Category: Weekly Sermon

But God Gave the Growth

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But God Gave the Growth

I Cor 3:7

When John Witherspoon, the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence, preached at the first General Assembly meeting in Philadelphia May 21 1789  he chose this passage from first I Corinthians 3:7: “I planted, Apollos watered the plants; it was not we, however, but God who made them grow.”

Since I could not find a copy of Witherspoon’s sermon of that day,  I can only speculate on what he said.   I would like to think that Witherspoon, was conscious that a new church, like the new nation, the United States of America, faced its greatest threat not from external enemies, but from internal enmity.  That is to say, the Presbyterian Church of 200 years ago, as it launched out into the frontier to carry the gospel message, needed unity of the spirit and unity in the spirit.

So that’s why I would wager that  Witherspoon chose this text.  For Witherspoon knew that the problems the Presbyterian church would face were the same problems Paul faced in Corinth.

Someone said that reading lst Corinthians is like taking the roof off a first century church and looking in.

And when we take the roof off what we see is the most incredible contentiousness you can imagine.  Things had gotten so out of hand that people in the church had brought law suits against each other.  Paul must have worked overtime to keep this congregation from fracturing.   Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians was for unity.  Paul could say, “Diversity in the church, yes; division, never.  Candor in the church, yes, but cantakerousness, never;  frankness with each other, yes, but fractiousness, never.

People who can’t stand each other are always seeking an opening for a new round of the battle.  And so the Corinthians choose sides in support of the leadership of the church.  Some side with Paul, who is the founder of the church.  And some side with Apollos, the eloquent and intellectual preacher from Alexandria, who has succeeded Paul.  With different personalities and styles and approaches, Paul and Apollos come at the Corinthian church from different angles.   The Corinthians seize on these differences by saying, “I belong to Paul; I belong to Apollos.”  Yet Paul and Paul and Apollos themselves always have a warm and cordial relationship.  They were allies, not rivals.  To have the church split over the personalities of the leaders was the last things either of them wanted.

“I planted,” Paul writes, meaning that he was the first evangelist to arrive in Corinth, “Apollos watered,” meaning that Apollos took up where I left off, “but”  and here’s the important point, “God gave the growth.”

But God gave the growth.  Paul separates here what is primary and what is secondary, not only in church life but in all of life.  I planted, Apollos watered–human efforts, human achievement, and no doubt important.   But it is God who gave the growth.  The creation and nurturing of the faith is not the work of the preacher, or even the hearer, but is the gift of God.  The only significance of planter and waterer is that God accepts their labor and works through them; independently, they have no importance.

Look very quickly with me what this means practically, and I think the lesson applies equally in church, in politics, in business, and in the home.


First off, a lot can be accomplished by those who don’t care who gets the credit.  We have the situation in the church of what I call “Altar Egos”, pastors who must take all the credit.  Many of you must see the equivalent of it in the business world.  Such altar egos seem starved for recognition.  As Woody Allen quipped, such people must have been breast fed with falsies, so insecure they are, so hungry for recognition they are, so needing to be affirmed, to be center of the universe.

Barbara and I visited a large Presbyterian Church in a distant city some years ago.  The church had over 3000 members with five pastors.  The senior minister of the church was clearly in charge of everything.  During worship, he led the entire liturgy, gave the announcements, the pastoral prayer, and the sermon.  The only other staff member who had a word in the service was a woman who gave a brief children’s message.  That very style told me everything about that pastor and that church I needed to know. Had I been church shopping that morning, I would have never returned.  For my philosophy of leadership is that it’s extremely important to give staff public recognition, to give them every opportunity to make use of the gifts they have.  In every church there needs to be a competent staff all of whom have a vit  play in building up the church.

I get as much satisfaction in seeing one of our staff succeed in something as I might had I done it myself.  Someone in Portland, commenting on something our associate pastor did which was a stunning success, said to me, “Yea, but really, you had the good sense to hire her,” implying that the credit of what she had done finally rebounded to me.”

I replied, “It’s true, I was instrumental in hiring her, but honestly, I’m happy when she is affirmed and when our church is affirmed.  That means more than anything else to me.”

Do you remember  Peter Falk  deceptively bumbling detective, Lt. Colombo.  A few years ago, the t.v. program “Colombo” won an Emmy award for best t.v. series.  Peter Falk stood up to make the acceptance speech.  He said, “It takes a lot of people to produce a winning television series.  Producers, directors, stage hands, writers.  But when the show wins an Emmy, the star gets all the credit.  This is a very sensible system, and I wouldn’t want anyone to change it.”

Well, we all have the star system instincts.  But blessed is the organization that has leaders who are secure enough and mature enough to share the glory, who know that the building up of any organization is a team effort.  A lot of good can be done in any organization when no one cares who gets the credit.


And the second truth which grows out of Paul’s experience in Corinth is is a corollary of the first.  We are not nearly as important as we think.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  I was in Corinth for a while, Apollos took over, but God is the one who responsible for the harvest.

Senior pastors have many personality quirks, but all of us share one thing in common: we need to be in control.  I never realized it so fully as when I resigned in Lake Forest.   I had about six weeks left from the time I resigned until my last Sunday.  After 8 years on the job, everyone was used to checking with me before anything of significance happened in the church.

I felt my last responsibility to the church was to help the leadership prepare for the interim between my leaving and the calling of a new permanent pastor.  So I made suggestions of what would work and what wouldn’t.  The same people who listened to my advice and counsel a month before totally ignored me.  It was maddening.  It was frustrating.  It was infuriating.  I was trying to save the church from some terrible errors.  Nobody listened. I realized once again how much I needed to be in control, and how hard it was for me to see something I loved take a wrong tack.

I saw a cute bumper sticker: “Death is God’s way of saying ‘You’re not indispensable’.”    And yet some of us think we are.  We think the company can’t do without us, and we slave for the company until that day there’s a reorganization, and we’re out on the streets.  We think that our children can’t survive without our guidance and advice, and are crushed when they reject our overtures.

Martin Marty speaks of parenting in his little book on Friendship.

“Parents who make exhausting demands for the affection of their children have not learned that a family is not exclusive or permanent.  A couple comes on stage; they are to reveal the family as an art form.  It is not an art like architecture or painting, finished and there for ages.  Their art is like the ballet, to be danced when the curtain goes up and the stage lights on.  Soon the footlights will dim, the house lights will go up, the curtain will fall.  The dance is over and the dancers move on, with memories, snapshots, and other stages ahead.  Parents who do not learn ow to let go are doing a disservice to family relations.  But if parents and children are friends, they will have been learning how to bid good-byes.”


It’s a liberating thought really, when you think about it, that you’re not as needed as you think you are–that when you submit your resignation as Managing Director of the Universe, the sun still comes up in the morning, the stars still move in their courses, and God still cares about everything you care about.  You don’t have to get as uptight over things, you can relax a little more, and what God wants accomplished, God will find some avenue through which to do it.


And now one last thought, and this is a thrilling thought to me.  When we faithfully plant and faithfully water our little garden in some corner of God’s kingdom, God promises to give the growth.  Maybe it’s not growth according to our time-table.  Maybe it’s not the kind of plants we had in mind.  But when we are faithful on our end, God is faithful on God’s end.

And as I said, that’s a thrilling–and comforting thought to me.  For surely you’ve had days like I’ve had when I’ve said, “Where is this all leading.  I’ve invested myself in this church, with these people, and nothing is happening.”  In the soul’s dark night, and the heart’s deep winter, I get discouraged, and I ask myself, “Why didn’t I choose some other vocation, some other field.”  And at times like this we need to be reminded that the final outcome is not in our hands.   We must work as if everything depended on us, but we must pray as if everything depended upon God.

What Paul is saying that when we totally dedicate ourselves to God’s kingdom, God will use us for a greater glory and greater purpose than we can even imagine.   But what’s so hard for all of us is that we may not see, even in our life time, the results of our efforts.  And that’s very tough for us, immersed in a bottom line oriented society.

A final story.  When George Smith was a little boy, he was filled with a burning desire to be a missionary to Africa.  For long years he sacrificed and studied and prepared.  High school.  College. Seminary.  Language courses.  Finally, he was sent out by the MOravian Church.  But he was in Africa only a few months when the government changed hands, and he was expelled.  He left behind only one covert, an old woman.  He came back home, contracted tuberculosis, and soon died, literally dying on his knees praying for Africa, praying for the people he had come to love.

Think of it.  All his life focused upon a dream, a life time of preparing…then he went there, spent a few months, returned home a young man, and died, feeling he was a failure.

But one hundred years later that mission of one old woman who had been converted by George Smith had grown and grown and grown to a community of 13,000 African Christians.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

I’m Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says Sing

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I’m Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says Sing

July 22 2018 Psalm 150

A little fellow was visiting his grandparent’s church.  At the door the pastor asked him  how he liked the service.  With the brutal honesty of a four year old  the kid answered:  “I liked the music but the commercial was too long.”

The Christian faith is a singing faith.  Historians have claimed that Martin Luther won more converts through his hymns than through his preaching.

So, to prepare for this service I did a google search to find out the most popular hymns for Protestant Christian.  And, as we well know, if it’s on the internet, it has to be true.

The number one hymn is John Newton’s “Amazing Grace.”  No surprise there.  By his own admission John Newton was a wretch (Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a “wretch” like me.”)  Newton was  a slave trader, a torturer, an immoral man and as far from grace as anyone could ever be. As a boy, John was captivated by the adventure and risk of life on the high seas. When he was eleven, young John Newton launched into that exciting life of voyaging, sailing, and living his dream. But the dream turned out to be a nightmare. Later in life he wrote, “I sinned with a high hand, and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others.” Newton lived a hard life with hard consequences. God got his attention though. In 1748, Newton’s slave ship was nearly wrecked by an intense storm. In the tempest, surrounded by crashing waves, cutting winds, creaking timbers, and the cries of onboard slaves, John fell to his knees and pled for mercy, and for grace. God’s grace, which reaches anyone, anywhere, saved a wretch like John Newton. Newton wrote the song years later while serving as a pastor in Olney, England. During America’s Second Great Awakening, the song was paired with its familiar tune and was widely used in camp meetings and revival services. Today, its lyrics still inspire, encourage, and instruct people about the radical reality of God’s amazing grace.

Number two is “Holy, holy, holy.”  Long before Reginald Heber penned the words to this famous hymn, the prophet Isaiah had a vision and heard the call of the angels — “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Hearing the chorus, Isaiah crumpled in abject humility and adoring worship — “Woe is me!” Years later, Reginald Heber felt this same awe at God’s holiness, and wrote this hymn in response to what he experienced. Heber, who was a minister in the Church of England, composed the poem for Trinity Sunday. The poem lay forgotten until after Heber died at the age of 43. His wife found the poem in a collection of papers, and shared it with musician John B. Dykes (1823-1876). The song was published with music in 1861. God has used this song to impress millions of people with the truth of his holiness.  Let’s remain seated as we sing hymn number one.

Most people have heard of St. Patrick, or at least celebrated his day’s namesake. Fewer people, however, have heard of the blind Irish monk, Dallan Forgaill, (DALLAN FORGAIL) author of “Be Thou My Vision.” Forgaill was a 6th-century Irish monk who ministered in the wake of Patrick’s evangelization and church planting. He composed the song as he remembered St. Patrick’s missionary labors and the zeal that characterized his life. For generations, the poem became part of the Irish monastic tradition, used as a prayer and chanted in the Old Irish language. It wasn’t until 1905 that the song was translated by Mary Byrne, and it was 1912 before it was versified. Today, the exalted words and Godward vision of the song are loved by believers just as they were hundreds of years ago by the Irish believers.  Let’s remain seated as we sing hymn 450.

Robert Robinson was what you would call an “unruly child.” At only eight years old his father died, and he was raised by his loving mother. In spite of Robert’s intellectual giftedness, he had a penchant for mischief. Robert’s mother sent him off for an apprenticeship when he was only 14, but once he got out of the home his life got worse. Instead of working and learning, Robert chose drinking, gambling, and carousing with the wrong crowd. Caught up in his reckless life, Robert and his friends decided to go to an evangelist meeting one night just to heckle the preacher, George Whitfield. Sitting in that meeting, however, Robert felt as if the preacher’s words were meant for him alone. He couldn’t shake the feeling that God wanted him to surrender his life and serve him. When he was twenty, Robinson gave his life to God and entered the Christian ministry. At the age of 22, he wrote the song “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” for his church’s Pentecost celebration. It was written as his own spiritual story — a story of pursuing pleasure and joy, and only experiencing it when “Jesus sought me.” Millions of believers can relate to Robinson’s testimony — “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,” and the glorious testimony, “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!”

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, written by Martin Luther, is known as  “The Battle Hymn of the Reformation,” The hymn speaks of fortresses, strategy, ancient foes, and winning the battle. In Martin Luther’s time, it was an all-out battle for the faith. Martin Luther was a bulldog of a defender, going head-to-head with the established church and her officials. He didn’t flinch when challenging the Catholic Church’s departure from the true faith. Even Luther, however, had his bouts of depression. He penned the words to the song around 1527 as a paraphrase of Psalm 46. At times of discouragement, Luther would sometimes turn to his young friend Melancthon, saying, “Let’s sing the Forty-sixth Psalm. He would pull out his lute, and strum the chords of this triumphant song.  “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” As the Protestant reformation rolled on, believers often experienced the sting of persecution and even death. In their final moments, many were known to sing that inspiring stanza, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.”  Let’s stand and sing hymn 27.

How Great Thou Art was written by Carl Gustav Boberg, a 26-year old pastor in Sweden. As the story goes, Boberg was caught in a thunderstorm one Sunday afternoon after church. From his perch in the mountains, Boberg watched as the storm swept in with a bolt of lightning and massive clap of thunder. The storm hurtled through the meadows and grain fields, reverberating across the countryside with the sound of its astounding power. After the storm, pastor Boberg looked out his windows overlooking Mönsterås Bay. A rainbow spread across the sky, the birds were singing, the church bells were softy tolling, and Carl was overwhelmed by God’s power and majesty. The result was an outpouring of adoration and worship in the writing of the song, O Store Gud. The song made a circuit of translations, German, Russian, and English, and picked up a stanza from an English missionary Stuart K. Hine in 1949. Now, the song is sung by millions of Christians in dozens of languages, all praying the same heartfelt prayer of “humble adoration, “My God, how great Thou art!”

How Firm a Foundation, R. Keene (1787)

When it first appeared in print, the author’s name was only listed as “K” leaving many baffled as to the true author of the song. Extensive research has uncovered the songwriter. English pastor John Rippon published the hymnbook, A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, in which the song first appeared. Most likely the song was written by Rippon’s song leader, R. Keene. Regardless of its authorship, the Bible is the real foundation of “How Firm a Foundation.” Many of the song’s phrases are direct Scripture quotations, and certainly, the entire song is a Scripture-soaked testimony to God’s Word. The theologian Charles Hodge loved the song. During one prayer meeting in which the song was sung, Hodge was so gripped with emotion that he couldn’t sing the words, “I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.” The song is so rich that it is worthy of meditation, and certainly deserves the place of recognition that it has had during its long history.

It’s inspiring to hear about hymns that were written in extraordinary circumstances — thunderstorms, shipwrecks, or life-shaking events. Still, not every great hymn was written in the throes of danger or the heights of exultation. In fact, one of the greatest, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” was written by an ordinary man in an ordinary situation in the ordinary ups and downs of life. Thomas Chisholm was a pastor for one year, but for most of his life, he worked as an insurance agent. He was born in humble means in Kentucky, struggled with health problems, and worked hard to make ends meet the rest of his life. He wrote, “My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.” “Great is Thy Faithfulness is a hymn for ordinary Christians about an extraordinary God.”   Rich or poor, we all can say, “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.”

Let’s remain seated as we sing verse one of hymn 39.

Isaac Watts was one of the most prolific of all English hymn writers. Today, he is referred to as the “Father of English Hymnody.” Out of his nearly 800 hymn texts “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is considered to be his best and most poignant. Watts wrote the song to help Christians be “prepared for the Holy Ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.” The song brings the believer from personal reflection to bold testimony, to total surrender. “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”  In a survey of Presbyterians a few years ago, this hymn was ranked as number one.  Let us stand as we sing hymn 223

Categories: Weekly Sermon

The Gospel of the Second Chance

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The Gospel of the Second Chance

July 15 2018  Genesis 27: Acts 7:51-8:3

OK, true confession time.  I have been a big fan of Tiger Woods.  It=s not just because of my own golf prowess, that I would have been the Tiger Woods of my generation had I chosen golf over preaching.  Not just that.

But it=s because of his relationship with his dad, Earl, which reminded me of how close my dad and I were.

It=s because he was a role model to millions of kids, particularly kids of color.

It=s because he had a beautiful wife and two beautiful children, and that he was the ideal husband and father.

And so my grand illusion came crashing down around Thanksgiving time several years ago,  when we all learned that my hero Tiger wasn=t what he seemed to be.

He talked about all of that in his first press conference on February 19,  2011.

AI’ve had a lot of time to think about what I’ve done. My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before. It’s now up to me to make amends and that starts by never repeating the mistakes I’ve made. It’s up to me to start living a life of integrity.

AI once heard, and I believe it’s true, it’s not what you achieve in life that matters; it’s what you overcome. Achievements on the golf course are only part of setting an example. Character and decency are what really count.@

My wife, Barbara,  tells me that one of my blind-spots is that I believe in redemption too much.  I tend to think the best of people, no matter what.  I=m sure she=s right, and that I need a healthier theology of sin, which would make me more wary and more cynical.

But I=ve been tutored by the Bible and so many of the characters in the Bible are scoundrels at heart, yet mysteriously selected by God for God=s larger purposes.

Take Jacob, for example.   Jacob is the second born son of Isaac and Rebekah. He is a twin; his brother Esau is born first, and as such the law of primogeniture applies.  The law of primogeniture was fundamental in ancient societies.  It asserts that the oldest son always come first; the oldest son is the favored son; he carries the family name.   And from  this law of natural rights whole theories of social relationships have been established.

In this story of Jacob and Esau, Jacob (and his mother who is in cahoots with him) both turn out to be despicable tricksters.  He first tricks his brother in giving him his birthright.  On a day when Esau is famished he comes into the house and smells something cooking.  Jacob gives his brother something to eat in return for his birthrightBthe rights that ordinarily belong to the eldest son.  And then in chapter 27, Rebekah suggest that to get old Isaac=s blessing (and here Isaac appears weak and frail and a little demented), Jacob is to cook his father=s favorite meal, put on his brother=s clothes, and put a goat skin on his hands and neck to disguise himself and to feel like his hairy brother.

And the old man gives Jacob the blessing.  He has only one blessing to give.  Death bed blessings were absolutely important in the ancient world; it was like a will, and Jacob, by deceiving the old father, gets written into the will and his brother, Esau,  written out.

By all rights when should we talk about the God of patriarchs, we should say the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau, but instead we say the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  From here on, Jacob is the main character in Genesis.  There is more copy about him in Genesis than there is about Abraham.

And because Jacob has tricked his brother out of the father=s blessing, he flees for his life.  In chapter 28 we read about Jacob=s dream, how he has a vision of angels ascending and descending from heavenBWe are climbing Jacob=s ladderBand in this dream the irony of this story comes full circle.  He has won the family=s birthright, yet he has to flee from the family circle because he is afraid of what his brother will do to him.  And God comes to him in the desert, while he is on the run.  God comes to him, while he is asleep, vulnerable, in a dream  bringing not the reproach he deserves, but bringing a promise that he will be the bearer of the covenant, the covenant given to Abraham, given to Isaac, and now given to the second born, Jacob.

The Bible is full of scoundrels.  Moses was a murderer, David an adulterer, and Peter denied Jesus three times.

But for my money one of the most despicable characters in the entire Bible is Saul.  Saul is present at the stoning of Stephen.  For a moment, imagine the scene.  A victim of stoning is either buried up to his waist or bound hand and foot.  Then the stoning begins. The stones are specifically chosen so they are large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the condemned immediately. They are guaranteed a slow, torturous death.

Saul watches all this, and we are told in Acts 8:1 that he approved of it.  And we go on to read how the church was persecuted and how Saul was ravaging the church by going from house to house, dragging both men and women off to prison.  What happens to them in prison, we can only guess, but it was not pleasant.

You know the rest of the story, how breathing threats and murder against the disciples (9:1) Saul goes to the high priests to get permission to travel to Damascus to search out any Christians and bring them bound back to Jerusalem.  And you know what happens on the Damascus road how a lightning bolt crashed around Saul and Jesus appears to him, asking ASaul. Saul why do you persecute me.@

And for the rest of his life, Saul, who becomes Paul, turns his passion inside outBfrom persecution to proclamation and became the individual  most responsible for taking the gospel beyond the confines of Judaism to the Gentile world.

How very odd of God, inexplicable, to choose Saul.  How very odd of God, inexplicable, to choose Jacob.  How very odd of God, inexplicable, to choose Moses, and David, and Peter.

How very, very odd of God, inexplicable to choose you and me.

And I know you are running ahead of me now, and you see where all this is leading.  What we have been talking about this whole morning is God=s grace.  Grace, according to C.S. Lewis, is Christianity=s unique contribution among world religions. AGrace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us moreY and grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.@

Some time ago I was talking to an old man.  Nearing the end of his life, he took the opportunity to tell me as a pastor what a Roman Catholic does in the confessional with his priest.  No matter how hard he had tried over a long life-time, he had failed to  his life completely over to Christ.  He had done some things that hurt his family.  He had not lived up to his own standards, much less God=s.   He cried as he told me all this, a proud, accomplished, educated man, and he cried.

I listened, not saying anything.  I listened to his confession.  And after he had exhausted hiss regret, I said to him: ACould I read to you a few verses Psalm 103?@

AFor as the heavens are high above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him,

As far as the east is from the west,

so far he removes our transgressions from us,

As a Father has compassion for his children,

so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.

For he knows how we were made;

he remembers that we are dust.@

And then I said to the old man.  As I understand it,  the heart of the Gospel is this: It is not our grasp of God that counts, but God=s grasp of us.  It isn=t how much we believe in God that counts, but that God believes in us.  It isn=t our faith that causes God to loves us.  God loves us in spite of how much or how little faith we have.@

What I told that old man I believe that with all my heart.  AGrace is God giving  us what we do not deserve and mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve.@

God can take our mistakes and failures and turn them inside out.  God is a good of new openings, of bold initiatives, a God who has an unalterable will to redeem.

At the end of Tiger Wood=s press conference he said this: AFinally, there are many people in this room, and there are many people at home who believed in me. Today, I want to ask for your help. I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again.@ And if I could have a personal word with Tiger I would say this: ATiger, I=m pulling for you bud.  After all, the gospel I preach is the gospel of the second chance

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Three Nights at the Celebrity Theater

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Three Nights at the Celebrity Theater

In the past year Barbara and I have been to the Celebrity Theater downtown f or three concerts.  The first was Franki Valli, the second Tony Bennett, the third Johnny Mathis

Frank Valli, born  Francesco Stephen Castelluccio, May 3, 1934, became known as the lead singer of the Four Seasons.  His hits include Sherry, Big Girls Don=t Cry and Walk Like a Man.  He had a number one hit before the Beatles, during the Beatles, and at least after the Beatles.  All in all, he has had 29 hits in the top forty.  In recent years he has become even more well-known with the play Jersey Boys.

He tours constantly, and here is a free tip, the big take home message from this sermon.  He will be in Phx at the Celebrity Theater on January 19 & 20, 2019.  Tickets go fast.  Let those who have ears, let them hear.

Valli was interviewed a couple of years ago  ago by Dan Rather for ABC tv.  Rather said, AYou=ve still touring….you=ve sold over  100 million record.  You surely don=t need the money.  Your still touring.  Why are you doing it?

Valli: If I didn=t tour  I don=t know what I would do with myself.  I=ve tried to cut down my schedule a few times.  Take some time off.  I go crazy. @

The second concert was Tony Bennett.  He was born in Queens, N.Y. as Anthony Dominic Benedetto, Tony Bennett , was born in Queens, N.Y. on August 3, 1926.  I=ll spare you the math; he=ll be 92 next month. Drafted into the US Army in November, 1944 and spirited to the front.  He fought with he 263 rd infantry division into Germany, which he called Amy front row seat in hell.@  His unit was responsible for the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp near Landsberg, Germany.  As a result of what he experienced in the war, he became a pacifist.  What great songs he sings: rough his songs, AFly Me to the Moon,@ AThe Very Thought of You,@ and of course his standard, AI left my heart in San Francisco.@   In addition to that fabulous voice he is quite an accomplished painter.  He sketches or paints every day, and when, on tour, sketches what he sees outside his hotel window.  And he=s still touring.

Barbara reminded me that we attended a Johnny Mathis concert at my college on the night we were engagedB1965Blong ago, and far, far, away.  Johnny Mathis was born in 1935 in Gillmer Texas of all places.  When he was a child his family moved to San Francisco.  He was track and field star and got an athletic scholarship as a high jumper at San Francisco State.  He aspired to be a phys ed teacher.  He was invited for the Olympic Trials in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia but turned it down to go to New York City to make his first recording.  The rest, as they say, is history.

In 1982 he confided in a magazine interview that he was gay.  Today when he isn=t touring he=s an avid golfer, having had several holes in one.  When he was interviewed on a talk show about his career, he said, AI sing.  I can=t do anything else.@  I sing.

I admire these three men for obvious reasons, but for a couple of reasons you may not know.  The three of them are recovering cocaine addicts.  As Robin Williams once quipped, ACocaine is God=s way of telling you are making too much money.@  Having lived in a family of addicts, I know how cunning, baffling, and powerful addiction is, and sadly, how few make it to a life-long sobriety.  So I salute these three stars for an achievement which is greater than all the gold records they have made.

But I also admire them for a living a purposeful life.     All three of these men are involved in a rigorous touring schedule.  Franki Valli, 100 shows this year.  Tony Bennett 3 to 4 shows a month,   Johnny Mathis two shows a month.

And as Franki Valli observed to Dan Rather: AIt=s not for the money.  It=s to keep from going crazy.@

A friend of mine from PPC and I were talking about retirement.  He said that he knows a man at his golf club who plays golf every day.  AWhy so much, golf, Joe?@  He asked.

AIt=s just the way I fill up my time.@

The golf legend Harry Vardon said, ADon=t play too much golf.  Twice a day is plenty.@

A good friend of mine, Bill Forbes,  a Presbyterian minister was diagnosed with a very serious illness ten years ago.  who had just been diagnosed with a very serious illness. He was not expected to live long.  But he didn=t die.  I saw him at General Assembly.  He had a wicked sense of humor, he said to me, ADon=t ask.  Yes, I=m still here.@  He wrote us all a letter.

AMy docs are baffled,@ he wrote. AI told them it was the power of prayer, reasonable eating habits, exercise, massage, a little snake oil here and there, and a wicked sense of humor.@ AI didn=t expect to be here to write this letter.  And yet, I am.

AWhat have I learned? And then Bill told usC

Each day is a gift.

The greatest gift we can give to each other is encouragement.

Don=t sweat the small stuff.

Prayer shapes my life as never before.

At the end of his letter the pastor became pastoral. Bill wrote,

A None of us knows how many days we will be granted. As you look in the mirror each day, take time to marvel that you have been created in the image of God [and that you are still here]. Count your blessings. Smile more and frown less. Tell those you love how much you love them. Share yourself abundantlyCgive thanksCkeep a twinkle in your eye . . . and laugh.@

Great advice from a good friend, wonderful pastor, and great guy.

Well, like Bill Forbes there is a day coming, sooner than we want, when we will no longer be on this earth.  But in the meantime we can age with pizzaz,  like Franki Valli, and Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis, and Abraham and Sarah, who reminded us in our scripture reading this mornings that we can launch out with bold new ventures when we are 75 and have babies when we are a hundred.  We can live each day singing our songs, and helping others.  After all ,Yogi Berra said, AIt=s ain=t over, till it=s over.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

The Refugee Family

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The Refugee Family

July 1, 2018

King Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem troubled with him.   The Magi have arrived in Palestine asking: AWhere is the one who is born king of the Jews?@  Herod summons the chief priests and scribes and inquires where this king is to be born.  And citing OT prophesies they reply, AIn Bethlehem of Judea.@ And so this venal and crafty ruler send for the Magi and instructs them, AWhen you have found this new-born king, come and tell me so that I, too, may go and worship him.@  SURE!

After Jesus is born he is  visited by the AMagi@ who present gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But the tranquility of Asilent night, holy night@ is quickly broken by news of Herod=s intent to kill this baby. AO little town of Bethlehem B how dangerous you are to this vulnerable child.@

Herod was born around 73 B.C.  He was reared as a Jew.  He ruled in behalf of the Romans.  He was well versed in politics and assassinations.  During his reign Brutus and Cassius assassinated Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.  And a year later, Herod=s father was assassinated .

The Roman senate appointed him king of Judea in 40 B.C., and he retook the city of Jerusalem three years later from enemies from the east B the Parthians.

Herod survived only by ruthlessness.  Kill anyone who posed  a threat to his power. And he seemed to know more about the promise of the messiah than most. Having been raised in the Jewish tradition he likely connected the dots from Isaiah=s prophecy of a Messiah who would take Athe government upon his shoulders@to the king born in Bethlehem of Judea.

Herod was always on the look out for political rivals.  He  captured and killed any in Jerusalem who criticized him, and thus turned Judea into a police state.  Dissenters and opponents were executed. The country was swarming with spies and informants all.   He  regularly tortured confessions out of suspects before executing them. Private meetings were banned. In response to one assassination attempt by ten Jerusalemites, he tortured to death the wouldbe assassins and their associatesCand he had their families killed.

Herod was determined to kill any potential rival king. In 35 B.C., he had his brotherinlaw Aristobulus drowned in a swimming pool Aaccident@ because he had become popular with the people. Political conspiracies and fabricated rumors bred quickly in Herod=s court {and family}. He had ten wives and eight sons, and the question of who would succeed Herod caused incredible turmoil. Y He {even} killed three of his sons, fearing they might assassinate him. And so, the Magi are warned in a dream to not cooperate with HerodYand they get out of town quickly lest they become his next victims.

When Matthew tells us that Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him, we now understand what this means.  The citizens of Jerusalem wondered if they might somehow be linked to this  unknown king.

Meanwhile, Mary and Joseph are also warned in a dream of Herod=s agenda and quickly escape to Egypt. No time to Aenjoy@ motherhoodY no time to take pictures and post them on Facebook. No time to show off their newborn baby. They escape Bethlehem and flee to a safe haven in Egypt.  Lucky for them there wasn=t a wall to keep them out.

It=s an interesting turn of events. Jesus a  refugee child.  Ending up in  Egypt of all places. The very place where Jesus= ancestors were enslaved for 430 years. For that reason it was a place of last resort. But refugees are rarely given options.

Herod is determined that his rival will not survive.  He orders the slaughter of all baby boys in Bethlehem.  But Joseph, Mary and Jesus have already made it to Egypt.  They stay there until the get the news that Herod has died.  Then they return.  By this time Jesus is three or four years old.  But when they arrive back in Judea they learn that  Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod.  Like father, like son.   So they knew they were not safe in Judea.  So they then travel to the district of Galilee and settle in a small town called Nazareth, where Jesus will grow up.   Like so many refugees they have made the journey back to their homeland to learn they are still in danger.  They are seeking a safe haven.  They are seeking a better life.

We hear this story from Matthew this morning, this story we have  heard so many times at Christmas, and yet today in a different time of year and we hear it with different ears.  The holy family as refugees, desperate to escape a perilous situation, packing everything they own on a donkey and making a journey of 1000 miles by foot across the Sinai desert.

Unless our hearts are hardened beyond repair we hear this story with utterly broken hearts.  We hear it and we are reminded that one  in every 113 people on Earth have been driven from their homes by persecution,  by  conflict, by natural disasters.   We hear it at a time our own government is separating children from their parents at the our  border  An act so cruel that it is inconceivable to be happening in a country which is the finest democracy ever to exist on this earth.

We should put duct tape on the mouth of the Statue of Liberty, who has proclaimed to all the world, AGive me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.@

As much as the refugee problem is in the headlines in our country, our problem is small.

Across the world 20 people are forcibly  displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution.

The top 5 areas that refugees are from are Lake Chad Basin, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria.

The majority of refugees and displaced persons are being hosted in Africa and the Middle East.

The world=s largest refugee camp is Uganda=s Bidi Bidi refugee settlement.  Over 285,000 people live there.

Roughly 50% of all refugees are children under the age of 18 B despite the fact that children only make up about 30% of the world=s population.

The number of refugees, asylumseekers and internally displaced people around the world has topped 65 million, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in 2016. As of December 2015, there were 65.3 million displaced people, according to a report from the refugee agency.

But do I hear murmuring in the congregation.  Do I hear someone saying quietly to herself, AA sovereign nation cannot have open boarders.  We cannot let everyone in the world who wants to come here, for whatever reason, to flood into our country.  It would be chaos.@  And I agree with that thought.  This is a complicated problem with no easy solution.

The U.S. has not passed major immigration reform legislation since the Reagan administration, and we still use standards developed in the 1960s to determine who we permit to enter the U.S. A system this outdated cannot meet the needs of our vibrant, growing 21stcentury economy. Progrowth immigration reform can raise the pace of economic growth, increase per capita GDP, and reduce the deficit.  I put in the announcement section President Reagan=s speech on immigration.  It is worth your reading. Here is one quote from President Reagan: AFor one, we very much need an  immigration bill we need protection for people who are in this country and who have not become citizens, for example, that they are protected and legitimized and given permanent residency here.@

Here are five policy recommendations for a new immigration policy  in the United States.

1. Keep Our Labor Force Vibrant Through Immigration.

U.S. natives are not having enough children to replace our current population, and by extension, our labor force. A shrinking population and labor force will cause our economy to contract. More immigrants are needed to keep our population, labor force, and economy vibrant and growing.

2. Move to SkillsBased Immigration

Our current immigration system is overwhelmingly based on family reunification. Other developed economies, like Canada and Australia, admit immigrants primarily based on skills and education. Shifting the priority to a skillsbased immigration system would allow us to get the workers we need to drive economic growth while maintaining the important family reunification component.

3. Overhaul the temporary work visa system. For many temporary worker visa categories, the current system is inadequate. The caps are too low to meet market demand. The process is too burdensome to make using the legal visa system worthwhile. And some categories, like seasonal agricultural worker visas, do not meet the needs of the employers seeking workers.

4. Find a reasonable solution for the undocumented. Nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants and their families live and work in the U.S., contributing significantly to our economy. Deporting all of them is impractical, expensive, and inhumane. A reasonable solution allowing lawabiding undocumented immigrants to live and work here legally is imperative in any serious immigration reform.

5. More legal opportunities create a more secure border.

The U.S. has open jobs. Immigrants come here to fill those jobs. More legal opportunities to immigrate reduces the incentive to cross unlawfully or overstay a visa. With fewer unauthorized entries to pursue, our immigration enforcement resources can focus on the real criminals.

These are policy recommendations from the Bush Presidential Center in Houston, Texas.  Mrs. Laura Bush has said: AThis country will always will always be a place that welcomes each visitor with open arms.@

I want to close with two quotes:

AWhen a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Lev 19:3335 (ESV)31

AWhen the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34 AThen the King will say to those on his right, >Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.=37 AThen the righteous will answer him, >Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?=

40 AThe King will reply, >Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these { brothers and sisters of mine}, you did for me.= (Matthew 25)

Categories: 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.”
“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.


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?


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,

“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.
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.

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.
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.”

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

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:




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.

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