On the Sparrow

Genesis 21:8-21; Ps 69:7-10, 11-15, 16-18; Matthew 10:24-39; Romans 6:1-11 – June 21, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS- Abraham had a dilemma.  He had a promise from God that he would be a father, but he and Sarah had gotten impatient waiting for God to fulfill the promise.  So, Sarah gave her handmaid Hagar to Abraham so he could be a father, and Sarah could become a mother through a surrogate handmaid.  This was a common practice.  The union of Hagar and Abraham produced a son who was named Ishmael. 

It wasn’t until thirteen years later that God’s promise of a son through Sarah was fulfilled when Sarah herself bore a son and named him Isaac, which means “laughter.”  It was laughter for Abraham and Sarah, but it wasn’t long before there

wasn’t so much laughter for Hagar and Ishmael.  Now that the promise of a son as fulfilled in Isaac, a rivalry breaks out between Sarah and Hagar and guess

who wins?  Hear the word of the Lord from Genesis 21:8-21

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW- When Ishmael was cast out of his father’s camp, we saw how Ishmael’s heavenly father intervened.  God cares for Ishmael and his mother and sees to it that Ishmael becomes the father of one of the nations who will call Abraham their father. 

In today’s gospel lesson Jesus talks about his Heavenly Father, and how he cares for God’s creatures and how nothing escapes God’s watchful eye.  Jesus continues to warn his disciples of the dangers ahead, but warns them of the even greater danger of rejecting or denying or being ashamed of their Heavenly Father and the hope of the promise of the love and caring of their and our Heavenly Father.  Hear the gospel of our Lord from Matthew 10:26-39

Let us pray.  Dear Lord bless to our ears, hearts, and souls this reading of your Holy Word.  Speak to us. Challenge us.  Call us to follow you above all. Amen.

****

In my midweek meditation I shared about a mom and her son in a grocery cart.  She warned him not to ask for Chocolate Chip Cookies, but when he got to the check out and saw his chances diminishing he yelled, “In the name of Jesus I want some Chocolate Chip Cookies!”  

Well since this is Father’s Day, I have a story of a father and his son in a grocery cart.  Grocery cart stories have been on my mind since for weeks that was one of the only places I could go.

A dad stopped in the grocery store on the way home from work to pick up a couple of items for his wife. He wandered around aimlessly for a while searching out the needed groceries. As is often the case in the grocery store, he kept passing this same shopper in almost every aisle. It was another father trying to shop with a totally uncooperative three-year-old boy in the cart.

The first time they passed, the three-year-old was asking over and over for a candy bar. Our observer could not hear the entire conversation. He just heard Dad say, “Now, Billy, this won’t take long.” As they passed in the nest aisle, the 3-year-old’s pleas had increased several octaves. Now Dad was quietly saying, “Billy, just calm down. We will be done in a minute.”

When they passed near the dairy case, the kid was screaming uncontrollably. Dad was still keeping his cool. In a very low voice he was saying, “Billy, settle down. We are almost out of here.” The Dad and his son reached the check-out counter just ahead of our observer. He still gave no evidence of losing control. The boy was screaming and kicking. Dad was very calmly saying over and over, “Billy, we will be in the car in just a minute and then everything will be OK.”

The bystander was impressed beyond words. After paying for his groceries, he hurried to catch up with this amazing example of patience and self-control just in time to hear him say again, “Billy, we’re done. It’s going to be OK.” He tapped the patient father on the shoulder and said, “Sir, I couldn’t help but watch how you handled little Billy. You were amazing.”

Dad replied, “little Billy?  His name is Wesley.  I’m Billy!”

It is not easy being a father. It is not easy juggling all the issues and providing for one’s family.  It is hard to bond with those you love when by necessity you must be away from them to be able to earn money to provide for them.

One cynic, speaking from his own experience, noted that children go through four fascinating stages. First, they call you DaDa. Then they call you Daddy. As they mature, they call you Dad. Finally, they call you collect. (of course, since the advent of cell phones when all long-distance calls are free—they do not call at all …and may not answer when you call.)

The role of a father is more important in today’s world than ever before. It is a different role than in earlier generations. In many households today, Dad is called upon to play more of a nurturing role in caring for children. If his spouse works outside the home, Dad must take a more active role in doing household chores. Today’s father needs to be nurturing of his children, supportive of his spouse, and yet at the same time provide for spiritual direction in the home. It is a rare man, a special kind of man, who can combine all three of these qualities


Today we salute fathers. Dads, we love you.  We wish you more than an ugly tie.

I’m wearing my Father’s Day tie from 2008 when my son took me to an Astros game, and I got a tie.  But we wish you more than a tie. We wish you peace, the kind of peace that Jesus came to bring. 

However, our lectionary scripture lessons this Father’s Day are hard to hear. Abraham exiling his 13-year-old son and his mother because of his wife’s jealousy and Jesus saying “I have come to set a man against his father are hard to understand. Is Jesus calling us to not love our fathers–to not love our mothers, our children? 

We must remember the context of these words of Jesus.  Jesus is warning his disciples about what is ahead for them. He knew that to follow him would mean that some parents would disown their children who did.  He knew that to follow him some children would turn in their own parents.  His call to follow him had to take precedence over even love of family.  In that sense he would come “not to bring peace but a sword” –a sword that would cut family ties rather than bring peace.  These words come from one who is about to give over his body to be crucified.  They are not to fear man who can only kill the body.  

I think a key to understanding these verses in Matthew is to understand them is to compare them to other statements Jesus made about peace.  In John 14:27 Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace be with you.”  He said, “My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives give I to you.  My peace I give to you.”  There the key, I think.  Jesus did not come to bring peace to the world.  He did not come to bring WORLD PEACE.  He came to bring PEOPLE PEACE.   He came to bring peace to those who would take up their cross and follow him.  He came to bring peace to people who would follow him even to their death.  He came to bring peace to those who would answer his call to follow him, even IF it meant that to do so it would bring anything BUT peace to family relationships. 

Ideally, whole families would answer Jesus’ call to follow him and his peace would be a part of their family life and strengthen their family ties. The peace Jesus came to give, sustains his followers in the worst of times, in the cruelest of treatments.  It is not the kind of peace the world promises and rarely delivers.  It is the kind of peace that separates the followers who have faith from those who do not. 

In verses 29-31 we have one of the most important Scriptural reminders of the love of our Heavenly Father for His children. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus asks, “And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” What a moving testimony to the very intimate love that God has for each of us.

Here is one of my favorite testimonies+ as a father. Once when my daughter was around 7 years old, she and I were sitting outdoors eating pizza on Montrose.  Abbey started throwing some of her pizza crust crumbs to some sparrows in the shaded parking lot. A couple of bully grackles came down and sent the sparrows scrambling.  Abbey jumped out and sent the grackles scrambling and the sparrows came back.  Abbey squealed with delight, “Victory for Sparrows!”  In Matthew 6:26 Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air.  They do not sow nor reap nor gather in barns.  Yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?”  Sometimes our Heavenly Father feeds sparrows through the efforts of 7-year-old daughters.

A second grader once asked his teacher how much the earth weighed. The teacher looked up the answer in an Encyclopedia. “Six thousand million, million tons,” she answered. The little boy thought for a minute and then asked, “Is that with or without people?”

Viewed from one perspective, it might very well seem that people do not really matter very much. After all, we are but microscopic inhabitants of a tiny planet orbiting a relatively obscure star in a small galaxy among the billions and billions of stars and galaxies that make up creation. Yet the God of creation has counted the very hairs of our heads.   (Some of us are doing our best to give God some time off by having fewer hairs on our heads to count.)

There is a troubling side to this truth. Sparrows do fall from skies. It happens all of the time. Sparrows do not live forever. Sudden storms or droughts can deprive them of their food. Predators prey upon them when they fall.

Our Heavenly Father’s love does not protect sparrows from falling.  Neither does our Heavenly Father’s love protect us from life’s problems. Those of you who are parents, you would protect your young from all life’s problems if you could. Deep in our hearts we would like to build a protective bubble around our children.  After all, when they hurt, we hurt. When someone abuses them, we are just as angry.  When they are confronting a crisis, it is we who toss and turn in our beds with sleeplessness. We would like to protect our young from any and every hurt. But what would happen if we did? They would never grow into responsible, competent, mature adults. Those little sparrows would never leave the nest!  (Bless their hearts).

God has placed us in a world that is designed to bring out the best within us if we deal with life in an attitude of faith and love. That does not mean that God has forsaken us or forgotten us.

There is a second truth related to this one. The Father’s love does not exempt us from life’s problems, but neither are life’s problems God’s punishment for our sins. Remember Job?  It was bad enough that he lost his children and his lands and his flocks and was covered with sores, but his friends accused him of deserving his wretched condition.

How often people blame themselves, and sometimes blame God, when life deals them a difficult blow. We hear someone say, “God must be using my child’s sickness to punish me for some sin.” What a petty God that would be to injure a helpless child in order to punish their parents. No!  Grief is tragic enough without adding to it the crushing burden of guilt.

Sparrows do fall from the sky. (Hairs do fall from our heads.)  Sparrows fall, but that is not because they have been good sparrows or bad. Sparrows fall because they are part of a lawful universe in which sparrows fall.   But here is the good news. The little sparrow never falls beyond the watchful eye of the Father. The child of God who knows that he or she is under the watchful eye of the Father can, by His grace, bear any burden, triumph over any tragedy, get on top of any circumstance because he knows that he is not alone. She is not alone.

We live in a world where fathers also fall.  Ishmael was cast far beyond the watchful eye of his father Abraham.  But Ishmael was not beyond the eye of God.  As fathers we will fall short. Thanks be to God who is a Heavenly Father who makes up for our shortfalls. 

Jesus warns his disciples that because of answering his call to follow him some families would be torn apart.  Some fathers would turn in their children and some children would turn in their fathers…but he also warns that the first and foremost loyalty is to our heavenly Father. 

It is time for fathers to face some hard truths. Sometimes our supposed busyness with business is often nothing but a camouflage, an easy way out. It is easier to provide a house than it is to provide a home. It is easier to give dollars than it is to give time. It is easier to write a check than to check out of work early to watch a child’s game or play or concert.  It is easier to provide a fun time than to share our wisdom. It is easier to be a good provider than it is to be a good leader. It is easier to push our children through the door of the church rather than lead them into the church. It is easier to be the bread winner, than to teach our children about the bread of life. Someday we will be called to give an account of our lives and woe be to those who were ashamed of their heavenly Father on earth, because Jesus warns, of them will their Heavenly Father be ashamed.

I do not know exactly what heaven will be like. But I know what God is like. He is like a Father who notices every little sparrow that falls from the sky and every hair that does or doesn’t …… God is a heavenly Father who cares for us much, much more than he cares for sparrows. That means even though we still must face obstacles and crises, we do not face them alone, and someday, somehow, all that which is hurtful will be turned into that which is helpful, and we shall live with joy in our heavenly Father’s house forever.  That is a promise that is good news in the grocery store for little Wesley AND big BILLY.  That is good news for us.  We will live in our Father’s House forever because the one whose eye is on us ….is the same as whose eyes are …  on the sparrow. 

Let us pray. We thank you for faithful fathers, for men who have not only brought children into this world but who felt a responsibility to help their children grow not only in stature but in wisdom and in favor with God and others.  Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for stepping in when earthy fathers have not lived up to their calling—for hearing the cries of abandoned Ishmaels of the world.  For answering those cries through your agents in the world, the church, yes even us. 

Faith Lift: My Father’s Guitar

This Sunday we will take time to express our appreciation for fathers.  The idea for creating a day for children to honor their fathers began in Spokane, Washington. A woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd thought of the idea for Father’s Day while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909.  This was a case where mothers took the lead.   

Having been raised by her father after her mother died, Sonora wanted her father to know how special he was to her. It was her father that made all the parental sacrifices and was, in the eyes of his daughter, a courageous, selfless, and loving man.  Her father raised her and her siblings after her mother died in childbirth, and she thought that fathers should get recognition, too. So she asked the minister of the church if he would deliver a sermon honoring fathers on her father’s birthday, which was coming up in June, and the minister did. Sonora’s father was born in June, so she chose to hold the first Father’s Day celebration in Spokane, Washington on the 19th of June, 1910.

In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.  I didn’t know this, but I discovered that roses are the Father’s Day flowers.  I always thought roses were the kiss-and-make-up flowers.  Roses were what I bought when I needed to apologize. 

I the truth be told, many fathers would be more honored to have a “Get out of church free card” on Father’s Day.  Many of them would rather be playing golf or napping on the couch or maybe even going fishing.  So, my hat’s off to those of you who will come to sit in church or at least  … watch church on this Father’s Day.

 For our 25th wedding anniversary I wrote a song on the guitar that was my Father’s. It was the guitar I didn’t learn to play on. The strings were too far off the frets.  The steel strings hurt my fingers.

My Father told me that he bought his guitar in a hock shop.  It was painted white with the name “Tex” on it in black.  He stripped the white paint off the guitar and underneath was this bird’s eye maple.   (I hope the guitar didn’t once belong to Tex Ritter). 

For Christmas when I was 19 my father took me to a hock shop in Wichita Falls and bought me a nylon string guitar. I learned to play. I sometimes wonder if the hock shop in Wichita Falls was the one where he bought his “Tex” guitar. 

Of course, I have since learned to play his guitar. Here’s the link to the song, My Father’s Guitar. https://youtu.be/U4hBvBjMavU 

Happy Father’s Day.

Passion & Compassion

Gen. 18:1-5, 21:1-7; Psalm 100; Matthew 9:35, 10:24; Romans 6:1-8 – June 14, 2020

When you think of Abraham you think of him as being the father of many nations, right?  Well in Genesis 15, God first makes a covenant with Abram that this will be so. In Genesis 16, Abram there is no child in sight so Abram’s wife Sarai gives her Egyptian maidservant named Hagar to Abram so they can “help God out” with God’s promise.  Hagar bears a son and names him Ishmael.  At this point Abram is 86 years old.  Thirteen years later, when Abram is 99 and Ishmael is 13, God speaks to Abram again. In Genesis 17, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and his wife Sarai’s name to Sarah.  God reiterates the promise that Abraham and Sarah will be parents to a son and tells Abraham to seal that promise with the sign of circumcision.  So, at 99, Abraham and at 13, Ishmael and all of the males in Abraham’s household were circumcised.  This brings us to chapter 18: 1-5..READ   Now let’s skip over to chapter 21:1-7. for the rest of the story.

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW 9:35-10:24

This morning’s gospel lesson focuses our attention on the first missionary journey of the twelve disciples of Jesus.  I know we heard Jesus’ Great Commission last week about Jesus sending his disciples out to share the good news of his resurrection, but this week’s gospel text focuses here he is sending them out to share the good news of God’s love. …for the house of Israel.

I find it interesting that in this first missionary journey Jesus specifically charges his disciples to only go to the house of Israel.  Even though Abraham became the father of many nations Jesus’ initial focus is to be specifically on just one of the nations who count Abraham their father, the nation of Israel. 

Israel, had a specific calling to be a LIGHT to the other nations-to lead the way, to set the example, to be witnesses to the other nations about the light they had received from their Lord and God.  Let’s read about Jesus charge to his disciples as he sends them forth on their first missionary journey.

***********   (Put up Passion Slide)

Carl A. Boyle was a sales representative who was driving home one hot afternoon when he saw a group of young children selling Kool-Aid on a corner in his neighborhood. They had posted the typical hand scrawled sign over their stand: “Kool-Aid, 10 cents.” Carl was intrigued. He pulled over to the curb. A young man approached and asked if he would like strawberry or grape Kool-Aid. Carl placed his order and handed the boy a quarter. After much deliberation, the children determined he had some change coming and rifled through the cigar box until they finally came up with the correct amount. The boy returned with the change, then stood by the side of the car. After a few moments the young boy asked if Carl was finished drinking. “Just about,” said Carl. “Why?” “That’s the only cup we have, “answered the boy, “and we need it to stay in business.”
It’s difficult to operate a Kool-Aid business if you only have one cup.


For many persons the word “evangelism” brings to mind one cup: it’s either the televangelist or the tent revivalist, or the street corner preacher handing out tracts or maybe even going door to door as Jesus’ disciples were charged to do until they came upon a “man of peace.”  In some churches, it means a once a year special event like a Revival.  For some churches it may be a particular strategy for incorporating newcomers into the life of the church.

But limiting our vision of evangelism to only one of these cups will cheat us out of one of the most rewarding endeavors Christ offers us: the joys of sharing God’s love with others.  When it comes to that mission, Jesus wants us to be more than a one trick pony or a one cup church.  

Why should we share God’s love? What is our motivation?  What is it that moves us to want to do that?  What would ever possess us to move out of our “comfort zone” to doing something like that?  Because we’re commanded to do so?   Because someone shared God’s love with us?  Because God’s going to get us if we don’t?  (Have congregation supply reasons)….

I believe our primary motivation for sharing God’s love is because we have a passion for our Lord.  

What first comes to mind when you hear the word passion?  About what are we passionate?   Family?   Our country?   Our sports teams?  Our cars?  Our money? Our Politics?

A seminary professor friend of mine, who taught evangelism courses once told me that evangelism is like sex—“if you have the passion you’ll find the method.” To be passionate is to be excited, to be delighted, to be consumed to be not able to sleep for thinking about your passion.  Let me tell you about my grandbaby!  Wait till you see my new car!   Let me show you some pictures here on my cell phone. Pumpkin Spice blizzards are back!  (I was at DQ yesterday and had to settle for a Reeses blizzard)

Mel Gibson, the actor who has made a career portraying men of passion leading other men into battle like Braveheart and Lethal Weapon 1-12 had a passion for the Lord that moved him to make a controversial film, a tremendously moving film called “The Passion of the Christ.”  The film depicted in graphic detail the last week of Jesus life on earth. 

Traditionally, the words used to describe the last week of our Lord’s life have been “Passion Week.”  We know that Christ endured great suffering on our behalf. So should we have a passion for our Lord.

I believe a second equally important motivation for sharing the love of God is because we have COMPASSION for the World.  (change to Compassion slide)

This compassion is the reason Jesus tells his disciples to go forth.  Verse 36 says, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Can you think of a better description of the mass of people today than “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd?”Can you not see a flock of sheep milling around in a pen –frightened and confused, stumbling blindly, bumping helplessly into one another, because they don’t know which way to turn? How like so many of us.


Jesus had compassion on the crowds because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. They had no idea where they were headed or how they would get there.  Jesus understood the real tragedy of a life of empty values, a life with no direction, a life linked to false gods. He “had compassion for them,” THEN he said to his disciples, `The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

The men to whom he spoke had virtually no wealth, no social position, no prestige, no extraordinary talent; nevertheless they took our Lord at his word. 

Here’s a teaser for you.  (slide of 3 frogs)

 There are 3 frogs sitting on a log and two of them decide to jump off. How many frogs are sitting on the log?   There are 3.   Deciding to jump and jumping are two different things.

Why do you think that Jesus told them to travel light–to depend on the kindness of strangers?  So they couldn’t load up on impersonal tracts?  So it would be easier to go from place to place?  So if they came somewhere and they were not received they could easily move on…or maybe even run on to the next place?  I think it serves as a model for us in our everyday lives.  Our mission is to share God’s love with folks in our everyday lives.  You don’t have to go on a trip to be in mission. 

A Mission trip can be a trip to the grocery store.  You don’t have to pack a bag to go to the Grocery store–although you may come home with some.  Mission can take place through a chance meeting, a business meeting, or an over the fence greeting. 

Part of my mission is to greet folks every day with a smile and a wave as I take my daily 4 mile trike ride around my neighborhood.  On Thursday I was on my “mission trip” and I approached two mothers walking with their little girls. One of the little girls had a mission of her own. As I got closer one of the little girls yelled out, “What’s Your Name?”  I told them my name was Jim.  Then I asked them what their names were.  They were “Chloe” and “Nora.”  I ride with a teddy bear in the basket on the back of my trike. (Which I borrowed from the church nursery).  . (Show Slide of Trike and Bear)

I promise to bring it back when our nursery is open again.

So I asked the girls if they could guess the name of my teddy bear.  When they couldn’t guess I told them his name was “Yogi.”  Chloe squealed with delight. “That’s a FUNNY name!”  I asked them if they would like to give Yogi a “high five.”  They did.  Then I asked them if I could take their picture.  They said yes.

Here’s Chloe and Nora. (Show Slide of Chloe and Nora)

They beat me to my mission that day.  They reached out to me.  In their childlike faith they hadn’t yet learned to be cautious of strange old men in their second childhood on the second tricycle of their lives with a teddy bear in the back.  

We have a mission.  We are not a business enterprise. Our motive is not a more impressive bottom line. Our goal is not to enhance institutional pride. Our aim is not to be the biggest and the best.  We are a family whose mission is to share God’s love because we have a PASSION for the Lord and a COMPASSION for the world that moves us to jump off the log.

(Show slide of Passion/Compassion)

Jesus warned his disciples that it would not be easy.  They would go as sheep among wolves.  They needed to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves and still they would be arrested and whipped in church, in the synagogues, and put on trial in the courts. They would be hated for what they were being called to do. They would be called worse names than their master and yet….The disciples did more than decide to jump.  They jumped!

In our gospel lesson we heard their names read. Tradition tells us that Peter died in Rome, John in Ephesus, Andrew in Greece, and Thomas in India. Virtually all of the disciples gave their lives carrying Christ’s mission to the ends of the earth.

From the twelve, the group grew to120 by the time Jesus ascended into heaven.  Ten days later, on festival day of Pentecost, it increased to over 3,000. By the time the last of the disciples died, there were an estimated half-million followers of Jesus.  Before the first century had lapsed, there were Christians in the Middle East, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, Italy, Spain, Egypt and Africa. They were equipped to share God’s love and they used their equipment. That was the end of the first century.

By the end of the second century, this number had increased to almost ten million. By the end of the third century, heathen temples were destroyed or converted into church sanctuaries. By the close of the ninth century, there were 100 million Christians. Today, the number has grown to over one billion believers around the world. None of this growth would have been possible had Christians not had a PASSION for the Lord and COMPASSION for the world.

There are people outside the walls of this church who are confused, angry, hurting, dying helpless and harassed like sheep without a shepherd.  And we have a shepherd, a good shepherd, Jesus. There are families that are disintegrating, young minds being destroyed by drugs, old folks feeling forgotten.

Jesus had compassion on the crowds.  To remedy their harassed and helpless condition he sent his disciples to heal them and announce the gospel and share God’s love with them.  And Jesus calls us to do the same.  Jesus is looking at us  and is filled with compassion on the crowds and is calling us to care enough to become involved in the lives of others.  Jesus calls us to be willing to take our time to show love to young people and old folks, to the substance abuser and the victims of broken families, to the down and out as well as the up and out. 

Jesus calls us to invite folks to come and see what the Lord has done in our lives.  Jesus calls us to reach out to waitresses and seniors and share with them the love of God and the peace of Christ and the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus calls us to follow the example of Chloe who joyfully shouts, “What’s YOUR Name?” and starts a conversation. I think that for Chloe, a stranger is a friend she hasn’t met yet. There are conversations waiting to be had.  What is your mission?  Jesus calls us to be laborers who are willing to do more than make a decision to jump, but to actually … jump—to be followers whose lives will be characterized by … Passion and Compassion. Let’s pray.  Dear Lord, give us the passion and compassion to be used by you to reach others in your name.  Give us the courage to step outside our comfort zone, as we know you did when you left your home in heaven to come walk among us, live like us, and die for us.  Thank you for this wonderful fellowship of followers to encourage us, to lift us up to stir us up to good works.  This we pray in Jesus’ name.

Faith Lift: Forward

Even though I took last Sunday off knowing you had a video sermon provided by the Presiding Bishop I did watch the service.  Kudos to the Band, the Videographers, and the Council for stepping up.  As my daddy used to say, “There is no rest for the weary.”

I write today as New York City, the once epicenter of the Virus, is opening up.  I write this today as people gather to pay respects to George Floyd and his body is laid to rest.  I write this as our country and indeed our world is in a state of upheaval and unrest. 

In the gospel of Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Even though we had a lot of time off from things we used to do, some of us are weary.  Some of us are and have been carrying heavy burdens.   Jesus invites us to come to him to let him teach us how to be humble and gentle at heart even though our actions may, at times, need to be hard to strive for justice, and to show mercy with humility.  Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you what is good; and what does the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?   

Being yoked is easier than carrying the load alone. It is easier because the burden is shared with Jesus and with our fellow followers.   The burdens we carry are lighter because we have help carrying them.

A week ago, I attended a gathering of about 200 clergy.   We were led in prayer and then we walked over to Discovery Green for a Rally prior to a March to City Hall in memory of the death of George Floyd.  The organizers of the Clergy meeting, Houston Interfaith Ministries, were giving out T-shirts that said, “Let My People Go Now.org.”  It reminded me of Moses and what he went through to win freedom from slavery for his people.  Exodus 12:40 says they were enslaved for 430 years.  Freedom doesn’t come easily.  

When I got home from the Rally, I remembered a song I wrote over 20 years ago.  I reworked the last bridge and recorded it on my iPad.  The song is called “Hacer Justicia- Micah 6:8”  Here’s the link for the song if you would like to listen.  https://youtu.be/yGRhrp2aBhk I don’t think what we used to perceive as “normal” will ever be the same.   As Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”  I do not want to go back to normal the former normal was not good for everyone.  I want to go forward to making the future brighter and easier and lighter for all.  I look forward to doing that with you as we all move….forward.

Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday

Delivered by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton – June 7, 2020

The holy gospel according to St. Matthew, the 28th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee,

to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

17 When they saw Jesus, they worshiped him;

but some doubted.

18 And Jesus came and said to them,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them in the name of the Father

and of the Son

and of the Holy Spirit,

20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The gospel of the Lord.

Praise to you, O Christ.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

How are you? How is it with your soul? We live in uncertain times. In these difficult and unprecedented times. These have become catch phrases, but they are true. The world has been disrupted. We are finding ways to stay connected even while we shelter in place. I am impressed by the creative ways congregations are providing digital worship. We know we are reaching people who would otherwise not feel comfortable to enter our congregations. I am grateful for the resourcefulness of pastors and deacons who use new ways to connect with parishioners and the surrounding community. We continue to study scripture, worship, feed the hungry, and serve the neighbor. In fact, the church has not been closed these past months. We are showing up.

I long, as I am sure you do, to gather together in in-person worship; to share a meal, Holy Communion and potlucks, to greet each other face-to-face, to have children running around through coffee hours and church gatherings. That day will come. We have provided recommended guidelines for returning to in-person worship. These can be adapted to your context. We want people to be safe. I have heard the slogan, “Faith not Fear.” This is a false dichotomy. The faithful response is to care for the vulnerable, those at risk.

Today is Trinity Sunday. We have already passed so many important days in our church year, the end of Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost. All celebrations that are part of the story of God’s merciful and gracious will to redeem the world. Wandering in the wilderness for forty days, the commandment to love, the gift of Holy Communion, the unbelievable sacrifice of the crucifixion, the victory of Easter. Last Sunday, we celebrated the Holy Spirit showing up, blowing open windows and doors and sending the gospel out through the apostles in clear, ringing proclamation.

And now, today, the church sets aside time to consider how God has shown up, still shows up, will continue to show up as the Trinity. It is an unusual holy day. We are guaranteed that there will not be Netflix series or greeting cards to mark the day. It’s a difficult concept. Theologians have wrestled with this mystery for centuries. Hoping to gain further insight I googled “Martin Luther Trinity” I thought I had found a promising lead when “Martin Luther wrestling versus Trinity” popped up! I was disappointed when it turned out to be a story about boy’s high school wrestling between the high schools, Martin Luther and Trinity. As believers tried to make sense of a Triune God major heresies shot up: Modalism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Patripassianism, Adoptionism. Yikes! But this is how God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is at work in the world and this is how the church has experienced God.

In the beautiful song of creation in the first chapter of Genesis we hear, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Martin Luther put it this way, “So also the Christian Church agrees that in this description there is indicated the mystery of the Holy The Father created through the Son, whom Moses calls the Word, and over this creative work brooded the Holy Spirit.” Later God says, “Let us make humankind in our image.” This is the glorious relationship within God that spills out into all creation. God is not a lone ranger and all of God shows up delighting in creation, caring for the creation, weeping for the creation, redeeming the creation.

I confess that I do not fully understand or have language to describe the mystery of the Holy Trinity, probably won’t until I complete my baptismal journey and stand in the presence of God. I can’t explain the how, but I can testify to the great Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” God is relationship. Within God and flowing from God. Creation is God’s decision NOT to look after God’s self, but focuses God’s energies on the creation. God is the one who does not grasp. As we hear in Philippians, “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Likewise, the Spirit is poured out on all.

And again, what does this mean? God is relationship, within God, with the creation, with humankind, and among humankind. And since we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit baptized into the Trinity, we are also part of this powerful, dynamic, living, giving, loving relationship. With God, in God, with creation, with each other. We are, inextricably woven together. No one is alone, no one is beyond the fierce, tender love of God. And God is not far off. God is present in creation, in each of us and all of us. God is flesh and blood made visible in Jesus of Nazareth and in every human being. God is Spirit, closer than our own breath, breathing life in and through us.

We are months into the pandemic. As we tentatively emerge from sheltering-in-place, divisions are emerging. Is it too soon? Is it too late? How do I balance my rights and freedoms against caring for my neighbor? What risks are acceptable? What am I willing to sacrifice for the greater good? When will this be over?

The Triune God into whom we are baptized, calls us, molds us, loves us into divine relationship. We are free. We no longer live to ourselves or in ourselves. We live to God and each other because God, all of God, lives in us.

At the end of his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul announces a promise, “the God of love and peace will be with you.” This full court press, all in, expansive, intimate, relational, Triune God will be with you. This is the promise. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit is with us all.

Amen.

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

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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.

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