Sent

Psalm 104:24-34; John 20:19-23; Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3-13 – May 31, 2020

After appearing to his followers and his family over a period of 40 days after his Resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven.  His famous last word to them before he ascended was, ‘Wait.” For the next 10 days the disciples, and the women, and the brothers of Jesus had been devoting themselves to prayer in the upper room. It was like a huge waiting room filled with 120 people waiting for the power to be the witnesses Jesus had called them to be. Hear the word of God from The Acts of the Apostles 2:1-12

“Wait.” …… It’s a cruel word for our frenetic, frenzied, whirling, busy world. We are so impetuous and impatient. Why write it when you can phone or text it?  Why text it when you can click on the microphone on your smart phone and dictate your message? (of course you have to correct a few words that the smart phone got wrong) 

We have a hard time waiting.  Waiting for the Lord’s leading and timing is so hard, but still… Jesus said to do it: “Wait for the promised Holy Spirit.” Don’t run ahead of God, for if you run without waiting on God, you will run with your own power or worse yet with no power.

On February 2, 1985, the Daytona 500 had just gotten started when, on the beginning of the third lap, the $250,000 machine, driven by Donny Allison, rolled to a stop on the infield side of the track. When it was checked, it was found that no one had filled it with gas. (1)  

You can have the best car in the race, but you cannot win without fuel.  This morning’s lesson describes the filling of the disciple’s tanks for ministry and mission. 

This is the first thing we must notice about the church.  The source of our power must be the Spirit of God.  Jesus’ told his disciples to wait so they didn’t’ go off in their own power. He told them to wait so that when the Spirit did come they would know the difference.  At Pentecost the Spirit came. The wait was over.  The Waiting room was on fire!  What do you do when you’re inside a house and a fire breaks out?  You go outside.  Rather than go out into the world first thing on Ascension Day, at Pentecost the Holy Spirit brought the world to them.  

Through the history of the church there have been folks that have tried substitutes for the power of the Spirit.  Sometimes the church has tried to fill its tank with political power. Our laws regarding the separation of church and state are in some ways beneficial.  They keep the state from meddling in church affairs and they help the church resist the temptation of relying on political power. 

Sometimes the church has tried to fill its tank with celebrity power. Some churches bring in “celebrities” like musicians, and athletes to share their faith.  There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we remember that these celebrities are just people who are sinners just like the rest of us.  Any church that builds its faith on the power of “personality,” even and especially on the personality of the pastor, is going to have problems.  

Sometimes the church has tried to fill its tank with program power.  Some churches focus on people’s needs and develop programs to meet those needs. In many churches today you will find all kinds of 12-step groups and recovery groups and support groups, etc. All of these are good, and they are a vital part of the church’s ministry. We are here to meet people’s social and emotional and even their physical needs so long as we do not lose sight of our central reason for being. 

When it comes to finding the power to fuel our mission, we are to accept no substitutes!  Nothing in the church can substitute for God’s Spirit as the basic source of our power. If we ever become what God means for us to become, it will not be because of our politics, our personalities, or our programs, as effective as they may be. It will be because the power of God’s Spirit fills us.

Richard Lederer is the author of two books titled “Anguished English” and “More Anguished English.” People magazine did a story on him.  Their photographer asked Lederer to think about setting up a humorous, posed picture that would somehow summarize his work and lead into the article.

The solution immediately presented itself. On the outskirts of Lederer’s town stands a telephone pole with the street sign ELECTRIC AVENUE. Sure enough,

right below it is a yellow diamond traffic sign announcing NO OUTLET. (1)

This is the greatest danger for the church, that we will experience God’s electricity but that it would be trapped within our walls.  The greatest danger is that we will experience God’s power but will balk or put off using that power to share God’s love with others.

The second thing we learn from the birth of the church is that where God’s Spirit is there is unity.  Even though there were Jews of differing backgrounds, differing social classes, differing skin colors, differing national origins and who spoke different languages that gathered on that day of Pentecost, they each heard the Gospel in their own language.

The miracle of that day was not only one of speaking but also one of hearing.  It was just as much that the 120 disciples were speaking in tongues as those listening to them were “hearing in ears.” They are recorded as saying, “How is that we (plural) each one (singular) hear them (plural) in the native language of each (all 120 individuals) speaking in our own language? (all 16 languages)?  It was equally a miracle of hearing as well as speaking.

I once saw an article about The Pilot from Waverly Labs.  It is a device which when placed in a person’s ear and them paired with an application on another person’s phone allows the person with the in-ear device to hear the other person in their language.  The man that invented the device came up with the idea when he met a French girl.  In the video he gives her the device to put in her ear.  Then he clicked the app on his phone and spoke to her in English and she heard the translation from English to French in her ear. It was the miracle of “hearing in ears” all over again.

Rather than fragmenting into tiny self-serving groups, those believers and those who heard them and responded to their message were drawn into a cohesive whole.  Three thousand of the folks who heard the good news of God’s love in their own language were baptized and the church was born. One day, we are going to see how petty we have been about all the barriers we have erected between people.

There’s one more thing that the Spirit brings.  Where the Spirit is there is outreach to others.  Where the Spirit of God is, people concerned about sharing the good news of Christ with their family, their friends, their neighbors

If we are serious about asking the Spirit to fall afresh on us, we have to know that it will involve being spilled from this waiting room outside to the waiting world.  There are folks in our neighborhoods, in our offices, in our schools, in our parks and playgrounds, in our bars and our Starbucks that have not yet heard that they are loved by God.  They haven’t heard the good news of the gospel in their own language.

David Leininger writes, “In the story of the Tower of Babel that we read in chapter 11 of Genesis human pride had decided it would make a name for itself and would build a city and a tower that would be a gateway to heaven.  God would not allow such presumption so the speech of the workers was confused, they fell to bickering among themselves, and were dispersed over all the earth, and never did complete the tower. And that is why Germans do not understand French, Italians do not understand Chinese, Greeks do not understand English, and nobody understands teenagers!” 

To this day, we have problems communicating with one another. In international relations, translations often fail to convey proper meanings. Multinational corporations learn the lesson the hard way.  One man who used to be in the advertising business was responsible for the Pepsi Cola account.  He is the one who came up with the slogan, “Come alive. You’re in the Pepsi generation.”  Pepsi tried to market their product in China using the same slogan. In Chinese the meaning came out as, “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.” (2)

The Hebrew name for the festival that we call Pentecost that brought everyone to town that day is Shavuot.  It was a festival to commemorate the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai.  Do you see the connection?  On the day that Jews from all over the known world gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the giving of God’s word to them in Hebrew–God’s word was given to them in 16 different languages of their world. 

In less than 100 years the fire of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was carried as far as Spain to the west, India to the east, and Ethiopia to the south. It subsequently took several hundred years for the Gospel to arrive in the northern reaches of Europe, but it did. Because it did it came here.  Will it continue?

When I was in Odessa serving as their interim pastor we hosted a traveling troupe that performed the musical Godspell.  I offered to host 2 boys in my apartment, but a couple in the church who were going to be out of town, offered to let me host them in their house, so I got to play pool till midnight.

While we were playing pool I noticed in the corner that they had an engine from a car that Mario Andretti drove at the Indianapolis 500.  It was mounted on display on its own stand, under the TV on the wall.  A once powerful engine was reduced to a mere reminder of when it used to race. It went from a trophy winner to being a … trophy. 

The danger is that we would be like Donny Allison with a $250,000 car and no gas. The danger is that we will become like an engine mounted like a trophy next to pool table in someone’s den in Odessa, Texas as a mere reminder of when we used to race. The danger is that we will experience God’s unity among ourselves but shut out others—or shut ourselves off from others.

When the Spirit fell upon the disciples, the Upper Room could no longer contain them.  They spilled outside to where the world was waiting.  When the Spirit fell upon them the Upper Room was transformed from a Waiting Room to a Delivery Room for the birth of a church no longer needing to wait to be ….sent. 

Let’s pray. O Lord, with wondrous works and mighty deeds you continue to astound us with your grace and power.  Like the rush of a mighty wind you make known your presence, interrupting our complacency, disturbing our lethargy.  In hearing the first cry of a newborn, we sense your grace.  You dry the tears of those who mourn.  You calm the fears of those who face uncertain futures. You amaze us with wonders beyond comprehension.  We stand in awe of your majesty and give thanks for your mercy.

Fill us with your Spirit and enlarge our vision. Open our eyes to the future that awaits beyond the scope of our finite perception.  Attune our ears to your word so judgment so that we may discern our errors and forsake them. When we pursue courses of action that destroy your creation, correct our mismanagement and harness our greed.  When we thoughtlessly make decisions that cause others to suffer, convict us our cruelty and help us to right the wrongs.

Make us more daring.  Implant your commandments within us so that we cannot mistake your truth.  When we grasp after straws and are tempted to wave, balance our uncertainty with your words of wisdom. When we stumble and fall in our pursuit of justice, strengthen our weak knees and set us on our path again. Hear our prayers for those on our hearts.

Thank you Lord that because of Jesus and because of the unity that comes from the sending of the Holy Spirit that we are a part of a Big, a Huge Worldwide family.  Thank you that the barriers between races and nations, and languages have been crossed through the power of the Spirit.  Thank you for this place from which we launch our witness into the part of the world you have us in.  Thank you for the joy we experience inside these walls and for the joy of having an outlet for that joy as we are spilled from this waiting room to our … waiting world.

(1) Richard Lederer, MORE ANGUISHED ENGLISH, (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc 1993), 113-114.

 (2) David E. Leininger

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS 11:1-9

There are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. However, about 2,000 of those languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers.  According to the story I’m about to read there was a time when there was only one language.  Hear the word of the Lord from Genesis 11:1-9.

INTRODUCTION TO ACTS 2:1-12

After appearing to his followers and his family over a period of 40 days after his Resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven.  His famous last word to them before he ascended was, ‘Wait.” For the next 10 days the disciples, and the women, and the brothers of Jesus had been devoting themselves to prayer in the upper room. It was like a huge waiting room filled with 120 people waiting for the power to be the witnesses Jesus had called them to be. Hear the word of God from The Acts of the Apostles 2:1-12
 

INTRODUCTION TO JOHN 14:8-17

Even though Jesus’ disciples spoke the same language, Aramaic, they still had trouble understanding what Jesus meant.  In the midst of preparing his disciples for his arrest, crucifixion, burial and resurrection Philip asks a question that shows that he is still has not grasped what Jesus is talking about.  Hear the word of the Lord from the gospel of John 14:8-17. 

Will the children please come forward to share “Sing when the Spirit says sing.”

Let us pray. Thank you Lord for this telling of this one event that was never repeated yet bears repeating the telling of it. Fill this room and us with that same Spirit.  Move our lips to declare your glory in the languages we know and move our hands and feet in acts of love and compassion that need no words. Bring vitality to us and our world: that, being given the new possibilities that only you can offer, we may experience the abundant life that you promise through Jesus.   Amen

Faith Lift: Keep Calm?

Every year around Pentecost various signs pop up and among them I have seen one that says, “Keep Calm and Wear Red on Pentecost”.  This year I found more appropriate reminder of that special day.  Asking us to “Keep Calm” on Pentecost is like asking us to “Keep Calm” when the oxygen masks fall from above in the event of an Emergency on an airplane.  Keep calm and breathe normally?

The Festival of Pentecost was the day when all Heaven broke loose on the disciples. Originally, it was a Jewish Festival that took place 50 days after Passover.  It was a celebration that attracted Jewish visitors from all over the known world to Jerusalem.  But 50 days after the last Passover Jesus celebrated with his disciples before he was crucified, that Festival became the birthday of the church.  The Holy Spirit came upon the huddled disciples in the Upper Room and they were anything but calm.  They spilled out into Solomon’s porch and the rest is history. They had a Holy Spirit Fire Drill!

This Sunday, for the first time since March15th, some of us will gather in a room to celebrate Pentecost, the day that the Holy Spirit descended on the gathered disciples and filled them with the power to share the good news of Jesus with the world.

We will ask you to wear Red that Sunday, but we will not ask you to … keep calm.

Our Lord’s Prayers

Psalm 68:1-10,32-35; John 17:1-11; Acts 1:6-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

May 24, 2020

 

Chapters 14-16 of John are Jesus Commencement speech.  Some commencement speeches begin with prayer.  In Chapter 17 Jesus closes his commencement speech with a prayer.   Please stand for the gospel of our Lord from John 17:1-11

***

A young mother was trying to teach her daughter to memorize the prayer we call “the Lord’s Prayer.”  As the little girl repeated back to her mother phrase by phrase she said, “and deliver us from email.”

Some of us may be facing virtual fatigue, but for one I can’t imagine what our lives would be like in this challenging time without the ability to communicate and be in contact with each other through email and zoom.

How many of you know what we call the Lord’s Prayer by heart?  When did you learn it?  Was it in Sunday School?  How many of you learned in public school?  Technically the prayer we call, “The Lord’s prayer” is not a prayer of the Lord’s.  It’s not a prayer that Jesus needed to pray. Jesus certainly didn’t have any debts or trespasses or “sins” for which he needed to be forgiven.  I prefer to call it the prayer our Lord taught.

The disciples asked Jesus to teach THEM to pray. So the prayer we learned by heart is the model prayer he taught them.  But in this morning’s gospel lesson however, we have the words to a prayer that Jesus did pray!  This is one of the Lord’s Prayers.

Throughout the gospels we read of Jesus going off alone to pray. We don’t know what the content of those prayers were.  We only know WHAT he prayed on a few occasions.  We know that in the garden before he was arrested he prayed so hard that blood fell from his brow like sweat.  We know that there he prayed for the cup of suffering to pass from him. He agonized in that time of prayer to the point of sweating blood.  Jesus prayed through blood, sweat and tears.

We know that on the cross he prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  In our gospel lesson this morning we get to hear the longest recorded prayer of Jesus.

Jesus is in the Upper Room with his disciples.  He has washed their feet.  He has shared the Passover meal.  He has predicted his death. He has warned Peter that he will deny him 3 times. He has taken bread and wine and given the disciples a ritual by which to remember what is about to happen.  He has revealed his betrayer and sent him out to do what he had determined to do quickly … and then, Jesus prays. 

So many times when we go to prayer we are looking for the Lord to answer our prayers.  What this morning’s lesson to us is that sometimes we can be an answer to the Lord’s Prayer—that we be united—that we be one. 

Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.  What are those commandments?  In the Upper Room he commanded them to love one another as we have been loved by him.  As I shared in my Annunciation meditation on Thursday before he ascended into heaven he commanded them to wait until the Holy Spirit came in power and to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.” The disciples obeyed his commands.  They loved each other and they waited.  

It the 1st chapter of Acts we read about what they did while they were waiting. (Hear verses 12-14.) 

These two verses are very telling.  They tell us that after Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples were with ONE mind, continually devoting themselves to prayer.  They were answering Jesus’ prayer of John 17.  They were united.   They were praying.

But notice that it was not only the 11 disciples.  Verse 14 says also that “Mary the mother of Jesus and ‘the women’ and his brothers” were there.  His brothers were James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. (We aren’t told where his sisters were.)  So apparently his brothers, who previously reprimanded Jesus and thought he was off the rails, had had a change of heart.  In fact, his brother James became the head of the church in Jerusalem and is credited with writing the book of James later in the Newer Testament.   If we read on to verse 15 says there were 120 people gathered there.  So, in addition to the original disciples there were 109 others that had gathered in prayer. 

You see, after Jesus rose from the dead he Appeared to his disciples over a period of 40 days.  But on that 40th day, he DISappeared.  He went up in the clouds and two men in white sent the disciples home to wait and pray. And for the next 10 days 120 folks did just that. 

The apostle Paul charged us to “pray without ceasing.”  I don’t think he meant for us to pray 24/7.  We have to sleep sometime. I think he meant that there was no place that it was not inappropriate to pray.  After all, as long as there are finals, there will be prayer in schools!  And now that home is school there’s nothing to prevent prayer in schools. Who would have thought that all of our children would be home-schooled this year?

Pray when you are at home-(which most of you are doing now as you watch this service).  Pray when you are at work.  Pray when you are at play. Pray when you are front of City Hall.  Pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Pray that you, that we might be an answer to the Lord’s Prayers.  Pray that his disciples might be protected from the world and that his disciples might be one, might be united. 

Our churches don’t need to be reopened.  They were never shut down.  We just have had to change our location and configuration for a season, but we have been continuing to be the church wherever we are.  It’s not possible to go to church.  We are the church wherever we are and wherever we go. 

Next Sunday we will honor our graduates. Keith Wagner writes,

”The world young men and women are stepping into now is quite different from the world that I graduated in. In the 60’s we lived under the “cold war.” No one ever thought of terrorism. We didn’t have cell phones, VCR’s or DVD’s. Instead of the Internet we contacted our friends with a rotary telephone. Gas cost about 30 cents a gallon and it wasn’t difficult to find a job. Even paying for a college education in those days was relatively easy.  But, that has all changed. This is a different world. The world is much smaller because we can communicate anywhere in the world instantaneously.  It is very challenging to venture out on your own, since things like utilities; rent and health insurance are very expensive. The world travels in the fast lane and the majority of folks are doing whatever necessary to survive, even if it means stepping on people in the way.

Our culture has changed too. Our society is much more diverse. For example, your doctor will most likely be from another country. It is very possible that your next door neighbor might be from Japan or Mexico or Vietnam. The company that you work for may be owned by someone overseas. It is a very different world.
  (1)

My General Practitioner is Dr. Bvhuana Muthuswamy.  My neurologist is Dr. Igor Cherches.  My pulmonologist is Muralikrishna Chelikani.  My urologist is Dr. Michael Mineo (an Italian).

Down at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Steve Jacobs, the rabbi of Temple Emanu-El was always a big hit with the students.  One day after class he chatted with students. One bright young lady asked shyly, “Rabbi Jacobs, I really have been interested in the things you say, would I be allowed to come to your synagogue for services?”

Steve turned to the young woman and smiled.  “At the top of our building,” he said, “it is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.'”

“Uh, yes,” she said, “I understand, but I’m a Christian, you see, and I didn’t know, I mean, is it okay, can I come to your synagogue?”

Steve grinned and explained very carefully:  “The synagogue is on South Highland Street. At the top of the building it is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,’ it’s from the prophet Isaiah.”

The young woman stood very still. Everyone was quiet for a moment. You could tell from the confused look on her face that she hadn’t a clue to what Steve was saying. Here she was, asking an honest, polite question and he wouldn’t give her a straight answer. Then it sank in and you could see her imagination rearranging the furniture of her faith. Great, ancient walls were crumbling inside her. “Oh,” she whispered, “and Jesus said that too, didn’t he?  ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.'”

She smiled, nodded her head and walked away, and as she went, I heard her say once more, just to herself, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”

This week I stumbled onto an online Interfaith Dialog led by a Lutheran pastor Emmanuel Jackson of the Church of the Living Word in Katy and a friend of mine Rabbi Dan Gordon of Temple Beth torah in Humble.  The title of the dialogue was, “A Rabbi and a Minister walked into a Zoom Room.”  Here’s the link for that dialogue. https://youtu.be/aDWu6KmAccI.  

These days I find myself more and more working not to find the missing link but the connecting link. Isn’t it fascinating how we can continue to do the work of the Lord together in this season of not-being-able-to-be-together? I’m a part of a regular Friday night zoom song circle with a dozen songwriters from all over the country. On Saturday night I will (was) a part of a virtual campfire song circle as a part of the Kerrville Folk Festival that has been postponed until October, hopefully.

In John 10:14 Jesus was talking to his disciples about his being the Good Shepherd.  He said, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me.  Just as my Father knows me and I know the Father.  So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep too that are not in this sheepfold.  I must bring them also.  They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”

Jesus said that to his Jewish disciples.  In light of our Lord’s prayers in John 17 I think that Jesus was thinking about some of us Gentile sheep that would be brought into the fold through the testimony of those Jewish disciples. In verse 20 of Jesus’ prayer in Chapter 17 says, “I am praying not only for these disciples alone, (meaning the 11 Jewish disciples with him in the room hearing his prayer with the disciple John taking minutes) but also for all who will believe in me because of their message.”

Isn’t that awesome?  On the night Jesus is about to be betrayed and arrested and deserted and tried and convicted and executed Jesus looks down the corridor of time and prays for those of us gathered in this room and wherever you are watching this service.  We can be one even when we are not able to be in the same room. 

Jesus doesn’t call us to be uniform, but he wants us to be unified. He doesn’t want us to be identical but he wants us to be identified with Him.  Not even identical twins are identical.  No two fingerprints are alike.  No two Christians are alike.  There are myriads of expressions of faith in this world but there is ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God and Father of us all. 

Daniel Chambers writes,

“We all know how it feels when we’re somewhere we don’t belong. We know because it is one of the most fundamental human needs, the need to feel at home with ourselves and our surroundings. There is no greater desire than to long to know to whom we belong and that we are not an impostor there, but utterly and completely at home. Every religious tradition responds in some way to this fundamental need for identity. Jesus’ prayer in John’s gospel is for us all, that we may know our identity beyond a social security number, a driver’s license number, or a Nordstrom account number… *(2)

We are not uniform, but when we are in Unity I believe we are and will be answering … our Lord’s prayers.

Let’s pray. Dear Lord Jesus. Thank you for praying for us.  Thank you for answering our prayers and for calling us to answer your prayer that we might be one, that we might be united in our mission to take the good news of your love to the world.  We pray that as you taught us to pray that Your WILL WILL be done on EARTH as it is being constantly done in Heaven. Use us to that end that we might be an answer to your prayers.

(1) Keith Wagner, In a Different World

(2) Daniel Chambers

                                    

Loving Sacrifice

John 14:15-31, Acts 17:22-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22 – May 17, 2020

Our internet and social media pages are filling with congratulations to the class of 2020.  This morning, we continue looking at Jesus’ Commencement Speech to his class of disciples about to graduate from their three years of on-the-job-training to on-the- job-leading.  He is preparing them for his making the ultimate sacrifice and yet promising that he will send another teacher, his Holy Spirit who will never leave them or forsake them. Class will continue. Hear the word of God from John 14:15-31

The Gospel of the Lord from John 14:15-31   Thanks be to God 

Let us pray. Lord, thank you for this your word.  Thank you for your concern for these that you loved and your command to them to love as they have been loved.  Help us to find the strength and courage to love one another and others that we do not know yet, and love those we do know but find hard to love. Send your Holy Spirit to do in us what we cannot do in our own power.  Amen

***

There once was a pee-wee baseball game. When the young boy got up to the plate he looked over to the coach, and he saw him give the signal to sacrifice bunt. He then promptly proceeded to take three big swings and strike out. The coach ran up to him and said: Didn’t you see me give you the signal to sacrifice? “Yes, but I didn’t really think that you meant it.”

Isn’t that what we so often say to God? Yes, lord, I heard that talk about sacrifice but I didn’t really think that you meant it. The cross says emphatically that he did mean it. 

In my Thursday meditation I talked about how Jesus stated his Golden rule positively as opposed to passively.  As opposed to other faiths that phrase it, “as you would like to be treated, treat others.”  Jesus said “Do unto others as you would have them to do you.” The context of that statement though was in a collection of sayings that implied we are to do unto others with no expectation of return.  Give to those who ask. Turn the other cheek.  Give an additional shirt.  Go an extra mile. Love your enemies even if and even when they won’t love you back.

His instructions to keep his commandments are similarly turned around. Our tendency is to say “I’ll love you if you keep my commandments—take out the trash, drive 65, pay your fair share.”  But Jesus puts the IF word up front.  “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” It’s not a prid pro quo.  It’s an observation of fact.  It’s not that we are to love others SO THAT Jesus will love us. It’s because we love Jesus we will love others.  Jesus says to his followers that the way he can tell if they love him is by the way they act.  Jesus will know they love him IF they love others whether they are loved in return.

Those are the Magic words. They’re not abracadabra, or open sesame, or shazam. They aren’t even the other magic words I learned growing up of “please and thank you,” although those words do work wonders. The magic words I’m thinking of are, “I love you.”  Those words are the three words more people want to hear more than any other. We want to be loved.  We want to have someone tell us that they love us, and we want to love others.      

As long as Jesus has been with them he has been the one who is teaching them, coaching them through the proper steps, teaching them to love the Lord and to love their neighbors, and even to love their enemies. Tony Campolo, another teacher I greatly admire who is a retired professor of Sociology, frequently used to ask his students what stood out to them about the teachings of Jesus.  Invariably they would answer, “Love your enemies.”

Now that Jesus is approaching his own death, now that he draws near to his time of departure, now that the disciples will be without him, the task of teaching and coaching his disciples is to be handed over to another teacher, the Holy Spirit: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.”

One of the primary tasks of the Holy Spirit is reminding the faithful of the truth, jogging the memories of the followers of Jesus about all of his commandments so that they can keep them and show that they truly love him.  

A student named Steve Winger from Lubbock, TX was taking a challenging class in Logic.  The course and teacher were known for exacting and demanding exams.  The final exam was looming, and the professor mercifully told the class that each student would be permitted to bring in a single 8 x 11 ½ inch sheet with as much information as they could put on that one sheet for help during the test.  On exam day, each student came to class clutching their precious pieces of paper with as much information as possible.  Some students had crammed lines and lines of font so tiny and so numerous onto that single sheet that you had to wonder how they could read it.  But Steve walked in with a single blank sheet and a friend who was a senior student and who had gotten an ‘A’ in logic years before.  Steve bent down and placed that single, blank sheet of paper on the floor next to his desk.  His expert friend stood on the paper. 

The professor noticed the extra person in the room and asked what he was doing.  Steve piped up, “You said we could bring in whatever we could fit on a single piece of paper for help on this test, well, this is my help and he can fit on the paper!”  He had followed the instructions to the letter and was the only student in that class to score an ‘A’ since he had his expert friend standing alongside him.  That was only logical! 

There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament.  Since the time of their writing the Pharisees elaborated on those 613 to place even more restrictions and limitations on the behavior of the children of Israel.

What are Jesus’ commandments?  There are 2.  In John 15:12 Jesus is recorded as saying, “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”  That’s at least a lot easier to remember than 613.  It’s easier to remember, but maybe not as easy to keep.  I would hazard to guess though that if we are able to keep Jesus’ one commandment we wind up keeping the others.

This coming Thursday is Ascension Day.  Ascension Day is when the church around the world celebrates the Ascension of Jesus.  Just before Jesus ascended he told the disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit came upon them.  When that happened they would be his witnesses throughout the earth.

In Acts 1:8 we find another of Jesus’ commandments. It is stated more as an expectation than a commandment per se.  Jesus says to his disciples as he prepares to ascend to heaven, “When the Holy Spirit comes you shall be my witnesses.”  If we love him we will love those who are not part of “our anothers.”

The boundaries Jesus gave his first disciples were in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Our boundaries are the same.  It is not sufficient to bear witness in our homes or in our churches or even in our community. We must be willing to do what we can to see to it that the message of Jesus’ command to love one another goes to uttermost parts of the earth.

It is interesting to note that the Greek word for “witness” is the same as the Greek word for “martyr.” A witness for Christ must display a commitment that is willing to sacrifice his life, to sacrifice her life, in order to promote the message.

A witness is someone who is willing to step forward and speak from personal experience. In many cases in those early days of the faith it was to put one’s life on the line. Today in some countries it is still the case. These are modern day martyrs, modern day witnesses.  

Now I would like to ask you to think back. Think back with me to the first century. Think about those years after Jesus’ death and what it must been like for Jesus’ disciples. Before the last one died their efforts had brought 500,000 men, women, and children to be followers of Jesus.  But what they had to suffer in order to accomplish this task is seldom discussed. We like the outcome of their discipleship but we don’t want to hear the cost of their discipleship. So for the record here is the cost: History tells us…

1. John died of extreme old age exiled to the island of Patmos.
2. Judas Iscariot, after betraying his Lord, hanged himself.
3. Peter was crucified; head downward, during the persecution of Nero.
4. Andrew died on a cross at Patrae, a Grecian Colony.
5. James, the younger, son of Alphaeus, was thrown from a pinnacle of the        Temple, and then beaten to death with a club.
6.   Bartholomew was flayed alive in Albanapolis, Armenia.
7.  James, the elder son of Zebedee, was beheaded at Jerusalem.
8.  Thomas was run through the body with a lance at Coromandel, in the E.Indies
9.   Philip was hanged against a pillar at Heropolis.
10. Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows.
11. Simon died on a cross in Persia (what we now call Iran.)
12. Matthew was first stoned and then beheaded.

What sacrifices! And I ask you why? Why did they choose to die this way? Why put up with the constant humiliation, and hunger, and persecution, and defeat town after town after town?

I’ll tell you why, because, in the words of Apostle Paul, they were held captive by the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. It was because they loved Jesus and they could not help but love others.

Next weekend has been set aside in our country’s calendar to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice–who were witnesses, martyrs, who gave their lives in the service of their country.  We honor their sacrifices with flags, with plaques, with prayers. 

In Romans 12:1 the apostle Paul charges us by the mercies of God to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Part of being a living sacrifice is loving one anothers.  Another part is loving others that aren’t a part of our “one anothers.”  

The passages of scripture we have considered today hold the keys to renewal for any church—loving one another and sharing God’s love with others and even with those who aren’t yet or may not ever be a part of our “one anothers.”  

Those first followers, Jesus’ graduating class, found assurance in the promise of the Holy Spirit. They recognized their need for God. So, obediently, they waited for the Holy Spirit to come to them and guide them and empower them. They accepted God’s purpose for them. They became faithful witnesses. They answered Jesus’ challenge to demonstrate that even in dying they lived up to his challenge. They kept his commandments as a way to say to others and to Jesus, I believe you meant it.  I will not only be a living sacrifice, as long as I live I will be a … loving sacrifice. Let’s pray. Dear Jesus, thank you for loving us. Thank you for loving us enough to distill all the commandments into one.  Thank you for spending time with your disciples after your resurrection and appearing to them and reassuring them that you would not leave them without sending your Spirit to remind them and empower them to follow you.  Thank you for ascending to be with your Father and for interceding on our behalf and watching over us from your heavenly vantage point.  Thank you for sending your Spirit to remind us of all that you taught and to give us the power to obey your commandments. 

Faith Lift: In the Service

Faith Lift: In the service.

I heard about a little boy that refused to go into the worship service.   When his parents asked him why, he pointed to the plaque with the names of those who had died in the service.  He didn’t want to be next.

Memorial Day originated as Decoration Day.  After the American Civil War in 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions merged and Memorial Day was extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service. 

This Memorial Day Anne and I took the opportunity to visit the gravesite of my parents. There we posted a small USA flag in honor of my father, Kenneth Porter Gill, a transplant from his native Pittsburgh who joined the Army Air Corp from Houston. For his training he was stationed at Shepherd Base in Wichita Falls. One Sunday during his training he went to worship at East Side Presbyterian and, as was their habit, the Kidds invited him to come to their house for Sunday lunch.

My father met my mother because he went to the service when he was… in the service.     

They wrote letters back and forth during the war and were married after it.

This Memorial Day at my parent’s grave site we placed a flag in honor of my father who survived the War, and said a prayer remembering him and my mother’s brother, Mack Kidd, who didn’t. He was a tail gunner who was shot down and was buried in Italy.  In honor of my mother we placed on her marker a leftover Red Nose from Red Nose Day.  If you knew her you would know that she would have loved a day like that.   Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”  Memorial Day is a day when we give thanks for those who laid down their lived for their friends, families, their country. Unlike Veteran’s Day when we honor all who have answered the call to be in the service, Memorial Day is the day when we honor those who answered the call and not only laid down their lives but lost them…in the service.

Faith Lift: Subaru

Love…It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.  Really?  According to their commercials I see people who buy a Subaru get to do all kinds of exciting things like kayaking.  They are never stuck in traffic.  Even though traffic has been less stressful during the Pandemic, I have full confidence it will come back. That’s not something I love, no matter what car I’m driving. 

We’ve come a long way since Henry Ford’s Model T but basically, a car is a mode of transportation.  The fact that I can get in it and go where I want to go is what makes it a car whether I’m going kayaking or having to pass the Galleria.  People may love driving their Subarus, but if it had no engine all the love in the world wouldn’t make it go. In reality, there is only one car.  The size and shape of the shells and the engines will vary, but in principle they are the same.  Their purpose is to take us from one place to another.   Here’s a link to a song I wrote about that. https://youtu.be/wDwDbLLSTp4

                             Amazing Race – Jim Gill

There is one car, there’s just one car

Many colors, shapes and sizes but there’s really just one car,

There is one car, there’s just one car

Many colors, shapes and sizes but there’s really just one car.

1. Henry made the Model T, it only came in black

     Henry paid his employees enough so they could buy one.

     Now they’re hawking SUV’s and even with $10K off 

     only a select few can “af=Ford” one.

There is one car, there’s just one car

Many colors, shapes and sizes but there’s really just one car,

There is one car, there’s just one car

Many colors, shapes and sizes but there’s really just car,

2.   In the beginning humanity only came in black

      But since then we’ve all had a change of face.

      Now no matter what hue you may be it’s time we face the fact

      that we’re all just one race.

There is one race, there’s just one race.

Many colors, shapes and sizes but there is only one race,

There is one race, one human race

Many colors, shapes and sizes but there’s just one human race.

             It doesn’t matter who’s ahead or who is behind.

  One day we’ll all catch our checkered flag and cross our finished line.

Amazing Race is what we’re in whatever color skin

          We’re all a part of one family in this race we’re all kin

Our human bodies are also modes of transportation.  Their purpose is to take us from one place to another. When it comes to being transported in cars we try to protect them with seat belts and air bags and crumple zones.  When it comes to diseases, we should do all we can to protect one another until we go from this life to another. 

I shared a meme that my new friend Pr. Chris Lake from Tree of Life Lutheran posted  that featured a picture of Jean Luc Picard (from Star Trek the “best” generation IMO) that said “What if we stopped thinking about wearing masks as being controlled by the government and instead wore them to protect cashiers and other high risk workers as an act of kindness.” I have friends that “loved” that statement.  I also had a friend that took issue with that statement.  He wrote “It’s not about the masks. It is the idea that the government is enforcing them when they should just encourage them to be worn.” 

I have lived an extra 36 years because the government did more than encourage seat belts to be worn.  They required them to be worn and because I followed their requirement I survived being broadsided by an 18 wheeler at 60 miles an hour on Highway 59 in 1983.   My son who was 4 months old in the front seat facing forward in his car seat survived also.   Curiously enough at that time child car seats were not required.  But the case of his survival was instrumental in influencing the Texas legislature to pass a law to require them.

This Sunday we will be looking at part 2 of Jesus commencement address to his about to graduate class of ‘33.  The gist of what he says there is a challenge—“If you love me you will keep my commandments.”  Love has to do with our actions.  Love has to do with keeping Jesus’ command is to love one another as we have been loved by him.  One of the ways we can show that love for one another in this time is to keep our distance, to wash our hands, and to wear a mask…as an act of kindness.

I understand that many people are in dire straits over the lock downs.  The human race is reeling.  The loss of life and livelihood is devastating.  I fear that not obeying Jesus commandment to love one another by following the guidelines will only bring more deaths and more devastation and even increase the need for prolonged lockdown.   Love is so much more than what makes a Subaru.  Love is what makes a person a follower of Jesus.  And being a follower of Jesus implies following his commandments to love one another even more than our mode of transportation … even if it is a Subaru.

No Tears

John 14:1-14, Revelation 21:1-4 – May 10, 2020

Let’s pray.  O Lord what wonderful words.   We take your admonition that our hearts are not to be troubled or afraid at heart.  Help us as we meditate on your words to let go of the things that trouble us or cause us to fear.  Amen.

This morning’s gospel lesson is part of Jesus’ commencement address to his disciples who are about to graduate from being his students to becoming teachers of others.

The class of 2020 is not able to have commencement ceremonies.  I ride my bike 4-5 miles every day and the other day I witnessed a drive-by graduation congratulation celebration where the graduate stood by the curb in front of her house and cars drove by and honked their horns and handed her presents out their car windows.  I honked my bicycle horn.  It was a proud mother there.

A mother of eight children was once asked if she had any favorites.  “Favorites?” she replied.  “Yes, I have favorites.  I love the one who is sick until he is well again.  I love the one who is in trouble until he is safe again.  And I love the one who is farthest away until he comes home.”

Not everyone can be a mother, but all of us are here because we had a mother that brought us into this world.  We may have had a good relationship with our mother, or we may not.  We may be estranged from our mother, or maybe even never knew her.  But we all have someone who loves us like a mother should. 

Isaiah wrote, “Like a mother who comforts her child, so the Lord comforts us.” Jesus said he was like a mother hen who longed to gather her chicks under her wings to protect them. Jesus’ parables painted God as being like a Divine Parent whose love never stops, a Parent whose love will never give up.  You may stop loving God, but God will never stop loving you.  You may run away from God, but you will soon find that you cannot run forever. You can’t get away from God.  That is not a threat.  That is a promise! 

We are celebrating Mother’s Day today in a way we have never celebrated it before.  This year many are lamenting the loss of mothers and grandmothers.  This year some mothers are lamenting the loss of children.  This year mother’s children are still in cages.  This year there are tears.

Eric Clapton, arguably one of the greatest living rock guitarists, wrote a heart wrenching song about the death of his four-year-old son (March 20, 1991). Eric’s son fell from a 53rd-story window.  Eric’s son, Connor was with his mother in a condo while visiting New York City.  The housekeeper had just cleaned a window and had left it open and Connor ran to the window and fell out.

Eric took nine months off from playing music and when he returned his music had changed. The hardship had made his music softer, more powerful, and more reflective. You have perhaps heard the song he wrote about his son’s death. It is a poignant song of hope:

Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on,
‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven.

Would you hold my hand, if I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand, if I saw you in heaven?
I’ll find my way through night and day,
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay here in heaven.

Beyond the door there’s peace I’m sure,
And I know there’ll be no more… tears in heaven.

Through this poignant, heart wrenching song Eric says what many folks feel.  They feel they aren’t good enough to belong in heaven.  I’m guessing Eric assumes his four-year-old son was good enough because he hadn’t lived long enough to do enough bad things to NOT deserve to be in heaven.  Eric has part of it right, in that beyond the door from this life to life in heaven there is peace and no more tears.  But what he doesn’t have right is the idea that anyone can do enough good … or not do enough bad to deserve to belong in heaven. It is only through God’s grace that anyone will be in heaven. No one will be in heaven because they deserve it.  On the cross Jesus got just what they deserve so that all who believe in him could get what they don’t deserve–a place in heaven. 

The perfect example of this is the thief who died on the cross next to Jesus.  As a thief he had certainly done enough wrong to not deserve a place in heaven.  Yet in his dying moments he cried out to Jesus to remember him and Jesus said, “This day you will be in paradise with me.”  Now, that thief could not get down off the cross and go do enough good deeds to cancel out all the bad deeds he had done plus ONE, and then get back up on his cross and finish dying.  The thief cried out for mercy and received it in the form of God’s grace from Jesus himself. Justice is what we deserve.  Mercy is what we get through Jesus.  He made his heavenly reservation during his last moments.


That thief was in the wrong place at the right time.  But it’s terribly risky to wait until the last minute to make important reservations. If you planned to vacation in Paris (whether it is the one in France or the one in Texas) you wouldn’t wait until a day or so before leaving to make reservations. Neither does it make sense to postpone one’s eternal reservations, especially since you don’t know the date your departure. (and the date of our departure is more in question every day with COVID-19)

Being in heaven is not a factor of what we have or have not done.  It is a factor of what Jesus has done on our behalf.  Jesus has paved the way.  Jesus is the way to heaven.  What we have to do is follow him as he leads the way.

Jill Duffield writes, “Our hearts are troubled. As we continue to be the church scattered and maintain our physical distance even from those, we love the most, we cannot help but long for a great homecoming, a big, huge family reunion. Wouldn’t it be grand if all the people we love and especially those we’ve lost in this season showed up on our doorstep unannounced, and we were all together again? Would that a respected and beloved mentor heard our sadness despite our best efforts to keep it together and came to show us the way forward. Could not God our Father come and rescue us from this devastation, this isolation, this free-floating fear of what might happen next?  …. Right now, there is grief upon grief as we huddle behind our respective doors, unable to be with those we ache to see and touch.

We ache for the embrace of the Father who runs out to meet us regardless of the mistakes we’ve made.  On this Mother’s Day we long for the love of a mother who refuses to abandon us no matter that it pierces her soul to see us in pain. We yearn for the acceptance of siblings who know us and welcome us despite how long we’ve been apart. We want a place of safety and refuge and relief when everything around us seems threatening.  ..

Jesus tells us to believe. Believe in God, believe in him. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He goes to prepare a place for us, a space in the household of God, a room in the mansion of heaven. While we wait that great homecoming, the glorious family reunion, we are the holy priesthood, the living stones of spiritual houses right here and now. We are the ones who exercise mercy when conventional wisdom says we should let people tough it out. We are those who dress for church and go out into the streets and sing hope to the brokenhearted. We are the followers of Jesus Christ, praying forgiveness for the violent and the cruel, trusting that God loves them, too. We are the ones who believe in Jesus and live in hope and ask God for the courage to do the works that Jesus did and does. We are the ones who know where our home is, know there is room there for everyone, and therefore no one’s heart need be troubled….”1 Jill Duffield, Looking Into the Lectionary May 7, 2020.

Death is the last great hurdle we must all face. Jesus Christ is the only one who has died and then returned to tell us what it is like on the other side. Some folks try to avoid even thinking about death.  They just keep on having plastic surgery, coloring their hair, or replacing or covering what hair they don’t have with someone else’s hair (in the form of a wig or toupee) and denying every sign of aging. 

This 14th chapter of John’s gospel and his later writing, the book of Revelation, declare four truths about heaven.

First, Jesus has assured us that there will be accommodations in heaven for us.   For the last 2 months it’s been like some of us have been living on vacation because we aren’t able to go to work.  I’m finally sensing what it must be like to be retired.  I look forward to going Krogering. This last Thursday I had a hard time believing it was only Thursday.  I had to check my watch to make sure It said, “Thursday 5-7.”  

But when we USED to get to go on vacation we had to plan ahead if we wanted to get accommodations.  But Jesus assures his disciples that when it comes to heaven, there will be accommodations.  He said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms.”  Jesus was simply trying to say that there would be room for everybody whom Jesus has claimed as his own.  


The second thing Jesus told us about heaven is that reservations are required.
Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you and then I will come again and receive you.” In other words, Jesus goes ahead of us to book our reservations. In the New Testament Greek, he is called forerunner—a Greek word which in a military setting refers to reconnaissance patrols that go ahead and prepare the way for the main body of troops.

The moment that we confess our sins and declare our faith Jesus as Savior and begin living with him as our Lord, our places in heaven are set aside. No confirmation number is needed. Our reservations are offered by grace and received by faith.

The third thing we learn is the way to get there. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”


Let’s suppose that you are in a strange city and need to find the City Hall. There are three ways someone could help you. Someone could give you verbal instructions. A second way would be for someone to draw you a map. But the very best way would be for someone to offer to personally escort you to city hall.

Jesus Christ offers us a personal escort to heaven. To commit oneself to Christ and to follow him as Lord is to be on the road to heaven. And when each of us approaches heaven’s doors, Jesus Christ will announce to the throngs of heaven, “This is my brother.  This is my sister.”

The fourth thing we know about heaven is that it is awesome!  In Revelation 21, John saw a vision of heaven. He called it the city of God. The poor man was linguistically strapped to be able to find descriptive adjectives awesome enough. He wrote of streets of solid gold, city walls adorned with every kind of precious stone, twelve gates of pearls. The place was radiant with the glory of God. Revelation 21:1-4 says, “

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

Let me try to describe heaven in different terms. Imagine a place where no one is ever sick, where each person is valued, where every person is loved and affirmed, where not a single person is addicted or prejudiced or greedy. Picture a world in which folks from the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. won’t be able to remember which was which. Picture a place where laughter and praise are heard constantly. Picture a place where the glory of God is so pervasive that you can hardly restrain a song, and even I will have a glorious baritone voice. Banished from this paradise are worry and grief and jealousy and frustration and lust and anger…and a place, according to the apostle John and even Mr. Clapton, a place where there are … no tears.  

Let’s pray.  Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for going to prepare a place for us to be with you for eternity, for providing a place for us to be so we can say, “HERE.”

Jesus, thank you for BEING the way to the place you are preparing for us.  Jesus, thank you for providing the way for us to be able to follow the way to be with you for eternity.

We pray for those who have yet to find their way to you and for those who without you have no hope.   May we be your instruments of showing them the way that you have become for us.

Jesus, thank you for being the truth.  We are inundated by shades of truth and versions of truth and half truths and it reassuring to know that you stood and claimed to be THE truth.  You not only brought truth and told the truth you claimed to BE THE truth. And you backed up that claim by fulfilling every prophesy and accomplishing everything you came to accomplish.

Jesus thank you for being the LIFE.  You came that we might have life and more abundantly, not only now but forever.  You are the source of life.  All of life comes from you and the gift of eternal life comes from you.  Thank you, Jesus, for these and all the gifts you have provided us.  In Jesus’ name we pray.

Due Unto Mothers

We’ve had an unusual Easter and this week we’ll be having an unusual Mother’s Day.   We won’t be sitting together in church honoring the moms that brought us into the world or that have taken on that role.  I hope you will find creative ways to express your appreciation this year or honor the memory of those special ladies. 

I’m told I was a miracle child.  After years of trying to have a child with no success, finally I came along.  Lutherans practice infant baptism like Catholics and Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians because we believe that God loves us even before we know what we’re doing.

 In the same way that an 8 day old Jewish baby boy doesn’t have a say as to whether or not he will be circumcised, we believe in making promises and claiming promises on behalf of our children long before they can confirm them for themselves.  (It’s why my wife and I paid for our kid’s college tuition through the Texas Tomorrow Program long before they graduated high school!  They both fulfilled the promise by graduating from college and both have jobs to this day!)

When my parents presented me for the sacrament of baptism they promised to raise me in the faith to the end that I would embrace it for myself.  Because my mom was so glad to have a child after so long she read Hannah’s prayer and dedicated me to the ministry like Hannah did for her son Samuel.  (I Samuel 2:1-10)

She didn’t tell me this until AFTER I graduated from seminary.  I think she also wanted it to be my decision. I think she also wanted to wait to make sure I passed.  

On February 10, 2010 my mom left this life behind and went to her heavenly reward.  She was a widow for 20 years.   She was my mom for 59 years.  

In her honor I’d like to share a song I wrote for her.  It’s called

Due Unto Mothers

My mother she gave life to me and made sure I grew up right

And oh how she loved to tuck me in at night.

She’d put a cold washrag on my brow when the fever laid me low

and taught me what she thought that I should know.

          Do unto Mothers as you would have them do to you.

          Return the favor for all she’s done and observe her golden rule. 

          Cause when you honor your mother all year round

              not just when Hallmark Cards says to,

              you’ll give what’s due unto your mother

              and show your gratitude. 

A mother’s love can work miracles… turn a boy into a gentle dude,

turn a girl to a lady who knows just where to put which spoon.

So honor your mother all year round and not just when the Florist Shops say to

and give what’s due unto your mother and show your gratitude.

                    One good turn deserves another                                                  

                     So turn down the sound and call your mother.

          Do unto Mothers as you would have them do for you

return the favor for all she’s done and observe her golden rule

          And honor your mother all year round not just one Sunday a year

          Give what’s due unto your mother call her up and bend her ear.   

          So get up …   again… and call your blessed mother….. 

Thank you moms everywhere.

The Good Shepherd

Psalm 23, John 10:1-16, Acts 2:42-47, 1 Peter 2:19-25 – May 3, 2020

Jesus was a carpenter, but he was from a long line of shepherds.  Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel was the keeper of great flocks. Moses was tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro, when God called him lead the children of Israel out of bondage to the Promised Land.  David, who wrote the 23rd Psalm, was a shepherd boy called in from the fields to be anointed to become the next, and one of the greatest kings of Israel.  When Isaiah spoke of the coming of the Messiah he worded it by saying: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd! He will gather his lambs into his arms.”  Shepherds were the first people outside Jesus’ family to be told about his birth, and the first people besides Joseph and Mary to see him.  In John 10, Jesus brings all of this imagery to a head when he calls himself the Good Shepherd.  Let’s hear what Jesus has to say about it in the 10th chapter of John.

Let us pray.  Lord help us to follow the lead of the Good Shepherd as we reflect and meditate on this your word.  Open our minds to receive, our hearts to believe and move our feet to follow, in Jesus’ name we pray.  

******

A little girl reciting the 23rd Psalm began, “The Lord is my shepherd; that’s all I want.” She may have missed the wording, but she sure got the theology right.

In this 10th chapter of John Jesus takes what was one of the most beloved passages of the Psalms and inserts himself in it when he claims that he is the Good Shepherd.  Not only does he claim the title but he precedes it with the verb that has long been associated with the name of God.  He precedes it with the word I AM.   In the Old Testament “I AM,” Y’HWH, was the name for God.  When Jesus says, “I AM The Good Shepherd,” it is no accident.     

If Jesus is The Good Shepherd, I want to be a good sheep.

When I was in Baytown I was a member of the Rotary.  Every year we have a  Catfish and Shrimp Festival.  One year we had a Petting Zoo.  There were 3 goats, 2 donkeys, 2 ducks and one sheep. It was a mixed flock to say the least. Those of you with roots on the farm know that sheep are not always those warm, cuddly little animals that us city folks experience in a petting zoo when’ they’re standing still. 

In her book The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor tells of a conversation she had with a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the Midwest. According to him, sheep are not so dumb.  He said, “It is the cattle ranchers who are responsible for spreading that ugly rumor, and all because sheep do not behave like cows. Cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all. Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you.  You drive cattle, her friend said, but you lead sheep. Sheep will only move if their shepherd goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right.” 1

Sheep are smarter that spooked cows. They are smart enough to trust their shepherd.  It is in this respect that we are to emulate sheep. We need to have the sense God gave a sheep. 

So first question is: What are the needs of a sheep? The first and obvious answer to that question is: protection. Jesus says that there are thieves and predators always trying to get into the sheep pen, trying to devour the sheep: coyotes, bears, wolves, or cougars. The wolf’s intent is a meal. The thieves’ intent is to steal. 

Years ago there was a story carried in various newspapers about a woman from Missouri who was startled out of a dead sleep one night by some desperate cries of “Help! Help!” You know how it is when you awake to some sound: you are not at all certain whether you really heard something or if it was just a dream. At first she thought perhaps her husband had cried out, but he was sleeping soundly next to her. Then suddenly she heard the cries again: “Help! Help!” Finally she threw back the covers and headed downstairs toward their living room. “Help!” went the plaintive voice yet again. “Where are you?” the woman replied. “In the fireplace,” came the answer.

Sure enough, dangling in the fireplace with his head sticking through the flue was a burglar, upside down and quite snugly stuck! The police and fire department got him out eventually, though not before having to disassemble the mantle and some of the masonry. Perhaps the best part of the story was what this woman did in the meantime. She flipped on all the lights and videotaped the whole thing. I don’t know what the two talked about while waiting for the police and company to arrive, but I would have been tempted to quote John 10: “Verily I tell you, anyone who does not enter by the door but climbs in another way is a thief and a robber!”  2 

In Jesus’ day, a shepherd would lead his sheep out to distant areas and stay there for days. Being a good shepherd he would create a temporary corral, a pen in which to keep the sheep when they were not grazing. Using the crude stones of the field a shepherd could quickly put together such a structure and at night he would lay his body down in the opening of this corral making himself the door.  No sheep could wander away at night unless it stepped over the sleeping shepherd and no wolf could come in to do harm without waking the shepherd.  The shepherd is the gate who “lays down his life” for the sheep.

Not only do sheep need protection from predators and thieves, they need protection from themselves.  

Without a shepherd to lead them they are liable to wander off a cliff.  Without a shepherd to lead them, sheep will graze the same hills until they become desert wastes. They will not move on, on their own. Without a shepherd to lead them they will pollute their own ground until it is run over with disease and parasites. To their own ill health they will live in their own filth.  

Sheep have heavy coats. They need to be led to still waters because running waters will weigh them down and they will drown. Their fleece can grow very long and become weighed down with mud, manure, burrs and debris. They can become burdened to their own destruction because when they lie down they sometimes roll over. Once on their backs they cannot right themselves unless a shepherd comes and puts them back on their feet. 

Friends, Jesus description of himself as the Good Shepherd is both making an invitation and stating some facts.  The invitation is to follow Jesus.  The facts are We are like sheep.  Isaiah says, ‘All we like sheep have gone astray.  We have turned aside to our own wicked ways.”

All we like sheep need protection.  All we like sheep not only need protection from predators and thieves, we need protection from ourselves.   We are stubborn. We want what we like – even when what we like is not good for us. We need to be led to new green pastures lest we eat ourselves out of house and home.  When we get weighed down with the burrs and mud and debris and the manure of this world and we need the Good Shepherd to come clean us up.  When we get knocked over and find ourselves upside down unable to right ourselves we need the Good Shepherd to come and get us back on our feet.

All we like sheep need direction. There once was a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower” 3

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “In order to be a leader a man must have followers.  To have followers, a man must have their confidence. Hence the supreme quality of a leader is unquestionable integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, on a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man’s associates find him guilty of phoniness, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose” 4

Jesus has unquestionable integrity.  He can be trusted.  He has a high purpose.  His purpose is to lead us and point us to the abundant life he came to provide. 

I once saw a television special about shepherds in the Middle East. They live a life that isn’t radically different from that of their first century counter-parts. It was fascinating to see the lives they led, wandering endlessly in search of fields where their sheep might graze. Every night, the sheep were led into a protected area – a “sheepfold.” Sometimes, there would be three or four or five flocks gathered by a number of shepherds into the same area. The shepherds would take shifts staying up throughout the night, making sure that wolves or other wild animals weren’t able to make their way into the protected area. In the morning, a person would wonder if there was any hope of separating one flock from another. But interestingly enough, it was a very simple matter. Each shepherd went to opposite corners of the field, and began to call the sheep. As the sheep heard the shepherds’ voices, they immediately began to move towards the one that belonged to their shepherd. After a few minutes, all the sheep were separated into their own flocks, and the shepherds lead them away. Sheep know the voice of their own shepherd, and they follow. 5  

Yes, People, like any herd of sheep, need a shepherd not only to protect us but to direct us.- somebody to point us in the right directions, somebody to help us with our decisions.  We need to listen carefully to our Lord’s voice.

Perhaps this has been one of our problems. Jesus’ voice, his words, his story, are not familiar enough to us. Jesus’ voice is drowned out by the muzac of this world, the cell phones and beepers and car horns and headphones and video and cable and headlines of this world.  

Jesus’ voice is speaking more than just on Sunday mornings in church.  In all of our lives, whether it be church committee meetings, or business board meetings, do we spend sufficient time and attention on asking what it is that our Good Shepherd wants?  Are we really letting him be our Good Shepherd?  Are we really ready to let him lead? Are we really ready to rely on him in our decisions?

Jesus began this teaching with a warning about thieves and robbers and wolves that come to steal, kill and rob.  He ends this section warning about shepherds who do not care for their sheep, who run away at the sight of danger, who are only in it for the money, who are not committed to the sheep.  Sadly, there are some who are charged to care for sheep that are like this. They run for their lives rather than lay down their lives.  This is the opposite of what Jesus promises to do, and the opposite of what Jesus calls us to do for others. 

In the 25th chapter of Matthew Jesus tells a parable about the last Judgment.  He describes a great throne before which every person who has ever lived comes.  On that throne is Jesus the Good Shepherd.  He separates the sheep from the goats.  The sheep are told to go to his right to a heavenly reward and the goats are told to go to his left for a very different one.  When asked why, Jesus’ answer is based on how the people had treated others. Jesus said, ‘When I was hungry and thirsty you gave me food and drink. When I was sick, when I was in prison, you visited me.  When I had no clothes or a place to stay you provided clothes for my body and shelter.  Both groups were surprised.  The sheep said they didn’t know that they had done those things. The goats said, “We would have done it if we knew there was something in it for us.”  Jesus said, “As you did it to the least of these you did it to me.  As you ignored the least of these you ignored me.”

Sheep follow the Good Shepherd.  Goats don’t. Because the Good Shepherd cared for them, sheep follow his example and provide food and drink, clothes and shelter, comfort and care for others.  Sheep follow the example of their Good Shepherd who did NOT run away in the face of danger, but laid down his life at great sacrifice and unimaginable physical, emotional and spiritual pain.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has claimed us.  He knows us by name.  He has promised to be there for us.  He has promised to lead us beside quiet streams.  He has promised to provide for our needs in his timing.  Jesus wants to exercise leadership in our lives.  He has promised to prepare a place for us to dwell here and a place for us to dwell with him foreve. 

I don’t know about you, but the Lord is my Shepherd.  That’s all I want. All I want is to trust in his protection and follow his direction because compared to all the other voices in my life, compared to all the choices in my life, I want to put my trust in and follow him who boldly said, I AM …THE Good Shepherd.

Let us pray,

Thank you lord for the care and feeding and leading you offer us.  Thank you for sheep, the perfect animal to illustrate how we need to think of ourselves in relationship to you.  Lord, thank you for sending your son Jesus to be The Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep…us.

We pray for all who suffer this day from pains that are caused by others, and those that are self-inflicted. Hear us O God as we intercede for sisters, brother, and strangers who are wounded and long to be made whole.  Bless doctors and nurses and all who support them as daily they minister to the sick and infirm.  May clinics, hospitals and places of convalescence be sources of healing.  May those who dispense drugs and those who take them do so in order to reduce disorders and disease.  May those facing death retain dignity and be graced with the assurance that Christ lives in their midst.  For those grieving the loss of loved ones receive the comfort of your Holy Spirit and the support of friends and family.  For those plagued by phobias that hinder their freedom, illumine their dark places by the light of your love. May more and more come to know the protection and seek the direction of the Good Shepherd in whose name we pray.  Amen.  

1. The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor

2. Through the Gate, by Scott Hoezee

3. Adapted from S. I. McMillen, None of These Diseases

4. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bits & Pieces, September 15, 1994, p. 4.

5. The Voice of the Shepherd, by David J. Risendal 

2020 Foresight

We’re familiar with 2020 hindsight.  To survive this pandemic we are going to need to practice 2020 foresight….for 2020.

I am fortunate.  Growing up in Texas I’ve survived 16 hurricanes, (from Alice in 1954 to Harvey in 2017). The greatest loss I sustained was losing the pear tree that grew up next to our garage.  That tree fell when Hurricane Carla hit Houston in 1961.  I used that tree to climb on our garage and count stars at night and watch the car dealership floodlights circle the summer sky. 

I survived being broadsided by Mack Truck on Highway 59 in 1983. I had 4 broken ribs, an open left cheek and a cracked skull.  I survived by inches.  I survived being blindsided by a malignant melanoma on my left temple in 1999.  I survived by .04 millimeters.  I survived a fall trying to stride a slimy puddle when I did the splits and broke my leg but not my head because I had a guitar on my back. The guitar was my air bag. It was cracked but it was repaired.  It was better to crack the guitar than to crack my skull again.

I’m working hard to survive Corona by practicing 2020 foresight, but in the end, one day my earth suit will no longer serve me. Until that day comes I will do my best to love the Lord with all I’ve got and love my neighbors at least as much as I love and take care of myself.

I’m writing this on Tuesday as I listen to County Judge Hidalgo share about the steps we will be taking as we look to come out of our homes and back into our world. She said emphatically, “The virus is still here.”  It will be continue to be here.  Until we have a vaccine we will have to continue to do all we can to limit its effect. 

The limited success we have achieved in surviving this virus has been accomplished by staying apart from each other.  As we take steps to become more physically closer to one another we have to take great care that the virus will not gain a second foothold.  I read an email by Gerald Evans this morning that calls for our Council to gather this Saturday for the next taping of our worship service to discuss the steps we will take and when we will take them. 

As far as I am aware, we at Joyful Life Church have been fortunate.  We have not had anyone of our membership or their families contract the virus.  We have not had anyone that has lost their employment.  We are grateful for the hard work that Agnes, Anne, Courtney, Meredith, and Susan have given as they have been on the front lines of medical care.  We are grateful for those who have been able to go to work to provide services like carry out meals and grocery stores and pharmacies, and those who have been bringing supplies to our doors.  We are grateful for those who have been fortunate enough to be able to work at home from behind closed doors. We are grateful for public servants who are struggling to make the crucial decisions to benefit the most people possible. We grieve with all who have lost jobs and loved ones who have not been as fortunate as we–the 56,293 in our country that have lost their lives, and the reported 195,810 deaths worldwide as of April 28, 2020 (See https://covid19info.live/

One of the ways I have been passing the time behind my closed doors has been to record a song a day and put it on Youtube and share it on Facebook.  I’ve been calling them “Covid-eos.” I’m up to song #31. I’ve enjoyed recording them, but I’ve also enjoyed hearing from friends who have responded to them.  My song for Tuesday is called Survivors/Hereaftershock.  Survivors is one of my compositions.  “Hereaftershock” is my title for my putting music to a poem I found called “The Best Poem in the World” by David Nixon 1996. 

Here’s the link for that song should have nothing better to do with your next 5 minutes and 3 seconds.  You’ll have to copy and paste the link into your browser to be able to view and hear it.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUnfnYQwnRc

(P.S, I think I fixed the link for Pastor, if so, you should be able to click on the link above)  (If not, you will have to copy and paste into your browser.)

Here’s to hoping we will all continue to be fortunate as we practice … 2020 foresight.

P.S.      Here’s the lyrics for those who do not have 5:03 to listen

                                   Survivors- jim gill

        1.  We born with bodies designed to grow strong

             and the more that we use them the more that goes wrong,

             our joints wear out and the wrinkles appear

             but still we remain in good cheer….cause

          We are Survivors! We refuse to be whiners!

                     the flesh may be weak but the spirit is strong

                     We are Survivors! Though we may have felt finer,

                      to spend time complaining is wrong!

      2.  There’s been many a mile been put on our bones

           and many a smile graced our face.

           and with our friends beside us we’re never alone

           and together we can run the good race.

          We are Survivors! We refuse to be whiners!

                      the spirit is strong though the flesh may be weak

                     And when it comes to needles

                    though we may be feeling feeble.           

                       we keep turning the other cheek.

           BRIDGE: George Bernard Shaw said statistics show

                           that one out of one dies. 

                         But when we shed our earth suits

                          We’ll fly to the light and who we really are will survive.

Yes we’ll be survivors, there’ll be no place for whiners

                     The flesh will be gone but the spirit lives on

                     Yes we’ll be survivors and we’ll never have felt finer

                     And the strain and the pain will be gone.

                      And the joy and the peace will roll on

             . 

                                     “Hereaftershock”

                           Music and adapted lyrics by jim gill

                     “The Greatest Poem In The World”- by David Nixon (1996)

  1.  I was shocked, confused, bewildered as I entered Heaven’s door,

          Not by the beauty of it all, nor the lights or its decor.
          But it was the folks in Heaven that really blew my mind

          the thieves, the liars, the sinners, the politicians and their kind.      

There stood the kid from 7th grade who swiped my lunch money twice.

           Next to him was my old neighbor, who never said anything nice.

           And Herb, who I always thought would rot  away in hell

           Was sitting pretty on cloud 9 looking incredibly well.

Bridge: I nudged  Jesus, ‘What’s the deal? I would love to hear Your take.

            How’d all these sinners get up here?  There must be some mistake.

            And why’s everyone so quiet, so somber, can you give me a clue.’

           “Hush, my child, ‘they’re all in shock.  No one thought they’d be seeing you

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