Blessed

Psalm 118:1-2; 19-29, Matthew 21:1-11, Philippians 2:5-11 – April 5, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO PSALM 118:1-2; 19-29

This morning’s reading from the Psalm 118 was the Psalm that was on people’s minds when Jesus chose to enter into Jerusalem.  The chant that went up from the people was a direct quote from that Psalm.  When we read the story later in the service you will hear them echo what I read now.  Hear the Word of the Lord.

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW 21:1-11

What happened on that Sunday long ago was not totally spontaneous.  It was a deliberate act on the part of Jesus, demonstrated by the fact that Jesus sends two disciples into the city to make this entrance different from every other time he has entered that city. It is a fulfillment of what I read earlier from Psalm 118. 

PRAYER OF PRAISE

God of our salvation, we give you thanks for Jesus Christ our Lord, who came in your name and turned the lonely way of rejection and death into triumph.  Grant us the steadfast faith to enter the gates of righteousness that we may receive grace to become worthy servants and citizens of your holy realm.  Hear our cries asking you to Save Us and receive our Praise for doing so.

***

Thank you for joining me for this 4th sermon from my living room.  I discovered that the recording of my last sermon on Wednesday ended before I did. For some reason it stopped at 15 minutes and 13 seconds.  Those of you who made it to the end of the sermon were left hanging on what Albert Schweitzer said.  So for those who were left hanging and for those who didn’t get to that part to be left hanging I’m going to open this sermon with that illustration.  My message was on being humble.  It still is a fitting opening illustration for today’s message which is Jesus’ entering Jerusalem on a humble donkey.

Albert Schweitzer was laboring one day, under the hot African sun, building his hospital at Lambarene. A large timber had to be raised into place, and try as he might, Schweitzer couldn’t manage it alone.  He looked up and saw a well-dressed African man standing in the shade of a building, and asked him to lend a hand.   “O, no,” the man said, “I don’t do that kind of work. I am an intellectual.” Albert Schweitzer, with five earned doctor’s degrees, said, “I used to be an intellectual, but I couldn’t live up to it.”   

Speaking of humble, a pastor was once asked to speak at a banquet for a charitable organization. After the meeting, the program chairman handed the pastor a check. “Oh, I don’t want this,” the pastor said. “I appreciate the honor of being asked to speak. Keep the check and apply it to something special.”

The program chairman asked, “Well, do you mind if we put it in our special fund?”

“Of course not,” the pastor replied. “What is the special fund for?”

The chairman answered, “It’s so we can get a better speaker for next year.”

Life is full of humbling experiences. But, when we look at Jesus’ parade through the Holy City, we sense that it was an act of humility. He did not choose to ride into the city on a white horse named Silver, but on a donkey. He was not coming in the might and power of a conquering king, but as a humble servant.

Jesus was using his parade through the Holy City to teach that humility is the key to greatness. The idea of greatness is directly related to being a servant. The one issue which Jesus made abundantly clear is that he came not to be served, but to serve. If we are ever to attain the humility of Jesus, then we must realize that we, too, are called to be servants.  If we do that we will be blessed, because of our service, our world will be blessed.

Jesus blessed people’s lives. He blessed and transformed the life of Nicodemus.  He blessed and transformed the life of the Samaritan woman at the well.  He blessed and transformed the life of the man born blind.  He most certainly blessed and transformed the life of Lazarus. He has blessed and transformed my life and I trust yours too.

This morning’s text tells how Jesus blessed and transformed the most significant religious event in the life of Israel–Passover.  He blessed the bread and the cup of Passover and transformed Passover from a week of remembering the children of Israel’s deliverance from bondage to Egypt to a week of celebrating the whole world’s deliverance from bondage to sin through his life, death and resurrection

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is in stark contrast to Solomon’s reception of the Queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10:1‑13 and the acclamation of Jehu as king of Israel, 2 Kings 9:13.  The garments and palm branches strewn in Jesus’ path by the people, as well as their cry of “Hosanna!” reinforce Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as the Savior of the common, ordinary people. Jesus didn’t get the red carpet treatment.  He got to green garment treatment. There were no vast display of riches, no dignitaries and no loud trumpets to greet the arrival of this king.

The cry of “Hosanna!” which greets Jesus (v.9) was originally a plea meaning “Help (or save) Traditionally it was addressed to the king or to God but, by the time of its use here, it may have become a ritualistic liturgical formula of blessing or acclamation for a distinguished figure–like Hail to the Chief or the song “Pomp and Circumstance” which is used for graduations.  As the representative of this God, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the gospel of Matthew is a triumph of peace and humility over the forces of pride and hostility.

Can you imagine if Jesus had been treated like a 21st‑century celebrity as he rode into Jerusalem?  Wolf Blitzer would have reported on rumors that Jesus planned to disrupt temple business.  Pundits would have argued about who he “really” was.  Someone would undoubtedly have written a psychological profile for Psychology Today.  Some tabloid would investigate Jesus’ relationship with “the woman at the well or the woman who anointed his feet with oil and dried them with her hair.  There would be in‑depth analysis by cult specialists and modern‑day Pharisees and Sadducees on the 24 hour news channels. A council of church officials would be in place to verify the veracity and authenticity of Jesus’ feeding the multitudes and walking on water.  As he entered the dusty city, hundreds if not thousands would have taken selfies with him or photo- bombed him while Lester Holt would stand by to offer color commentary.

While the celebrities of today are famous because they have hired promoters and agents, Jesus was celebrated by a relatively small number of followers who were not quite sure why they were there, except for the fact that something drew them to this teacher, this holy man. He could heal them. He spoke in mysterious parables. He was very different from anything they had seen before. And he loved them in a way they had never experienced before. There was something about him.

In a cruel and violent world, where most people were interested in basic survival, Jesus regularly stirred up enough trouble to risk his safety. In a culture where people shamelessly promoted themselves, many times Jesus told those he healed to “tell no one.”  He was not swayed by current trends. He was not concerned with money. He had no problem with challenging those in power. His ministry was guided, nourished and planned NOT by the powers that be but by the only Power that really matters.

Considering the life expectancy of a man of his time he was not particularly young.  He was most definitely not rich.  His disciples were limited to 12 men of limited resources and a few women of some of whom had uncertain reputations.

The one detail we know for certain is that his story never ends.  It did not end in a procession in Jerusalem.  It did not end on a cross. It did not end in a cave on the property of Joseph of Arimathea.  It did not end because the calling was passed on from generation to generation.  It was and is a relay.

The story continues. It continues in the lives of people like you and me in whom the living Christ continues to work wonders.  The story continues in us who are called to keep it alive.  For those of us who have, by grace, found ourselves following Jesus it is an irresistible story, a life‑changing story.  We are as transformed as Nicodemus and the woman at the well and the man born blind and even as Lazarus was.

The procession that began on Palm Sunday continues. It continues not because a finish line was never crossed.  It continues because there is NO finish line.  It is an eternal relay.  It continues because the baton has been passed to us and will be passed to those who follow us when our leg is finished.  The question before us as a church is, who is coming behind us?  Who are we training to take our place when we finish our leg? 

When I was serving as pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Baytown I joined in a procession-the Relay For Life.  Like so many other events it has been postponed this year.  I was in the 16-20 year group at the end of the procession.  My friend Mike Wilson was in the 1-5 year beginning of the procession.  In between us was a long line of people who have survived cancer, and friends and family of folks who walked with them and friends and family of those who finished their race and had passed on their batons.

What impressed me in The Relay For Life was the diversity of the procession.  There were people from all walks of LIFE, taking part in this relay.  Cancer does not discriminate.  It’s an equal opportunity afflicter. It’s the same with Covid-19. 

As followers of Jesus we believe that dying is not the end of life. While we walk and raise money for research to find a cure for disease that takes away life in this world, we believe that even when our lives in this world end, it is not the end.  It is not a battle lost; it is passing a baton to those behind us to continue as we drop out having run our leg.  Life is a Relay—a Relay OF Life. 

Even though I’m no longer in Baytown I hope to keep participating in the Relay For Life until I make my last lap and hand off in my Relay OF Life so that, like Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, I will have “fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

Until then, my calling and I think our calling is described the way someone put it so simply long ago when he said:  Find a hurt and heal it; Find a need and meet it. When we do this, we are on the road to being humble servants of Jesus Christ.

When we do this, we will be on the road to discovering greatness as one of the followers of Jesus Christ.  When we do this we will be echo of the cries that he heard that morning when Jesus entered Jerusalem.  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Wherever we go, when we come in the name of the Lord we too will be Blessed.!

Let’s pray. God of glory, God of grace, we rejoice with humble hearts as we celebrate the condescension of the One who was your equal but left such glory for a while, to become human, in the lowliness of servanthood, the pain of suffering, and the indignity of death.  We raise our voices in exultation that you exalt Christ again in raising him to the heights and bestowing on him the supreme name in the whole universe, announcing that Jesus the anointed is Lord.  All glory be given to you, in praise of your vulnerability and your victory, one God, great in grace and great in glory. 

For a video recording of this sermon, click here: https://youtu.be/p8qo3Yp7xvc

Humble

Luke 18:9-14 – April 1, 2020

Jesus Loves Me

INTRODUCTION TO LUKE 18:9=14There’s an old “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip in which Calvin is talking to his stuffed tiger Hobbes (whom he imagines to be real and his best friend). He says: “People are so self-centered.”

Then he adds philosophically, “The world would be a better place if people would stop thinking about themselves and focus on others for a change.”

Hobbes sort of rolls his eyes and thinks aloud, “Gee, I wonder who that might apply to.”

Calvin answers, “Me!. Everyone should focus on me!” (1

Bill Watterson’s cartoon character Calvin could have been the poster child for the Pharisee in tonight’s passage from Luke. Let’s look at that passage and you’ll see what I mean.

***

I used to have a red 1968 Dodge panel van.  I covered it with Jesus bumper stickers.  On one side I got a giant logo for Humble Oil.  I cut the letters B and E off of another logo and put it above the word Humble.  So I drove around town commanding everyone who saw me coming to “BE HUMBLE.”

Through this morning’s parable Jesus paints a picture of two very different kinds of men and two very different kinds of prayer and two different kinds of …humble.

One of the men was a deeply religious man.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed in a voice just barely loud enough to be heard across the street,  He used prayer as a means of getting public recognition, not to seek to commune with God. In fact, he stops just short of congratulating God on what a great job God did in creating him! He sets himself apart, not just from the tax collector, but from all other men!

What we are to understand is this. When he prayed he was telling the truth. When he said, “Lord, you’re lucky to have a guy like me, because I’m one of the best guys I know,” it was really true. He really was a wonderful guy.

For instance, when he says, “I thank you that I am not like other men,” indeed he wasn’t like other men. He had a standard of morality that was far above the standard of that day. When he said, “I fast twice a week;” it happens to be literally true. The Pharisees fasted on Monday and Thursday of every week. When he says, “I give tithes of all I possess,” he means he tithes on the gross and not on the net. He went beyond the Law of Moses. That’s no big deal; all the Pharisees did that. And when he says, “I am not a crook,” he really isn’t a crook. When he says, “I am not like this filthy tax collector,” he’s really not like that guy. When he says, “I do not commit adultery,” he really doesn’t commit adultery. He is faithful to his wife. When he says, “I am honest, I am faithful, I am zealous for my religion,” he means it and every word of it is true. He truly is a genuinely good man. When I read his prayer, I am reminded of that country song that says, “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.”

While he prayed, people would be standing around watching. And they would say, “He’s a fine man.” While he prayed, they probably applauded. He was the kind of guy you’d want living next door to you.–a good citizen, a law-abiding man, a good, religious kind of person. If he were to come to this church today we’d love him because he would be faithful, loyal, and give us a lot of money.

The other man was a tax collector.  Have any of you ever been audited?  Very few folks greet and IRS audit with enthusiasm.  They wonder if they did anything

wrong.  They wonder if their records will adequately support their audited tax returns.  They wonder how much more money they will have to pay to Uncle Sam as a result of the audit. Let’s just say that a tax audit is not exactly one of the blessings of living in the USA for which we will be offering thanks come the last Thursday next month.

Now I want you to imagine the person behind the desk at the IRS, the one who will be conducting your audit.  Imagine that he is not only intimidating and distrustful, but also dishonest (I know it’s stretch, but try to imagine that). Imagine that he will receive a percentage of the corrected amount resulting from the audit, and that he will do or say almost anything to prove that what you paid was not enough.

Now I certainly don’t want to imply that this is the way the IRS works in America, but that IS the way tax collectors operated in the time of Jesus.  Tax collectors were among the most corrupt and despised and feared people in society in those days. They were out to get not just a few, selected people here and there, but EVERYBODY!  They frequently operated beyond the law with no fear of punishment, changed the rules wherever they wanted to, collecting taxes from people in heartless and dishonest ways. 

This is the kind of man Jesus is talking about when he says, “But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and whispered, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  Jesus said, “but this man, rather than the other, went away justified before God.”  To quote Lil’ Jon I’d say, “ What?????” 

I suppose this is a question we could ask about a lot of Luke’s stories about the words and actions of Jesus. What’s going on when God sends His only Son to be born of a peasant girl in a stable in Bethlehem? What’s going on when Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman at the well? What’s going on when Jesus invites Zacchaeus (another tax collector) down out of the sycamore tree and goes to his house for dinner?

We continue to ask that question in many circumstances today.  What’s going on is this story? What’s going on is life. What’s going on is humanity, immortality, the limits and frailties and brokenness of human existence. It’s the reality that every one of us falls short of living a loving, faithful life. It’s the reality that every one of us struggles with the hollowness and emptiness that creeps in as we try to cope with the secret sorrows of our lives.

As we hear the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, we hear the gospel theme of reversal. The one we expect to be judged faithful is not. The one we expect – or maybe even secretly WISH – to be condemned is redeemed.

Albert Schweitzer was laboring one day, under the hot African sun, building his hospital at Lambarene. A large timber had to be raised into place, and try as he might, Schweitzer couldn’t manage it alone.  He looked up and saw a well-dressed African man standing in the shade of a building, and asked him to lend a hand.   “O, no,” the man said, “I don’t do that kind of work. I am an intellectual.” Albert Schweitzer, with five earned doctor’s degrees, said, “I used to be an intellectual, but I couldn’t live up to it.”    That’s humble.

It’s so easy for our best-intentioned prayers of thanksgiving to slip into self-congratulation, even as our best acts of charity can become subtle ways of making ourselves look good.

In Jesus’ parable, two men went to worship before the altar. One was a good, Bible-believing, faith practicing, tithing Pharisee. The other was a money-grabbing, immoral, corrupt tax collector. The two men went back home after worship. One, the tax collector, went home forgiven, justified, blessed. The other was not.  

Neither the Pharisee nor the tax collector is the hero of this parable. Both of the characters in the story are sinners.   One sins knowingly and the other unknowingly, but both come to the altar of prayer as sinners, just like us.


The hard truth of prayer is that you quite often get exactly what you ask for. The Pharisee sinner didn’t seek God’s mercy in his kind of prayer.  He came with his hands full, so he went back home empty. Like the Pharisee, we don’t always ask for God’s mercy, so we don’t get it. 

Now understand that the tax collector is NOT a good person. Jesus doesn’t say that. The tax collector is a sinner, a man who has been dishonest and sometimes cruel. But he had a realistic assessment of his own wretchedness.  He acknowledged his shortcomings and his need for forgiveness. 
 What’s going on in this parable is that God is transforming reality, changing our expectations. God is being God, loving and embracing everyone who falls short, everyone who stumbles, everyone who knows the frustrations of life.

This is a parable about a typical Sunday morning worship service in every church every where. Jesus says that before any altar of God, in any service of worship, whether it’s in a magnificent cathedral or a storefront church in a shopping center, you mainly find two sorts of folks: Pharisees and Tax Collectors.  

Very few of us are one or the other ALL the time, but most of us are sort of like one or the other some of the time.

There are times when we come to worship as good, Bible-believing, righteous Pharisees who ask for nothing and get exactly that. We are so pleased with ourselves, so competent, so well-liked in the community. And yet we go home to Sunday dinner with a gnawing emptiness which we sometimes blame on the preacher, (sometimes rightfully so) but most often because we were so full when we got to church that nothing else would fit.

But there are other times, when we enter a house of worship like tax collectors

needing everything, empty, lost, painfully aware of our sinfulness and our need of God’s mercy. And we go home with even more than we dared to ask for.

God’s love extends to sinners of all shapes, sizes, and colors, ages and stages in life whether we agree with the choices they have made or not, whether they have memorized the great prayers of the saints of the church and can quote them on demand or whether the best they can muster is “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

William Beebe, the naturalist, used to tell this story about President Teddy Roosevelt.  At Sagamore Hill, after an evening of talk, the two would go out on the lawn and search the skies for a certain spot of star-like light near the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. Then Roosevelt would recite:

“That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” 

Then Roosevelt would grin and say, “Now I think we are small enough! Let’s go to bed.”  

Thanks be to God, that there is enough mercy for all us SINNNERS, Pharisees and Tax Collectors, me AND Kanye …and ALL who, every now and then need to know what it takes to BE HUMBLE.  

Let’s Pray, Lord have mercy on us, sinners all.  Forgive us and give us a renewed sense of your presence with us and in us as we strive to make a difference in our world by expressing the difference you have made in our lives.   Thank you that there is nothing we can do to make you love us any more.  And nothing we can to do make you love us any less.  We Love you Lord.  Thank you for your mercy and grace.  In Jesus’ name.

Last Laugh 

1)  Billy Strayhorn

Faith Lift: YouTube

When I was serving at the Interim Pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Dickinson I looked for an Open Mic in the area. I enjoy singing at Open Mics. I’ve made a lot of friends doing that. There is a listing of all the Open Mics in the Houston area and I looked up Dickinson.  It turns out that there was an Open Mic on Wednesday nights at a place on 517 called Hog Heaven.  I assumed it was a Barbecue joint. 

When I pulled into the parking lot I realized that it was not a BarBQue place.  It was a Bar … a Biker Bar. There must have been a dozen Harleys in front of the door. 

As I made my way to the stage area the bar maid asked me if I wanted anything to drink.  I asked, “Is tonight the Open Mic?”  She said yes and pointed me to the man who was the host. The band was on a break and he showed me the sign up list.  I signed up and took a seat to wait my turn.

I introduced myself to the four people at the table that had an open seat and listened to the next performer. He was backed up by a lead guitar, a one legged bass player and a drummer.  Both the bass player and the drummer were wearing Mullet wigs.   The host came over while they were playing and asked me if I wanted to play solo or if I wanted them to back me up.  I said, “Either way.”  Then he said, “O.K. You’re next.” 

When my turn came up I realized I didn’t have a guitar strap with me so I asked if I could borrow one.  The only one they had that was long enough was a rainbow strap.  After my second song the host came up and said, “You oughta record that and put it on Youtube.”

After my last song, as I was taking off my rainbow strap the one legged bass player got on his crutches and came over to me and made a point to tell me that he grew up playing in church.  I invited him to come.  He declined saying that Sunday mornings were hard for him.   Then another guy came up to me and said, ‘It took a lot of courage to come up here and do what you did.” 

It didn’t take a lot of courage.  It took me wanting to play well with others.  It took me doing unto others what I would want them to do to me. It took me treating others as beloved children of our one God that we know and love through Jesus who loves the little children of the world.

May you thrive in your time of not being able to play well with others because you can’t be with others.  Until we can gather again we’ll have to settle for “recording that and putting that on Youtube.” 

Comeback

Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-47 – March 29, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO EZEKIEL 37:1-14

Ezekiel had a vision that a valley of dried up bones and was told to prophesy to those dried up bones. It was not exactly a lively congregation.  But in that vision God was telling Ezekiel that anything was possible. Even Israel could make a comeback.  They could come back to life and comeback from exile.  Hear the word of the Lord from Ezekiel 37-1-14

INTRODUCTION TO JOHN 11:1-47

These last few Sundays we’ve been looking at a series of encounters that people had with Jesus.  We’ve seen a religious leader named Nicodemus who was afraid to be seen in broad daylight who comes to Jesus at night.  We’ve seen a woman who was a social outcast and afraid to be seen with anyone who went to the well when at high noon when no one else would so she wouldn’t be seen.  We’ve seen a man who couldn’t see at all to whom Jesus reached out.  This morning we look at a person who couldn’t see, speak or hear because he had been dead for four days.   Hear now the gospel of our Lord from John 11, verses1-47.

*******************************

In the early 80’s I was a youth pastor at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Houston.  One of my youth was a guy named John Mark Solomon.  In response to physical distancing he accepted his pastor’s challenge to write a hymn for these times of Pajama worship.  . I couldn’t resist the urge to change a few of his lyrics. It’s to the tune of Come Ye Thankful People Come

Come, ye PJ’d people, come. Don your slippers; stay at home.

Social distancing is here!  Praise the Lord from over there.
In our houses we will pray. Got enough TP till after May.
Stay, ye PJ’d people, stay, safely in your home today!” Amen

When will be get to comeback to church?  When will we be able to come back to work?  When will teachers and students be able to come back to the classroom?  When will we be able to make our COME BACK?  Does it feel like it is impossible?

When Jesus’ mother Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she was to have a child she questioned how it could be since she had never been with a man.  The angel responded, “With God all things are possible.”

With God all things are possible. With us humans, some things are possible.  

With the aid of electricity and modern technology, on a limited basis we are able to do what Jesus did.  With the advent of crash carts and paddles and someone yelling, “Clear!” we regularly see the art of resuscitation dramatized on TV.  We watch as the actor playing a doctor on TV tries once, twice, maybe even three times, each time increasing the wattage.  If their efforts are successful, the camera swings to the monitor and the flat line jumps and starts making mountains and hills instead of Kansas.  If it is not successful?…Kansas. 

I once heard a program on NPR that interviewed physicians about using the paddles to resuscitate patients.  When they were asked if they would want them used on them 96% said,”No..”  When asked why, they reported that the paddles only work about 6% of the time.   When asked why they were used so much, they said,”TV”.  On TV the paddles work almost every time.  That’s good drama. It’s not reality. 

With us, resuscitation is possible, but for it to be successful it has to take place within seconds or maybe minutes at the most of a person dying and with loads of electronic equipment. However, I have yet to see a team and a crash cart rush into a morgue 4 days after someone has died and hooking up to the wall plug and yelling “Clear!”

Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked: “What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?”

The first of the friends said: “I would like them to say, he was a great humanitarian, who cared about his community.”

The second said: He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow,” said another.

The third friend said,”I would like them to say, Look, he’s moving!!”

When Mary saw Jesus approaching, she ran to him and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Her tear-stained face revealed her grief. Her grief and that of the others in the house deeply moved Jesus. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. They answered, “Lord, come and see.” It was then that even Jesus wept.  Jesus wept.  It’s the shortest sentence in the Bible.

Those surveying this scene remarked, “See how he loved him!” Jesus cares about our heartaches and our pain as well.


Ernest Hemmingway was once asked to write a short story in six words.  He wrote: “For sale: baby shoes never used.” 

John wrote an even shorter story in two words.  “Jesus wept.”  Even though Jesus knew he was about to bring Lazarus forth from the tomb surrounded by the grief of his family and friends, Jesus wept.

When hurricanes hit our shores, Jesus wept. When planes crashed into the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania Jesus wept. When a family stood over the coffin of a tiny baby who was allowed only a few months of tortured life Jesus wept.  When a husband paced the hospital floor as he learns that his wife of fifty years will soon be gone – a victim of deadly cancer, Jesus wept. When a Malaysian airliner went missing, Jesus wept.  When another tortured soul went on a shooting spree, Jesus wept. When Tornados hit Nashville, Jesus wept. When even now an unseen virus spreads through our planet….Jesus weeps. 

Today co-anchor Hoda Kotb broke down in tears on Friday after she interviewed New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who made a $5 million donation to help coronavirus victims in Louisiana.

Kotb thanked Brees for his generous donation and said that other people will be inspired by it to contribute as well. “Drew, we love ya!” she said.

 “Love you too, Hoda,” he said.

She then was overcome with emotion. “I’m sorry,” she said, fighting tears. Kotb worked as an anchor in New Orleans for CBS station WWL-TV in the 1990s.

“It’s a lot. I know where your heart is, my dear, I do,” said co-anchor Savannah Guthrie.

Later, Guthrie told Kotb, “You know, we all get it. There’s just moments where it sort of gets you from out of nowhere. All of us understand that. Everyone feels a lot of pressure right now.”

“You sort of look around for someone to hug just because,” Kotb said

Guthrie has been working from home in a makeshift basement studio as a precaution against the coronavirus, while Kotb has been sole anchor from the studio.

Kotb noted how the city had the largest surge in coronavirus cases in the country, and that Brees stepped in to help. The increase in cases is being attributed by some to last month’s Mardi Gras celebrations.

“We’ve got to stick together right now,” Brees told Kotb in his interview.

Longtime Saints head coach Sean Payton was the first NFL coach or player known to test positive for the coronavirus.  He told ESPN on March 19 that he went public with the news because he wants people to follow warnings and advice as the illness spreads throughout the United States and the world. Since then, the Crescent City has become one of the planet’s hot spots for COVID-198

Tears are contagious. On more than one occasion I have been asked to preside at a funeral for a person I have never met.  However, as I heard friends and family testify about their loved ones life and how much they meant to them, as I heard them weeping for the loss of their friend I found it hard to hold back my own tears. 

A friend of mine lost his roommate this week and he will have to wait 3 weeks for the cremation.  As I heard his story this week it was hard to hold back my tears as I heard him break up on the phone. We are now seeing deaths rise from the covid-19 and funerals that will have to be held on video. We have had 1,700 deaths in our country as of Saturday morning.


The story of the raising of Lazarus is a living lesson about our faith. To those who believe, Christ has given this promise: when this world has passed away, we shall live with him forever.  Just as Christ wept over Lazarus before he resuscitated him from the dead, so Jesus has compassion over our situation, whatever it may be.

Lazarus’ tomb was a cave with a stone lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha replied, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.”  I think the King James Version says, “He stinketh.”

Jesus told her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus looked upward and said a prayer. Then he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And Lazarus came forth from the tomb, like a mummy from a B horror film he came forth doing the “mummy hop” because he was bound head and foot with strips of cloth.  It was like the “Afternoon of the Walking Dead.” Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  

The obvious message of this story, of course, is Jesus’ power over death.  That’s why when he was talking with Martha he didn’t say, “I Am the Resuscitation.”  He said, “I AM the Resurrection.” 

Lazarus was resuscitated.  Jesus was resurrected.  On another day, Lazarus would die again and stay that way.  Lazarus is the only person to have a funeral mulligan! Jesus never died again.  From that day on Jesus has lived and lives and because he lives we know that even when we die, our spirits will live on. 

Because of Jesus, all who believe in him have something far better than resuscitation.  They have the promise of resurrection.

When we say the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed to affirm our faith we say that we believe in the resurrection of the dead.  What does that mean exactly?  It means that we believe that when we die our spirits go to be with the Lord in a place prepared for us by Jesus.  Remember, Jesus said to one of the thieves who were crucified beside him “Today you will be in Paradise with me.”

Jesus wept by an occupied tomb and called his friend to come forth. Days later Mary wept by an unoccupied tomb until she realized that as Jesus had done with her brother, so now Jesus had also … come forth for good.  It was an astounding comeback. 

William P. Brown, a man I don’t know, wrote a meme that I shared on my Facebook page this last Thursday.  He said,

“Trump announced yesterday that it is his wish to relieve social restrictions on Easter Sunday (April 12), feeling certain that COVID-19 will be dramatically on the downswing by then. I so wish he were right, but from what we know of the scientific data, that would be a disastrous decision that will cause more death and grief in our communities. We must not only be resigned to the value of social distancing over a long and indefinite period of time but also be champions of it until the virus is truly vanquished. As for an alleged “American Resurrection” on Easter marked by physically gathered celebrations, I suggest this. Let us make this Easter profoundly memorable by celebrating the “empty tomb,” by letting our sacred gathering places remain empty as testimony that lives are being saved in doing so. The empty tomb, after all, marked the beginning of the Resurrection. Let’s linger over it this year; let’s revel in it. Who knows, maybe by Pentecost we can physically gather again, but that depends on what we do now. Let us follow the science as we follow Christ from the cross to the empty tomb that is emptied of death.”

Those of us living in isolation these days may feel like Lazarus.  It’s been more than 4 days.  It may be months.  We are far better off than a bound up mummy that “stinketh.” We are far better off than a valley of dry bones!  The longer we isolate the sooner we will be able to make our comeback. It may not be by Easter.  It may be by Pentecost May 31st.  We have to be grateful for the knowledge that gives us reliable directions as to what to do.  We pray that we act as good neighbors to every other person on this planet that we will do what is best so that not only us but also our whole world can make … a comeback.

Let’s pray. O God who creates, nurtures and resurrects, in the midst of life, we have been sealed in death.  When Jesus joined his tears to Martha and Mary’s they did not anticipate Gethsemane’s agony. When Martha said she believed in the resurrection after life, she did not know Jesus ends death and begins new life, bringing eternity into this world. Yet, even in their simple faith, Martha and Mary believed Jesus, and trusted their brother’s lifeless body to Jesus’ power. Now we look back to Lazarus’ tomb and know Jesus sets us free, as he unbinds us forever from the wrappings of death. Now the dawning light of your eternal kingdom breaks upon us, calling us out of this world’s tombs. Now the glory of Christ shines brightly on our understanding, as we see the awful price he paid to save our lives. This we pray in the name of Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life.

To view a video recording of this sermon, click here: https://youtu.be/x_pkQWDSUy8

Standard of Giving

Luke 16:1-17 – March 25, 2020

Welcome to this episode of Joyful Life Lutheran in Magnolia’s Lenten service coming to you from my home in Jersey Village.  I wish we could be meeting together in our sanctuary, but until we can again I will be sharing messages from my home. 

I saw a meme not long ago that said, “Introverts of the World Unite—together separately in your homes.  As a raging extrovert these are draining times.  But since I am in the high risk category I will abide by what makes the most sense.

INTRODUCTION TO LUKE 16:1-10

When I planned this series of Lenten meditations on the parables of Jesus I could not have imagined that this parable would be one I would have chosen to share tonight.  In times when our economy is swooning because of the outbreak among us who would plan to preach on money?  And yet, Jesus spoke about money more than any other subject.  I think he did because he knew what a challenge it is for us.  Remember, when he was asked which was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or unto God he didn’t even have a coin.  He had to borrow one from his opponents to illustrate his point that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is Gods.  Remember when he was asked about whether he had paid his taxes he had to tell Peter to go fishing and he caught a fish that had a coin in its mouth that was sufficient to pay the tax.

Unlike the passage we studied last Sunday, in tonight’s passage Jesus isn’t. being challenged by his opponents.  They are standing off to the side watching, listening.  Jesus tells this parable to his disciples. On this occasion there were more than just the 12.  A large number of followers are gathered around. He tells them about a steward who handled the business affairs of a wealthy man. Please stand if you are able for the reading of the gospel from Luke 16:1-13.

Let us pray,

Thank you Lord for this your word. Speak to us through what we have heard so that we might be faithful and effective servants.  Bring to our minds ways that we can make a difference in our world. 

*********

There’s an old story about a young man in Montana who bought a horse from a farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the horse the next day.  However when the next day arrived, the farmer reneged on his promise.

“I’m afraid the horse has died,” he explained.

The young man said, “Well, then give me my money back.”

The farmer said, “Can’t do that. I spent it already.”

The young man thought for a moment and said, “Ok, then, just bring me the dead horse.”

The farmer asked, “What you going to do with a dead horse?”

The young man said, “I’m going to raffle it off.”

The farmer said, “You can’t raffle off a dead horse!”

The young man said, “Sure I can. Watch me. I just won’t tell anybody he’s dead.”

A month later, the farmer met up with the young man and asked, “What happened with that dead horse?”

The young man said, “I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at two dollars apiece and made a profit of $998…”

The farmer said, “Didn’t anyone complain?”

The young man said, “Just the guy who won. So I gave him his two dollars back.”

There’s something about a con man that captures the imagination. 1).

Jesus’ parable is about a man with a similar kind of wily disposition. He, too, was something of a con man. The man has heard, “Your Fired.”  As he is cleaning out his desk he calls in his master’s debtors who had outstanding accounts, and he starts slashing.  The first one gets his bill cut in half.  The second one didn’t get the 50%off discount, he only got 20%.  He forgives the debts that are not his to forgive, plays favorites in order to gain friends in the process. The surprise ending is that when the man’s former boss finds out he commends him.  The boss who fired him commends him for “sticking it to the man” even though the man is….himself!

So what is Jesus’ point? Well, there’s not just one point; there are three. (There’s a reason that preacher’s deliver 3 point sermons. We learned it from Jesus.) 

First, Jesus explains the wise use of worldly wealth. Do you know that one of the wisest things you can do with your money is give it away?  It’s not the only thing but it’s one of the wisest things. Why?  Because you can’t take it with you.  When I used to work at Cokesbury Bookstore we had a book with the title “I’ve never seen a hearse towing a UHaul.” Although last week I saw a $100,000 Hummer hauling a trailer of lawn mowers, edgers, and weed whackers.

When it comes to using our worldly wealth…when it comes to giving and asking folks to give, so many times the church has gone about it in the wrong way or with the wrong logic.  We come up with all these reasons why we should give.

  1. Some try the business approach. We give because we need 5% more money this year over last year.
  2. Some try flattery. You have the means, only YOU can give this amount.
  3. Some try guilt trips. “You are wealthier than 95% of the world’s population.
  4. Some try payback. You will get back more than you gave.
  5. Some try ego. We will name the building after you if you give.
  6. Some try magical thinking.  If you give this amount as a seed God will bless you with much more.

We give every reason except the right reason. We give because Christ gave. We give because we are not truly human until we become a giver. We give to keep grace alive within us. We give because it reflects the nature of God who gives.  We give till it hurts because it hurts even more not to give. We give lest we develop “cirrhosis of the giver”.

Jesus has a very strange way of making this point. The dishonest steward gains friends by cooking the books…and his master then commends him!   This guy may have gotten fired, but it got him fired up.  He did everything he could to make the most of a bad situation.  Is Jesus saying we are to take a man like this as our model? The answer is, yes! Is he is our model because he’s dishonest and a scoundrel?  NO!  He’s our model because he used his resources. It’s not his actions that Jesus commends. It is simply that he acted. 

This brings us to Jesus’ second point. Trustworthiness is measured by character and it is measured in the smallest of degrees. I think Jesus speaks for all us when he says that the person who can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much. Watch how someone handles the little things and you’ll know how they handle the big things of life.

I used to be a part of a Friday morning prayer group around a friend’s kitchen table. In the course of praying and reading a passage of scripture one of the guys told this story on himself.

In the morning he makes coffee for himself and his wife.  He knows how much creamora she likes in her coffee and how much he likes in his.  As he was shaking it out he could see that he was going to run out and not have enough for both hers and his coffee.  Should he short hers so he could have some in his or should he give hers what she liked and forgo his own?  In an instant he chose to give it all to hers. To his amazement, when he did there somehow was enough for his as well.


Faithful in little. Faithful in much.  Faithful in cremora, faithful in amora.  That’s the principle. That’s the acid test for character. If we’re honest in the little things it will enable us to be honest in the big things.  If we are faithful in the little things we can be faithful in the big things. All temptations to take another drink are little. All money you have been entrusted with is little, compared to true riches.  If you have not been trustworthy with worldly wealth, who will trust you with eternal wealth?

That’s Jesus’ question for you and me. My friends, all the resources that have been placed in our care here on earth are but small tests. How we use earthly things tells our Lord how we will use spiritual things, what he calls True Riches.

What in the world are “True Riches?”  What are the things that count for eternity? How about the children you nurture, the home you keep, the job you work, the money you make, the friends you enjoy, the neighbor you know, the stranger you meet? You have been entrusted with these. Have you been found trustworthy? Will you be responsible to these earthly riches? If so then you will have true riches in heaven.

The family and friends and resources we have been entrusted with are only temporary. God is eternal. Don’t make the mistake of putting your trust in the things of this world. I will not be here forever and neither will you.  What we do while we are here has potential to live on in the lives that we touch.  What we do while we are on earth even have an effect on our eternal life.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount over and over again Jesus said, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven.”   There are heavenly rewards. We can’t experience them now, but we have faith and hope that we will.

Jesus third point is that we can’t have it both ways. We can’t dedicate our life to true riches and false riches.   We can’t serve the God of eternity and the god of this world, which IS……money money money….

When it comes to money there at least 3 principles that almost always come into play:

1. Every time you lend money to a friend you damage his memory. (he forgets)
2. When a guy says “It’s not the money but the principle of the thing,” it’s the money.
3. Before borrowing money from a friend, decide which you need more.

Billy Graham said it all: “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”

One day a certain old, rich man of a miserable disposition visited a rabbi, who took the rich man by the hand and led him to a window. “Look out there,” he said. The rich man looked into the street. “What do you see?” asked the rabbi. “I see men, women, and children,” answered the rich man. Again the rabbi took him by the hand and this time led him to a mirror. “Now what do you see?” “Now I see myself,” the rich man replied.

Then the rabbi said, “Behold, in the window there is glass, and in the mirror there is glass. But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver, and no sooner is the silver added than you cease to see others, and see only yourself.”

Whenever your devotion to money and material things causes you to be self- centered, you in essence deny God’s intention for your life.

Sometimes we may experience what this steward in Jesus parable experienced.  We may be stripped down to the very core of our existence so we can discover who we really are. Being shuttered at home with not as many distractions can help with that.  When we come to a crossroad in life where we will be forced to say, “To dig I am not able, to beg I am ashamed.” There God will reveal to us who we are.

A church member came to his pastor’s study one day. The pastor could see that the man looked deeply troubled. The man said, “Pastor, I need to talk. I feel so empty, so dried up inside, I’m scared.” His voice began to quiver just a bit. He said “Pastor, I have just come from the doctor’s office, and he told me that I have only six months at best to live. After I left the office, I realized that I have no spiritual resources, no inner strength to cope with this. There is nothing to fall back on, to lean against. Many people would be surprised to hear me say that, for I have made lots of money, and people think I am a success not only at making money, but at being a strong, powerful person.”

He then fell quiet, and the pastor waited in silence for him to go on. Finally the man said, “You know I’m poor in the things that count the most. I see it now. I’ve put my faith in the wrong things, and the truth is I am destitute, spiritually destitute. I could pick up the phone and call any bank in Houston and borrow any amount of money to do whatever I wanted to. Just on my name, Reverend, just on my name! Do you understand? I could borrow it on my name only.”

The man then leaned forward and put his head in his hands, and said softly through tears, “I guess there are some things you can’t buy or borrow.”

This man’s material bank was full to overflowing, but his spiritual bank was empty.

When it comes to a question of whom we will serve, we must be single-minded in our resolve that we will live our lives not to serve money but to serve God.
Jesus is saying that we are in deep trouble if money has first place in our lives. Money is a nice servant but a terrible master. Because at the end of our life the words we want to hear from OUR Master are, not, “You’re fired.”  The words we want to hear are, “Well done Thou good and faithful servant.  We will hear that not based on our standard of living.  We will hear those words based on our … standard of giving.

Let’s Pray. Dear Lord, hear us now as we come before you.  We thank you for the true riches of this life, which are a foretaste of the true riches to come in heaven.  We thank you for our faith in what we cannot see, our hope for what is to come and for love which sustains us till those things are a reality and will remain when faith is realized and hope is fulfilled.   We thank you for the treasures that we can take with us: memories of loved ones, sacrifices of others, deeds of kindness, acts of mercy.  We thank you for the free gift of eternal life, given not earned, received not acquired.

We thank you for the blessings of family and friends, good food and shelter. 

At the same time we pray for those who have lost all their worldly goods because of storms, and for the survivors who have lost loved ones.  

We pray for those who have lost everything through manmade storms of war and for an end to genocide, suicide bombings, terrorism and the reasons behind these desperate acts of violence. 

Hear us as we pray for those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government.  We pray for their health, that they may be able to withstand the pressures of office.  We pray for those who advise them. That they may be given the wisdom required for each circumstance.  We pray for the families, loved ones, and friends of our leaders, that they may be supportive in the midst of the burdens of public life.

You have taught us that we can serve only one. We commit our allegiance to you alone. May all that we do be to your glory, so that one day we may hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

  1. ChristianGlobe Illustrations by King Duncan

Joyful Life Lutheran Church in Magnolia is a small church meeting in a storefront on a Farm to Market road where the speed limit is 45 if people obey it.  If you would like to support us through this time when we can’t meet together and you have appreciated this message and value our ministry and mission you can be faithful in little things by sending a check to Joyful Life Lutheran at 55114FM Rd 1488 in Magnolia,Texas 77354

View a video recording of this sermon here. https://youtu.be/obmEalph_EU

Blindness

Samuel 16:1-13, John 9:1-41 – March 22, 2020

I am grateful for this opportunity to share some songs, scripture, prayers and a sermon with you in this way.  We are in the midst of a season of Lent where we fast from things in order to focus our thoughts and prayers.  I don’t think that when we began this season on Ash Wednesday that any of us thought we would be fasting from gathering together to worship. Still, we need to do what is beneficial to all concerned.   (I was a little taken aback when I was reminded that I was in the high risk group–being retired and all).  Hebrews 10:25 says “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as is the habit of some.”  Like a parent trying to put together toys on Christmas Eve, when it comes to following Jesus, some assembly is required. Still it is great that we can at least assemble in this way.

As I’ve said before the word “church” is a combination of two Greek words, “ek” meaning out and “calleo” meaning called.  “Ecclesia.” The church is the “called out.”  We are called out of the world to gather to worship.  Then we are called out of worship to witness and serve the world.  Jesus did promise that wherever 2 or 3 gather together in his name that he is in our midst.  As such, Gerald and I constitute a midst.  So we celebrate Christ’s presence with us in Spirit and invite you to join us.  While we are practicing “Physical distancing” we can still enjoy “Social Media Proximity” through this recording. 

Jesus did promise that wherever 2 or 3 gather together in his name that he is in our midst.  As such, Gerald, Jo Ann, Joel, Deb and I constitute a midst.  So we celebrate Christ’s presence with us in Spirit and invite you to join us.  While we are practicing “Physical distancing” we can still enjoy “Social Media Proximity” through this recording. 

INTRODUCTION TO I SAMUEL 16:1-13

In our passage from Samuel God has sent him to look for a person to succeed Saul as King.  The criteria for finding a successor however was not based on what Samuel could see, not on the outward appearance, but on what’s on the inside.  Hear the word of the Lord from I Samuel 16:1-13

                    Amazing Grace

  1. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
    That saved a wretch like me
    I once was lost, but now am found
    Was blind, but now I see
  1. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
    And grace my fears relieved
    How precious did that grace appear
    The hour I first believed
  1. Through many dangers, toils and snares
    I have already come
    ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
    And grace will lead me home
  1. When we’ve been there ten thousand years
    Bright shining as the sun
    We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
    Than when we’ve first begun

INTRODUCTION TO JOHN 9:1-414

Two Sundays ago we looked at Nicodemus, a religious leader who could see but was afraid to be seen with Jesus so he came at night.  Last week we looked at a woman was an outcast who went to the well at noon when no one else would because she didn’t’ want to be seen by anybody.  This week we look at a man who couldn’t see anything.  There is physical blindness, and there is another, even more tragic form of blindness-spiritual blindness. Both forms of blindness are present in today’s gospel reading.  Hear the gospel of our Lord from John 9:1-41.

Let us pray.  We, who were sometimes in darkness, now are we in light in the Lord.  Open our eyes Lord to see your grace and mercy at work in this man’s life and in ours.  Help us to see ourselves more clearly and the role you have for us to play in the lives of others as we witness to what you have done and are doing in our lives.  In Jesus Name we pray, .Amen.

***

So I wonder what would have happened if this man who was healed by Jesus making mud pies and putting it on his eyes met another man that Jesus healed by just spitting on the man’s eyes. The one with just spit took a second try but after seeing men “like trees walking” Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes a second time and the man could see clearly. One was an instant healing.  Another was a two touch healing.  Jesus didn’t seem to heal the same way twice.  He treated everyone as an individual.

I wonder what would have happened if these two formerly blind men met.  I wonder if they would have gotten into an argument.  The one with the mud pack said, “You gotta have mud.”  The other said, ‘No, you only need spit.”  Each one insisting on his own prescription for healing would have left and formed the first two denominations–the Mudities and the Spitities.

The disciples were looking for a reason for this man’s blindness. When faced with the reality of a personal tragedy that had no simple explanation like a man born blind, they pointed the man out to Jesus.  In keeping with one of the popular theological views of their day, the disciples wondered if this blindness was a punishment from God for some terrible sin.  Of course if the man was born blind it couldn’t have been something he did, so they wondered if it might have been a sin committed by his parents that brought about the poor man’s condition.

Jesus’ answer only added to the disciples’ confusion, and does nothing for us either. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Sometimes pain, sometimes agony of the body and the spirit, sometimes the cross of suffering is only the preparation for some greater good, some greater glory, something to help us better understand the kingdom of God.

The troubling and troublesome “why” questions of life sometimes just don’t have any satisfactory answers.  At the end of the day, some will accept in faith that one day all things will come to light and truth and perfect understanding will be theirs. Others may turn away in doubt and disillusionment and ultimately in disbelief.

The disciples’ question is just another way of asking, “If God is good, why is there so much hurting and suffering in the world?  Why does a good person die at a relatively young age? Why does an older person sometimes have to endure days and weeks and months of agony before they find release from their suffering?  Why are there disasters like earthquakes and floods, hurricanes and mudslides, tornados and tsunamis that cause death and destruction and disrupt people’s lives for many months afterward? Why do good people get malignant tumors and heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease and die in automobile accidents? Why is our world being turned upside down by something we can’t see like the covid 19?  Why do Spring Breakers continue to party?

In one of the most ancient of all biblical writings, Job screamed his “WHY?” to God through clenched teeth in the midst of personal disaster. One answer some have offered is that our personal and universal calamities are expressions of God’s displeasure with our world or with our actions. That was the answer Job’s “friends” gave him. They said, “It’s not hard to figure out, Job. You must have done something that made God angry. You said something, or did something, or maybe even just thought something that God didn’t like, and this is what you get for it!

Job didn’t care much for that answer, and neither do I. Although the Old Testament writers did speak often of God in terms of anger and discipline, they ALSO continually praised God’s mercy, love and kindness.


How often did the prophets urge the people to choose whom they would serve? God’s love and justice requires that God’s power be restrained in order that we may be free to decide for ourselves between good and evil, between loving God and rejecting God. God chooses NOT to be all-powerful in relationships with us because God does not want puppets or programmed slaves.


Unfortunately, many have been deluded into believing that being a Christian should automatically make us immune to the temptations and the consequences of giving in to them.   God never promised us a carefree, painless existence. The problems and puzzles of life, the unfairness, and the pain are things that we have to work through and think about and pray about if we are to be truly human.  Indeed, Jesus promised his followers that as long as they were in the world would have tribulation.  But he charged them to be of good cheer for he had overcome the world.

The cold hard facts are that we live in a world of trouble and sickness and disease.  We live in a world of people who thirst for power over other people. These things come not from God but from human perversion and greed and rebellion against God.

Jesus chose to confront the troubles of this world, to bear the pain and the burden, to take them to the cross of Calvary, to redeem and to save us from ourselves.  To do that, Jesus sometimes broke the rules.

When Jesus met the blind man he decided this was a day to break the rules.

It was the Sabbath day. The disciples pointed out this blind man and with a little spit and dirt and a loving touch, Jesus restored the man’s sight.

You would think that the people of faith would rejoice and celebrate this miracle performed in their very midst, right?  But it was not so.  A theological debate breaks out about why Jesus shouldn’t heal a man born blind because it was on the Sabbath and you weren’t supposed to do work on the Sabbath.  They mount an investigation. They call in the blind man and grill him.  Then they call in the man’s parents as witnesses.  They call the blind man in again.   And the man replies, “Look, I really don’t know how to answer you. All I know for sure is that I was blind until Jesus came along, and now I see.”


There is much irony in the story of the healing of the man born blind. The one who was born blind learns to walk in the light, while those who were gifted with normal sight choose to live and remain in darkness because of their spiritual blindness.

When we consider our own calling to “walk as children of light,” it’s easy to recognize which character in the story we ought to imitate. Like the man born blind, we too have been restored by our encounter with Jesus. We too have been saved by God’s free grace, and our eyes have been opened to see the world in a new, counter-cultural way. The challenge before us is how do we respond to this miracle in a faithful manner, whatever the risk might be?

When I was 19, (Ahem) almost 50 years ago, I took a summer job at the Lighthouse for the Blind.  I taught music and drama to about a 20-30 children from ages 6 to 15.  Some of them had been born blind.  Some of them had varying degrees of limited sight.  Some had very thick glasses. Some wore dark sunglasses.  Charles was about 8 years old and wore dark sunglasses and played the piano and reminded me of another Charles, Ray Charles.

When I started working with the physically blind at the Lighthouse I was physically sighted, but spiritually blind.  I knew about Jesus, but I didn’t know Jesus. I enjoyed working with them.  We loved singing together and doing skits.  I loved taking them on field trips.  I took them bowling.  We went to Galveston.  (I wore my glasses in the Gulf so I could keep track of them, but I got hit by a wave and lost my glasses—it was a case of the blind leading the blind.  I’m glad I wasn’t driving the bus home) I even took them to a Disney movie starring a teenage Kirk Russell called Now You See Him, Now You Don’t. It was about a teenager who invented a formula that allowed him to be invisible.  We sat on the front row and I described the movie as it went along. 

That was a pivotal summer for me. Through working with those precious children who couldn’t see, my spiritual eyes were opened.  I once could see, but I was blind, but then I could really see!   

Hebrews 12:1 says Faith is assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things….not seen.  Through faith I discovered what I had long hoped for and became convinced of what I could never have seen with the naked eye. 

I believe that God expects us to ask “why” sometimes. But I also believe that in order to see the answer (when there is one) we need spiritual sight to overcome our spiritual blindness.  

We need spiritual insight to first notice the Influences around us and be aware and attuned to which ones are good and which ones are bad.  We need the spiritual insight as to why those influences are trying to lead us astray.  We need the discernment that will enable us to follow those that will lead us to do God’s will instead.  We need to understand the impact that those influences can have on our lives for the better and we need to seek to be a good influence on others and ignite that spark for others.

Let us pray to seek God’s influence as we live out our relationships, as we do our daily work, as we care for those entrusted to us. Let us pray for God’s insight to show us the world beyond our own immediate needs and to know what forces are trying to influence us one way or another. . Let us pray that God will impact us and open our eyes that we may see others as they truly are, and that we may see ourselves, not only as we are, but as we may yet, by the grace of God, become.  

When moments of spiritual blindness come in your life, as they almost certainly will; when doubt causes you to fear; when sorrow shakes the very core of your belief in God; when scoffers embarrass you and mock you; call upon the Lord to give you the strength to live out your calling to be the light of the world Jesus challenged us to be.  Not everyone will be healed of physical blindness. Jesus showed us that not everyone can be healed the same way. But through Jesus, all of us have the potential to be healed of our spiritual … blindness.   

Let’s pray.

 Forgiving God, in a world filled with so much pain, we would rather shut our eyes and be blind than see things as they really are. Grant us the courage to face the reality of our world, and give us the strength to bring your light to those who walk in darkness. Help us see others as you see them, and forgive us when we do not trust you enough to open our eyes to the possibilities before us. Heal our self-inflicted blindness, O God, and lead us in the footsteps of the Light of the World, who reveals your glory in his life, his teachings, and his love.  Gracious God, we are grateful for all that you have done for us, for all that you are doing in us, and for all that you will do through us.

Open our eyes to see your presence among us, moving in powerful ways at all times and in all places. Open our ears to hear familiar words in new ways—ways that will change us and challenge us to become the people you created us to be. Open our minds to receive your word.  Open our souls to sense your touch.  Open our hearts to feel your love.  Open our hands to receive your gifts and to share them with others.  Grant us the power and the courage to come out of the darkness and into the light of Jesus Christ that we may serve you by serving others.  

Faith Lift: Act Accordingly!

Every time an angel shows up in scripture some of the first words spoken are, “Fear Not!”  An angel appears to Zechariah in the temple to tell him that he and his wife will have a son and says, “Fear Not!”   An angel appears to Mary to tell her she is going to be the mother of the Messiah and says “Fear Not!”  Shepherds were tending their flocks in the fields when an angel appeared to tell them about Jesus being born and they started their message with, “Fear Not!”   When the women came to the tomb on the morning of the third day after Jesus was crucified there was an angel that said, “Fear Not!”

Angels strike fear in the hearts of men and women when they appear. However some of us are afraid to BE angels–to BE messengers of God’s good news. The word angel literally means “messenger.” Hidden within the word evangelism is the word “angel.” “Ev-angel-ism.” An evangelist is a good message deliverer.  In that sense each one of us can be angels—if we carry the message of the good news of Jesus.   

Some of us are afraid to be angels. We don’t take the message of God’s love to others because WE are afraid. We are afraid of what they might think of us.  We are afraid that we will hurt their feelings. We are afraid that we will turn them off.  We are afraid that they will ask us something we can’t answer.  To that I say, “Fear Not!

I love it when Beer Commercials tout the merits of their beverages as being better than their competitors.  At the end of their pitches some of them say, “Drink Responsibly.” In the midst of our days of being scared by an unseen virus we need to Fear Not!  We also need to “Think Responsibly.” 

Our Faith teaches us not to fear.  Our minds teach us to take precautions.  We can do both. In the face of this unseen virus we are not to fear.  We are to use our minds to protect ourselves and especially protect those who are most vulnerable.  So we decided after worship last Sunday that we will not gather to worship for at least the next 15 days.  We will be exercising physical distancing, but not social distancing.  We will still keep in touch through phone, calls, emails, social media, and especially prayer until such time we are able to gather together again.  I believe that when we do we will have a greater appreciation for our ability to do so.

We do this not out of fear, but out of respect for one another.  We do this out of compassion for those who are ill.  We do this to do our part to prevent the spread of something we cannot see.  We do this to be able to BE ANGELS, to be EvANGELists who will be able to bring the good news of Jesus love for all people as long as we can.

We do this because we want to obey scriptures injunction to fear not!  We do this because we want to do everything in our power to love courageously.  We do this because we want to use the minds God has given us to beyond the Beer Commercials injunction to drink responsibly and use our sound minds to think responsibly and  … and act accordingly. “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  2 Timothy 1:7

Prodigals

Luke 15:11-32 – March 18, 2020

Jesus told stories.  Those of us in the church have a spiritual name for them. We call them parables.  But they’re really just stories.  One of Jesus’ best known stories, one of his greatest hits is found in Luke 15:11-24. It’s the story that’s come to be called the parable of the prodigal Son, but I believe there’s more than one prodigal in this story.

Let’s pray.  God we thank you that you are so merciful and forgiving, loving and just, righteous and caring.  We thank you for your awesome power and your omniscient presence and that no secret is hid from you, no country too far and that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus.  We thank you for this parable which gives us insight into who you are and how much you love.  Amen.

***

The teacher was reading this story of the prodigal Son to his class, clearly emphasizing the resentment the older brother expressed at the return of his brother. When he was finished telling the story, he asked the class, “Now who was really sad that the prodigal son had come home?” After a few minutes of silence, one little boy raised his hand and confidently stated, “The fatted calf.”

Jesus never uses the word “prodigal” in the telling of the story.  However, through the years this adjective has been tacked on to the younger son as an apt description of his actions.  In reality, the word “prodigal” is an adjective that means “to squander or to be recklessly extravagant.”  

Sons don’t have the corner on prodigalness. There are prodigal daughters and prodigal mothers and prodigal fathers too. We all have the potential to become … prodigals. 

When the son came to his father and asked him to give him the portion that was coming to him, he was essentially asking for his share of the estate that would come to him upon the death of his father.  According to the custom of that day, the eldest son would always get a double portion of the estate.  So, dividing the estate between the two brothers would mean that the elder brother would get 2/3rds and the youngest would get 1/3rd.  What the impatient younger brother is saying to his father is, “I can’t wait around long enough for you to die.  I want my third now!” 

This son is the poster child for selfishness and self-centeredness.  He valued his father only for what he could give him.  He wanted to do his own thing, to find himself. 

It didn’t take long for the son to turn his share into traveling money and he took off for a far country.  Jesus’ hearers would have thought of such exotic places Italy, North Africa, Egypt, or Babylonia.  Maybe it was the stories of such places that filled the young son’s head. I think he’d been talking to one too many travel agents.

In this far country, being a stranger and far away from the friends he has known all his life, the only companionship the young son had was what money could buy.  As long as there was money to spend, there were people there to help him spend it.  (Amen?)  Jesus’ description of his full-time occupation in that country was that he “squandered his property on loose living.”

Jesus doesn’t say how long it took to through his inheritance.  But he does say that when it was gone, and the son went to look for a job, it was a time of famine.  Here was a former farmer looking for work in a foreign country that could grow no crops.

At his wits end and driven by hunger, the son accepted the most humiliating and repulsive form of labor for a good Jewish boy.  He took the only job left–that of a swine herd.  When he became so hungry that he began to fancy the pig slop, he knew he was in trouble.  That’s when he “came to himself.” 

This is the pivotal verse of the passage.  The word Jesus used here is a medical term used to describe someone coming to his or her senses after fainting.  The pig slop served as his “smelling salts”, and he finally “came to.

What is most important to notice about the prodigal’s realization is that in that very moment he repents of the sin done to his God and his father.  He is sorry for his sin.  Sure, he doesn’t like the situation he is in, but the situation has served to help him realize his sin.  His situation serves notice to him and wakes him to the gravity of what he has really done.

Sometimes it’s good for bad things to happen, because bad things have a way of getting our attention. Sometimes we have to fall in order to bring us to our senses.  Some times people have to get to the bottom before they will look up.  When things are going great we don’t feel a need for God.  When our pockets are full and our friends are plenty we don’t give God a second thought.  While it was sin that led the son to leave the father, it is the CONSEQUENCE of his sin that drove him back. (As an aside let me say that I think that we have a new problem today in that many prodigals are staying in the pig slop and emailing Dad to send them some of their older brother’s money!)

This was not the case with the prodigal in Jesus’ parable though.  He did “come to” and he headed home.  The first step on the road back to God is not easy. It requires being humble enough to admit that we have blown it. The difficulty arises because we forget the mercy of God and the depth and strength of God’s love.

The younger son’s “coming to” was not merely the recognition of his miserable circumstances, or that his daddy’s servants were better off.  He now becomes the poster boy for self-examination.  He began to see the truth about himself.  Notice as the son rehearses his speech; his first confession is to God. There are no excuses.  He doesn’t try to pass the blame on bad luck, bad investments, or bad choices of friends.  He fully shoulders the blame and is willing to suffer the consequences from God and from his father. He arose and went home. 

It’s not enough to be sorry. He had to turn around and go home.  He had to risk rejection, to risk returning.  He now is the poster boy for repentance.

When he returns he can’t get the words of his repentance speech out before he is lavished with love from his father with hugs and kisses and a robe and a ring and shoes. 

The youngest son wasn’t the only prodigal in the story.  The father in the story was as prodigal, as squandering and recklessly extravagant with his forgiveness as the son was with his inheritance.  He wouldn’t stop giving, even in the face of rejection.  He held no grudge.  He was filled with sheer joy to see once again the son he loved enough to let go.  He let him go because to have him of his own free will was far better than having him against his will.

That’s the real point of Jesus’ parable.  No one is a hopeless case.  No one is so far gone that he or she can’t come back home again.  No situation is so dark that it cannot be used as “pig slop smelling salts” to bring those in the far country to their senses.  There is no such thing as “sweet smelling salts”.  To do their job, smelling salts have to stink!

The far country is not inhabited by only run away sons.   Maybe you didn’t have a loving earthly father or mother.  Maybe you never knew your earthly father or mother.  Whatever your relationship with your earthly parents, don’t make the mistake of letting their treatment of you keep you in the far country away from the God who does loves you so much.  Don’t let the disappointment of earthly parents keep you from knowing the love of your heavenly parent.

In reality, no earthly father is as forgiving as the father of Jesus’ parable.  Only God could be that forgiving.  And that’s precisely the point of the story.  Jesus isn’t telling this story to comfort and encourage his hearers that if they just pray their sons will come home again.  He is saying that we, we who are fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, we are the sons, and God is the father in the story.  God’s forgiveness is complete.  When we repent our sin is forgotten and we are restored to full membership in His family.

Verse 1 and 2 of the chapter tell us that this story was one of three stories that were told to Jesus opposition—the “holier than thou” guys. Jesus tells this story to make the goody two shoes realize that they are just as bad off as being knee deep in pig slop.  They are lost as a goose, and God is the loving father who loves them AND the tax collectors and the outcasts, and wants to forgive all of them and is ready to run to meet any of them when they are ready.  

To make his point, Jesus adds an epilogue encounter between the older brother and the father.  The loving father wasn’t through running to meet sons that day.   The older brother comes in from the fields and hears the party.  He asks what is going on and a servant tells him that his little brother is back and that his father has thrown a party for him.  He is so incensed that he refuses to go in the house.  And so the father leaves the porch for the second time that day.  He comes to his older son and hears these words,

“Look all these years I have worked for you like a slave, and I have never disobeyed your orders.  What have you given me?  Not even a goat for me to have a feast with my friends! But this son of yours (notice that, he won’t even acknowledge that he is a brother to this man) this son of yours wasted all your property on prostitutes and when he comes back home, you kill the prize calf for him! 

The Father answered, My Son, you are always here with me and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be happy, because your brother was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but how he has been found.

The older son represents those we call “good.” He reacts the way many good folks tend to react. Yet he refuses to forgive.  He is jealous and bitter about his Dad’s mercy.  It is evident that his devotion to his father has been motivated in part, by self-interest.  Because he is self-centered, he cannot forgive and forget the sin of his younger brother.  He even disowns his brother when he says, “This son of Yours.”

Luke does not give us the Pharisees reaction to the parables of Luke 15.  We don’t know if they “got it”, and changed their attitudes toward tax collectors and outcasts and prodigal little brothers. 

But as is the case in much of Jesus teaching, whether or not the original audience got it, one of the reasons it was written down was so that we could.  God is the horizon scanning father.  We are the sons. 

Some of us were lost because we willfully defied God and obstinately asked for our inheritance because we couldn’t wait to have our way and have our fun.  Some of us never left and were still lost, even though we couldn’t dream of thinking that we weren’t.

We once were lost, whether it was in the far country or the back forty, but now we’re found. No far country is too far for God.  No back forty is too close for God.  A return to relationship with God is always possible. 

If you know someone who is still lost, whether they are in the far country or the back forty, pray for them.  Pray that they will come to their senses and return to the Lord.  If you dare, pray that some dramatic circumstance will be their smelling salts to make them come to too!

Maybe the someone you suspect is lost is you.   Pray to the Lord.  Come to your senses.  That’s what senses are for–coming to them.  Turn around and head for home.  The Lord is on the porch, ready to run to meet you more than half way.  The Lord is on the porch ready to coax you out of your pout.  Whether you return from the far country like the younger brother or from the back forty like the older one, God is ready to be prodigally extravagant with grace and mercy.  The robes and rings and shoes are ready…There’s a Party awaiting all …..prodigals.

Almost all of Jesus’ parables have a surprising twist at the end.  For those of you who have read all the way to the end, here is a bonus post to hopefully add a little cheer to your day in this time of hunkering.

        Prodigals in F –by Paul Land and Jim Gill

1  .Feeling footloose, frisky, feather-brained fellow                                                                                      

Forced his fond father to fork over his fortune and fled. 

     Frittering his fortune, feasting fabulously with faithless friends

     Fleeced by folly-filled fellows, feeling fairly famished,

     Finally found flinging food in a filthy farmyard.             

     Fantisizing filling his frame with foraged food from fodder   

     fragments,

Finally, frankly facing facts, the

          Frustrated fugitive found forlornly fumbled fooey (fooooey)

          Father’s flunkies fare far finer          fumbled fooey (fooooey)

          Father’s flunkies fare far finer 

2.  Filled with frustrated failure, fear and foreboding,

     Fled forthwith to Fort Worth to his father for forgiveness

     Fell at his feet saying, “Father I have fruitlessly flopped

     Forfeiting family favors.”   But the

     Farsighted father, forestalled the flinching, frantically                              

     Flagged flunkies to fetch a fatling..

     For a feast is far finer than a fist from fault-finders                              

     For this fugitive is found..

          Finally frankly feeling festive ….the

          Forgiving father finagled a fiesta for family (faaamily) my

          Folly-filled fugitive in Finally free

          Finagled a fiesta for family (faaamily) my

          Folly-filled fugitive had found his future … with a

          Forgiving father.

Let’s pray.

Lord, help us to trust you.  Help us to have your ability to wait out those who have run to the far country.  Help us to be faithful in our prayers for them until they “come to their senses”.  Keep us from harboring the attitude of the religious goody two shoes that prompted these parables.  Give us arms that are wide open to all people. 

Through Christ you have granted your creatures the hope for new life… The old has passed away; behold the new has come.  We no longer fear the wilderness, or aimless wandering. Tempted by forces beyond our control you have sent us a Savior, who has passed through the wastelands and has borne our sins for us. 

You have opened the doors of your heaven and warmly embraced your returning children. Our feet are made light by your Spirit within us.  We can run and not grow weary. We can walk and not faint. 

Assured that you await our return from our ventures, we shall be bold while we journey in faith here on earth.  We shall strive to be your ambassadors of reconciliation. Help us to act for justice and reach out in compassion to neighbors so that we can join in the angel’s joy over those who repent and return.

Faith Lift: Small Steps

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon it was a seminal moment. The world was watching. We didn’t have 24 hour news stations, but the news stations we had were tuned in. We’ve 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 Newtown and Parkland and …. Santa Fe and far too many other tragedies. We remember, but we must forget.

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 can’t let our past failures hold us back from trying again.  We can let our past successes tempt us to rest on what worked then but is not working now. 

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. But we can’t 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’t 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 went on to other things. He remembered that step, but he forgot it also.

As we move farther into this season of Lent we will be remembering and forgetting. I have many things that I remember and many that I forget. I remember the places I’ve served. I’ve had success. I’ve failed. I’ve tried things. Some have succeeded. Some have not. I remember, but I also forget. I press on. I look forward to pressing on as I take many more … small steps.

Living Water

Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:1-30 – March 15, 2020

I think most folks are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan.  This morning we’re going to read the story of the BAD Samaritan…and the GoodShepherd who came to seek and to save the lost. Hear the word of the Lord from the gospel of John, chapter 4:1-30  

I thank you for coming this morning.  We don’t know what the days ahead hold for us. I saw on last night’s news that there are 4 cases of corona virus in Montgomery County.  

My friend Eric Folkerth, a Methodist pastor in Dallas wrote, “Because of the lack of wide-spread testing, because we don’t *scientifically* know just how widespread this pandemic goes, churches, schools, community groups, etc…are making the decision to close to the public.

Spiritually, God does tell us to “Fear Not.”  But God also gave us our brains. God gave us our ability to reason. And, above all, God gave us the ability to look beyond ourselves and to do what’s best for the COMMUNITY, not our own selfish wants and desires.”   

We need to “Fear Not, Think Hard and Act Responsibly.”  Joyful Life’s Church council will meet after church today to make our decision about what we will do in the days to come. Today has been designated as a National Day of Prayer and pray … we will. 

Jesus said to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, MIND and strength.  Our minds have given us Science.  Science is our friend. Science tells us that our bodies are 60% water. Human beings crave closeness to water. Maybe that’s why so much of the earth’s population hugs the shorelines of its continents. Maybe it is because we started our life in water, living in it and breathing it for our first nine months of life. Maybe it is because almost none of us get the recommended daily 60-70 ounces of water we need to be optimally hydrated, so that whether we recognize it or not, our bodies are constantly thirsty.  One of my disciplines I am observing this Lent is to fast from sodas.  Instead I’m drinking tea and water and I’m amazed at the difference it makes.  Last Sunday I had a Diet Dr. Pepper because as I explained at our Ash Wednesday service that there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  So we get Sundays off. Sundays don’t count in the 40 days of lent….. When I took my first drink of Diet Dr. Pepper last Sunday it burned.  I remember using coca cola to clean off the acid off my car battery and it makes me wonder if I’ll go back.  How thirsty am I?

Jesus was thirsty.  He and his disciples have been traveling for some distance. His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. Rather than go around Samaria, Jesus makes a point to going through it. He sits down by a well- known well–Jacob’s well. When a Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water Jesus asks her for a drink. 

There were not only strict rules about Jews and Samaritans not talking with one another, there were also rules about men and women not talking with one another.  Because of this, the Samaritan woman is surprised, and somewhat rude.  When she somewhat curtly turns aside his request for water, Jesus turns a seemingly chance encounter into an opportunity for change.

For a Jew to have any close physical contact with a Samaritan, drinking water from a common bucket, eating a meal together, would make him ceremonially unclean. (They practiced anti-social distancing) The daily prayer of a Pharisee would say, “I thank God that I am not a woman, Gentile or Samaritan,” and would pray that the Samaritans not be included in the resurrection

Jesus says to this Samaritan woman, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  

She responds to his offer asking for some of what he has so she won’t have to come to draw water in the heat of the day when no one else would come. When Jesus tells her to go get her husband and she says she is single, Jesus agrees and says that he knows that she’s been cast aside 5 times by previous husbands and isn’t married to the one she is with now.  In those days, in that culture, women had no say when it came to divorce.  All a man had to do to divorce his wife was to say to his wife in the presence of some other men, “I divorce you. I divorce you. I divorce you.” The fact that 5 men had divorced her must have meant that she had something going for her that after the first one divorced her 4 others would not have married her (It could also explain why the sixth was not yet committed.)   

The woman tries to change the subject to a religious discussion. “Sir,” the woman says, “I can see that you are a prophet.” And she tries to shift the discussion to a theological argument about where and how to worship.

Jesus was a prophet, all right, but he was different than any other prophet the woman at the well would ever encounter. He was breaking all the cultural taboos. When he clears up her misunderstanding about worship she counters with a mention of the Messiah who would come and how he would explain everything Jesus says, “I am he!”

This is one of the most dramatic moments in Biblical history. Jesus lets his true identity be known. He doesn’t reveal his identity to the Sanhedrin or at the Temple to the priest. Jesus ushers in this glad news through this outcast among a people of outcasts.  Who are the outcasts today? 

This is startling even to this day–not what it says about Jesus, but what it says about us. How did we as a faith community miss the Gospel so completely? How did we become so judgmental toward others? How did we allow ourselves to shut out those of whom we disapprove, when time and time again Jesus did exactly the opposite? 

A pastor in Brooklyn got a telephone call from the local funeral director who said that he had a funeral that nobody wanted to take. None of the ministers in the area wanted anything to do with this funeral. The man had died of AIDS. This pastor decided to answer the call to serve. 

He said that when he got to the funeral home there were about 30 men. They never looked up at him. Their heads were down and they stared at the floor the whole time he spoke. After the funeral service was over they got into the waiting automobiles and went out to the cemetery. He stood on one side of the grave with the undertaker and the men stood on the other side. They were frozen in place like statues as he read Scripture and prayed. They lowered the body into the grave and the pastor pronounced the benediction. He turned to leave and then he realized that none of them were moving. He turned back and asked, “Is there anything more I can do?”

One of the men said, “Yes. They always read the 23rd Psalm at these things and you didn’t do that. Would you read the 23rd Psalm?”  He said, “Certainly.” And he did.

Then one of the men said, “Would you read to me and to all of us that passage that talks about the love of God, that nothing can separate us from the love of God?”

The pastor read, ‘Neither height nor depth nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come, neither life nor death, nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”

The pastor said nothing was more thrilling than to say to these men, who had been so ostracized and hurt by the church, that God still loved them and that nothing could separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (1)

God’s grace and love is available to all–to the Samaritan and the Jew, to the native and to the immigrant, to male and female, young and old, short and tall, red, brown and yellow black and white ..  all are precious in his sight.

When Jesus’ disciples returned from the town they weresurprised to find Jesus talking with a woman. When they came she left…and she left the reason for which she came.  She left her water jar. For her, drawing water from an earthly well was no longer a priority. The woman who shied away from people because she wanted to avoid their scorn was now energized to tell others, the very people who had hurt her, that she had found the Messiah.This woman becomes a recipient of God’s grace and becomes a vehicle of grace to guide others to the Master.Her whole town spent 2 days listening to Jesus and they too came to experience the same living water.

That’s what Jesus offers us as well —life-giving, life-renewing, life-refreshing water that satisfies our longings in life, living water that nourishes our innermost selves, that comes from an active, living trust in God and a passionate faith in Christ.

We need this kind of water. We need this kind of trust in God. We need this kind of faith in Christ because without this living water, our lives are like a desert. We need to draw close to God, open our hearts, and allow the waters of God’s love to flow within us and nurture that fragile planting of faith into fruit.

For far too many, the choice is to satisfy thirst by drinking from the sugary fountains of the world around us–trying to quench our thirst with the things around us. We try to fill ourselves with the drinks of power, possessions, and popularity. We think that personal pleasure can give us lasting satisfaction. We hope that power and prestige will fill us up.

But if power could produce peace of mind, then there ought to be a lot of contented people in Washington DC. If prestige could satisfy, then there ought to be a lot of satisfied people in Hollywood. If possessions could produce happiness, then our world ought to be filled with nothing but joyful people, because no one can dispute that we have more possessions than any generation ever before us.

But this world is not filled with satisfied, contented people. Because none of the “p” words — power, prestige, possessions, popularity, or personal pleasure — none of them can truly satisfy the thirst in our souls. Our thirst is for truth and meaning. Our search is for purpose in life that cannot be found in material possessions, carnal pleasure, or worldly power and prestige. Those streams do not contain living water. Those who drink from those streams will thirst again. Nothing short of living water that flows from a real, living relationship with God can satisfy. 

Anne Lamott, in her book Traveling Mercies, describes a time when a fellow church member told about adopting her son through an organization called ASK, Adopt Special Kids. Part of the adoption process included filling out a questionnaire checking yes or no to one’s willingness to adopt babies that had been born addicted, terminally ill, with physical “defects,” or mental disabilities. She and her husband had checked every category down the list.

Lamott’s pastor said that God, too, is like an adoptive parent who says, “Sure, I’ll take the kids who are addicted, or terminal. I pick all the mentally challenged kids and of course the sadists. The selfish one, the liars . . . I choose them. I choose the disobedient ones and the terrified ones, the self-indulged ones and the trouble-makers, the damaged ones and the unlovable ones. In love, I choose them all. I will be a parent to them all. I will end their separation and bring them home to me.” (2)

Inside the statue of Lady Liberty there is a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus.  She wrote it to help raise money for the pedestal on which the statue rests. Her poem is titled, “New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!  (3)

The Woman in the harbor beckons all to come. The woman at the well beckoned those who had previously shunned her to come and come they did and they too received what we all need to receive which can give us even more than the daily recommended 60-70 ounces of water we need to be optimally hydrated. The previously “Bad Samaritan” is a “Good Example” to us that anyone who is thirsty is invited and welcome to come and drink from the well that never shall run dry of … living water.  1. “30 Good Minutes”, Chicago Sunday Evening Club, 20062. Traveling Mercies  Lamott, Anne (New York: Anchor Books), pp. 254-255. 3. “The New Colossus”  Emma Lazarus

Let’s pray. Dear Jesus.  Thank you for seeking us out.  Thank you for making a special trip to see to it that you had a divine encounter with this precious woman.  Thank you for making a special trip to encounter each one of us.  May we take to heart your example.  May we give up on judging a book by its cover or a person by their past. May we see others through the eyes of the gospel, the evangel, the good news that no one is too far gone to be beyond your love and mercy and grace.

Lord, free us from our prejudices and our tendency to judge others without knowing them. Make us thankful for every follower of yours that you have sought out and rescued.

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