Category: Weekly Sermon

Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil

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Genesis 22:1-19 Matthew 6:7-15

June 10 2018

 

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.@  This is clearly the most difficult and least understood petition in the Lord=s Prayer.  Why would God want to lead us into temptation?

Lets all put on our scholar=s hats for a moment and do a little exegesis of the Greek text.  The Greek word here can mean two things.  It can mean Atemptation@ or it can mean Atrial.@

Again and again the Bible points out that when are tried, it=s good for our soul.  AWhen God has tried me,@ Job says, AI shall come forth as gold.@(Job 23:10)    ACount it all joy, my brothers and sisters,@ says James, Awhen you meet various trails, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness@ (James 1:2).  And one more: AIn this,@ writes Peter, Ayou rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise, and glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.@

So it=s the same word in each of these cases, temptation and trial.  We prayed a slightly different version of the Lord=s Prayer today, the ecumenical version which is used in many Protestant and Catholic churches.  ASave us from the time of trial,@ this version goes, Aand deliver us from evil.@

Although we don=t always like to be tried or tested, we know it=s good for us.  A few years ago I decided to train for a marathon.  A marathon is a little more than 26 miles, and the hardest part of the marathon isn=t the race itself; it=s the training beforehand.  On Sundays after I preached two times, I would attach my Walkman to my waist and go running through the streets of northeast Portland for three hours.  Now that was hard and boring to do those long runs by myself.  But it caused me to reach down into myself to a place I didn=t know was there.  And when I completed my first marathon, running through a driving rain in Seattle with a side stitch so painful I felt like crying, I knew I could do anything.

Well, it wasn=t true.  I couldn=t do anything, but I thought I could.

A marathon is a trial, a test of character and endurance.

Taking on a job bigger than we are is a trial, a test.

Beginning a marriage is a trial, a test.  Half the couples don=t make it.  Those of us who have been married for a long time don=t criticize those who get divorced, because we know how hard it is.  After all, the bible says the two shall become one flesh, but it just doesn=t say which one.

Every time I date a man I think: Is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with? ‑‑Rita Rudner

The rock star Rod Stewart said, AInstead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house.@

Well enough of that.  Marriage is a trial, a test of character and endurance.

We admire people like Pat Tillman so much.  Why?  Because he gave up a career as a millionaire NFL athlete to become an Army Ranger.  Being an Army Ranger is far less glamorous, far more risky, and far less rewarding financially than being an NFL star.  But Pat Tillman knew there were some trials in life worth sacrificing for.

So the basic meaning of the word here that we ordinarily pray, ALead us not into temptation,@ is ASave us from the time of trial.@

Let=s go on and talk about this petition of the prayer a little more, in light of what we know about ourselves.  Then we can see how practical this prayer is.  For….

Sometimes we are tempted to take the easy way out;

Sometimes we are tempted to ignore the suffering of the  world,  because otherwise we would have to change our schedules and get involved.

Sometimes we are tempted to justify our actions when we know we have made mistakes.

Sometimes we are tempted to try to get our own way instead of acknowledging the needs of others;

Sometimes it is tempting to live in the past or the future because the present is so unpleasant

Sometimes it is tempting to try to hide from God, because we simply do not want to make the changes we know we have to make if we give God everything we have and are.

Someone passed on to me this week a book about the life of Presbyterian Medical Missionary, Clarence Salisbury.  Dr. Salsbury began his medical missionary career in China in the early 1920’s.  He came home for furlough and was planning to go back.  But he was contacted by Dr. Ned Dodd, the secretary of the medical board of foreign missions.  Dr. Dodd told Clarence Salsbury about the need for a doctor on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona.  He came to visit him with some pictures of the mission and a few scraps of general information.  Dr. Salsbury listened to the need without any enthusiasm.

AGot to find somebody,@ Dr. Dodd said.

Dr Salisbury was uncommital.

Then he realized Dr. Dodd was looking at him.

AI don=t know anything about Indians.@

AYou didn=t know anything about Chinese either.@

ANavajo Indians are very interesting people.@

AI won=t do it.@

AJust fill it, Clarence.  It=s only a matter of time until we find the right man to take it on permanently.  These people have got some serious problems out there. There=s an epidemic of diphtheria.   You can=t turn your back on them.@

AWell, I=ll go for a month.  One month. If we can=t get the epidemic under control in a month, it=s hopeless.@

AOh, you couldn=t do anything at all in a month.  You=d scarcely get your bearings.@

AOK.  Two months.  That=s the limit.  I=ll be back here in two months, and you=ll find a permanent man.@

AWell, try, Clarence, we=ll try.

It was a rather protracted two months.  Clarence Salisbury arrived on the 17th of May, 1927 and retired in 1950.  Today he is a renowned medical pioneer of  our state.

I think this story reveals the meaning of the  first part of the petition.  Clarence Salisbury was praying, ADo not lead me into the trials of Ganado,@but that trial forged his character, and gave him a career more rewarding than any he might have chosen for himself.@

And then the second half of this petition, ADeliver us from evil.@ Clarence Jordan puts it this way in his colloquial Georgia dialect, ADeliver us from evil=s sway.@  I like that phrase Aevil=s sway.@  It lacks the red suit and pitch fork of our comic version of Satan or the haunting and terrifying version of Satan in films like Athe Exorcist, but it captures what the Bible treats far more compellingly, the fact that evil often has a charismatic appeal and is wrapped frequently in the most appealing package.@

Well, most of the images of Satan or the Devil are caricatures.  But there is nothing funny about the power of evil. Every week, it seems, there is another shooting, so many of them in schools  We are five months in 2018 and there have been 101 mass shootings 23 of which have been school shootings.  Each week we have stared into the awful face of evil.

In a wonderful little commentary of this prayer, Dr. Tom Long says this: AThe best way to understand the petition, >Do not bring us to the time of trail= is to envision the congregation heading out the front door of the church to do god=s work in a storm-tossed world and whispering the prayer >Keep us safe out there, O God.  Let the forces of evil tremble to see us coming, rather than the other way around, and bring us home at the end of this day even stronger in faith than when we go out=.@

I hope by now that you all can see that when we talk about temptation and the power of evil, we are talking about serious temptations, not those itsty-bitsy sins, but temptation that strikes us where we are at our weakest and most vulnerable.  For it is only here that the prayer takes on real meaning for us.  For words like Atrial@ and Adeliver@ are words of crisis.  They remind us that to pray this prayer is to be thrust in the middle of a cosmic struggle.

I will call her Betty.  Betty was a member of my church in Portland.  She and her husband, Ken, joined our church when they were both in their late 60’s.  I got to know them, and Betty found out our teenaged-daughter was in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.  She asked me to come over to here house.  She told me very simply, AI am an alcoholic.@ She told me her story, how she attended AA regularly, but had never managed to have more than seven or eight months of sobriety before she would start to drink again.  I told her I would always be glad to help and to talk to her.  Sometimes she would call me late at night while she was drinking, so I made a pact with her, that I would never talk to her while she was drinking.

At first, when I met her, I think I felt contempt for her.  For I remembered my own grandfather who was an alcoholic, and even as a child, I had no respect for him.  But over time, as I became more educated about the disease of alcoholism, I learned as they say in AA that it is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.   And seeing what drugs and alcohol had done to my own family, my contempt over time melted into compassion.

One day Betty asked me to come by her house.  She was sober, but she had drunk all weekend.  And in tears, she said something I will never forget.  She said, AI do not want to die a drunk.@

Even now, years later I can hear the pathos and the despair in those words.  I do not know if Betty died sober or a drunk.  I left Portland and lost track of her.  But I do know the temptation to despair that she felt, for I have felt it myself, and so have you.  The despair that we will never be healed of some festering problem.  The despair that those we love may never  get it. The despair we feel when there is so much wrong in the world, and the wrong is  so strong.

Broken and worn down by this despair, the only weapon we have left is this: this prayer.  When we are angry or despairing or lonely, our only choice as Christians is to turn to the one who taught us to pray.  In turning to him, we know that despair does not have the final word.  And that=s the good news of the gospel.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Forgive Us Our Debts

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Matthew 18:2335; June 3, 2018

A few days ago a motorist in downtown Phoenix left a note on the windshield of his car.  “To the Phoenix Police Department: I’ve circled this block for 20 minutes.  I’m late for a meeting with my boss, and if I don’t show up on time, I’ll lose my job, so I really have  to park in this No Parking Zone.  Forgive Us Our Debts.”

When he came back to the car he found a ticket and this note: “I’ve worked this block for 20 years and if I don’t give you a ticket I’ll lost my job.  “Lead Us Not Into Temptation.”  

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  This is the second of three petitions of the Lord’s prayer: 1. Give us this day our daily bread; 2.  Forgive us our debts.  3.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  It’s interesting to note that when Jesus finished teaching his disciples this prayer, he comes back and singles out this particular petition for further commentary: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  

    Why did Jesus highlight this one petition over all the others.  My hunch is that he wanted there to be no mistake about his meaning.  He isn’t saying that our forgiveness of others is a condition of God’s forgiveness.  This isn’t a business transaction where God keeps a ledger on each of us, saying, “Now Swicegood forgave Jones of this, so I will now forgive Swicegood of that.”

It’s not like that at all.  The Scripture teaches us that God’s forgiveness is inexhaustible.  “As far as the East is from the west, so far does he put our transgressions from us.”

So what precisely does it mean, “Forgive us our debts, AS we forgive our debtors.”  I think the key to understanding this is the location of our heart.   If our hearts are hard and unforgiving, if we are unable to let the past go, if we are unable to forgive people who have truly hurt us, then we aren’t soft enough, receptive enough, vulnerable enough to receive God’s forgiveness.

The one character Jesus pictured as the most impossible to respect is found in the parable of the unmerciful slave.  Can’t you just see the twinkle in Jesus’ eye as he deliberately exaggerates the details.  No slave in Palestine could possibly owe ten thousand talents ten million dollars at today’s rate more than ten times the total taxes of Palestine to Rome on an annual basis.  The salve owed a debt he couldn’t pay in a lifetime, or in a million lifetimes.  He comes begging on his knees before his master.  The slate is wiped clean.  Then with this unbelievable mercy still ringing in his ears, the slave goes straight to wring the neck of a poor devil who owes him twenty bucks!

Jesus tells this story to amplify the point that people who are unforgiving are not able to receive forgiveness. Jesus, ever the master psychologist, knew that people who have a hard time forgiving others have a hard time forgiving themselves.  He knew that if we hold onto grudges, we also are pretty tough on ourselves.  He knew that if we continue to stew in resentment and bitterness over the wrongs done us, our hearts are not ready to let God come in and take over and forgive us utterly. He knew that God’s grace cannot dwell in a soul that is essentially graceless.

    I read an interview with a young Palestinian.  As he talked about the

oppression of the Israelis, he said very simply, “I will never forgive.”  

          Is there any thing harder in the world than forgiveness?  It doesn’t come natural to anybody.  All of us, at some point in our lives, have been hurt and hurt deeply by someone else.  We don’t find it easy to forgive, and oftentimes don’t want to forgive.   We rehearse our grudges over and over again to keep the enmity alive.  .

A few years ago this ad ran in the personals section of the L.A. Times.

         “Would the man who lived at such and such address 19 years ago and walked out on his wife and six months old son please  contact me.  I am that son and I would like the pleasure of

kicking his teeth in.”

Something within us all resonates with that ad.  We like to see people get their comeuppance.  The only problem with that, Gandhi so astutely observed, is that if we keep insisting on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, the whole world will be rendered blind and toothless.

Here’s the question this prayer poses:

Do the Palestinians have to forgive the Jews?

           “Do I have to forgive the person who stabs a knife deep in my soul?”  

    These are not theoretical questions.  They are questions people deal with every day.  History moves in one direction or another depending on how these questions are answered.  Will the Palestinians and Jews move from enmity to amity.  It depends on how the forgiveness question is dealt with.  

        Do we have to forgive?  What are the consequences of forgiving, of not forgiving?  What is like living in a world where there is no forgiveness, only a downward spiral of retribution and violence?  What  is it like for you and me to have done something wrong, and never be forgiven of it?

    I can only frame the whole issue of forgiveness in light of what happened one Friday afternoon some time ago.  After we had stripped the man of his clothes, spit on him, whipped him, we had a legal trial and decided his punishment would be crucifixion.  And as he hung there, bleeding, he looked down at us in our eternal cycles of vengeance, and this king said, “Father, forgive them.”

         There was once this old rancher who lived in Texas.  He was a tough old bird, and mean as a steer that has just been branded.  One day, one of his cowboy was caught stealing a cow from the rancher’s herds.  When the cowboy was dragged before the rancher, and the old rancher looked down at him, the cowboy trembled in his boots.

    “Hang him,” the rancher said.  “It’ll teach him a lesson.”

    Well, time came for the old rancher to die.  He died and found himself standing before his maker.  When God looked down from the great throne, the rancher thought about his life, all the mean things he had done, the way he had lived.  He trembled in his boots.

    And the Lord said, “Forgive him. It’ll teach him a lesson.”

 

Three Stories for Memorial Day

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Three Stories for Memorial Day

A letter to Major General Cliff Capps, Korean War airman, member of my church in Northbrook, IL. Cliff will be on an honor flight this week to Washington, DC.

Memorial Day, 2018

Dear Cliff:

When Barbara and I were in Washington, D.C.  last October we walked the length of the mall.  We came to the Vietnam memorial and as I always do when I go there, I searched for the name  AJerry Hunnyecutt.@ Jerry was a high school pal.  His father  was our  pastor in Winston-Salem, N.C.  Jerry was shot down while flying an F4C over North Vietnam in November 10, 1967.  His remains were not found and returned to the states until September, 1989.

After that we walked the short distance toward the Lincoln Memorial.  Sitting on benches and wheelchairs in the shade were a lot of old men along with younger men and women as their chaperones.   Without asking I knew who they were but I did want to know where they were from.  They all were  part of an honor flight from Minneapolis for World War II veterans.  It was very moving just to see them there, all of them old and frail.  I could just imagine how hard it was for them to get out of bed, make it to the airport, fly to Washington and get on a bus to get to the Lincoln Memorial.  I spoke to a couple of the men.  I said, AThank you for your service to our country.@  I know it=s trite but what else can you say when you feel such profound gratitude.  I said to one man, AI wish my father were still alive to be here today.  He fought with General Patton=s Third Army in France in 1944 and 1945. But I=m glad you are here.@

We left the old soldiers  behind and climbed the 58 steps from the plaza to the chamber.    You see old Abe, gazing  across the 2.3 miles to the capitol building.  Two of his famous speeches are inscribed on the wall in the chamber. On the south  wall is the Gettysburg Address. On the north wall is  the II Inaugural Address, which ends with these 75 words: AWith malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.@

Cliff, you and millions of others, have lived and died for the ideals expressed in the II Inaugural Address.  You have left a legacy for our nation which has  enabled us to have freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and freedom of assembly.  I thank you. We thank you.  You are an honest-to-goodness, died-in-the-wool American hero.    I am privileged to know you and call you my friend.

With every blessing,

Terry V. Swicegood

 

There is no higher expression of love then to give up your very life B to be willing to leave family and friends behind, knowing death is immanent. To the many brave heroes who have gone before, thank you for your sacrifice of love.

Story Number Two: On Palm Sunday 1994 we took our daughter to the D-Day beaches.    I wanted her to see two things: the cemetery above Omaha beach, but most of all I wanted to take her to Pointe Du Hoc,   a high promontory not far from Omaha Beach.  Barbara and I had gone there in January, 1994  where there is a museum in honor of the 225 U.S. Rangers who stormed Pointe Du Hoc on D Day.  Using firemen’s ladders and grappling hooks they scaled the cliffs to silence the German guns.  225 Rangers landed on the beach that day; only 92 returned to the states.  As a rock climber, I could sense what it was like to scale the muddy, crumbling cliffs in the face of machine gun fire, and attack the German bunkers, which even today look impregnable.  So on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, 1994,  we drove back to Pointe Du Hoc to show Amie the bunkers, the bomb craters, still so evident, and the museum in tribute to the Rangers.  While we were walking inside one of the bunkers we saw a t.v. crew filming the site.  We heard them speaking English.  I asked them where they were from.  They were from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and they were filming a documentary for D Day, which was to air about this time.  The producer introduced me to James Spivey, from Shelby, North Carolina.  James Spivey was a man small in stature, and he spoke with the rich drawl of those from my home state.  He was a veteran who had landed on Utah Beach and had fought throughout Normandy.  He had taken them to the sites where he had fought half a century before.  I noticed that James Spivey had a prosthesis for a right arm.  He volunteered that he had lost his arm in Cherbourg, several weeks after landing on Utah Beach.

I began to wonder, “What is it like to go through life with an artificial limb?  What is it like to lay in the mud with your arm half blown off?  What is it like to be carried by your buddies, placed in a jeep, and carried off to a field hospital, where you are one of hundreds of maimed and wounded men. What is it like to come home to your wife and family, and feel like half a man?  What is it like going through life having to shake hands with your left hand, since your right arm is a metal claw?  How many stares has he gotten these past fifty years?  What kinds of adjustments did he have to make when he returned to his farm?

As he talked about some of his experiences in Normandy, I wanted to say something to him.  I guess I wanted to say, “Thank you,” although those words didn’t seem big enough or profound enough.  I wanted to say, “You are a great man, James Spivey, even though you don’t realize it.”  I wanted to say, “I am deeply honored to be in the presence of a very brave man.”

I want to say to you that my heart is full today for all the James

Spiveys who sacrificed on D-Day and many other days not noted but equally important.    For everything that you and I take for granted in this country has come about because of courage and sacrifice of the the paratroopers who dropped by night behind German lines and the men who stormed the beaches at first light, and all the many others at sea and in the air who supported them.  When you read their accounts of that time, very few of them think of themselves as heroic.  Not many of them ever mention the word patriotism.  Hardly any of them consider themselves courageous.  But as someone said, “Courage is taking the risk when you know the odds are against you.”  In that sense, these men were heroic, and patriotic, and courageous.

Story Number 3:

Every year at 8 pm on 4 May, the Dutch commemorate both civilians and soldiers who have died in the Kingdom of the Netherlands or elsewhere in the world since the outbreak of the Second World War , both in war situations and in peacekeeping missions,    There are two minutes of silence exactly at 8 pm.  Everthing stops; cars on the freeways pull over.  People in restaurants stop eating and stand.  People leave gheir home and comee outside with hands over their hearts.  Everything stops.

In Amsterdam in the public square the king lays a wreath.  Before he does that there are speeches and the tolling of bells.  .

107,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands and German prisons to concentration camps, then Auschwitz. Of these 107,000, only 5,200 survived..

More than 500,000 Dutch citizens were forced to work in Germany during WWII.

More than 30,000 perished through hunger, sickness, maltreatment and acts of war.

On Remembrance Evening we went with our Dutch family to a park near their house.  People were streaming from the neighborhood for the gathering.  Children, parents, grandchildren.  At a quarter to eight a ball began tolling.  At 5 to 8 a brass band played hymns.  At eight two minutes of silence.  No sounds except the chirping of birds.  And when the silence ended an old man spoke. Of course, I didn=t know what he was saying.  Afterwards, as we left the park, I asked Amie=s neighbor what he said.  The gist of it was the importance of remembering.  Particularly for the younger generation who did not live through it.

AFor the dead and the living, we must bear witness.@ B Elie Wiesel

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

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Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
May 20 2018  Matthew 6

I want to begin with a quotation today.  You’ll have to listen closely.  Ready?
“We respectfully petition, request and entreat that due and adequate provision be made this day and the day hereafter subscribed for the satisfying of these petitioners’s nutritional  requirements and for the organizing of such methods of allocation and distribution as may be deemed necessary and proper to insure the reception by and for said petitioner’s,  of such qualities of baked cereal products as shall in the judgment of the aforesaid petitioner’s constitute a sufficient supply thereof.”  That’s an attempt on the part of a bureaucrat to say, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
We’ve started out in March looking at the Lord’s prayer.  We took a break for Palm Sunday, Easter and Mother’s Day.  Now we’re resuming.
Give us this day our daily bread.  The Greek word for “daily bread” is very tough to render into English.  Literally, it means “bread for tomorrow.”  In the ancient world the term referred to daily rations a soldier received while on duty.  Traveling light, the soldier would only be given enough bread for that day.    Following this thought, one commentator suggests that these words for a Christian mean, “Give us enough to see us through the next step of the way, no further.”
A child learning the Lord’s Prayer got her words mixed up and said, “Forgive us this day our daily dread.”  Daily dread–anxiety about today…..about what may happen tomorrow.  All of us are afflicted by that.  Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, and then says, “Which of you by worrying ever added one hour to your life?”  Nevertheless, we do worry.  Marcel Pagnol, writing about human happiness, caught my eye with this pungent observation: “The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future finer than it will be.”
This prayer seems to set the mood of taking the present as it comes, and trusting God for whatever may follow.  In an ancient commentary on this particular petition, old Gregory of Nyssa says, “The God who gives you the day will give you also the things necessary for the day.”  Or, if we could somehow write a screen play for this petition and put in on public television, we might say, “The day that is to follow is made possible by a grant from the living God.”
I.
“Give us this day our daily bread.’  The first meaning of this prayer is the obvious meaning, the literal meaning.  It means: “Give us enough bread to keep us alive, enough bread for our daily needs.  Man does not live by bread alone, but does not live long without it.  To Jesus’ listeners, whose life was lived from meal to meal, the meaning was obvious: “God, give us enough to eat.  Gandhi was once heard to say, “God would not dare to appear to the starving masses in India except in the form of food.”
So the first meaning of this petition has to do with the material side of life.  Sometimes when you are reading your New Testament, underscore how many times Jesus deals with the material side of existence.  He fed the five-thousand.  He appointed Judas as the treasurer of the disciples–their purchasing agent to make sure they always had food and shelter.  He healed disease when he could.  He plucked ears of corn on the Sabbath, breaking a hallowed Jesus law about working on the Sabbath, simply because he and his disciples were hungry.
Jesus was no dreamy idealist, for he grew up in the school of poverty.  All his life he had seen the haunted look in the eyes of hungry people.  He was surrounded by hungry people all his life….and as he looked out to the horizon, he saw them stretching out to the endless sea.  Mothers clasping their puny children to their shriveled breasts; fathers tearing open their ragged shirts to show the bones beneath their skin….while all around…like a moan of the sea there went up the cry, “Bread, bread! For God’s sake give us bread.”
Back in my early years of my Christian life I was what you might call a fundamentalist Christian.  And I heard another fundamentalist Christian speak one night at a Bible college.  He converted me permanently to the conviction that the Christian faith is concerned with the material side of life.  This young man had recently graduated from seminary and was deployed by the Christian Missionary and Alliance Church to serve an Indian Village in the Amazon jungle.  His assignment–to preach, to teach, and to establish a church.  But when he got there he was assaulted by the filth, the illiteracy, the disease, the malnutrition.  So he wrote back to his church headquarters, ticking off his needs: “I need one doctor, two nurses, one agriculturalist, three teachers, and one nutritionist.”  It took a long time but finally his request was granted.  They built a medical clinic, then a school.  The missionary said it was three years before they won their first convert to Christ.  Through the laboratory of human experience, this young missionary learned that people are often unable to deal with the spiritual side of life when their material needs are so overwhelming.

II.

And so this is a prayer for our material needs.  God does care about our material well-being.  But it is more than that.  For Jesus knew there is a kind of emptiness that a Big Mac, a large order of fries, and a chocolate shake can never fill.
So this is a prayer for spiritual growth, for our spiritual well-being.  And in the United States, with such unbelievable affluence, the reverse of Gandhi’s statement applies: “If God is to appear to Americans, he will have to come in the form of spiritual bread.”  For we are satiated with the material, but starving spiritually.  You may argue that we are a rich nation, but you cannot argue that we are a happy nation.   America the beautiful is also America the violent.  But even out there in what seems to be the happy mainstream of society are millions of people who are emotionally and spiritually malnourished–victims of low self-esteem, battered by broken homes and broken marriages, consuming too many pills and quaffing too much booze, and burning the candle at both ends in a frantic pursuit for a happy life.
Not long ago I heard a black brother give a ringing testimony of what God had done for him.  Even growing up in affluent America he discovered that he had everything that he needed except the most important thing.  He said, “God gave me soul-to-soul resuscitation.  I had a heart, but could not love.  I had a spirit, but could not worship.  I had arms, but could not cling.  I was dead, and now I am alive.”
I always look for a story to conclude my sermons.  Jesus told stories because stories reach us at a deeper level than statements or principles.  I believe what Jesus wants us to know in these words, “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” is beautifully and mysteriously contained in the little story, “The Wishing Well.”  You will have to listen closely, and if you do, you will see what I mean.
Read the Wishing Well by Eugene B. Coco…..
“There was an old man who lived by a wishing well.  Each morning he would go to the well to wish for something to eat, and before his eyes a basket filled with honey, oats, and milk would appear.  The old man would thank the wish well and be on his way.
“In the winter when the snow came, the old man would go to his well and wish for a place to keep safe and warm.  Then from the snow a cabin would rise, and the old man would thank the wishing well and stay in the cabin until the spring.
“In the summer when the sun grew hot and the earth dry, the old man would ask the well for rain.  Clouds would come, the sky would open up, and the old man would quench his thirst in the downpour.
“And when he needed a new pair of shoes or a coat for the cool autumn nights, he would go to the wishing well and that which he wished for would be given to him.
“No one but the old man knew of the wishing well until one morning when a young boy happened upon him as he wished at his well.  The young boy watched in silence as a basket of honey, oats, and milk appeared before the old man.  He waited eagerly until the old man left, then he rushed to the well.
“Foolish old man,” thought the young boy.  “He wishes for honey and oats when he could wish for anything in the world!  Do for me as you do for the old man!” the young boy shouted into the well.  “I wish to be the richest man on earth.
“From the sky gold coins began to fall.
“As he filled his pockets, the young boy soon realized that there was too much gold for him to carry.  He returned to the well to ask for help.
“A giant wheelbarrow appeared before him.  Though he tried his best the boy found the filled wheelbarrow too heavy to move.  In a panic he shouted into the well, “I wish to be big enough, so that all the gold coins, the wheelbarrow, and everything around me can fit in the palm of my hand!
“The young boy began to grow–bigger than the trees, bigger than the mountains, bigger than the clouds–bigger and bigger still, until the gold coins, the wheelbarrow, and all that he knew were far out of sight.
“The boy grew until he passed the moon and the stars, when suddenly a comet flew by setting his hair ablaze in a ball of fiery red flames.
“Stop this!  Please stop all of this!  I wish to stop growing!  I wish none of this had ever happened,” he cried.
“And so it was.
“A day passed and it was morning again when the old man came to the wishing well to wish for something to eat.  It was then that he noticed the young boy weeping beside the well.
“The old man’s knowing smile angered the young boy who shouted, “Go on and laugh, old man!  Laugh at my glowing red hair.  What does it matter?  What do you know anyway?  You know of oats and honey but nothing else.  You have no dreams, no hopes!  You have nothing!  You know nothing of what this wishing well can do!”
“Is that so?” replied the old man, as he removed his hat.  In the rays of the morning sun, his hair glowed redder than a thousand comets.
“He put his hat back on and walked over to the wising well.  Before his eyes a basket fulled with honey, oats, and milk appeared.  He thanked the wishing well, took the basket, and went on his way.”

Let us pray: We thank you, dear God, that you give us just enough resources for the day.  No more, no less.  We thank you that you have met all our needs all our lives.  Forgive us for wanting more.  Help us to be content with what we have, and thankful in all things, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Is God a Boy or a Girl?

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Is God a Boy or a Girl?
Matthew 23:37
May 16, 2018
Today we remember and honor our mothers.  I’m sure you remember some of your mother’s pet sayings that stay with you over a life-time.  I’ve compiled a list of things that mothers, including my own, say to their children.

When my children were small I would say prayers with them each night.  One night, just before I tucked my eight year old daughter into bed, she looked at me with all seriousness and asked, “Dad, is God a boy or girl?”
I couldn’t tell an eight year old that her question was a hot topic in theological circles at that time, that language about God and describing God was the subject of scholarly articles and speeches and books among the most distinguished Biblical scholars in the country.
What’s more I couldn’t say to her that feminist theologians were leading the attack on language of God that address God exclusively as a male: God, he; God our Father.  Feminist theologians were pointing out how such language supports patriarchy, the rule of males over all creation.
Since I had done a lot of reading on those subjects, and done a lot of thinking about them for my own preaching, many thoughts flooded through me mind.  But I knew that if I told her everything I knew, it would just confuse her.  So I had to give her an answer that was both true and fitting for an eight year old mind.
Children ask the most wonderful and difficult questions, don’t they?  And a child’s conception of God is both funny and interesting.
Eight year old Danny Dutton from Chula Vista, California had a home-work assignment to explain God.   Listen to what Danny said about God:
“One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth.  He doesn’t make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.
“God’s second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.
“God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So you shouldn’t go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have.
“Atheists are people who don’t believe in God. I don’t think there are any in Chula Vista.   At least there aren’t any who come to our church.
“Jesus is God’s Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O.K.
“His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.
“You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.
“You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there’s anybody you want to make happy, it’s God! Don’t skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway.
“If you don’t believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can’t go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can  It is good to know He’s around you when you’re scared, in the dark or when you can’t swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids.
“But…you shouldn’t just always think of what God can do for you.  I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases. And…that’s why I believe in God.”
That’s pretty good, isn’t it?  I wonder how many of us could do as well to explain God.  But….back to our question: is God a boy or girl?  Is God a male or female?

SLIDE TWO: GOD IS SPIRIT

The most obvious answer is “neither.”    God is neither male or female.  God is spirit, as John 4 points out.  But what exactly is “spirit.”  This is getting very difficult, isn’t it?
The larger question is “Who is God?” and “What is God like?”
And naturally, to answer that question, we turn to the source book of the church for our answers.
When you ask most people that question–“Who is God and what is God like?” the answer you most frequently hear is,

SLIDE THREE: GOD AS FATHER
“God is our Father.”
That has been the prevailing image of God in the church for 2000 years.  But it may surprise you to crack open your Bible and find out exactly what the Bible says about God.
The most common Biblical metaphor for God is God as father-like.  But get this: the father-image for  God appears only seven times in the Old Testament.  Let me repeat that, only seven times.  The concept of Father God” in the O.T. stems from the fact that the  father of the tribe or the father of the family was a patriarch, controlling everything.  Males were supreme; females were second-class citizens.
SLIDE FOUR: GOD AS MOTHER
The mother-image for God appears ten times in the O.T.   Note the slide.  And if you are keeping score: father-image 7, mother-image 10.  I believe the  Old Testament is trying to teach us something here: more on that in a moment.
In the N.T. the father-image of God is used 275 times.

SLIDE FIVE ABBA FATHER
It was Jesus’ favorite description of God, which leads me to believe that his earthly father  must have been a wonderful role model.  Jesus called God  God “Abba,” an Aramaic word which means something like “Daddy” or “Papa.”  It is a term of endearing intimacy.  ‘‘Daddy, would you read a book to me.  Daddy, could we go get some ice-cream.”
But there are so many more images in the Bible which describe what God is like.
SLIDE 6: ABSTRACT IMAGES
There are abstract images, which challenge our imagination and tease our intellect: God as spirit; God as the Eternal Word, God as Wisdom, and that wonderful passage of the burning bush in Exodus 3 where God says in response to Moses’ question, “Who are you?”  God responds “I am who I am….or I will be who I will be.”  God is saying, “You can’t pin me down.  You have no human categories to contain me.”

SLIDE 7: ANIMAL IMAGES
And then there are the animal images of God: mother bear, eagle, lion, mother hen.

SLIDE 8: NATURE IMAGES
And the nature images:
Fire—Deuteronomy 4:24
Wind   Acts 2:2; John 3:8
A Rock—Isaiah 17:10
Water—Jeremiah 17:13
Light—John 8:12; Isaiah 60:2-3
A Vine—John 15:1
And the human images of God:

SLIDE 9 BAKER

SLIDE 10: MID WIFE

SLIDE 11   FRIEND
SLIDE 12 SHEPHERD

SLIDE 13 POTTER.
SLIDE 14 BLANK
What’s going on here?  What is the Bible trying to teach us?   In the main, the Bible is saying to us, “Your concept of God is too small.  God cannot be compressed into any one image, nor can God be totally described in all the images of scripture.  Or if I could paraphrase what God said to Job in chapters 38 and 39, “Who are you pygmy brain, to think that you could know me.”
What  I am saying about the language about God this morning isn’t just some abstruse theological exercise, but goes to the heart of our faith.  For if being able to trust in God is at the heart of our faith, then how we visualize God will affect our relationship with God.
A woman came to one of those conservative churches searching for a meaningful faith.  It so happened that the pastor of this church always used the words “God our Father” in his sermons and prayers. That was the only metaphor he used for God.  This particular woman had been repeatedly sexually abused by her own father, so the word “Father” triggered the most painful memories.
I read the other day  that one of every four children under the age of six in the U.S. live at or below the poverty line, and half of these children live with single mothers who themselves are poor.  So we have now a  generation of children–millions of them–when they think of father they think of someone who abandoned them, someone who did not do his duty, someone who was never there for them.
So I believe that the future of our faith is at stake in the language of God question.   We need lots of images to help us come to know God.  The Father image isn’t bad; it just isn’t enough.  Our language about God should be as diverse and varied as the Bible itself.   The Bible, as we have seen, teems with  hundreds of metaphors to expand our view of God.
I want to suggest that in your relationship with God, think of an image about God that means something to you.  A woman I know had such a wonderful mother that she always began her prayer with the words, “O God, my Mother.”  That conjured up for her the picture of a God who loved her more than she loved her own life.  So find an image that speaks to you, an image that will expand and not restrict what God is and what God wants to do in your life.
A few years ago we loaded up a U Haul trailer and took both of our children off to college, to Southern Illinois University.  Our daughter was  a junior there, but it was our son’s first year, and we became EN’s,  E.N’s, empty nesters.
I felt really sad as started the  long drive back to Chicago, I had a case of the sad sniffles for a couple of hours.  (Later, when I told friends how sad I felt that we were empty nesters, some other former EN’s told me, “Don’t feel so bad, they will be back sooner than you want.”
At any rate, driving back to Chicago,  I was thinking about all the things my son and I had done together that have meant so much to me that I would  not be able to do that  fall and winter–trips to Chicago Stadium watching Michael Jordan soar and slam; our evening ritual of washing the dishes, I  washing, he drying; the cross country meets and the track meets when I would cheer him on.
I don’t think he knows–and perhaps none of us ever know this until we are parents ourselves–about how much a parent loves his child; perhaps more than we love our own lives do we love our children.  I don’t think our children know how desperately we want close relationships with them, however inept we are in pulling that off.
SLIDE 15 IS GOD A BOY OR GIRL

Is God a boy or girl?  That’s the question my little daughter asked me.
Here’s how I answered her.  “Well, Amie, God is a divine spirit, who created us and the world.  God is so great that I can’t fully understand everything about God.  But I believe that God is like me, a father, who loves you more than anything.  And God is like mom, who takes care of you and who would do anything to help you.”
The look on her face told me that my answer was satisfactory, and we kissed each other goodnight.
The Bible says that God loves us just like we parents love our children.  God wants a close relationship with us just like we want to be close to our children.  God misses us when we are away in some far country.  God wants to cuddle us close, like a mother does her nursing child.  That we should be so valued by the Creator of the Universe is the miracle of all miracles.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Manna: God Will Provide

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Exodus 16; John 6
April 22 2018

Now the children of Israel are unhappy campers. Their leader, Moses, has led them out of slavery in Egypt, and now they are one month into their journey. They find themselves in the desert. Life is harsh; water limited; food scarce. So they begin to murmur. I love that phrase. They begin to murmur. They begin to whine. “Oh, life in Egypt was so much better than this. Living under Pharaoh was so much easier than this. I don’t know why I let Moses and Aaron talk me into doing this stupid thing. At least back in Egypt, we had something to eat every night.”
They have been freed from slavery, but now they look back and feel that the security of slavery is better than the insecurity of freedom.
They have been given the promise that they will have their own land, but they prefer the comforts of an enslaved known to the discomforts of liberating unknown.
And so as they grumble among themselves, out here in the wilderness; they long for the good ole days. The back-breaking toil they experienced in Egypt, the cruelty of their Egyptian overlords, the humiliation of being slaves are all preferable to this scary freedom they had been given.
I have known many people in my life who are like the children of Israel. They prefer the security of misery rather than the insecurity of freedom. I know a woman married to an abusive alcoholic. She has been counseled by family and friends in Al Anon that she should leave him, but it is so difficult to start out on your own when you are 53 years old and have no employable skills. So she stays with him in a kind of bondage. She stays in her nice home, and drives her nice car, and wears her nice clothes, and is abused every night.
I know a pastor who serves a church where he receives unremitting criticism from a group of vicious lay people. He has been so stressed and anxious that he’s on anti-depressants. But rather than seeking a new call, he stays because moving is so frightening. Maybe he won’t be able to find a new call. Maybe he won’t be able to make the same money he is now making.
When God offers us freedom, the changes we must make are always excruciating. Freedom isn’t free. It comes with a high cost of challenge and painful growth. But I will tell you this: God is a God of liberation. God is a God who calls us out from Egypt. God will not rest while we live in slavery, whether it’s the slavery of our decisions and habits, or a slavery imposed by the principalities and powers of this present age. God wants us to be free….whatever it takes or whatever it costs us. God wants us to be free.
So the children of Israel are murmuring. They whine to Moses: “You’ve brought us out here in the desert, and look–we are going to die of hunger.”
A valid complaint. We do not live by bread alone, but we cannot live without bread either. How will we survive? Where will we find food and water?
Lots of us have asked similar questions. I’ve lost my job; how will I make ends meet? How will I make it through this tough class? How will I make it through my teenager’s adolescence? How will I make it through my spouse’s illness? How will our church survive with so many of us in the winter of our lives?
At one time or another, we’ve been in the wilderness and we’ve murmured against God, “God, why did you lead me here? I don’t know how I’m going to make it”
Poor Moses, their tour leader. He’s the lightning rod for their complaints. Like any leader of any organization, he hears it all. He’s blamed for everything bad, and whatever good happens, well, they think they’re entitled to.
On this occasion, the Lord says to Moses: “I am going to provide for my people. Each morning I am going to rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion, that I may prove myself to them.”
And so it came to be. They woke up the next morning and found a layer of dew upon the ground. It was a fine flaky substance. The Hebrew people looked around and asked, “What is it?” And Moses replied, “It’s what the Lord sent you to eat. It’s manna. It’s bread from heaven.”
There’s been a lot of speculation about the composition of manna. Being from the south, I think it was like grits. Being from the southwest, you might think it was like a thin tortilla. Some scholars tell us that in the desert there’s a kind of insect that feeds on the tamarisk tree. The bug eats more than its fill and begins to excrete the excess which forms a kind of white, flaky substance. It has a very sweet taste, and to this day, it is gathered by the locals and baked into a type of bread.
Whatever it was, manna was a gift of heaven. A sign from God saying, “I will provide for you. I will never fail or forsake you. I am the one who brought you out of the House of Egypt and the Land of Bondage. I will provide for all of your needs, spiritual and material.”
Each morning when the Hebrew children woke up….there it was…on the ground. Maybe it was a boring diet, manna waffles for breakfast, manna sandwiches for lunch, manna casserole for dinner. I don’t know. But each day it was there.
And here’s what’s interesting. Moses commands them to gather enough for only a day, and at the end of the day, to throw the excess away, because the excess would decay and spoil. They are asked to trust that God will provide manna for the next day.
Talk about a test. When you are out on a backpacking trip, you always conserve food and water. Especially in the desert.
And so, as usual, they don’t pay any attention to what Moses tells them. They go out and gather up more than a day’s supply. They try to hoard it, put it in some safe place in the corner of their tents at the end of the day, so that when they wake up in the morning, they can have Manna Frosted Flakes for breakfast.
Oh, the need for security. We spend our whole lives reaching for it. Getting the right education will bring security. Marrying the right person will bring security. Getting the right job will bring security. Making enough money will bring security. Having our own home, with nice furnishings will bring security. Having a big retirement nest egg will bring security.
It doesn’t work, does it? For there’s never enough. Trying to fill the hole in our soul with relationships, or status, or possessions is ultimately so unsatisfying. And so we relentlessly pursue something more, something new, something different, something, which will shellac over our inner discontent.
So the Hebrew children wake up in the morning, and go over in the corner of the tent to get some manna for manna waffles and manna Frosted Flakes, and what do they discover? It has spoiled overnight, and it’s filled with worms, thousands of creepy, crawly, slimy, disgusting worms!
I wonder how many worm-filled messes we have in our lives because we have never acknowledged that God will provide. I wonder how many spoiled days and nights we have lived because we have never learned to live trusting in God rather than our own efforts and possessions.
And so they crawl out of their tents, wiping sleep from their eyes, and step into the cold morning air, and as their eyes adjust to the dazzling light of a desert dawn, and lying right there in front of them, glistening in the sunlight, is a dew-like substance. It’s everywhere….in abundance….so much of it than when everyone gathers it up, they could go back and gather a hundred times more, and wouldn’t make a dent in its supply. Manna…..another day…..and God has come through again.
Listen: God wants us to let go of tomorrow. God only promises us this day. God will be with us today. God will give us everything we need today. God will provide us strength for the journey today. And God asks us to trust his grace for tomorrow.
A little later in this service we will pray the Lord’s Prayer together. We will pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” Those words, “daily bread” in Greek, come from the Hebrew word for manna. Give us this day our manna. And in our communion service today, we will feast on the one who was the incarnate manna, the bread of heaven, Jesus Christ.
I want to end today with a little litany. I am going to make some statements, and inasmuch as you agree with them, I am going to ask you to respond with the words: “Manna–God will provide.”
So I will make a statement, and then hold up my hand, and you respond, if you honestly believe what I have said, then respond with the words, “Manna, God will provide.” If you are unable to affirm the statement, that’s o.k.. Maybe it doesn’t apply to you at all.
OK. Ready.
I do not know what the future brings. I have some questions, some anxiety and fear about tomorrow. “MANNA GOD WILL PROVIDE.”
Someone I know and love is battling an addiction, and they are on a downward spiral. I admit I am powerless over their addiction, but I trust that God will do what I cannot do, and right now I give this person into God’s hands. “Manna, God WILL PROVIDE.’
I may be facing economic uncertainty in my life. I am concerned about my debts and responsibilities. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE
I have done some things in the past I am not proud of. I don’t want to live in those self-defeating and self-destructive habits anymore. I want God to cleanse and renew me. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.
Someone I know and love is battling a serious illness. I am worried what may happen to them. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.
Our church is at a crossroads. We have many challenges ahead, as we struggle to stay alive and healthy. . MANNA , GOD WILL PROVIDE.
I want to be a person of strength, of beauty, and integrity. I want to be a warm witness to my faith in Jesus wherever I go. I know I cannot do this by myself, and that I need power from on high to be the person I want to be.
“MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.”

“The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.”

Rev. Dr. Terry V. Swicegood
485 E Campina Drive
Litchfield Park, AZ 85340
623 521 1711
Categories: Weekly Sermon

How Do We Recognize Him?

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Luke 24: 13-35
April 15 2018

This is the only time in the New Testament where we meet Cleopas and his companion. One Biblical scholar imagines that the unnamed companion is Cleopas’ wife.  So let’s go with that angle and follow Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas as they travel today from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a journey of some seven miles.  They have been followers of Jesus and gladly embraced the new life he offered them.   Their hearts have been filled with joy and anticipation as they looked forward to hearing more of his word and to being witnesses again and again to his good works.  They have been renewed in body, mind and spirit by their companionship with Jesus and with other believers. And though they had to give up a lot to follow him, it was  nothing compared to what they had gained.   They thought it would go on forever.
But that was then. Now all their hopes and dreams were as dead as Jesus. The events of the past few days, ending with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, had beaten every last shred of hope from them.

Like so many before, Jesus had seemed like a young man with promise, a mighty prophet in word and deed, and they had pinned their hopes on him.  They hoped to overthrow Rome’s heavy boot on their neck.  They hoped to break thourgh the constant bickering and party strife of the Judasim of theri day.  They had hoped that he might be someone who was brave and good and behind whose banner they could march.  They wanted Camelot.  But the chief priestand leaders of their people had handed him over to the Roman authorities, and he was crucified.
So Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas concluded that there was nothing left to do but get out of Jerusalem and go to another place, perhaps to pick up the pieces of their former lives and begin again; to turn their backs on all that had seemed so expectant and hopeful, and walk the seven miles on the road to Emmaus.
They   start out, the two of them, talking as the go,  going over and over the same ground—as if saying it one more time would change the outcome. Don’t we all do that? If we’ve lost something, don’t we keep revisiting the same spot, thinking that if we go there often enough, the lost item will miraculously appear? When something tragic happens to us, we go over the same things again and again.  It seems a little stupid on the surface, but each time we go back over the same ground, we spiral down a little deeper, and healing begins.
Well, as they are doing this a stranger joins them on the road.    It is the resurrected Jesus, but   but their hearts are so full of defeat and so devoid of faith that they do not recognize him. What’s more, when this stranger asks what they are talking about, they cannot believe that he doesn’t know all that has happened. Where has he been? And so they tell it all once more. They even tell him about the empty tomb, how some women had seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus was not dead but alive. But still, they said to the stranger, no one had seen him, so perhaps the women were just imagining something that didn’t happen.
When they had finish their side of the story, the stranger chids them. “Weren’t you listening when he told you how all of this must come to pass? Don’t you know how, from the beginning of time, the prophets had foretold exactly what has just happened, that the Messiah must suffer before he enters his glory?” As he recites Scripture to them, going all the way back to the time of Moses, they are so taken in by his words that when they reach Emmaus, they don’t want to let him go; they want to hear more, and so they invite him to stay with them. He agrees, and as they sit down to supper, the strangest thing happens. A guest in someone else’s home, the stranger  becomes the host. He picks up the bread, he blesses it, he breaks it, and he gives it to them. And in that simple but so meaningful act, something they had seen him do time and time again, their eyes are opened and they know with certainty, not only who he is, not only that this is indeed Jesus, but they also know that all he had said to them was true.
I’m not sure whether it was because the light from the lamp finally hit Jesus’ face “just so,” or because they had been there at the Last Supper and seen him do it before, or because they finally looked deeply into the face of this Stranger with whom they had been walking and talking and eating.  Whatever it was, they recognize that this is Jesus, the one who had been with them all along.  And having so realized it, he vanished.
How do WE recognize the risen Christ? It isn’t easy, is it?  We are never sure, are we?
But this story gives us some hints. Any time and any where we feel God’s closeness, any time something happens to us where God tries to get our attention, that it evidence of the presence of the Risen Christ.   Jesus comes to us in numerous guises and  numerous circumstances — Emmaus invites us to expect that intervention, to expect that God will indeed seek us and find us. Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith or evidences of deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our openness to his presence.
There was a young boy who decided to go and look for God.   He packed a lunch and got as far as the park before he got hungry.. He sat on a bench next to an old woman. They sat together for an hour. He offered her a Twinkie. She offered him a huge smile. When the boy got home he announced to his mother, I met God today, and she has the most wonderful smile! When the elderly lady got home, she said to her son, I met God today, and he is much younger than I’d imagine!
Maybe the reason Emmaus is such an elusive place to locate historically is because it can be almost anywhere, anytime, even here, where the Stranger joins us who is no stranger at all, the one whom we know but do not know. Emmaus is, at the least, that place wherever the scriptures are explained and the bread is broken and Christ is made real in the midst of life.
In the South Bronx of New York City there is a Lutheran Pastor by the name of Hedi Neumark, who has served for twenty years as  pastor of Transfiguration Lutheran Church.  The South Bronx is a bad section of New York City, and Transfiguration Lutheran Church is a church where the rat poison is stored next to the communion wafers under the altar.
In her book, Breathing Space,  Heidi Newmark tells the story of one of her parishioners Angie, whom she first met on a home visit as Angie lay on the sofa in her bathrobe. Angie had sent her son, Tiriq to the summer program at Transfiguration to get him out of the house and to give her some quiet time. She had indicated that she wanted Tiriq baptized, so Pastor Neumark went to visit.
Angie was depressed over her childhood when her father would come into her room at night and violate her. She was depressed over the wasted years getting high to numb her emotional pain. And she was depressed about her HIV status.
Heidi read to her the words of the letter to the Ephesians used in the Baptismal service. “God out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead… made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him.
Little by little over the following months Angie began to rise up from her sofa and her depression and come to worship and Bible study. She even volunteered at the homeless shelter at the church and enrolled in a Lutheran adult study and leadership program known as Diakonia.
Everybody in the program had to give a presentation on Lutheran theology at some point during the study and give an explanation of why you were a Lutheran. One night, the students assigned to make their presentation did not come. And the teacher asked if anyone else would like to give his or her paper instead. Angie didn’t have a paper written, but she offered nonetheless to give her presentation on Lutheran theology and why she was a Lutheran.
Neumark writes: “Angie got a glass of water and set it in front of her. Then she slowly opened a Mary Kay jewelry case and took out a pink pouch which was filled with multicolored pills. She took out about ten pills and swallowed them, one by one, in silence. The class was riveted by this unusual theological presentation. When the last pill was swallowed, Angie stood up. ‘That’s my HIV medication,” she said. “I’m Lutheran because the church welcomed me as I am, an HIV positive, recovering addict, and a child of God filled with grace. Taking care of my health is part of my stewardship. Now by the grace of God I want to live. I want to live for my son. I want to live for the people still out there on the streets as I was. I want to live because Jesus Christ lives in me and through me. It’s not just my body anymore. I’m part of his body, a temple of the Holy Spirit’.”
Anyone here today able to identify the risen Lord as present and accounted for better than that?
Long ago, there was an appearance on Old Emmaus Road. And there are appearances still when the doors are opened and the scriptures are explained, the wine is poured and the bread is broken, and people love one another in his name.

How Do We Recognize Him?
Luke 24: 13-35
April 15 2018

This is the only time in the New Testament where we meet Cleopas and his companion. One Biblical scholar imagines that the unnamed companion is Cleopas’ wife.  So let’s go with that angle and follow Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas as they travel today from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a journey of some seven miles.  They have been followers of Jesus and gladly embraced the new life he offered them.   Their hearts have been filled with joy and anticipation as they looked forward to hearing more of his word and to being witnesses again and again to his good works.  They have been renewed in body, mind and spirit by their companionship with Jesus and with other believers. And though they had to give up a lot to follow him, it was  nothing compared to what they had gained.   They thought it would go on forever.
But that was then. Now all their hopes and dreams were as dead as Jesus. The events of the past few days, ending with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, had beaten every last shred of hope from them.

Like so many before, Jesus had seemed like a young man with promise, a mighty prophet in word and deed, and they had pinned their hopes on him.  They hoped to overthrow Rome’s heavy boot on their neck.  They hoped to break thourgh the constant bickering and party strife of the Judasim of theri day.  They had hoped that he might be someone who was brave and good and behind whose banner they could march.  They wanted Camelot.  But the chief priestand leaders of their people had handed him over to the Roman authorities, and he was crucified.
So Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas concluded that there was nothing left to do but get out of Jerusalem and go to another place, perhaps to pick up the pieces of their former lives and begin again; to turn their backs on all that had seemed so expectant and hopeful, and walk the seven miles on the road to Emmaus.
They   start out, the two of them, talking as the go,  going over and over the same ground—as if saying it one more time would change the outcome. Don’t we all do that? If we’ve lost something, don’t we keep revisiting the same spot, thinking that if we go there often enough, the lost item will miraculously appear? When something tragic happens to us, we go over the same things again and again.  It seems a little stupid on the surface, but each time we go back over the same ground, we spiral down a little deeper, and healing begins.
Well, as they are doing this a stranger joins them on the road.    It is the resurrected Jesus, but   but their hearts are so full of defeat and so devoid of faith that they do not recognize him. What’s more, when this stranger asks what they are talking about, they cannot believe that he doesn’t know all that has happened. Where has he been? And so they tell it all once more. They even tell him about the empty tomb, how some women had seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus was not dead but alive. But still, they said to the stranger, no one had seen him, so perhaps the women were just imagining something that didn’t happen.
When they had finish their side of the story, the stranger chids them. “Weren’t you listening when he told you how all of this must come to pass? Don’t you know how, from the beginning of time, the prophets had foretold exactly what has just happened, that the Messiah must suffer before he enters his glory?” As he recites Scripture to them, going all the way back to the time of Moses, they are so taken in by his words that when they reach Emmaus, they don’t want to let him go; they want to hear more, and so they invite him to stay with them. He agrees, and as they sit down to supper, the strangest thing happens. A guest in someone else’s home, the stranger  becomes the host. He picks up the bread, he blesses it, he breaks it, and he gives it to them. And in that simple but so meaningful act, something they had seen him do time and time again, their eyes are opened and they know with certainty, not only who he is, not only that this is indeed Jesus, but they also know that all he had said to them was true.
I’m not sure whether it was because the light from the lamp finally hit Jesus’ face “just so,” or because they had been there at the Last Supper and seen him do it before, or because they finally looked deeply into the face of this Stranger with whom they had been walking and talking and eating.  Whatever it was, they recognize that this is Jesus, the one who had been with them all along.  And having so realized it, he vanished.
How do WE recognize the risen Christ? It isn’t easy, is it?  We are never sure, are we?
But this story gives us some hints. Any time and any where we feel God’s closeness, any time something happens to us where God tries to get our attention, that it evidence of the presence of the Risen Christ.   Jesus comes to us in numerous guises and  numerous circumstances — Emmaus invites us to expect that intervention, to expect that God will indeed seek us and find us. Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith or evidences of deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our openness to his presence.
There was a young boy who decided to go and look for God.   He packed a lunch and got as far as the park before he got hungry.. He sat on a bench next to an old woman. They sat together for an hour. He offered her a Twinkie. She offered him a huge smile. When the boy got home he announced to his mother, I met God today, and she has the most wonderful smile! When the elderly lady got home, she said to her son, I met God today, and he is much younger than I’d imagine!
Maybe the reason Emmaus is such an elusive place to locate historically is because it can be almost anywhere, anytime, even here, where the Stranger joins us who is no stranger at all, the one whom we know but do not know. Emmaus is, at the least, that place wherever the scriptures are explained and the bread is broken and Christ is made real in the midst of life.
In the South Bronx of New York City there is a Lutheran Pastor by the name of Hedi Neumark, who has served for twenty years as  pastor of Transfiguration Lutheran Church.  The South Bronx is a bad section of New York City, and Transfiguration Lutheran Church is a church where the rat poison is stored next to the communion wafers under the altar.
In her book, Breathing Space,  Heidi Newmark tells the story of one of her parishioners Angie, whom she first met on a home visit as Angie lay on the sofa in her bathrobe. Angie had sent her son, Tiriq to the summer program at Transfiguration to get him out of the house and to give her some quiet time. She had indicated that she wanted Tiriq baptized, so Pastor Neumark went to visit.
Angie was depressed over her childhood when her father would come into her room at night and violate her. She was depressed over the wasted years getting high to numb her emotional pain. And she was depressed about her HIV status.
Heidi read to her the words of the letter to the Ephesians used in the Baptismal service. “God out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead… made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him.
Little by little over the following months Angie began to rise up from her sofa and her depression and come to worship and Bible study. She even volunteered at the homeless shelter at the church and enrolled in a Lutheran adult study and leadership program known as Diakonia.
Everybody in the program had to give a presentation on Lutheran theology at some point during the study and give an explanation of why you were a Lutheran. One night, the students assigned to make their presentation did not come. And the teacher asked if anyone else would like to give his or her paper instead. Angie didn’t have a paper written, but she offered nonetheless to give her presentation on Lutheran theology and why she was a Lutheran.
Neumark writes: “Angie got a glass of water and set it in front of her. Then she slowly opened a Mary Kay jewelry case and took out a pink pouch which was filled with multicolored pills. She took out about ten pills and swallowed them, one by one, in silence. The class was riveted by this unusual theological presentation. When the last pill was swallowed, Angie stood up. ‘That’s my HIV medication,” she said. “I’m Lutheran because the church welcomed me as I am, an HIV positive, recovering addict, and a child of God filled with grace. Taking care of my health is part of my stewardship. Now by the grace of God I want to live. I want to live for my son. I want to live for the people still out there on the streets as I was. I want to live because Jesus Christ lives in me and through me. It’s not just my body anymore. I’m part of his body, a temple of the Holy Spirit’.”
Anyone here today able to identify the risen Lord as present and accounted for better than that?
Long ago, there was an appearance on Old Emmaus Road. And there are appearances still when the doors are opened and the scriptures are explained, the wine is poured and the bread is broken, and people love one another in his name.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Thy Will be done

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THY WILL BE DONE

March 18 2018

I Peter 2

We have been working our way through the Lord’s Prayer over the past few months.    This is the most familiar and most universal prayer in all of Christendom.  In this prayer we find the model for all our  praying.  In the Lord’s prayer, we learn what God is like–a caring Father–and we learn why we are put on earth–to work for God’s kingdom and to seek God’s will.

The theologian Karl Barth once said that, “To clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”  According to Barth, when we pray, we unleash the forces of God’s power upon the world.  That is why we pray for an end of the enmity between Israelis and Palestinians, for the alleviation of suffering in Syria, , for healing from cancer, for the redemption of a disintegrating marriage.  That is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

So today I want to talk about this third petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Thy will be done.   I want to lift up two words which describe God’s will, and they both begin with the letter “P.”  God’s will is persuasive.  Second, God’s will is purposeful.   So I have crossed you up, and instead of having the usual three points a preacher makes, I am making only two, thus to guarantee that you will be out of church early and beat the crowds to Brother’s restaurant.    God’s will, persuasive, God’s will purposeful.  

I.

To launch out into our subject, I want to say that God works his will in ways that unfailingly persuasive and non coercive.  There are only two kinds of power in the arena of human relations.  One is coercion; the other persuasive. One is compulsion from without.  The other is devotion from within.  One is power over people, the other is power with people.  Go back into history as far as you like and you will find these two concepts struggling for the mastery of the human mind.  Dostoevski said that this was the acid test for any civilization–that a nation could be properly called civilized when it began to put more emphasis on the forces that persuade than on the cruder forces that compel.

I heard about a company over in Glendale and they were introducing a new insurance plan for the employees.  To be able to be eligible for this insurance plan all of the employees had to sign up and pay a participating share.  Well, there were over 60 employees in this small company and everybody signed up except for one man.  No matter how much is fellow employees and the boss tried to persuade him, he just couldn’t see the benefits.  Finally, one day the boss called him in and said to him, “George, you’ve been a good employee but your refusal to sign up for the plan is undermining the company morale.  Either you sign it or you’re fired.”

George, with a big smile on his face, took a pen off the boss’s desk and grandly signed his name to the contract.  And the boss, exasperated, looked at him and said, “Why did you do it so willingly–and why didn’t you do it long before?”  And George replied, “Well, nobody ever explained it to me so clearly up until now.”

Well, God is not like this.  God’s will is shown in non-coercive love.  And this love is most seriously and remarkable demonstrated in the cross.  The accruals of sin are always bitter and negative.  We know that hate begets hate, jealousy begets jealousy, suspicion begets suspicion.  Our only hope is for someone to absorb an indignity or an injury and not return it in kind, The cross is God’s way of saying, “The hate stops here.”  Or as Peter puts it in speaking of Jesus, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return.  When he suffered, he did not threaten.  He himself bore our sins in his body of the tree.  By his wounds, we have been healed.”  God will never coerce us, only draw us to his side in love.

II.

And a second facet of God’s will  is that God’s will is purposeful.    God has a plan in mind for us and for our world, whether we can see it or not.   And it’s here that we begin to identify with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.  But nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

Jesus sensed that he was on a collision course with the Jewish and Roman authorities, and that the outcome would not be pleasant.  I love this story in the Garden of Gethsemane so much, because it shows how human Jesus is,  just like you and me.  Part of himself wanted to opt out, to avoid the horrible days ahead.  He must have considered leaving Jerusalem, going back to Galilee, and continuing his ministry there.  But in the end, he was willing to lay aside his own ego, his own desires, to be obedient to his Father’s will.

I think I most identify with Jesus here.  First, trying to be obedient to God’s will instead of following my own will is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Trying to put God’s priorities first instead of my own priorities.  Trying to dance to God’s tune, instead of two-stepping to my own.

Before I came to Arizona  I was  in Mississippi, the hardest two years of my life, serving a declining church in an alien culture, with many people who just thought I was the worst thing to happen to Mississippi since Sherman came through and burned Jackson.  I had to ask myself, “Oh, my God, why did you send me here?”  And then I wondered, “Maybe God didn’t send me.  Maybe it was just a bad decision on my part.  A bad choice.  We all make them.”  But to know that doesn’t help, at least in the midst of the pain of a difficult situation.

We’ve all been in Mississippi haven’t we?  In a marriage that didn’t work out.  With a child acting up    With a job that is just soul-numbing.  With an illness that lays us low.

And we’re not sure in these situations how much of it is our fault or our fate or the will of God.

I can only tell you what I have learned.  I never believe that God sends us hardship, but I do believe with Helmut Thielicke that all evil which befalls us must pass through the hands of God before it reaches us.  God doesn’t send us Mississippis but God can bring us through Mississippis,  still erect, still proud, still standing on our feet.  Two things can happen from Mississippis.  We can become bitter or become better.   And if we are  extraordinarily blessed, God can bring us from a Mississippi to the First Presbyterian Church of Peoria, Arizona.      

In the eighth chapter of Romans we read, “In everything God works for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”  God has an unquenchable will to redeem.  What more is the cross that the world’s minus turned into God’s plus?

There was a woman diagnosed with a terminal illness.  As she was getting her affairs in order, she contacted her minister to come to her house to discuss her memorial service what Scriptures she wanted read, what hymns sung.  They laid out the whole service, then the woman

said, “Oh, there’s one thing more, and this is very important.”

     “What is it?” the pastor asked.

     “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”  He stood looking at her dumbfounded, not at all sure what to say.

     “Does that surprise you?”

     “Well, yes it does, to be honest.”

     The woman explained.  “In all my years of attending church socials and potlucks, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork’.  It was my favorite moment, because I knew something

better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie.  Something wonderful and delicious.   

     “So when people see me there in my casket with a fork in my hand, and they ask, “What’s with the fork? I want you to tell them, ‘Keep your fork…the best is yet to come’.”

If we allow God to work his will in us, even the worst things can become part of God’s will.  If we surrender ourselves to God, as did Jesus in the garden, we may know suffering and reversal,  but ultimately, we will know resurrection.  And because of that, in life or in death, the  the best is yet to come.    

Categories: Weekly Sermon