonstrated that he was any more than an innovative inspiring teacher. It would leave us with a common Jew who some labeled as Messiah but who did not establish a Kingdom of Heaven nor a kingdom on earth. It would leave us with a poor Palestinian peasant who got the attention of Rome but who never occupied a seat of power. It would leave us with a self-styled prophet who warned of the end times but whose time came to an end.  Without the cross we are left without a savior. Christianity without a cross is a creed without a cause. 

Jesus had some news for the disciples. If they were going to follow Him on into Jerusalem it would mean not only his death but a certain kind of death for them as well. We call it by many names: Self-denial, sacrificial behavior, servant hood, following the golden rule. Jesus explained it this way: If you want to become my follower you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.

Peter is in denial.  But he is not denying himself.  He is denying what Jesus has said.  Before it is all over, he will deny even knowing Jesus 3 times despite his denial that he would never deny Jesus.

 Peter supposes he knows more than his teacher and for that he is rebuked. His response that Jesus should not go to the cross is answered with a harsh rebuke: “Get behind me Satan,” says Jesus.

Scholars throughout history have tried to understand this. Was Satan really using Peter or was this just Jesus disciplining a disciple?  We will never know for sure. But it certainly means that Peter is being told to resume his proper role as a disciple. He is to learn from the master, not to try and teach him.  Jesus says, “You’re out of line.  Get back behind me and follow me.”
Peter got back in line.  Peter picked up his cross and followed Jesus. How about you?  Are you full of excuses like Moses saying, “I can’t speak well,” or “They can’t see you, or can we take this bush on the road?”  Are you confused and in denial or coming up with wrong ideas like Peter saying, “Jesus, you can’t go to Jerusalem?” 

Forget the excuses.  Jesus can use you.  If God can use a murderer and a fugitive to deliver Israel from Egypt, God can use you.  If God can use a guy who gets it right one minute and then gets it wrong a few minutes later to preach the first sermon of the church that nets 3,000 folks for the kingdom, God can use you.  If God can use me.  God can use you. 

When Charles Swindoll was a young boy, he was greatly influenced by this remark from an old Texan: “The problem with the Christian life is that it’s so daily.”

It is true. Following Jesus is a lifestyle that builds on past lessons and decisions, but it also depends on our dedication day by day. We cannot live off yesterday’s successes, last week’s prayers, or the Bible stories we heard when we were kids.

Each new day is both a challenge and an opportunity. Our faith will be challenged, and we can use that challenge as an opportunity to grow in our relationship with God. Jesus Himself said that those who wanted to be His disciples were expected to be in a continual attitude of self-denial and obedience to Him.  “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me”.

As each day unfolds, we must pause and remind ourselves that this is a day dedicated to God, that it is to be used for His glory, and that it is best lived with a continual recollection of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Starting today, let us look at life that way. It is a daily commitment. Start each day with this question, “Lord how do you want to use me today?  Who will you bring into my path that you want me to love?  What do you want me to witness that will bring me closer to you, that will give me a clearer understanding of your Call on my life?”

Keith Miller puts it this way:  “It has never ceased to amaze me that we Christians have developed a kind of selective vision which allows us to be deeply and sincerely involved in worship and church activities and yet almost totally pagan in the day in, day out guts of our business lives and never realize it.

Jesus did not say “Take up your cross and follow me to church on Sunday morning, then you can do whatever you like the rest of the week.” Cross-bearing is a day-to-day activity for those who would follow Jesus”.

Would you please stand?  Where you are standing this morning is holy ground.  It is not holy because of the place it is… The ground is not holy because of the people standing on it. –we’re sinners like Moses and Peter… This is holy ground because of the presence of God where you are. 

The ground at the foot of the bush from which Moses received his call was holy ground. The ground at the foot of the cross from which Jesus fulfilled his call was holy ground.  The ground underneath the roof above you is holy ground.  For those who choose, for those who decide to take up their cross  DAILY and follow Jesus, the Lord is with them and wherever their feet take them, whether they have their shoes on or not, is holy ground.  Holy ground is underfoot wherever people listen and hear and obey God’s call. 

Let us pray. (Singing) We are standing on holy ground.  And I know that there are angels all around.  Let us praise Jesus now.  we are standing in his presence on holy ground.

Thank you, Lord, that you are in this place and that we, like Moses and Peter, stand on holy ground.  You are on the move.  You are not limited by time and space or to one place.  Thank you that you sought out Moses and called him and used him in a mighty way.  Thank you that you called Peter and used him in a mighty way.  Thank you that you have called us or even at this moment are calling some of us to say, “Yes, I will follow.”  We know you have mighty things in store for us. May our lives be filled with joy and may the abundant LIFE that Jesus came to give be ours because we have come into contact with You and have had a holy ground experience and have responded to God’s call.

  1. Our Daily Bread, February 12, 1997

Rocks

Isaiah 51:1-6; Matthew 16:13-20; Romans 12:1-8 – August 23, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW 16:13-20

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior. Hear the word of God from Matthew 16:13-20 

Let us pray. Dear Lord, thank you for opening our eyes and, the eyes of our hearts even, to see what Peter said—that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Thank you that you are much more than a prophet, that you are the one the prophets predicted.  As we mediate on what that means for us, as we ponder our answer to your question of who WE say you are, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our ROCK and our Redeemer.

***

There is a college in North Carolina called Belmont Abbey College.  The monks who started the college were wandering along a road and came upon a crossroad. There was an interesting huge granite flat rock. They were very intrigued by it.

 As they talked to neighbors in town about it, they were told that the rock was a major selling place for slaves in that sad time in our history. Men, women, and children would stand on that rock and be sold into slavery. So, the monks decided to have it moved to their new monastery, and they dug out a well in its center, and they made that their baptismal font. On it reads, “Upon this rock, people once were sold into slavery. Now upon this rock, through the waters of baptism, people become free children of God.”. (1)   

Now that Rock Rocks!

This morning we read about Jesus nearing the end of his ministry.  It was time for him to get alone with his disciples far from the watchful eyes of the religious authorities and assess the last three years of ministry.  Actually, Jesus left his “working vacation,” that we looked at last Sunday.  This morning we see him on his session retreat in into the District of Caesarea Philippi, an area about 25 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee.  It is the area we know today as Syria.  Jesus went to Syria to get away. He is doing this on foot.

The region had tremendous religious implications. The countryside was cluttered with the temples of the Syrian gods. Here also was the elaborate marble temple that had been erected by Herod the Great, father of the then ruling Herod Antipas. Here also was the influence of the Greek gods. Here also the worship of Caesar as a God himself.  In fact, the town was named after Caesar! –Caesarea! 

It was with this scene in the background that Jesus chose to ask the most crucial questions of his ministry.

Jesus wanted to find out if his disciples understood who he was.  It was a critical moment and critical moments call for critical questions:  Question number one was, “Who do men say that I am?”                             

The disciples begin sharing with Jesus the results of the latest polls.  Survey said!  (ding) “Some say that you are Elijah; others say John the Baptist, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” J   

All these descriptions tell us one thing. The people thought Jesus was a great prophet.  The number one answer came first—Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets who did not die but was taken up to the heavens in a chariot of fire.

Elijah was the prophet they expected to return. If fact, today at every Passover Jews set a place setting for Elijah at their celebration of the Seder meal hoping for his return. 

The number 2 answer was John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who was beheaded to please the daughter of the wife of Herod.  The problem with this answer is that s.  John the Baptist and Jesus were alive at the same time.  For Jesus to be John the Baptist reincarnated Jesus would have to die and be born again as John come back and grow to a 30-year-old man in a matter of days. Yet, that is what some people thought…J  .

Coming in third was Jeremiah, the weeping prophet.  But Jesus had too much fun to be Jeremiah—walking on water— (skiing without a boat), Casting demons into swine (making deviled ham) and changing water into wine.  He was not a whiner he was a wine-r a wine maker!   

Jesus’ first question was an important question, but it was just the icebreaker.  NOW Jesus turns to his disciples and he asks his most personal friends, his inner circle, his trusted students the second critical question:  OK so that’s what other people say, Who do YOU say that I am?

The world has turned on the heels of the answer to that question. By answering Elijah, John the Baptist and Jeremiah, the people paid Jesus compliments of the highest order. They were going as high as they could imagine.  But it was the wrong answer.

Jesus says, “Is that YOUR final answer?”  He gives them another chance. He says, “Who do YOU say I am?”   Peter responded to the question with, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.”

Jesus immediately responds with a blessing.  You got that right!  BLESSED are you Simon son of Jonah.” But then Jesus explains that Simon could not have come up with this on his own.  Simon you’re just not that bright!” J 

The people’s polls at best revealed that Jesus was a prophet.  But Jesus’ heavenly Father put the words in Simon’s mouth to confess that Jesus was more than a prophet. He was the one the prophets spoke ABOUT! He was the one they predicted would come. He WAS the Christ, THE Anointed one, THE Son of the living God!

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis addressed the inclination to say nice things about Jesus but stop short of calling him God.  In essence he wrote that we do not have the option of thinking of Jesus as a prophet. He accepted Peter’s claim that he was the Christ, the Son of Living God.  If he agreed to that and he was not, he was either a Liar, or a Lunatic.  If he said he was and he was and is, then he is Lord.

“I am here trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any of that patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. Nor did he intend to.” (2)

After Simon received Jesus’ blessing for what God had revealed to him about Jesus, Simon gets a new name.  No longer will he be called Simon, which means sand.  From that point on he would be called Peter, which means rock.  Jesus changes his name from Sandy to Rocky.  He changes his name from one that is shifting sand upon which nothing can be built, to one whose testimony is solid rock upon which Jesus could build His church. 

One of the most intriguing things I discovered about this passage is that Matthew uses the masculine form of the Greek word for rock, Petros, for Peter’s name — obviously because Peter is a man — but he uses the feminine form, Petra, when he says, “Upon this rock I will build my church.”  The man who declared that Jesus was the Christ was given the name Petros. But the rock on which the church was given the name Petra.   Peter is a Rock, but what he confessed is the Bedrock of the church that will sprout and grow from his confession.

The use of the word rock for Peter’s name and for the foundation of the church indicates that Peter is, indeed, a “rock” IN the foundation of the church.  This flesh-and-blood person, this fisherman from Galilee who had a wife and a mother-in-law, a house and a boat will be an integral part of the foundation upon which Jesus will build HIS church.

The variation in gender when Jesus says that on this rock, he will build his church says that that rock is something more than the man Peter.  It is built on the FAITH of the man, on the WORDS of the man on the CONFESSION of the man, but not ON the man.  In English, the closest we could get would be to say, “Your name will now be Rocky, and on this Rockette I will build my church.”

The church cannot be built on one man.  Everyone is expendable.  People come and go.  Pastors come and go. I have come and now I am going.  I am going and someone else is coming.!  Amen?

The church cannot be built on any One man, or on any One woman.  It must be built only on faith IN one man, in the one man who was more than a man, more than a man among men, more than a prophet.  It must be built on Jesus who was and is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!

Peter came and went.  The day came when Peter died.  We have a very strong and reliable tradition that he died a martyr, crucified upside down because he didn’t’ feel worthy to be executed in the same manner that Jesus was executed. 

Rocky died.  However, the Rockette on which the foundation of the church that Jesus has been building for the last 2,000 years has never died.  That Rockette is something that death cannot defeat or diminish. THAT is something that not even the gates of hell can stand up against.  

Douglas Hare writes about this passage, “There is general agreement that the phrase “the gates of Hades” is poetic language for the power of death (see Isa. 38:10). What is meant is that the congregation of the new covenant will persist into the age to come despite all the efforts of the powers of darkness to destroy it. “The gates of Hades” may here represent a defensive posture: death will strive to hold in its prison house all who have entered its gates, but the Messiah’s congregation will triumphantly storm the gates and rescue those destined for the life of the age to come”. (3)

Gates are defensive.  In Jesus’ statement to Peter that He, Jesus would be the builder of the church, Jesus also says that the church is to be on the offensive.  He predicts that the church he will build will storm those gates and those gates will not be able to withstand OUR offense.  A friend of mine once said, “In the history of armed conflict no one has ever been reported as attacking with their gates.  “Look out!  Here come those gates again. Run away.’

Some of the great cathedrals may now have more people visit them as tourists to admire the architecture than to offer praises to God, but Jesus is still building his church.      

Our plan is to lift our Builder, Jesus Christ so that he will draw folks to himself through this church who will get excited about expanding and reaching more and more folks. You know why?  Because the kingdom of God is not yet full.  Say that with me please.  “The kingdom of God is not yet full.”

Gregory Elder writes, “Growing up on the Atlantic Coast, I spent long hours working on intricate sandcastles; whole cities would appear beneath my hands. One year, for several days in a row, I was accosted by bullies who smashed my creations. Finally, I tried an experiment: I placed cinder blocks, rocks, and chunks of concrete in the base of my castles. Then I built the sand kingdoms on top of the rocks. When the local toughs appeared (and I disappeared), their bare feet suddenly met their match. Many people see the church in grave peril from a variety of dangers: secularism, politics, heresies, or plain old sin. They forget that the church is built upon a Rock.

The Wise Man builds his house upon the Rock.  

Who do people say that YOU are? Are you one of God’s Rocks?  One of God’s Rocks may be sitting on the throne of Peter in the Vatican.  One of God’s Rocks may also be sitting in a rocking CHAIR in a nursery singing “Jesus Loves Me” One of God’s Rocks is the people who hang in there through thick and thin.  One of God’s Rocks is the ones who have been a source of strength and courage and inspiration to others. Many of God’s Rocks are sitting at kitchen tables and maybe even in recliners as you watch this service.

We are God’s Rocks!  Like Peter we are not perfect.  Remember, Peter was the guy who was always pushing himself forward trying to be first.  Peter was the bigmouth who said he would die for Jesus and three hours later denied even knowing him…3 times!

Peter was a flawed human being like you and me.  But Peter is the one who recognized Jesus for who he was.  And on his recognition, on his confession, on his answer Jesus started and has continued building his church. 

Who do people say that YOU are? You are part of the church that Jesus is building. You are one of God’s Rockettes. You are one of God’s Rocks.    

Dear Lord, we are frail and faulted, confused and challenged.  Yet from the beginning you have called people, faults, and all, to be your children and to do marvelous deeds.  We are humbled that you have called us and will be calling even more to join us in sharing the gospel with the world. Guide us O Lord. Give us wisdom and insight, strength and courage, energy and enthusiasm, passion, and compassion. 

This we pray in the name above every name, the name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Peter confessed that day in answer to Jesus’ question, the name of Jesus who is the Christ the Son of the living God.

  1. ChristianGlobe Illustrations, by Greg Rickel
  2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillan, 1943, p. 55-56, with thanks to Paul Janke Here’s C.S. Lewis’ quote, 
  • Douglas R. A. Hare, John Knox Press, Interpretation: Matthew

Faith Lift: ‘Till We Meet Again

Following your vote to enter into becoming a redevelopment congregation the Synod will begin considering the qualities necessary for your next pastor.  I want to share what a friend of mine sent me an email that describes the typical Church staff.

THE CHURCH STAFF:

Pastor:  Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. More powerful than a locomotive; Faster than a speeding bullet; Walks on water, gives policies to God.

Music Director:  Clears a Kid’s playhouse with a running start. Loses train of thought; Can fire a speeding bullet; Swims well, Occasionally hears God.

Council President: Runs into small buildings; Recognizes locomotive two out of three times; Used squirt gun in college; Knows how to use water fountain; Mumbles to himself.

Church Secretary: Lets you know when you can USE the building; Makes trains run on time;  Prints speeding bulletins;  Freezes water with a single glance so pastor CAN walk on it; When God speaks she says, “May I ask who’s calling?”

Obviously you know that the Synod will not be able to find a pastor for you like the one described above.   I certainly was not that kind of pastor.  But I trust that the person God is calling to respond to your need is on the way.

Obviously our time together was not what any of us anticipated.  Instead of spending time together and working together to prepare for new leadership we wound up spending time apart, wondering what would happen next.  I spent time in the scriptures preparing messages and recording and sending them out into youtubeiverse.  You spent time watching and listening and observing the sacrament of communion in your house slippers.

One of the objectives of an interim pastor is to “clear the palate.”  It is to expose the congregation to a different style of leadership, and bring a different perspective to your ministry.  Even though we haven’t been able to spend time together in person we have still spent time.  It has been almost a year since Pastor Scott, your pastor of over 15 years retired.  You have had two different pastors since that time, Pastor Bob Bryan and me.   And now you are ready to welcome a new pastor.

There is a song that asks a question.  The question is, “Will the circle be unbroken?”  It also answers the question with “There’s a better home a waitin’ in the sky Lord, in the sky.”

As I begin another new chapter as an interim pastor at Woodforest Presbyterian Church in the Channelview area of East Houston, I don’t think I will have much opportunity to come to Magnolia.  But we have a promise from Jesus that he has gone to prepare a place for us so that where he is we shall be also. (John 14.1-3).  In that sense I will close my last Faith Lift with a blessing from another song that I have been using during this time of separation- “God be with you….till we meet again.”

Pastor Gill

“God be with you … till we meet again”

God’s Table

Psalm 67; Genesis 45:1-15; Matthew 15:22-31; Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 – August 16, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS 45

Joseph was a dreamer.  Unfortunately, he did not keep his dreams to himself.  When he shared with his brothers a dream about them bowing down to him, they sold him into slavery and told his father he was dead.  After years of imprisonment for something he did not do Joseph wound up interpreting dreams for the Pharaoh. That led to Joseph becoming the second in command of the whole of Egypt and in the perfect place to not only save Egypt from a coming drought but to be able to save his own brothers and father and nation from that same drought.  In this morning’s reading from Genesis Joseph confronts his brothers and reveals who he really is to them.  Hear the word of the Lord from Genesis 45.

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW 15:21-28

The setting for this morning’s gospel lesson is about Jesus needing a vacation.   Ever since Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded Jesus has been trying to get away for some quiet time to regroup and recuperate from the drain of the crowds. For the first time in his ministry Jesus decides to go beyond the borders of Palestine.  Since he could not find this privacy in Jewish territory, maybe he could find some in Gentile territory. Maybe at least the Jewish leaders who were opposing him would not dare follow. But as we will see, not even there can Jesus escape the pressing needs of others. Hear the gospel of our Lord from Matthew 15:21-28.

Let us pray.  Lord, thank you for the example of this woman’s faith.  May we so grow in our faith.  May we find the courage to approach, to ask, to believe and to not give up until we see the fruit of our faith come to be.  Open our minds, our hearts, and our souls to receive your word this morning. This we ask in Jesus’ name.

The gospel lesson this morning is about a woman who wanted her daughter to BE delivered.  She wanted her daughter to be delivered from a demon. Even though she was not Jewish, even though she was from what we now call Lebanon and a race of people who had been at war with Israel she did not let that stop her.  She came shouting, Have Mercy on me lord, Son of David!”

Randal O’Brian is the Superintendent of GCCISD.  I sat beside him at a basketball game at Lee College in Baytown and we got to talking.  It turns out that when Randal was playing Power Forward for the East Texas Baptist College in Marshall Texas, they were slated for a warmup game against Louisiana Tech.  Randal shared that when they arrived at the stadium, he saw a Black Pontiac Trans Am parked in the lot that had the license plate, Mailman.  Karl Malone somehow was able to drive a Trans Am when he was only an amateur college student and was able to afford his own vanity plate. Karl Malone’s nick name was the Mailman because he always delivered.  Randal, who is 6 foot 4 had to guard Karl Malone. The NBA All Star who played for the Utah Jazz for almost his entire career

Karl went on to NBA fame and fortune.  But fortunately for Baytown, Randal left a life of pipe welding to become the Superintendent of GCCISD, which was rated 10th among all the other 50 independent School districts in the Greater Houston Area. Are you amazed as I was to learn that we live in a part of the world where we have 50 Independent School Districts?  I call Randall the Mailman 2.0 for Baytown and the Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District he has … delivered. (His team did lose to Karl’s Team) GCCISD is blessed because Randall was willing to cross barriers from being a pipe welder to becoming an educator.

The FIRST thing we can say about this woman in our gospel lesson is that she was willing to cross barriers. This woman was well aware of this great gulf between her people and Israel. Undoubtedly, she had heard of the great powers of Jesus and she was willing to cross racial lines, put down her pride and cry out for help. 

The SECOND thing we can say about this woman is that she refused to be put off. There were at least three intimidating factors that could have made her give up.

FIRST there was the silence of Jesus. The scriptures tell us that to her cry of help Jesus replied not a word. There is no reaction harder to bear than silence.  A flat “No” at least acknowledges your presence and tells you where you stand. But when there is silence you do not know what the person is thinking or even if they have acknowledged you.  Surprisingly, this did not intimidate her. She perceived what very few people have the faith to perceive–that the silence of God does not mean the indifference of God.

Second, she was not intimidated by the not-so-silent rejection of Jesus’ disciples. They regarded her pleas for help as merely a nuisance. They were on vacation.  The disciples, sadly like some in our country and even in some churches today, became fatigued under the constant pressure of the demands made upon them. Part of this woman’s faith, however, was that she would not be put off by the silence or even direct opposition of others.

When Jesus finally did break his silence he said to her, “I have been sent to the House of Israel and to them alone.”  Surprisingly, not even that put her off.  In spite of what Jesus said she fell at his feet and cried out, “Sir, help me.”

In response to this woman’s persistent plea for help Jesus makes another statement that we have difficulty in understanding. He said to her: It is not right to take children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” However, the actual word that Jesus used was not dog but puppy. He was referring not to the kind of wild dogs that roamed the streets at that time.  He was referring to a household pet, a baby one at that.  “It’s not right to take children’s bread and give it to “da widuwl puppies.” J

Like a puppy who never gives up she came back with “It is true sir. I admit it.  I am a widdle puppy. I realize that I have no claim upon you but Sir, even the puppy dogs get the scraps from the master’s table.” She was saying in effect: Sir, I admit that I have no claim upon you, but there must be some extra grace that you have that I would be deserving of.  Crumbs would be enough. 

Jesus was surprised by her answer.  Jesus said to her something he never said to his own disciples.  He said, “Woman, great is your faith! On no occasion that we know of that Jesus ever said of Peter, James, and John, “Great is your faith.” More often the words he spoke to them were, “O ye of little faith.”  In fact, on only one other occasion did Jesus praise a person for great faith, and that was another border crosser, a Gentile, a Roman soldier stationed in Capernaum who said that he believed that Jesus could just say the word and his servant would be healed.

We can learn a lot from this woman.  We need to be about crossing barriers, erasing divisions, blazing trails, not being discouraged by silence or even opposition.  We need to be willing to try something different, to get something new started, even IF we are on vacation or AFTER vacation to get something started again. 

To succeed we will need to be persistent like this mother who came to Jesus for the sake of her daughter. We need to come to Jesus for the sake of our daughters, our sons and their generations and our grandchildren’s generations that need to know the joy of knowing Jesus.  I believe that they can come to know him through what we do here.  However, continuing to do ONLY what we have been always done will continue to get what we have always got …and maybe even less.  You may have heard that Einstein once said that his definition of Insanity is “to continue to do what you’ve always done and expect different results.”

 Wes Seliger is an unconventional Episcopal clergyman who loves motorcycles. He tells about being in a motorcycle shop one day, drooling over a huge Honda 750 and wishing that he could buy it. A salesman came over and began to talk about his product. He talked about speed, acceleration, excitement, the attention-getting growl of the pipes, racing, risk. He talked about how the good-looking girls would be attracted to anyone riding on such a cycle.

Then he discovered that Wes was a minister. Busted.  Immediately the salesman changed his language and even the tone of his voice. He spoke quietly and talked about good mileage and visibility. It was indeed a “practical” vehicle.
Wes observed: “Lawn mower salespersons are not surprised to find pastors looking at their merchandise; motorcycle salespersons are. Why? Does this tell us something about pastors and about the church? Lawn mowers are slow, safe, sane, practical, and middle-class. Motorcycles are fast, dangerous, wild, thrilling.” Then Wes asks a question: “Is being a Christian more like mowing a lawn or like riding a motorcycle? Is the Christian life safe and sound or dangerous and exciting?” He concludes, “The common image of the church is pure lawn mower slow, deliberate, plodding. Our task is to take the church out on the open road, give it the gas, and see what the old baby will do!” 1

To grow beyond where we are now will require us to blaze some new trails, to pioneer some additional avenues of ministry to break through barriers, to be persistent, and to not give up in the face of silence, or in the face of outright rejection, or even in the face of challenges to see if we’re really serious about seeking answers to our questions and our quests.

Most Saturday afternoons I make time to listen to the Moth Radio Hour on KUHF.  One of the stories that really struck me was the story of Lisa Jackson.  Like the Lebanese woman who came to Jesus, Lisa had a mother who advocated for her. Lisa was the first of her family to go to college. She was good at math and science, so her mother challenged her to study to become a doctor.  

When Lisa was in High School, she went to a summer program at Tulane because they were giving away a free HP programmable calculator.  That summer was when the Love Canal crisis in Buffalo, New York happened.  The Canal had been started by Alfred Love, but he could not finish it and so it was filled in with chemical waste and covered over. Eventually the pressure caused the waste to begin to seep into people’s basements. That summer Lisa figured that if chemical engineers can make the waste that leaked, a chemical engineer would be the one to fix it.  So, she decided she wanted to study to be NOT a doctor, but an engineer.

When she told her mother, she wanted to be an engineer her grandmother asked, “Why do you want to work on a train?”  

Lisa was the valedictorian of her High School in New Orleans and she went on to finish her undergraduate degree at Tulane.  From there she went to Princeton for graduate school.  After graduation she began working for the Environmental Protection Agency in New Jersey. 

Lisa went home on Aug 27, 2005 for her mom’s birthday just in time for Hurricane Katrina.  She managed to get her immediate family out but not so for some of her relatives and friends.  She said that the hurricane caused more devastation than it should have because of the neglected levees that weren’t able to hold and the absence of wetlands that were cut for oil and gas lines that had unintended consequences.  Finally, her mother understood that for her daughter, being and engineer was better than being a doctor. In 2008, Lisa Jackson became the first African American to serve as the head of Environmental Protection Agency for the Obama Administration, a post that she held until 2013.  

Shortly after her appointment Lisa took her mom to the nation’s capital.  The President wanted to meet her mom. So, Lisa took her mom and her mother’s grandkids to meet him in the Oval Office.  A woman who grew up in segregation got to meet the first African American president of the United States.

After that meeting Lisa took her mom to her building four blocks away to show off her office.  Her office was in the building that used to be the building of the Postmaster General of the United States.

Lisa reflected “Sometimes you have an opportunity to think of all the things that influenced you and worked together to make you who you are.  Lisa said she did not think it was an accident that her office was in the building of the Postmaster General because when her father returned from serving in the Navy in World War II the only jobs available to black men were that of Pullman Porter or Mailman.  Lisa’s father chose Mailman. 2

Randal O’Brian was a 20-year-old welder who left it to play basketball for East Texas Baptist College.  He did not win in his matchup against Karl ‘The Mailman” Malone, but Randal is delivering in his dedication to public service to the children of Baytown through their public schools.   

Lisa’s father’s example delivered so much more than mail.  His dedication to public service in the only one of two jobs available to him after having served his country motivated his daughter to become an engineer, not just any engineer, the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency.   She chose to dedicate her life to public service in making air and water and ground cleaner for all.

Lisa surprised her mother.  She was initially surprised by her daughter’s desire to not be a doctor.  But when she understood her daughter’s calling, she would not let her do anything else.  

Joseph surprised his brothers. They sold him into slavery but he broke through racial and religious barriers to not only save an African nation from years of drought, but to save his own family and nation so that there could come from his line a Jesus, the savior of the world.

I want to surprise Jesus. My prayer and hope is that we will surprise Jesus and cause him to marvel at us and give us the same kudo that he gave that woman from Lebanon, “Great is your faith, FAITH.”  I want to work to grow God’s family beyond the human limitations that some want to impose.  I want to open the man-made borders, the lines that exist only on maps. I want to build bridges. I want to “take the church out on the open road, give it the gas and see what the old baby will do!”

I want to work to see people of all colors and creeds, even if it is no creed to come together to work for peace and strive for love and not hate. I do not want to give up in the face of silence or even vocal opposition, or even challenging questions.  I may start out asking for table scraps, but I believe I can be pleasantly surprise myself to find I not only have a place at the table… but by dedicating my life to public service like Randal and Lisa and Wes I can be erasing barriers and making room for many more places at …God’s Table.  

Let us pray. Thank you, Jesus.  We thank you for this precious example of faith in this woman who cared more for her daughter’s healing than she did about the barriers that could have kept her away.  We pray that we will not put up barriers between us and those you call us to touch through us.  

Grow our faith to believe what we cannot see yet.  Grow our lives to make room for new things and new friends.  Grow our hope to know that you love us and are in this ministry with us and will take us where you want us to go.

We pray for those who need to know…. for those who need to know they are loved…who need to know they have hope…. who need to know they have hope in you…who need to know you.  May we be channels through which their need to know can be met.

We pray for those who need your healing presence.,

1 ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., ChristianGlobe Illustrations, by King Duncan

2. Lisa Jackson The Moth Radio Hour “Environmental Engineering” August 19, 2017

Faith Lift: Small Steps

Fifty-one years ago, this last July 20, when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon it was a seminal moment. The world was watching. We did not have 24-hour news stations, but the news stations we had were tuned in. We have come a long way since we heard words coming from the man ON the moon, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Those of us, who are old enough to remember, remember where we were when we heard those words. We remember where we were when we heard the news that President Kennedy was killed, that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, that Bobby Kennedy was killed, that John Lennon was killed, that President Reagan was shot, that the Twin Towers fell, and when we heard the news of what happened at Columbine and Sandy Hook, and Newtown and Parkland and …. Santa Fe …and El Paso Walmart and this week’s explosion in Beirut, Lebanon and over 160,000 deaths in our country due to Covid 19. We remember, but we must forget.

I’m sure you’ve heard the quote, “Those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it. “That’s why we study and remember the past.

In his letter to the Philippians the apostle Paul wrote this.
“… one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The word for forgetting is a word that means more like “don’t be held back” than it means to “not remember.” We remember, but we must forget. We remember the past, we honor the past, and we memorialize the past…but we must not let the past hold us back from pressing on into the future.

We cannot let our past failures hold us back from trying again. 

We cannot be held back by past failures—Thomas Edison tried 10,000 times before he found a filament thin enough to succeed in making a light bulb. He was quoted as saying he discovered 10,000 ways NOT to invent a light bulb.

We can let our past successes tempt us to rest on what worked then but is not working now.

We cannot be held back by past successes—Neil Armstrong succeeded in being the first man to set foot on the moon. But he came back. He did not stay on the moon. He went on to other things. He remembered that step, but he forgot it also. 

As Joyful Life moves forward after there will be remembering and forgetting. With your vote to be a redevelopment congregation you will be moving forward in a new direction.  You will have many things that to remember and many things to forget.

I remember the places I have served, including Joyful Life. It has been a privilege to serve as your Interim Pastor.  I have to say it was not what I anticipated.  I remember the Fish Fry’s fondly.   I remember the stirring music.  I remember your smiling faces.  But I must not let that hold me back. You must not let that hold you back. 

Now that you have voted to become a redevelopment congregation and the Synod will be providing you with assistance and selecting a specifically trained redevelopment pastor I will be moving on.   My extension of my contract with you will end on August 20th. I will be able to serve as your supply pastor through two Sunday’s, August 23rd, and August 30th.

I have accepted a call to become the Interim Pastor at Woodforest Presbyterian Church starting August 30th.   I will remember my time with you.  I learned to be a televangelist.  I learned to post a song a day since March 27th.  Today was Covid-eo song #137.  I learned to ask God to forgive my trespasses instead of my debts.  (I guess I still owe God a lot). I wish for you God’s best as I move on ….and as you move on.

I will remember you, but I also will forget what lies behind and press on to what is ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize…of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ.

as I take many more … small steps.

Steps of Faith

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Matthew 14:22-33; Romans 10:5-15 – August 9, 2020

INTROUCTION TO GENESIS 37:1-4;12-28

Jacob, now also known as Israel finally has a son by his beloved Rachel.  That son is named Joseph.  Sibling rivalry being what it is evolves into attempted fratricide only to be curtailed by an opportunity to make a financial profit.  Hear the story of the favorite son being sold into slavery to children of Ishmael, Abraham’s other son by his Egyptian wife.

INTRODUCTION TO GOSPEL LESSON

After the crowds were filled, and leftovers collected and counted Jesus sent his disciples away and then he sent the crowds away and he went to do that he came to that region to do in the first place–to go up on the mountain to pray.  Hear the word of God from Matthew 14:22-33

Let us pray. Lord, thank you for this your word.  Thank you for the encouragement it holds for us as we hear you calling us to step out on faith.  As we meditate on this portion of your word, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.   Amen.

This story of Jesus and Peter walking on water is a familiar story. Mark Twain refers to it in one of his books. He recalls a visit to the Holy Land and a stay in Capernaum. It was a moonlit night, so he decided to take his wife on a romantic boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Twain asked a man in a rowboat how much he would charge to take them out on the water. The man saw Twain’s white suit, white shoes and white hat and supposed he was a rich Texan. So, he said the cost would be twenty-five dollars. Twain walked away as he said, “Now I know why Jesus walked.” (1)

I don’t know what it would have felt like to have been in a small fishing boat in a storm in the dark of 5 in the morning, much less to look through the mist and the pounding waves and see a man walking ON them towards me.  I don’t’ know whether I would have shrieked or hollered “OMG!” (in which case it would have

at least been accurate) The disciples cried out “It’s a Ghost!” But Jesus said, “Fear Not!  It’s me.”

Walking on water—Jesus, and Peter–for a few feet– are the only two to have ever done it.  For them, walking on water was a reality, but for us it has become a metaphor, a metaphor for faith–for stepping out into the unknown, for believing in what you can’t see, for believing you can do what has never been done…yet.

I once saw a billboard for a furniture store that said, “Seeing is Believing.”  That may be true for furniture, but it is not for faith.  In the realm of faith “Not seeing is Believing.”  Hebrews 11:1 says, “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see. “2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We walk by FAITH not by sight.”  Seeing is verifying.  Not seeing is believing.  (Channel __has a series called Verify.  Apparently, there is so much false information around that a NEWS program must have a segment called Verify)

The disciple Thomas had missed the meeting on the day that Jesus’ rose from the dead.  For a week, his fellow disciples tried to convince him that Jesus really had raised from the dead. But Thomas was like that Furniture Billboard.  He said, “Seeing is believing. Unless I see I will not believe.” 

A week later, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room again and this time Thomas was there.  Thomas fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “My Lord and my God.!”  To him Jesus said, “You believe because you see? Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet believe.  Seeing is verifying.  Not seeing is believing.

In the 11th Chapter of Hebrews the writer lists people of faith who believed in what they could not see.  Verse 1 shares the writer’s definition of faith as “the assurance of things hoped the conviction of things not seen.”  Abraham had faith that he would be the father of many nations even though he only lived to see Ishmael and Isaac born. Isaac had faith that even though he was tricked by Jacob to give his blessing to the second born son, once given it could not be taken away.  Jacob had faith that God’s promise to him would come true even though he thought Joseph to be dead.  Joseph had faith even when taken from the pit to the palace to the prison that God had a role for him to play.  Moses had faith that with God with him that the children of Israel could be free and that there was a Promised Land even though he did not live to see it. 

I was not alive to see Jesus’ feeding 5,000 with one kid’s happy meal. I was not alive to see Jesus walking on water or see him resurrected.  I must believe the testimony of those who did and reported it.  I must accept it by faith. 

Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, and he believed he could do it too.  He took off and for a while, step by step, he did it!  But when is started seeing the waves around him he could not believe what was happening and he started to sink.  When he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves around him and listened to the winds swirling around him instead of Jesus’ voice the gospel says he “began to sink.”  

When I enter the pool at the pool down the street and go to the deep end I never begin to sink. I sink.  It is only as I paddle and stroke and kick that I begin to float, I begin to swim.  Apparently Peter sank slowly, slowly enough to call out to Jesus for him and slowly enough for Jesus to reach out and grab him without him sinking all the way, forcing Jesus to LITERALLY become a “Fisher of Men.” (as he fished Peter out of the drink.)

Friends, I do not believe that I will ever walk on water. At times, the best I have been able to do is to walk on land with a cane. ..(this week I slipped in a pool of water at Kroger in front of the Courtesy Booth and fell on my back and the handrail of the grocery cart hit both of my shins and gave me calves on the front of my legs—and because I’m not going to sue them I got a Courtesy call from Kroger and they promised a $150 gift card for my anguish)   I can’t even walk on puddles, but I know I can walk on faith, walk by faith, step out on faith and be led by Jesus, step by step.

I do not know what stepping out of the boat, stepping out on faith might be for you. Maybe it is sending your baby off to college for the first time.  Maybe it is sending your child to school during a pandemic.  Maybe it is going back to school for that degree you never finished or another degree you really need.  Maybe it is asking for that promotion or a raise.  Maybe it is putting yourself out there to find a job at all in this time of unemployment. 

Faith calls for more than intellectual agreement with a formula. James 2:17 says, “Faith without works is dead.”  James 2:19 says that the demons have faith.  They believe in God and shudder!

Genuine faith is a response that shows itself in what we do.  Now, that is not to say that dramatic actions such as Peter’s are the only acceptable evidence of faith. For the vast majority of us, it is in the ordinary tasks of our daily routine that faith will make itself evident.  It takes faith to go to the doctor. It also takes faith to do what the doctor says.  It really takes faith to go to the pharmacy and believe that they pharmacist can read the doctor’s handwriting!

In our ordinary everyday lives, we need to be conscious of the call to act and speak as people who trust in God rather than in our own ingenuity. It is not by our ingenuity that we are saved. In Ephesians 2:8, Paul reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Events in the world and in our private lives are threatening our faith and causing many to wonder where God is.  Biblical literacy is at an all-time low because people do not seem to have time to study the Bible, either in their homes or with other folks. Right now the seas outside our little boat are churning with a struggling educational system, a culture saturated with guns, drug addictions and glorified images of violence, and a glorified violence in wars of all kinds and the battle of the rattling sabers.  If you do not think it is stormy out there on the sea of life you probably do not get out much!

I will bet every one of us this morning can think of some remarkable folks who have like Peter, stepped out in faith. We all have watched simple, straight-forward, hard-working men and women, little toddlers and tormented teens, the shut-in elders and the shut-out homeless, perform acts in their lives that defy the limitations of the world in which they live.  There is the chemotherapy patient who gets out of bed, puts on clean clothes, picks up the house, before going for treatment . . . taking steps of faith.

There’s the single parent, overworked, overwhelmed, over-extended in time, money, and energy, but makes it to soccer games and school plays and checks to see that homework is done . . .taking steps of faith.

There’s the octogenarian who lives alone, whose family has forgotten him, who counts the postal carrier and the water-meter reader as “company,” but still is up and dressed by 8am and sits at the table for all his meals . . . taking steps of faith.

There are times in our lives when we need a sign from God. There are times when we need to get out of the boat and step out in faith.  There are times when we do and even make it for a few steps….and there are times when we take our eyes off Jesus and “start to sink.”

This story teaches us that, even in the midst of our need for a sign, even in the midst of our doubts, it is okay to cry out, “Lord, save me!” because Jesus will  reach out to us, and with a strong grip, pull us out of the drink, and away from the storm, into the calmness of his presence.

Did you notice in the gospel lesson that the storm continued until Jesus and Peter got back into the boat?  For us, sometimes the storm may continue, sometimes for what might seem like a long time. But through the spray and the splash of the waves, Jesus will be there, calling out to us, “Take heart, it is me the Lord; do not be afraid.”

There is no way I can know where you are today – whether you’re in a place of complacency and just trying to stay afloat–whether you’re sinking and need the hand of God to lift you up.  Maybe you are like Peter and God is calling you to take a risk.  Maybe you are like the other 11 and still too scared to even try.  Wherever you are, just as Jesus came to the disciples, Jesus will come to you.  He will give you faith and the courage to endure. 

I do not know what storms you may be enduring at this very moment, or what storms of life will come your way this week or years from now.  But I know this: we all have one thing in common—a Savior who comes to us as he came to Peter in the boat, and us in this room with the words, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

A dear friend of mine who has gone to be with the Lord shared a meme with me one time.   It said, “Faith does not mean trusting God to stop the storm. It is trusting him to strengthen us as we walk through the storm”

Scott Trippane wrote a song that says, “Sometimes he calms the storm.  Other times he calms his child. 

The point is not that everyone else stayed in the boat and that Peter walked on the water, got scared and started to sink.  The point of this story is that Jesus came.  Jesus came.  Jesus came for the one who had the courage to get out of the boat and for the eleven others who did not.   Jesus came to them in the midst of their storm and Jesus will come to you in the midst of your storm-whatever it is.  

Jesus still walks on and over whatever he has to help his friends in trouble.   He may have to walk over tradition.  He may have to walk across the aisle.  He may have to walk across cultural lines, across county lines, across lines in the sand.  But he will come to you when you are in trouble.  He will lift you out of the deep that you got yourself into because you dared to get out of the boat…and He will walk with you back TO the boat till the storm passes and still the storm even if you were too scared to risk taking steps of faith.   We may not walk on water, but we can walk on faith, walk by faith not by sight.–walk not by verifying but walk by believing what we can’t verify, believing to be true what our eye can’t spy taking … steps of faith.

Let us pray. Lord.  We are listening for your word of encouragement, for your assurance that you are with us and that we are not to fear.  Come to us.  Bid us to come to you.  Walk with us through this life until we step from it INTO the joys you have prepared for us.  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you, Lord.  We are not afraid

1 Christian Globe Networks, Inc. Stay in the Boat! By David E. Leniger

Faith Lift: Our Worst and Our Best

One of the most colorful people in the Bible is David.  One of the first Bible stories that many children learn is about David as a boy and how he was able to slay the giant Goliath through the power of the Lord.  I remember spending a lot of time looking at that picture in my Bible as I sat in church waiting for the sermon to be over. 

That was one of David’s greatest moments.  Later in his life David took a detour from his track of following the Lord.  It was one of his weakest moments. 

The Bible is about real people. It is about people who do noble things. And it is about people who do terrible things. Sometimes it is the same people who do noble things who also do the really terrible things. David defeated Goliath.  David was defeated by Bathsheba.      

David sent for Bathsheba after seeing her bathing on her roof.  When the King calls you answer.  When Bathsheba learned that she was pregnant David plotted to cover up what he had done.  David had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah brought from the battlefield. But Uriah’s devotion to his King was greater than his devotion to his wife and he refuses to go to her. So David reassigned him to the front lines where he was killed.

Were David and Bathsheba able to experience forgiveness?  Yes, but.  There are consequences. God’s grace does not make us immune from the law of sowing and reaping. As someone has said, many want to sow our wild oats and then pray for a crop failure.


When we break the laws of God, we not only hurt ourselves, often we end up hurting others. One of the consequences of David and Bathsheba’s affair was that the child of their adultery did not live. One of the evidences of God’s grace and mercy is that after David repented and confessed his sin the second child of their union, Solomon built the temple David wanted to build but was not allowed to build.    

The Bible is a collection of stories about God and God’s people.  It does not cover up the worst and include only the best.  The Bible tells the story of David and Goliath AND David and Bathsheba.  It tells of people at their best and at their worst so that we can know that God’s grace is sufficient redeem us from our worst and use us to accomplish our best.

God’s Blessing

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21; Genesis 32:22-31; Matthew 14:13-21; Romans 9:1-5 – August 3, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO CONFESSION–GENESIS 32:22-31

Jacob has a hard time at night. Last week we read that as he left his home to find his dream wife, he had a dream of a Ladder coming down from heaven. Now as he prepares to return home, he has another traumatic encounter in the night.  

Jacob was a wrestler. He wrestled with his brother and came away with his brother’s blessing…  He wrestled with his uncle Laban and after 14 years of hard labor came away with 2 wives, their two handmaids, 11 children and many flocks.   As he heads for home and faces the prospect of wrestling with his brother Esau again, he winds up spending the whole night wrestling and comes away with a limp and …. a new name.  Hear the word of God from Genesis 32:22-31

INTRODUCTION TO-ROMANS 9:1-16

Jacob’s new name grew to become the name for a whole nation consisting of 12 tribes.  The apostle Paul, a Jew’s Jew, understood that God had made a covenant with Abraham that extended to Isaac and Jacob and the nation of Israel.  In Romans chapter 9-11 Paul wrestles with the dilemma that Jesus came to the people of Israel as their messiah, but many of them did not recognize him as such.  Not only did they not accept him, some of them called for him to be crucified. In the beginning of chapter 9 Paul wrestles with this rejection and part of the answer that begins to dawn on him is that this rejection opens the door for others to become adopted into the family of God and to multiply the number of folks who can come to know the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.  Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, and of those who will become grafted into God’s family tree through God’s grace to receive God’s Blessing… 

INTRODUCTION TO GOSPEL LESSON MATTHEW 14:13-21

In the atrium of Houston Methodist hospital there is bronze statue of Jesus and a woman kneeling before him.   The scripture on the plaque at the base of the sculpture is from this morning’s gospel lesson. , “Jesus had compassion on the multitude and healed their sick.”  

Jesus compassion for the crowd was not limited to their need for healing.  They not only hungered for healing they hungered for food.

In the life of Christ this miracle so impressed the twelve disciples that it is the only miracle of Jesus besides the resurrection that is recorded in all four gospels. It is the story of a small group of disciples facing an overwhelming need.  Hear the word of God from Matthew 14:13-21 

Let us pray.  Open our eyes to see your truth.  Open our ears to hear your voice. Open our minds to receive your word.  Open our wills to respond accordingly.

Dr. H. King Oehmig tells a story of the time that a church congregation from Cartersville, Georgia wanted to begin a Habitat for Humanity group.  It was in the early days of Habitat, so the group went to Americus, Georgia to meet with Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity.  The group toured the Habitat facilities and saw a presentation on how groups operate.  Then Mr. Fuller took time from his busy schedule to go and talk to this group.  During the course of their conversation, one of the folks from Cartersville said, “Mr. Fuller, we think this is what God’s calling us to do.  But before we begin, how much money do you think we should have in the bank to get us off the ground?”

Fuller leaned toward the man and in a very low and serious voice told him, “It would be wholly irresponsible, completely negligent, totally feather-brained if you started an affiliate without at least one dollar. But you have to have one dollar.  Don’t you dare make a move without it!” (1)

In Baytown where I served as pastor for over 6 years over 50 miracle houses have been built.  Each one started with at least a dollar.  For some reason God likes to take what we have to give, no matter how small, and to that adds … God’s blessing.

Ours is not a Lone Ranger faith. The Lone Ranger may have been the only Ranger, but even he had Tonto. To be a follower of Jesus is to be in partnership with God and others.  It is a partnership of people of faith working together. Miracles begin with the compassion of God, but they are greatly enhanced when we give God something with which to work.  We offer what we have and then God adds … God’s blessing.

After a marathon of healing the disciples determine that gathered multitude is hungry, which probably means that the disciples are hungry as well.  When they bring this to Jesus’ attention Jesus, he tells them to give the crowd something to eat.

In Matthew’s telling of the story the disciples say, ‘We have nothing but five loaves and two fish.”  In the gospel of John’s telling of this story it is a small boy comes forward with his lunch.       

A man was packing a shipment of food for the poor people of Appalachia. He was separating beans from powdered milk, and canned vegetables from canned meats. Reaching into a box filled with various cans, he pulled out a little brown paper sack. Apparently one of the pupils had brought something different from the items on the suggested list. Out of the paper bag fell a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, and a cookie. Crayoned in large letters was a little girl’s name, “˜Christy — Room 104.’ She had given up her lunch for some hungry person. (1) 

Over the years there have been several attempts to “explain” this miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.  One attempt says that the people were so moved by the generosity of the little boy that they brought forth the food they had hidden under their clothes and in their traveling pouches.  But that does not explain the leftovers.  Would 5,000 men, not counting women and children, have said to themselves before leaving home, ‘You know, we better pack our lunches and pack extra in case a little boy decides to share his lunch so we can be inspired to share ours.  Lets pack enough extra so there will be 12 baskets of leftovers.    

No, Jesus took the little boy’s lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish and blessed them and broke them and 5,000 men, not counting the women and children were filled.  The disciples began by wondering how this crowd could be fed and they wound up wondering what to do with the leftovers!  By the way this proves that they were neither Lutherans nor Presbyterians because there would not have been leftovers.

Tony Campolo is a professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in St. David’s Pennsylvania and a popular speaker. He was once invited to a women’s conference where he was to give a major address. These women were being challenged to raise several thousand dollars for a mission project goal. While Campolo was sitting on the dais, the chairperson turned to him and asked him if he would pray for God’s blessing as they considered their individual responses to the goal. Campolo stood and–to the utter amazement of everyone present–graciously said “no.”

He approached the microphone and said, “You already have all the resources necessary to complete this mission project right here within this room. It would be inappropriate to ask for God’s blessing, when in fact God has already blessed you with the abundance and the means to achieve this goal. The necessary gifts are in your hands. As soon as we take the offering and underwrite this mission project, we will thank God for freeing us to be the generous, responsible and accountable stewards that we’re called to be as Christian disciples.” And they did. (2)

One little boy brought his lunch.  Each one of us has something that we bring.  When we do, we trust that what we give will be multiplied by God’s blessing.

Jesus is looking at us and at the community around us and his heart is filled with compassion.  Jesus is taking what we must give, our time our talents our gifts of money and our elbow grease so that God’s blessings can be multiplied and our whole community can be fed.  Jesus is saying to us, “You give them something to eat.”  

Jacob was set for life.  He left his Uncle Laban’s home with a large family and even larger flocks.  But Jacob had seen the ladder.  Jacob wanted more than what he was able to provide by his own labor.  Jacob wanted his Father’s blessing and got — that but Jacob wanted more.  Jacob not only wanted his Father Isaac’ blessing he wanted God’s blessing. Like the little boy who offered his lunch Jacob sent portions of his flocks across the river as a gift to his brother Esau.   He gave away part of what he had labored for 14 years. He spent the night wrestling and would not let go.  Because he did not give up, because he prevailed, he received God’s blessing and Jacob, whose name meant “the wrestling trickster,” became Israel which literally means “One who prevailed with God.” 

It was not easy.  It came with a limp.  But look at what came from one man who was not willing to let go until he had God’s blessing.  From that man Jacob came not only a new name but a new nation-Israel, and from that nation Israel came the Messiah, Jesus, who not only fulfilled the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but opened wide the doors to Cornelius, and Priscilla and Aquila and to us.  We are not related to God by our bloodlines but grafted into God’s family tree by the blood lines that flowed from the cross of Jesus.

The disciples wrestled with what to do in the face of such a crowd of hungry people.  They did not know what to do so they took the challenge to Jesus.  Jesus challenged them back.  With what are we wrestling today?  What do we want to see come to pass and will not let go until we see it?  Do you have at least one dollar?   Do you have at least a peanut butter sandwich, and apple and a cookie?  Are you willing to hang on for dear life and not let go until you have God’s blessing?  It may come with a limp, but what a blessing.  Whatever you feel God calling you to give do so knowing that when it is given it will be multiplied by … God’s blessing.  

Let us pray, Dear Lord Jesus, take what we have and bless it.  Take our gifts of time and talent and treasure and break them open and bless them and send them forth from this place to make a difference in our lives and in the lives that are touched by what we do in here and from here.   We pray that you will take what we offer and make a difference in the lives of the men and women and children of our world. 

(1) Do You Believe in Miracles? by John Bedingfield

(2) King Duncan, “You Feed Them!” Collected Sermons, http://www.Sermons.com

Faith Lift: Surprise!

This Sunday I will be preaching on Jesus’ miracle of feeding 5,000 with one kid’s happy meal-and that was just the men.  They didn’t count the women and children.  It is the one story that made the cut in all four gospels.  (of course they all told the story of Jesus’ resurrection.)

The disciples and certainly the people were surprised when the baskets started coming around.  We know they couldn’t have been Lutherans or Presbyterians because after every one was full there were still leftovers—12 baskets of leftovers.  That was one Happy Meal.

This Tuesday I will be having a happy meal with my family because we will be celebrating my 69th trip around the sun.  I was born in Herman Hospital on July 28, 1951.   You may have heard me mention before that for several years my parents had tried to have children but not been successful.  In fact my parents had completed the paperwork to apply to adopt when my mother went for a check-up and the doctor told her she was pregnant.  Surprise!

I look forward to celebrating my birthday with my family for dinner on Tuesday night.  My son Andrew and his wife Meghan and my daughter Abbey and her husband Michael will be coming.  We will be socially distancing with our expanded dinner table. It is hard to stay masked and eat.  I guess we could take turns around the table—Mask On- Mask off- take a bite- Mask back on.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

My daughter-in-law is making veal parmesan and Anne made my favorite cake—pineapple upside down cake.   I told Anne I didn’t want any maraschino cherries in the middle of the pineapple rings like they have at Luby’s.   I don’t know what else will happen.  There may be some surprises.  After all I was a …. surprise!

%d bloggers like this: