Vision on the Mount

Exodus 24:12-18, Matthew 17:1-9 — February 23, 2020

Our Scripture lesson for the day from the Gospel of Luke describes something that has only happened once and has never happened since. What we are going to read about this morning is what we have come to call, ‘The Transfiguration.” Please stand as we hear the word of the Lord.

Let us pray. O Lord our God, You are great indeed, clothed in majesty and splendor, wrapped in light. In the solitude of a mountain height you revealed your glory in Jesus Christ. We praise you for this glimpse of the mystery of our redemption. Let your love shine in all we do and say that the world may see the radiant reflected light of God.

For Kawai Leonard, last Sunday night was a mountaintop experience. He was the Most Valuable Player of the NBA All Star Game. The Sunday before, the Oscar winners had theirs. My article last week pointed out that actors are people who get paid for playing at being someone they are not. They have the ability to transform themselves to become the characters they play.  

As actors age, some will alter their faces hopefully to their advantage.  Sometimes the change is not just in looks but in their whole image—including their names. Issur Danielovitch Densky changed his image by changing his name to Kirk Douglas. At the Oscars he was honored posthumously having lived to 103. Archibald Leach became Cary Grant. Frances Gum transformed her image and changed her name to Judy Garland. She was honored by the Best Actress Oscar going Rene Zellwegger who portrayed her life. (Should Rene have changed her name?)

What happened on the Mount Hermon was much more than a transformation. It was much more than a name change to make a potential star more appealing. Jesus’ was transfigured. His transfiguration didn’t change who he was into someone more appealing.  It revealed who Jesus really was and it was jaw dropping. It was earth shaking. It was a mountain top experience on a real mountain.

Once I was visiting with a friend as he prepared for his heart bypass surgery and he was showing me some pictures of a visit to Hawaii. In one of the pictures he showed me he was on a mountain and it looked like he was surrounded by fog. I said, ‘Boy that was a foggy day.” He said, “No, those are clouds.” He was on a mountain in the clouds. 

The Bible has a number of Mountaintop experiences. It was on Mount Sinai (SHOW SLIDE) that Moses received the 10 commandments. Matthew says that Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.” It brings to mind how Moses’ appearance changed when he came down from his encounter with God on Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. “Moses did not know that his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining and they were afraid to come near him.”

The other person that appeared with Jesus was the prophet Elijah. Elijah had a mountain top experience on Mount Carmel when he had a showdown against 450 prophets of Baal. The prophets of Baal called upon their gods for the better part of a day to bring fire on their sacrifice but to no avail. But when Elijah called upon God fire came down from heaven and consumed Elijah’s sacrifice and the water in the trench around it.   

This morning’s passage takes place on a different mountain-Mount Hermon. This month we’ve been looking at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is Jesus’ VISION on the mount. This is Jesus’ Power Point demonstration of his power to make a point.

This Vision of Jesus on the mountain top was so fantastic that Peter said, “Let’s build 3 booths, one for you one for Moses and one for Elijah. Here Peter sees Jesus AND Moses AND Elijah and says, “Let’s build Mount Hermon World!” Bless his heart. But Jesus refused the luxury of staying in this mountaintop away from the hassles of the masses. He had a mission to accomplish. So as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision.”

In the gospels, we see how many times angels spoke to people in dreams. Angels spoke to Joseph 3 times. Angels spoke to the magi men in a dream. But on the mountain top Peter James and John saw a vision. A vision is a “when you’re awake” dream.

What did this Vision on the Mount mean for Jesus and for Peter James and John?  Physically they were on the top of a mountain. Maybe they are a little out of breath from climbing. Maybe, what they saw took their breath away. Jesus is flanked by the two most famous men of the Jewish Faith, the greatest lawgiver and the greatest prophet. Matthew doesn’t record anything that Jesus or Moses or Elijah say even though he says they were talking with each other. The only words that were recorded were God’s, “Listen to Jesus. Don’t listen to Peter.” You can’t stay on the mountaintop.

What did Jesus say that they or we should listen to him? When Jesus was asked which the greatest commandment was, he said, “The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength. A second is like unto it.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two hang all the law and the prophets.” Everything Moses wrote—the law, and everything Elijah did, hang on loving God and loving our neighbors and loving ourselves.

The fact is not everyone will “see” visions. Jesus took only three out of the twelve to be with him on the mountain. That’s only 25%. Those who do see the visions though, should receive them gladly and share what they saw with those who didn’t. In the church those who haven’t seen the vision must trust those who have seen and listen to them and follow them.

This Vision established for Peter James and John that Jesus was greater than the greatest men the nation of Israel had ever produced. These three would need to remember this vision as they saw Jesus fulfilling his mission. The Vision on the Mount revealed who Jesus really was. The Mission on the Cross revealed what Jesus came to do—to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. When Peter James and John saw Jesus beaten, and scourged and dying on the cross completing his mission, they would need to remember the Vision on the mount to make sense of something so horrible.  

We might be tempted to think that a life-transforming experience couldn’t possibly happen to us. We could block out the vision of who we are to be and what we are to do with our own prejudice, or preconceived ideas, so that no new light could shine in upon us. But I say, never count yourself out. You have as much going for you as did Peter, James and John; you have their testimony of what they saw. Peter, James, and John were privileged to see the Vision on the Mount because they climbed the mountain. They didn’t wait for the mountain to come to them.  

I believe God still gives “I better pinch myself I must be dreaming” visions today. What is your vision of who God is calling you to be in this part of God’s world? What is your vision of this church’s mission?  What do you see this church becoming?  What do you see yourself becoming?  Who are the 25% of this church?  What vision are they seeing for the future of this church?  Do you and will you trust them and follow their lead?    

I’m sure that part of your vision of who you are and who we are as a church involves worshiping in our sanctuary, but it also has to involve leaving our “sanctuary” and getting the gospel back out on the road.   I love what you have written above the door as you leave, “The worship service has ended, your service is beginning.”

The church is so much more than a building to enter and exit. In a sense it is impossible to go to church.  We are the church wherever we go—beyond going to this building to going to your home, to your office, to your gas station, to your classroom, to your community.  The Greek word from which we get the word “church” is “ecclessia.” It means the “called out.”  “Ek Caleo.” We are “called out” ‘of the world to gather here to worship. But then we are “called out of worship to return to the world to serve and witness and call others out to join us.”

Yesterday I asked a pointed question on Facebook. By what authority can Renewal by Anderson declare that February is National Replacement Window Month? And why do they have to do it on Black History Month? In January we celebrated the life of a man who took Martin Luther’s name as his, Martin Luther King Jr.  Since this is the last Sunday of Black History Month and since this morning we are talking about mountaintops, I want to share a portion of his last sermon. 

He said,   

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now-because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any [man]. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”   

The next day he was assassinated.  

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that has grown into a Vision.  That Vision grew into a movement. The Vision on the Mount revealed to Peter James and John who Jesus really was and has grown into a movement. They obeyed Jesus and didn’t tell anyone else about the vision until after Jesus’ mission was accomplished. But now, they have told us what they saw through these gospel accounts.  What remains is our response to what those three saw the day Jesus said, “Follow me, and took them up to a mountain top. What remains is what we will do having been let in on their privileged information.

How will we respond to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount AND his Vision on the Mount? Is Jesus just another lawgiver like Moses or just another prophet like Elijah? Or is he one upon whose words and actions hang ALL the Laws and the Prophets. What remains is OUR response to this Vision on the Mount. What remains is our answer to the question…what will you do….what will we do with this Vision? How will we put our gifts into play with our feet on the ground informed by what Peter, James and John saw in their Vision on the Mount.

Let’s pray. Dear Lord, You are so marvelous, so stunning, and so brilliant. During your life among us your glory was cloaked, subdued. We couldn’t have handled seeing who you really were all that time. Thank you for this episode in your life, for trusting 3 of your friends with a vision of who you really are. Thank you that YOU resisted the temptation to stay on the mountain top with Moses and Elijah and that you came back down to our level and gave your life for us and fulfilled your Mission to take away our sins. Having given us a glimpse of your glory this morning, fill us with your Holy Spirit so we can glimpse a vision of who you are calling us to be and the mission you are calling us to fulfill. In Jesus name we pray.

Faith Lift: 42

Jackie Robinson

I’m a native Texan.   Naturally, I grew up playing 42. It’s a game played with a standard set of double six dominoes for four players, two sets of partners.  In 2011 it was designated the official State Domino game of Texas.   One Labor Day weekend my dad, mom, sister, and I played 100 games of 42.

There was a movie called “42.”  It wasn’t about dominoes. The movie 42 was the story of Jackie Robinson who was the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era.  On April 15, 1947 he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. 

As a pastor, one of my favorite scenes took place during one of Jackie’s first games against the Philadelphia Phillies.  At Jackie’s first at bat the Phillies manager, Ben Chapman, hurled racial slurs (in addition to having his pitcher hurl high inside heaters) at Jackie.  It distracted Jackie to the point that he flied out to the catcher.   Jackie was so frustrated that he took his bat into the hallway behind the dugout and shattered it into several pieces.  The owner of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey, who was a Methodist, met Jackie in that hallway.  He challenged Jackie to get back on the field.  He challenged him with these words.  “You are living the sermon.”

Jackie played for 10 seasons.  He played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Championship. (He stole home in Game 1). He was selected for six consecutive All-Star Games, from 1949 to 1954 and was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947.  In 1949 he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award—the first African-American to be so honored.

Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. In 1997, Major League Baseball “universally” retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams, the first pro athlete in any sport to be so honored.  On April 15, 2004, Major League Baseball has adopted a new annual tradition, “Jackie Robinson Day”, on which every player on every team wears #42.

One of my other favorite lines in the movie was when Branch Rickey was weighing which player to bring to the Dodgers.  He was asked if he wanted someone who had the courage to fight back.  Rickey said, “I want someone who has the courage to NOT fight back.”

Sounds like someone I will be preaching about last Sunday. In Matthew 5:39 Jesus said, “But I say to you, Do not resist and evildoer.  But is anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”   (I hope you were able to come and hear my lengthy explanation of this prescription). Come to think of it, the movie 42 was about dominoes.  Like a roomful of dominoes standing on their ends in a conga line around a room, Jackie Robinson was the first domino to fall that opened the way for Major League Sports to be integrated.  The abuse he took and his perseverance in the face of it was his contribution in our nation’s struggle for Civil Rights that we are remembering this Black History month of February.  Would that more and more of us would “live the sermon” that was preached by the man who wore 42 .”

Faith Lift: Hypocrites in Recovery

Human beings are naturally self-centered.  In fact so are other animals.  No one gives a hot dog to one dog among 3 and expects him to share.  This trait manifests itself early in life. Infants and toddlers expect, even demand, to be the center of attention. 

As the world seems more complex and threatening, we are tempted to turn our focus inward. Fear causes us to focus on ourselves. Self-centeredness also stems from a lack of love.

Social commentators tell us that more and more Americans are judging laws, social policies, careers, and the like by this one question: What’s in it for me?

Whatever the reason, no one can argue that much of our society chooses to “look out for number one.” And this attitude eventually spills over into our worship of God. We want some return on our investment here!  If we are going to pray, we want others to praise our eloquent speech. If we give money, we want a mention in the newspaper or a nice plaque in the entryway.  If we fast, we want folks to point to us as a good example.

But Jesus says, “Don’t look for go tooting your own horn when you give to help others.”  Don’t make a show of your prayer life by trying to outdo each other with heaps of words and flowery phrases, and when you fast don’t put on the “poor, poor pitiful me” look and call attention to yourself.  When it comes to treasures on earth, don’t keep on renting storage spaces to hold everything you ever gotten. 

Jesus had a word for people like that.  He called them “hypocrites.” The word hypocrisy means, simply, “putting on a mask.” One scholar suggests that Jesus himself coined the word, borrowing it from the Greek actors, or hypocrites, who entertained crowds at an outdoor theater near his home. Back then, a hypocrite was a person who put on a mask to play someone he was not. Is that why revelers don Mardi Gras masks?

Jesus doesn’t want us to make a show of our faith. Jesus wants us to be authentic in our commitment to him. That’s what Ash Wednesday is all about. That’s what Lent is all about. It’s about dropping the pretense. It’s about living the Christian life to the best of our ability and not worrying about what the rest of the world thinks. It’s about dropping the masks. It’s about becoming “recovering hypocrites.”   

Over these next 40 days I hope you will find something that you will GIVE UP that will help you LIVE UP to your calling and bring you closer to the One who has called your name.  I hope you will Give up and Look up and Rise up and Raise up your hopes, your joys, your dreams, your vision of who God is calling you to be, and who God is calling us to BECOME as his people who welcome people of all kinds into God’s family, even at the risk of welcoming and helping a few “hypocrites in recovery.” 

Response Ability

Deuteronomy 30:11-20, Matthew 5:21-42 – February 16, 2020

I have to say that this morning’s passage would not be my first choice for a “two days after Valentine’s Day Sermon.  A sermon on murder, anger, adultery, lust, divorce, and swearing is not what I would call perfect timing for Valentines. Last week we read that Jesus said he didn’t’ come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  In today’s passage in each case he refuses to stay at the level of outward keeping of the law but goes a layer deeper to the inward emotions and intentions that motivate our outward actions. How we do that depends on our ability to respond to what comes at us. It depends on our Response Ability.

Jesus begins with “You have heard that it was said to the men of old do not murder. But I say everyone who is angry shall be liable to the judgment.” The word anger here is in the Greek present tense here means habitually or continually angry.  Anger, when not dealt with quickly and constructively, has an amazingly negative effect. It goes deeper. It burrows into the soul and corrupts everything it touches. It is not enough to avoid murdering someone; underneath outward violence is an inward anger with which Jesus wants us to deal.  

Have you noticed how angry people seem these days? We have road rage, grocery store rage, little league parent rage, texting during the movie previews rage, and even reclining your seat on the airplane rage.  We might be able to avoid killing someone, but the underlying anger can lead us to kill their reputations, kill their spirit, or allow our anger to kill something within us.  Anger can not only affect our relationships with each other, it can affect our relationship with God.  Jesus says it’s not enough to give offerings.  If we are not holding on to our money but holding on to a grudge or bitterness between us and another person Jesus says we are to go and make right our relationship before we give to God. In an angry world, we have a wonderful opportunity to offer an alternative. But if we are just as short-tempered as the world around us; if we are as quick to take offense, or to get mad over the smallest personal issues, what good are we in a world that is looking for answers and finding few? (1)

Next, Jesus moves from murder and anger to adultery. There’s an old joke about Moses coming down from Mount Sinai and he said, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news.   The good news is I got it down to 10.  The bad news is, “do not commit adultery is still in there.” 

It is not enough to avoid adultery; we must avoid what is underneath the act– is the attitude and habit of lust. Lust takes what God intended to be a permanent bond of soul-to-soul and makes it into a temporary contact of skin-to-skin. In the taking from another person, something is taken from them as well.  He is saying that adultery is not only a sin in the bed; it is a sin in the head. It cannot only take place behind the curtains of a bedroom; it can take place behind the shades of one’s soul.

The Greek word for “sin” here as in “causes you to sin” is a word that gives us the English word “scandal”. It was used as a bait stick that would spring a trap whenever an animal would touch it. In other words, anything that morally would trap you or cause you to fall into sexual sin, should be eliminated.  Don’t undress a man or a woman in your mind as you look at them. Don’t linger at the magazine rack or rent x-rated videos, or bring things into your home on television or through your computer that would cause you to fall into sexual sin.

When Jesus talks about cutting off a hand and plucking out an eye I don’t think Jesus meant this literally. If he did, the world would be filled with left-handed pirates. (place left hand over right eye) In Jewish culture the right eye represented the person’s best eye. The right hand represented the person’s strongest hand. What Jesus was saying was, “You better give up anything you have to give up to protect your heart, your body, your soul, your purity, and, if married, your marriage.”

Martin Luther once said, “You may not keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” The Lord is not telling us to cripple ourselves, but to control ourselves.  Shall I preach on?

Jesus next saying closely follows his warnings about adultery.  You have heard it said of old, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.  But I say…..  Jesus wants his hearers to go beyond the provisional excuse of a certificate that Moses allowed because of their hardness of heart to fight against the inward emotions and attitudes that would move people to not honor their marriage vows.  Those who pledge marriage vows pledge more than forsaking all others…they pledge to be there for each other for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in the days of youth and in the days of old age.   There are more ways to be unfaithful to vows taken than adultery.  I believe Jesus is arguing for compassionate, ethical treatment should a relationship come to the point of a divorce.

Jesus goes on to say that the same goes for all those other oaths and promises you make.  You make vows in the name of Jerusalem, or in the name of Israel, or in the name of Abraham. No more! Don’t swear by these.” Everyone knew very well that any vow made in one of these names could be broken. They were promises that were kept unless something else, more favorable, came up. (or in the case of divorce unless someone else more favorable came along)  Jesus is saying we should forget all this making and breaking of vows and promises, whether it is in business, or in marriage. We need to let our ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and our ‘No’ be ‘No.” It’s not enough to avoid making promises you can’t keep.  If you commit to do something say yes and do it.  If you can’t commit to do it, say no and find something you can commit to do. The issue here is not only marriage, but your “word.” In a marriage relationship, or in business, or in living day-to-day with the people around you, your “word” must stand. (2)

Now here is where today’s lectionary ends.  Because next Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday and the following Wednesday will be Ash Wednesday and we start running headlong into lent, I will not have the opportunity to finish this part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Shall I preach on?  (Preach On) Hear verses  38-39.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (vv. 38-39)  Most people are right handed, and backhanded slap with a right hand would naturally go to someone’s right cheek. Jesus was saying if someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn and let him do the same on your left.  It’s only an insult.  If you insult him back he’ll insult you back and on and on and on.  Let me emphasize that Jesus was not dealing with passivism. He was talking about personal revenge, not social justice. In other words, you never get even by trying to get even. I think it is also worth noting that Jesus suggested two cheeks, not dozens of them.

“If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” (v.40) The situation that Jesus describes was very common in Jesus’ day. If one person took another person to court, and the person did not have the money to pay the judgment, the court could order payment of the lawsuit in clothing. You could take the man’s tunic; you could take the man’s shirt, but you could not take his coat. The shirt was a type of tunic that was worn as an undergarment. The coat was an outer garment that served as a blanket at night. Jesus goes beyond both the law of the land and the Mosaic Law. In a situation like this when you give more than you are asked, you are showing that you regret any wrongdoing on your part; you are showing that you have no bitterness toward the other person, and you are showing that you want to make things right. There are times when you should not see how little you can give, but how much you can give.  Jesus suggests giving one’s ONLY coat if it will be a positive witness.                  

“And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” (v.41) Remember that Israel was occupied territory. By law a Roman soldier could compel a Jew to carry his weapons, or his knapsack, or any burden that he had, one mile. It didn’t matter whether the Jewish person was working in his field or on his way to the synagogue to worship, the Roman soldier had the right to conscript this man and force him to carry his burden. Every Jewish boy had marked off one mile from his house and had memorized the exact distance. Whenever a Jewish boy or man was compelled to go that mile, he would walk that mile down to the very foot, put that burden down, and with a bitter look on his face make the point “not one foot more.” But Jesus said, “Don’t go just the first mile that you have to go, go the second mile that you don’t have to go.” The first mile is the lone mile; the second mile is the love mile. The first mile is the slave mile; the second mile is the smile mile. There is something more important than quitting time. There is something more important than getting every little second out of your lunch hour. There is something wonderful about someone who goes beyond and above what is asked for, or required, or expected, just as a habit of life.

“Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” (v.42) A man came by the church on Thursday and asked if we had a coat. He was on foot and was wanting to go to College Station.  I told him we didn’t have any coats and I didn’t have mine that day. I explained that I was new and that SOS might have something and told him where I thought it was.  He asked me to pray for him and I did.  Then he went on his way.  I got to thinking about him and decided to see if I could catch up with him. I got in my car and he hadn’t gotten far.  I invited him in the car and headed for the Giving Center which I had heard about from the SOS director.  On the way I called SOS but only got an answering machine.  I decided to go to the Thrift Store that SOS runs.  Maybe they could tell me where the Giving Center was.  When we got there they said the Giving Center was only open on Friday and Saturday.  So we looked and found a coat for him there. Well I had come this far so I decided to take him to 290 and so at 2920 and 290 I dropped him off at …wait for it…Loves’ Truck Stop.  I got to give an extra coat, drive some extra miles and say goodbye at Loves.

”You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (v.43-44) There are people we have hurt. There are people around us, often close to us, who have hurt us.  There are bullies lurking at every school. There are parents who abuse their children. There are children who make life miserable for their parents. There are spouses who break their marriage vows. The workplace can be a hostile environment. Some of us can still hear those jeers and remember our tears.  But Jesus calls us to go beyond loving only those who loves us back. The best way to destroy your enemies is to make them your friends.

Loving our enemies is not becoming a doormat to violence and force. In fact it is quite the opposite. Martin Luther King Jr., in Loving Your Enemies, said, “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as cooperation with good.” (3)

This section ends with Jesus’ challenge for us to be perfect. These words of Jesus set a high bar to clear.  But the word for perfect here is teleos: meaning completeness, wholeness, maturity. The whole point Jesus is making in these challenges is that none of us can ever be without sin. Jesus taking the law one step farther and one layer deeper makes that point.  But we can be complete, whole and mature by seeking God’s grace and forgiveness for when we fall short … and get up and try again.

Now that I think about it, these words of Jesus are a great first choice for a sermon delivered two days after Valentine’s Day.  These words tell us how to love.  These words tell us who to love.  These words tell us to not murder AND to guard against the anger that lies beneath such drastic actions.  They tell us to make things right with others who might have something against us BEFORE we make our offering.  They tell us to remain faithful in all our vows.  They tell us to our job and fulfill our vows to the best of our ability. They tell us if we make a pledge, to honor it.  They tell us to turn the other cheek, give an extra coat, go the extra mile, meet an extra need, extend a hand of love to an enemy and you might just wind up making an extra friend.  Friends, know that when these challenges come, through God’s power we have the Response Ability.

Let us pray.  O God, you are just and you treat your people with fairness.  We have heard and learned your commandments; how you desire us to love our neighbors; how you called for justice and mercy rather than mere rites and rituals; how in our search for your justice we should show kindness, not a spirit of reprisal.  We still have a way to go in our quest of commitment and growth.  Help us to learn from children what it means to have faith.  May we not be afraid of dependence when it comes to trusting in you.  Let us learn from our enemies what it means to forgive.  May we not be so sure of ourselves that we condemn others whom you also save.  Let us learn form the foreigner what it means to dwell in a strange land, and offer hospitality to the rootless, the homeless and the estranged of this world.

Continue to nourish and sustain us so that we may mature according to your desiring for our lives.  We are your agents in bringing others to faith.  May our lives be for them an example of the confidence and endurance that come from the assurance of Jesus’ love.  May our care of and compassion toward them be a constant reminder of your abiding presence, and may our ministry to them be evidence of the fruit of an obedient life.

  1. Sondi Wright, “He Was Full Spectrum,” Rolling Stone, March 2005, 52.
  2. TIME’S UP!, JOHN B. JAMISON, C.S.S. Publishing Company,
  3. Loving Your Enemies  Martin Luther King Jr.

Salt & Light Living

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12) Matthew 5:13-16, 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16) — February 9, 2020


Israel has strictly followed the law regarding fasting, but God seems not to take notice because they were pursuing their own interests, quarreling and fighting and oppressing others.  God prefers they fast from those activities. Hear the word of the Lord.


In Matthew’s account of the “Sermon on the Mount,” immediately after Jesus lays out his “blessed be” Beatitudes, he lifts up two metaphors of how disciples of the kingdom will be known to this world. They will be the “salt of the earth,” they will be the “light of the world.” Hear the word of the Lord from Matthew 5:13-16

Let us pray.  O Lord, your word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  Illumine these words of yours to point the way you call us to live and the difference you expect us to make in our world.   As we meditate on these challenging words, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight our Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.

It was the first day of class at the University.  The teacher came in and welcomed the students and said, “Now I want to lay down some ground rules. First, since no one has the truth, you should be open-minded to the opinions of your fellow students.”

At that point a young lady named Elizabeth raised her hand.  She asked, “If nobody has the truth, isn’t that a good reason for me not to listen to my fellow students? After all, if nobody has the truth why should I waste my time listening to other people and their opinions? What would be the point? Only if somebody has the truth does it make sense to listen to them don’t you agree?”

The teacher said, “No, I don’t. Are you claiming to know the truth? Isn’t that a little bit arrogant and dogmatic?”

“Not at all. I think it is dogmatic and arrogant to assert that there is not one person on earth who knows the truth. After all, have you met every person in the world and quizzed them exhaustively? If not, then how do you know? In fact, I believe it’s the absolute opposite of arrogance to say that I will alter my opinions to fit the truth whenever and wherever I find it. If I happen to think that I have a good reason to believe I know the truth, and would like to share it with you, why won’t you listen to me? Why would you automatically discredit my opinion before it is even spoken? I thought we were supposed to listen to everybody’s opinion?”

The teacher in a fit of frustration said, “Well, this is going to prove to be an interesting semester.”  Elizabeth said, “Ain’t that the truth?.” 1

When I was a student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary from time to time I would wander across the street to the campus of the University of Texas.  I remember that on one of the buildings at the UT campus they record the second half of one of Jesus’ sayings on one of the buildings.  It says, “The Truth shall set you free.”  That’s the second half of Jesus’ statement.  Jesus full statement was, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”  I guess there wasn’t room to carve the whole quote in stone, but I believe we really need the whole quote.  We need to continue in God’s word to know the truth…then the truth we learn there will make us free.  Truth alone will not make you free.  Being Jesus’ disciples and getting in his word is what will make us free.  If you are a criminal, the truth will lock you up.  Sometimes, unfortunately, even if you are not a criminal a lie will lock you up.  This week a man was released from prison after spending 25 years for a crime that he didn’t commit.  He refused a plea deal after 3 years that would have let him out, but he spent another 22 years in prison because he refused to lie and admit to doing something he didn’t do.

Think about the crowd to whom Jesus delivered this sermon we started reading last Sunday with the Beatitudes. Those to whom Jesus was speaking didn’t have any theology degrees. It wasn’t a gathering of the United Nations; it wasn’t the Congress or a Parliament, or even a City Council.  It was a crowd on a hillside in a tiny spot of land called Palestine. It was a group of common people living common ordinary lives. They were under occupation; they couldn’t make their own laws; they couldn’t plan their own futures; they couldn’t determine their own destinies; yet Jesus unloaded some truth on them when he said, “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world!”

In the ancient world salt was a valuable commodity, not uncommonly used as a bartering agent. Some workers were paid with salt. The word “salary” is derived from the word, “salt.” Persons wanting to buy something in the ancient world would pay for it with salt, in the same way we use money today. People treasured salt as we might value gold or silver. In my Dad’s day if he thought someone had done a good job he would say, “He’s worth his salt.”  Now I know what he meant.

Salt was such a valuable commodity because it was used to preserve food in the days before refrigeration. Today, persons who butcher their own meat often use salt to preserve it. Salt was also used as an antiseptic to clean out wounds. This sounds painful, but cleaning out a wound with salt was very effective in fighting infection.  Today, we think of using salt in a wound as adding on something that caused additional pain.  “That’s like adding salt to the wound.”  It hurts, but sometimes, hurts heal.

In Jesus’s day salt was not pure salt like we have today, but was harvested with other natural substances that could and did go bad. It was full of impurities, and if it was stored in a damp place, the moisture leached away the sodium chloride, leaving only the worthless residue to be tossed out on the road. When that happened, the salt was useless. There was no way to restore the lost taste. “But if salt has lost its taste,” Jesus said, “how can its saltiness be restored?” The only thing to do with such salt is to throw it away. It is no longer valuable; it is worthless. “It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.” 

Our identity in Jesus is primary, and if we weaken and lose our identity, then we forfeit our mission; we become, as he said using the strongest language, foolish and dumb. If read literally in Greek, the second phrase in verse 13 if not but if the salt has lost its taste but if the salt “has become a moron!” It’s clear from the punch line that Jesus is not speaking about salt but people!   In our calling to be the salt of the earth we are to preserve the earth and heal the earth. 

Secondly, Jesus also declared to his followers, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill is seen for miles in all directions. Jesus was instructing his followers to allow their light to shine in a dark world so folks could find their way home.  Their homes were generally dark. They usually had one small window. Once home, light was a luxury. Their light consisted of a lamp which was a bowl filled with oil that had a wick. The most difficult part of having this light in the house was of course lighting the lamp. Remember they didn’t have matches or lighters.  They had flint or 2 sticks to rub together.  As a result, no one wanted to let their light go out because it took too much work to light the wick again.  However, when people went out of the house it was dangerous to leave the lamp burning. So, for safety reasons, when they left their homes the lamp would be taken from its lamp stand and placed under an earthen vessel where it could burn risk free.  As soon as someone returned to the house, they would return the light to its stand so it could shine to its maximum.

Light does not just banish darkness and illuminate corners and crevices, light also works to provide a new perspective.  Light can put our experiences and perceptions into “a new light.” To be a disciple of Jesus, of the kingdom of God, is not just to be a focused beam of light. To be the “light” that Jesus challenged his disciples to be also means to continually put a new light, a new perspective, on all the world, to willingly “change up” the “game plans,” the “paradigms,” that we are used to living by every day.

I read a story of a business executive who left his office late one night. He was tired, hungry, and thought maybe he I’ll just get some sleep on the train while in route to his home. Two stops into his journey, a father with two young children comes into his train car. The children proceed to run up and down the aisle, making a lot of noise and disturbing everyone. Sleep was not possible.

At first, the businessman fumes silently in his seat. Then the anger builds and he becomes so irritated at the father for not controlling his children that he gets out of his seat and accosts him.

“You really should teach your children better manners. Besides, it is not just a matter of behaving badly; it is not safe while the train is careening down the tracks to have them running up and down the aisles.”

The father took the criticism in stride and replied sheepishly, “I’m sorry. You are right. I should be insisting they behave better, especially in public. But we’ve just come from the hospital, where their mother has died suddenly tonight. And the children are in a state of shock, and don’t know how to react. In fact, I don’t know how to react, so I’m not on top of things right now like I should be. I’m sorry, sir. Thanks for waking me up to my responsibility.”

In a flash, everything changed. The businessman shifted from being angry and annoyed to being sympathetic and helpful. He saw his immediate reality in a “new light.” Suddenly that very weary commuter train-traveler was seeing someone the way Jesus saw everyone—the way Jesus sees everyone—the way Jesus sees refugees—the way Jesus sees you and me.

The light Jesus calls his disciples to shine out into the world is a light that also illumines sin and suffering. It is a light that knows judgment, yet offers love. It is a light that sees deserved condemnation, yet extends the commitment of God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness. It is a light that shines to reveal the truth.

John Stott, from Great Britain and a leading Reformed theologian, has these challenging words to say to the church today.  He writes, “You know what your own country is like. I’m a visitor, and I wouldn’t presume to speak about America. But I know what Great Britain is like. I know something about the growing dishonesty, corruption, immorality, violence, pornography, the diminishing respect for human life.

Whose fault is it? Let me put it like this: If meat goes bad, there is no sense in blaming the meat. That is what happens when the bacteria are allowed to breed unchecked. The question to ask is, “Where is the salt?”  If the house is dark at night, there is no sense in blaming the house. That’s what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is, “Where is the light?”  If society becomes corrupt like stinking fish or a dark night, there’s no sense in blaming society. That’s what happens when fallen human society is left to itself and human evil is unrestrained and unchecked. The question to ask is “Where is the church?” (2)

This week I shared a meme on Facebook about four chaplains. Last Monday marked the 77th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Dorchester and the heroism demonstrated by four chaplains who were credited with the saving of more than 200 lives. The Dorchester was sunk on Feb. 3, 1943, while transporting troops to an American base in Greenland. A German U-boat fired a torpedo that struck the ship, killing 672 of the 902 officers and enlisted men, merchant seamen and civilian workers aboard. As those aboard rushed to lifeboats, Methodist Rev. George Fox, Jewish Rabbi Alexander Goode, Dutch Reformed Rev. Clark Poling and Roman Catholic priest Father John Washington comforted the wounded and directed others to safety. When the supply of life preservers was exhausted, the four Chaplains removed their own life belts and gave them to four soldiers and then stood calmly on the sinking ship, their arms around one another’s shoulders and their heads bowed in prayer.  When giving their life jackets, Goode did not call out for a Jew; Washington did not call out for a Catholic; nor did Fox or Poling call out for a Protestant. They simply gave their life jackets to the next man in line. One survivor would later call it “the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”

The four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart. Congress wanted to confer the Medal of Honor on them but was blocked by the stringent requirements which required heroism performed under fire. So a posthumous Special Medal for Heroism, The Four Chaplains’ Medal, was authorized by Congress and awarded by President Dwight Eisenhower on Jan. 18, 1961. 

Like those that heard Jesus’ declaration that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world, we are called to actively respond to the words they heard and follow their example and go into our world to be salt that adds flavor to a world losing its sense of what is in good taste, to a world that need healing of wounds, to a world that needs preserving. We are called to be light to a world that needs new light to shine to dispel the darkness, to a world that needs new light to be shed on the needs we can meet and the sins we can combat to bring reconciliation and restoration.  We can live out the scriptures by taking it on ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples by continuing in his that we will know the truth and the will make us free—free to be– salt and light and to be examples of Salt and light living.

1. ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., ChristianGlobe Illustrations, by James Merritt 

2. The Salt of the Earth, John Stott, adapted by Adrian Dieleman, ChristianGlobe

    Networks, Inc.

Let us pray. Lord, may we be salt to those who have lost the sense of good taste.  May we work to preserve the goodness you have instilled in the world and to clean and the wounds that we have inflicted.   May we be light to those who have lost their way or only known darkness because of our hiding our light under a steeple.  Help us to believe what you believe we can do through the power of your Holy Spirit and the strength that comes from pulling together with one another. May our witness ring true as we face the world.  Save us from shrinking when we meet the slick arguments of the defenders of the status quo.  Be behind us when we become fearful and our footsteps lag.

Lord, as we go forth to serve you let our days reflect the brightness of your light that breaks forth like the dawn. Use us to loosen the fetters of injustice upon those oppressed by poverty, harassment, or abuse.  Let us take their yoke upon us that we may share in their burden and lighten their load. Give us the goodness to divide our plenty with those who are hungry.  We thank you for the blessing we have received and dedicate the food and money we have brought for the Souper Bowl of Caring this morning.  May hunger be curbed and may it prompt a hunger for your word that will bring truth that brings freedom. Free us from our love of goods and comforts so that we can take the risks and endure the rigors of service to a needy world. 

Faith Lift: Gamble on God

In case you haven’t heard, I did not win the lottery.  I did not win because I did not purchase a ticket. I decided to keep my dollar. As one man said, “I went to Las Vegas recently. I lost my car, I lost my watch, I lost my money. I lost everything but my good-luck charm.”

Gambling is a serious issue in our society. Once restricted to such tourist destinations as Las Vegas and Atlantic City, its presence is becoming commonplace on cruise ships, Native American reservations and in convenience stores through state lotteries.  There may even have been some office pools over the event last Sunday Night.

Even though it is acknowledged that recreational gambling takes money from the very people in our society who can least afford it and inevitably brings in its wake an element of unsavory behavior, it is promoted as a painless way to support schools and to fund other government programs. It has become part of the quick-fix, no-fault, minimum-commitment mentality that grips our society today.

Anyone who seriously follows Jesus though, gambles on God.  When you put your life in God’s hands, God does not provide you with a written guarantee of safe passage through life. That’s what it means to walk by faith. “Faith,” says the writer of Hebrews, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

If we know beyond all certainty what lies ahead for us, we are not living by faith. Faith is the courage to follow God’s leading even though the way ahead is uncertain and treacherous.  There is a stairway at a church where I used to serve as a pastor that has this saying on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  When I visited he Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington D.C. I learned that it is one of his famous quotes.

We know about God today because of men and women who were holy gamblers, who believed in God and trusted God and sacrificed their time, their gifts, their resources and in some cases, their very lives. But they did it with only an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things unseen.  So you could say that I am a gambler.  But I choose to gamble only on the sure things…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. I choose to gamble on God.

Faith Lift: May We Live in Such a Way

This prayer is one that I submit as a follow up to my last Sunday’s sermon

Lord, teach us the difference between being happy and experiencing joy.  Adjust our attitudes to realize we have nothing without you in our lives, and that we are blessed when we’re on top of the world and when we’re down in the dumps because you are with us in both places and everywhere in between.  Teach us to work for peace among our brothers and sisters and our neighbor nations. Teach us to accept the fact that when we do that we will be persecuted for it, as were you even to the point of death on a cross for our sakes.  Adjust our attitudes to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that God’s people really are poor in spirit because we’ve learned to trust in God and not in our own wisdom or power.

May we live in such a way that others will see that we can feel the empty places in our lives and can let others know when we are hurting and share the grief of others without embarrassment. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that we have come to the place where we don’t have to be the strong one all the time and we can be tender and gentle with others and have given control of our lives to God and don’t have to “win” all the time.

May we live in such a way that others will see that God’s people do hunger and thirst after righteousness because they, too, dream of a day when God’s justice will prevail for all people everywhere.

May we live in such a way that others will see in the way we live that God’s people are merciful because we have received God’s mercy and know how wonderful that is. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that we have come to the place where we can be completely open and honest with God and others.

May we live in such a way that others will see that God’s people are peacemakers because we do more than Pass the Peace on Sunday mornings but we Make the Peace in our world because we have received the peace of God in our hearts. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that we have come to the place where we know what we are living for and are not afraid to suffer for it and are willing to “take the heat” and stand alone for what its right. Lord help us to live in such a way because we have had a change of heart.

Change of Heart

Micah 6:1-8, Matthew 5:1-12 — February 2, 2020 Sermon

“Have a blessed day.” How does being told to have one of those change your life? Were you not planning on having one until the checkout clerk told you to?     I guess it’s an improvement from “Have a nice day.” or the innocuous, “Have a good one.”  What does it mean to be blessed?  What does it mean to have a blessed day?  What does it mean to be the kind of people that God blesses?

This opening section of Jesus Sermon on the Mount has been called the “Beatitudes.” Notice that each one of the Beatitudes is in the present tense. It is not a prescription for how to be blessed or how to “have a blessed day.” Each of the beatitudes congratulates the believer on the blessedness he or she is already experiencing!

Some think that the message of the Beatitudes is that, if I do these things well enough, then I will be blessed. But f we take the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and turn it into a new law, another burden we must carry to earn the title of disciple or bear the name Christian, or to earn God’s blessing we will have misread his intent. It is not a prescription of what to do to earn God’s blessing it is a description of what life looks like from living in God’s family. It’s not a “prescription.”  It’s a “description.”

I like the way the New Living translation puts these beatitudes.  It’s not past tense something that has happened.  It is an active present tense–“God blesses those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” William Barclay says this verse means, “God blesses those who have realized their own utter helplessness, and who have put their whole trust in God. Those who do that will have two things: they will become completely detached from things, for they will know that things have not got it in them to bring happiness or security; and they will become completely attached to God, for they will know that God alone can bring them help, and hope, and strength. 1

God blesses those who mourn. Just last Sunday I came home from church last week and read that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash last Sunday morning along with his 13 year old daughter and 7 other people.  He was 41 years old.  He had all kinds of accolades from his years in the NBA with the Lakers and since, but in a flash he was gone

On Friday January 24th at 4:30 a.m. the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing Plant exploded in the Spring Branch area of Houston.  For 9 years I was the pastor of John Knox Presbyterian that was in that neighborhood.  The church sustained some damage and several members lost their homes. There were 2 fatalities and 18 folks were injured and over 450 homes and structures damaged. Tonight I will be doing a program at KPFT radio with the pastor of John Knox church and the pastor of Spring Branch Presbyterian who will be hosting a concert next Wednesday to raise money to help those who were affected.

There are many things to mourn, but we are blessed to know that as we do, that we do not do so alone. 

God blesses those who are humble. Tomorrow, only one team will earn the right to go to Disneyland.  Traditionally the winner of the Super Bowl has been known to say to the camera, “I’m going to Disneyland.”  The other team will have been humbled in defeat.  But hey, they didn’t blow a 24 point lead in the first quarter.

To be humble is not to think less of yourself.  It is to think of yourself less. 

God blesses those who are merciful for they shall obtain mercy. In the original Aramaic which Jesus spoke, the word “merciful” means literally “to get under someone’s skin.” It means to wear his skin, as it were; to see life from his perspective, to stand in his shoes. It means more than sympathy; it means active empathy or merciful understanding.

Several years ago a prominent minister was holding a weekend seminar at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.  He kept noticing a man in the front row nodding sleepily. This aggravated the speaker. Preachers don’t like for folks to go to sleep on them. The speaker at Junaluska thought to himself: Wonder why the man didn’t stay home if he couldn’t stay awake? During the lunch break, a woman approached the speaker and said, “Sir, let me apologize for my husband’s drowsiness. He is undergoing chemotherapy. The doctors have given him a medication to control the side-effects, but it makes him very sleepy. I tried to persuade him to stay home today, but he said, “I must go as long as I’m able. I never know when I will no longer be able to gather with God’s people.”

Suddenly that speaker’s attitude toward the drowsy man was transformed. Why? The wife had enabled him to get under the skin of her husband and really understand him. That is the quality of mercy.2

God blesses the pure in heart. The date was June 11, 1963; the place- The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. The person–Vivian Malone, a young black woman, who enrolled that day as a freshman. Federal troops ensured her entrance, but the doorway was blocked by Governor George Wallace. Holding out for segregation, the governor ultimately failed, and Ms. Malone became the first African-American to graduate from the University of Alabama.

Years later, after an assassination attempt and a deep change of heart, Wallace was rolled in his wheelchair into the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, and there asked forgiveness. More particularly, the former governor regretted how he had treated Vivian and sought her forgiveness face to face. He wanted to make amends before he died.

At their meeting, Vivian told him that she had forgiven him years earlier. Interviewed in 2003, she was asked about the meeting: “You said you’d forgiven him many years earlier?”   “Oh yes.”  “And why did you do that?”

Her reply: “This may sound weird. I’m a Christian, and I grew up in the church. And I was taught that- just as I was taught that no other person was better than I- that we were all equal in the eyes of God. I was also taught that you forgive people, no matter what. And that was why I had to do it. I didn’t feel as if I had a choice.”

That is a beatitude! That is what it means to have the Lord’s wisdom go deeper in your soul than any of the meanness of this world. Our goal is not to seek forgiveness and reconciliation as an occasional choice but as a settled habit of character. As Vivian Malone said, “I didn’t feel as if I had a choice.” She had lived so long in the faith that forgiveness had become a reflex. 3

God blesses those who make peace. In the midst of this fallen world, shot through with evil and conflict at every level, Jesus invites us to be a new kind of people, a people who deal with God at the heart level, not just at the level of outward obedience but at the deeper level of imagination where desires and habits are transformed. We live out of a new center with a new companion. We become peace­-seekers, peace-keepers and peace-makers.  We come as more than people who “pass the peace” in church on Sunday mornings.  We come as people who “make the peace” in the world.   We become people who see possibilities others ignore and exploit them for the kingdom of God. It is only in Christ’s presence and in his service that we have the chance to become a new brand of people who offer hope to this angry, bitter, hurting, conflicted, litigious, resentful world, and to do it one relationship at a time. Unless the church is a place of honest peace, and genuine forgiveness, we have nothing to export.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst and take stands for the right thing and are persecuted for it. As we deal with the need to be popular, we need to show our children that God blesses those even when they know that they will catch some grief from their peers about it. They, too, must understand that life in the upside-down kingdom of God is not easy, but it IS worth everything that has to be endured

Maybe we’ve looked at what the world offers us – high mortgages, a break-neck pace just to keep up with the folks next door, doubts about our future in a business world filled with people just like us – and found ourselves wallowing in emptiness. Or maybe we have believed that, all by ourselves, we could solve any problem that came our way. But now we have reluctantly realized that we don’t have all the answers.  We’ve realized that we did not create ourselves and we cannot save ourselves.

If you want to change the world, ask Christ to change you first. Change MY heart.  Deal with the sinful component of my angry responses. Take time for self-examination and prayer. Put away slander, gossip and name-calling. Control my tongue. Monitor my prejudices. Be quick to confess my mistakes and seek reconciliation. We all want our way; we resent frustration; we feel angry and lash out. What shall we do with these thoughts and feelings and actions? Only one answer has promise: we take them to Christ over and over again; we ask him to deal with us on the inside so that we can be new on the outside. He can do for us what no counselor can, which is give us grace to change, often in remarkable ways, and to become a people skilled in the ways of peace.

It is the response of those who experience the blessing of God, because we have learned that no one has to face the challenges of life alone. The people of God have experienced life in a household of faith, which brings peace and forgiveness and acceptance, where mercy and compassion are the rule and not the exception, where grace is freely given and freely accepted.

One of our main tasks as a church is to pass on to others an alternative way of looking at life, a view they won’t get from society.  We need to help our children and grandchildren grow up to be uncomfortable when society tells them that the best blessings are money, good looks, possessions and power.

So it is our joyous but risky task as a congregation to create a community where forgiveness is real, where peace is genuine and healing happens, where dependence upon God and one another is seen as a good thing, where people are not afraid to be who they are because they know that the arms of the people of God will surround them and embrace them and accept them.

Can you imagine what would happen if the church really believed it was called to be a kingdom community, a place where people love one another, warts and all? Can you imagine a community where nobody really minds who goes first and who goes last because they know there is more than enough of every-thing to go around? Can you imagine a place where the mourners are comforted and the losers are accepted when they DON’T win….where they are accepted especially because they have lost or are or have been lost.  Can you imagine the one team who is grateful tomorrow morning that they DON”T get to go to Disneyland?

Know what I think? I think it just might feel like the kingdom of God. It might be a place where WE can, in the words of the prophet Micah,” DO Justice –where WE can LOVE Mercy- And we can walk HUMBLY with our God!” Then we will be more than people who quote platitudes… we can be living, walking, and talking beatitudes who will have more than a blessed day BECAUSE they have had a change of heart. 

Change my heart O God.  Make it ever true.

Change my heart O God.  Make me more like you

          You are the potter I am the clay

          Mold me and make me… this is what I pray.

Let’s pray. Lord, teach us the difference between being happy and experiencing joy.  Adjust our attitudes to realize we have nothing without you in our lives, and that we are blessed when we’re on top of the world and when we’re down in the dumps because you are with us in both places and everywhere in between.  Teach us to work for peace among our brothers and sisters and our neighbor nations. Teach us to accept the fact that when we do that we will be persecuted for it, as were you even to the point of death on a cross for our sakes.  Adjust our attitudes to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that God’s people really are poor in spirit because we’ve learned to trust in God and not in our own wisdom or power.

May we live in such a way that others will see that we can feel the empty places in our lives and can let others know when we are hurting and share the grief of others without embarrassment. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that we have come to the place where we don’t have to be the strong one all the time and we can be tender and gentle with others and have given control of our lives to God and don’t have to “win” all the time.

May we live in such a way that others will see that God’s people do hunger and thirst after righteousness because they, too, dream of a day when God’s justice will prevail for all people everywhere.

May we live in such a way that others will see in the way we live that God’s people are merciful because we have received God’s mercy and know how wonderful that is. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that we have come to the place where we can be completely open and honest with God and others.

May we live in such a way that others will see that God’s people are peacemakers because we do more than Pass the Peace on Sunday mornings but we Make the Peace in our world because we have received the peace of God in our hearts. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that we have come to the place where we know what we are living for and are not afraid to suffer for it and are willing to “take the heat” and stand alone for what its right.

Lord help us to live in such a way because we have had a change of heart..   Amen.

  1. William Barclay
  2. Bill Bouknight, Collected Sermons,
  3. Peacemaking and Self-Control, Phil Thrailkill

Faith Lift: Souper Bowl of Caring

In 1990, a seminary intern serving at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina prayed a simple prayer: “Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat,” That prayer inspired a youth-led movement to help hungry and hurting people around the world.

His prayer gave birth to an idea. Why not use Super Bowl weekend, a time when people come together for football and fun, to also unify the nation for a higher good: collecting dollars and canned food for the needy? Youth could collect donations at their schools and churches in soup pots, and then send every dollar DIRECTLY to a local charity of THEIR choice.

The senior high youth group liked the idea so much they decided to invite other area churches to join the team. Twenty-two Columbia churches participated that first year, reporting their results so a total could be determined, and then sending all $5,700 they had raised for area non-profits. 

On Sunday Night many folks will settle down with friends and family to watch men line up on each side of a hopefully fully inflated ball on every play, staring each other down, each determined to beat the other, maybe even praying they could do their best. I think it’s the Super Bowl of Staring.  

For the last 25 years, ordinary young people have generated an extraordinary $100 million of food and money for soup kitchens, food banks and other charities in communities across the country. In addition, hundreds of thousands of youth have experienced for themselves the joy and satisfaction of giving and serving, inspiring people of all ages to follow their generous example.

You know what? I don’t believe that God cares who wins the Super Bowl. God cares for the players and appreciates it should any of them acknowledge their faith… but then, God cares about those who have yet to acknowledge him. God cares about the team that doesn’t get to go to Disneyland and especially for those on either team that haven’t come to know God yet! God cares about the millions of fans that will be watching the game and the commercials. God CARES about you!

God cares about each one of you and calls each one of us to spend our lives living, in the words from Romans 12:10,“to outdo one another in showing love and honor. “ People who strive to do that are the Most Valuable Players in the Souper Bowl of Caring.

Make Disciples

Psalm 40, John 1:29-42 — January 19, 2020 Sermon

I thank you for extending me the call to serve as your interim bass player and pastor for the next six months and counting. I say “and counting” because my first call to be an Interim Pastor was at Westminster Presbyterian in Odessa, Texas in 2010. It was a 9 month call that wound up taking 10 months. When I accepted the call to be the Interim Pastor at Faith Presbyterian in Baytown in 2011 it was a one year call that wound up being 6 and a half years. (after the 1 year as interim grew to 2 years, they called me to be the installed pastor from which I retired on December 31, 2018.) This time last year I preached my first sermon as the Interim Pastor of Faith Lutheran in Dickinson. It was a six month call that grew to a 12 month stint…so that’s why I say, “and counting.”

I walked in this morning with the aid of this make-shift shepherd’s crook. I fashioned it by joining the bottom part which was a part of my wife’s Dad’s walking stick and the top part which was my Dad’s cane. For me it represents the joining of our two families, but also I think it represents our time together as your temporary shepherd. I’ve been a Presbyterian all my life until this time last year when I began a ministry as a Lutherterian. I will leave it here in the sanctuary as a reminder that the day will come when I will walk out with it. It will serve as a visual reminder to you and to me that I am your temporary shepherd. Just don’t call the person you eventually call your permanent shepherd. We all know that the only thing that’s permanent is change.

Read John 1:29-42.

Good leaders are hard to find. I thought you might enjoy a few excerpts from actual military fitness reports taken from the files of the British Royal Navy and Marine Corps. Here is how they evaluated some of their recruits: 

”His men would follow him anywhere,” says one evaluation, “but only out of curiosity.” “He would be out of his depth in a . . . puddle.”. “He is technically sound, but socially impossible.” “This man is depriving a village somewhere of its idiot.” “This officer is really not so much of a has been, but more of a definitely won’t be.” “This young lady has delusions of adequacy.” ”She sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.” “This officer should go far and the sooner he starts, the better.” “On my last report I said he had reached rock bottom. He has since begun to dig.”

These would not make good leaders. This morning I want to invite you to think with me about leadership styles. It’s an important theme in business circles today. It’s an important issue in church circles. What style of leadership is best for a new year that we are beginning? Jesus called disciples to follow him. How did he choose to lead?

King Herod gave us one model for Leadership. He was called Herod the Great by his subjects, but that was because they had little choice. Herod was the king of a small territory consisting of Judea, Samaria and Galilee. He inherited his throne from his father who had been appointed by the Romans to keep a tight rein on these contentious people called Jews. Herod was a petty tyrant and a petty man. He was about 73 years of age when the magi came to him with the news of an impending birth of a king of the Jews that wasn’t him.

When the magi from the East came to his court to see what they might learn about a mysterious star they had been following Herod instructed them to return to him when they found the child they were seeking. When they didn’t return Herod flew into a rage that resulted in Herod ordering the slaughter of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity that were two years old and under. Herod was an insecure man, a rigid man, an intolerant man. All Herod knew was the rule of force. He was a bully, a dictator, a despot. There are leaders like that in the world today. Some of them lead nations, some of them lead businesses, some of them lead churches, and some of them lead families. That is the only way they know how to lead is by abusing others. They like to make sure that others abide by their rules no matter how petty those rules may be. Here’s an example of that type of leadership. It all began a few days before Christmas. Two employees of an electrical cable plant in New Jersey donned red Santa Claus hats and wore them to work. It was a harmless enough act, perhaps a simple gesture of holiday spirit. However, a plant manager noticed the hats and called for them to be removed. They were “inappropriate for the workplace,” he said. The next day, in what became a symbolic show of support, 100 coworkers of the two original hat bearers arrived at work wearing red Santa hats. Not to be outwitted, the manager suspended all the employees. It took the intervention of the union to get the hats off and the employees back to work. The case went to arbitration. The arbitrator’s finding was insubordination by the employees. “This is a tale,” notes Joline Godfrey, a person who studies workplace behavior, “of rigidity run amok, a tale of a control freak with too much authority and too little comfort with self or others.” (1) That sounds like Herod: “too much authority and too little comfort with self or others.” That’s one style of leadership-insecure, intolerant, inflexible, and dictatorial. Do you believe in that kind of God? Some people have a really messed up picture of God in their minds and hearts. They have a picture of God that doesn’t vary too much from this profile of Herod. Their picture of God is of one of whom they live in constant fear of offending. For them God is a god whose disapproval is deadly and whose punishment is swift and without mercy. Some religious groups paint a picture of this kind of God.

There is HOWEVER, another style of leadership. It’s called Servant Leadership.Servant leadership is the opposite of Herod’s approach to things. Servant leaders identify with the people whom they lead. They do not lord it over them. Instead they are willing to get their hands dirty working alongside their people. The reality TV show Undercover Boss highlights this type of leadership. Businessman Harvey Mackay, author of the book Swim with the Sharks, tells about such a servant leader, Philip Pillsbury of the Pillsbury milling family. Mackay notes that the tips of three of Philip Pillsbury’s fingers are missing. That’s the mark of a journeyman grain miller, notes Mackay. “(Philip) Pillsbury had an international reputation as a connoisseur of fine foods and wines,” Mackay says, “but to the troops, his reputation as a man willing to do a hard, dirty job was the one that mattered . . . and you can be sure everyone was aware of it.” (2)

Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourner magazine is that kind of servant leader. We are told that Jim actually takes home a smaller paycheck than the shipping clerk, because the shipping clerk has more mouths to feed. The decision to develop a salary schedule based on need rather than position was based on the “Leadership in servanthood” model. I doubt if many corporate leaders will take servant leadership that far. But it is a fascinating concept. The thinking is that today’s better educated workforce cannot be pushed, it must be led. You don’t lead by coercion, but by example. You drive cattle, but you lead sheep.You know where I’m leading, don’t you?

Who was the greatest example of servant leadership who ever lived? Jesus. He stepped down from the throne of heaven and dirtied his hands with the affairs of humanity. The tips of his fingers are not missing like Phillip Pillsbury’s, but Jesus’ servant leadership is exhibited in the scars left by nails in his wrists and from the spear in his side. It was exhibited when he took a towel and a basin of water and stooped to wash the feet of his disciples before he shared his last meal with them.

Tomorrow is a National Holiday honoring a man who exercised Servant Leadership. The night before he was assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” King also wrote, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” (3)

God is not a God of whom we need to live in fear. God is not an insecure dictator, an intolerant tyrant. God is pure, unlimited, unbounded love. There is nothing but mercy in God. We can approach God like a loving parent in confidence and joy and in the assurance that God will never turn us away.

There is much we do not understand, but God is a God of love, mercy, hope and peace. God does not coerce by force, but leads by the example of love, the love showed by Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary. If you want a leader for your life, if you want a Lord for your life I can recommend no one better.

What does it mean to follow that kind of leader? What did he command those who choose to follow him do? When he was asked what the greatest commandment was he gave two: to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength and to love one’s neighbors as oneself. That was the Great Commandment. How do we do that? We do that by following his Great Commission–to make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit teaching them to obey all that he had commanded them—like loving the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind …AND loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

When Jesus says to make disciples of all nations the word “nations’ is ethne–the word from which we get ethnic. I can’t make a disciple of a nation. I can make a disciple of a person from a nation. Today ends a National Week of Prayer For Christian Unity. We are one of the “nations” to which Jesus referred when he gave his Great Commandment. We are a nation of immigrants. We are a nation of nations. Today, disciples of Jesus have been made from every nation on earth. Our calling is to make more.

Jay Leno, the comedian and car collector who used to host the Tonight Show once was a pitch man for Doritos. The commercial featured Jay with a bag of Doritos and his line was, “We’ll make more.”

Servant leadership is the kind of leadership that Jesus exhibited to those first two disciples the day that John the Baptist pointed Jesus out and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” Those two almost immediately brought one more. They grew to 12. They have grown to millions-millions who now follow this suffering servant leader.

Jesus pitch to us is to make more. Disciples are not born. Disciples are made. I used to teach racquetball. My goal was to teach my students how to play. Over the years I have taught teenagers to play guitar. I even once took on the task of teaching ukulele to a dozen 5 year olds … all at once. Learning to play involves mental and physical action. We have to use or minds to learn the rules of play. But we have to do more than study the rule book. We have to play. We have to use our muscles to play. We have to engage our hearts to love to play. We have to engage our souls to want to play and keep playing. We have to play by the rules.

How and when did you become a disciple? Who was instrumental in extending the call to you to follow Jesus? Following takes commitment but it takes more. It takes moving. It takes more than making a decision. It takes more than making believers. James 2:19 says the “You believe in God? Good, the demons believe in God and shudder. Being a disciples takes following up on that decision by…following. I began following Jesus some 48 years ago. I may have retired from being a full-time Presbyterian Pastor but the only time I will retire from following Jesus is when I see him face to face. Until then I, and dare I say we, have a calling to obey his Great Commandment by doing our part to fulfill Great Commission to … make more—to make disciples

Song by Pastor Jim Gill:

Make disciples, don’t just make- believers.
Go beyond being only a receiver.
Count the cost before you vow.
The call is yours and the time is now.

Follow me was his call,
and the people came from miles around
to see the miracles,
upon the hills. and by the sea
to be healed and to hear him preach.

Make disciples, don’t just make decisions.
No rash commitments, that lack the vision.
Count the cost, before you try.
take up the cross, and learn to die.
die to self, and die to sin.
Then rise again to follow him
who led the way despite the cost
who led the way upon the cross.

Follow me was his call,
and the people turned and ran away
from the miracle,
upon the hill, of Calvary
he showed his love for all to see
and he says, follow me…

You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go God is sending you. Wherever you are God has put you there and has a purpose in your being there. Christ who indwells you has something he wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in his grace and love and power.

And 2. Contemporary Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, & Writers, Craig Brian Larson, ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1996), .
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963

%d bloggers like this: