Calling for Help

Message Delivered on October 25, 2015

Mark 10:46-52       

You have probably seen the commercial more times than you would like to admit:  “Help, I’ve fallen and cannot get up!”  I saw it just last night when I was watching television.  Chances are, if you watch soaps, you have seen the ad for the push button device worn around your neck on a  cord or lanyard.  It’s supposed to summon help if you need it.  My mom had one to wear outside the house–when it was not hanging on the back of the bathroom door or on the garage door handle when she went outside to garden.  It works–if you wear it!  When I went to North Carolina for my mom’s funeral, my brother said that they could not find her “help” necklace.  I went right to the bathroom to retrieve it from the back of the door.  “How did you know that?  he asked.

Asking for help is a universally dreaded endeavor.  Whether we are struggling to get a heavy bag in the overhead bin on a plane, or fixing a flat tire by the side of the road, it is hard to ask for help.  I know a lot of people who would swiftly stop to help someone in distress, but ask for help themselves?  No way!  Not on your life.  They cannot ask for help and inconvenience someone else.  Nope.  It is okay to stop to help a stranger, friend, or family member, but ask for personal help and expect someone to go out of their way–no.  Not.  Uh-uh.

Lots of folks are likely to say, “I am good” instead of “Can you help me?”  Unless it is a dire emergency that involves calling in professional helpers like police and firefighters.  If we fall and cannot get up, we would rather crawl out to the street and climb into the car parked at the curb, rather than ask anyone else to go out of their way.

M. Nora Klaver has written a book, “Mayday:  Asking for Help in Times of Need,” in which she lists reasons we do not ask for help, and try to do it on our own:

       *We were never taught to ask for help and have few role models. The ethic of self sufficiency has been passed down to us from our parents and grandparents.  Nancy used to tell me, “Do it the self!” (She was two at the time)

       *We love our independence.  Americans are becoming more and more isolated from each other.  How many of you know any of your neighbors’ names, besides the ones directly next to or across the street from you?  Attendance in service clubs and community organizations, including the church, has declined.  The advent of the internet has made it possible to chat with friends–no need to meet.  You can shop online and not have to find a parking place–or your car once it is parked, and to even get an education–all online!

       *We don’t think to ask.  We are so focused on caring for ourselves that we do not realize when we need help.

       *It is easier to do it ourselves.  Remember, “If you want something done right, do it yourself!”  My parents recited that litany to me often.  And Americans do not want to be indebted to anyone.

       *We are afraid to ask.  We do not want people to think we are helpless.

Bartimaeus had no qualms about asking for help.  He was calmly sitting by the roadside in one of his many designated spots, realizing that his self-sufficiency might be crippling him–actually blinding him to help that quite possibly was available.  He was sitting by the roadside as Jesus, his disciples, and the crowd that followed Jesus, were passing by on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem.  He heard that Jesus was coming and without any sense of embarrassment, the blind man began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  The crowd thought he was acting scandalously and ordered him to be quiet.  Bartimaeus continued to cry out for help loudly.  As a blind beggar, Bartimaeus’ only hope for a productive life was to receive sight.  He knows his need, but he does not cry out about his need for sight, just his need to be seen by Jesus.  He knows that Jesus can do something about the things that bind him, rather than the things that blind him.  He did not say, “Have mercy on me, a blind man, but have mercy on me, a sinner!”  Bartimaeus seemed to understand that his vision was not only blurred, but that he also needed spiritual healing.  He was open to the possibility that he needed both physical and spiritual healing.  Asking for help begins when we acknowledge that we have a problem.  The more we try to hide it, the more it seems to grow.

How well can we see?  Look at these playing cards.  They are face cards and you have seen some like them multiple times if you have played card games like Slap Jack, Fish or learned to do card tricks.  Did you ever put cards on the spokes of your bike wheels with clip on clothespins to pretend your engine was running?  The face cards flashed like imaginary flames as you rode along.  How closely did you view the cards?  King, Queen, Jack?  They are a part of your visual experience.  How fully have you seen them?  One of four kings is in profile.  One queen holds a scepter.  Does every queen hold a flower?  Does every jack have a moustache?  Which jack has a leaf on his hand–or hat? Which king holds an axe instead of a sword?  Seeing and not seeing is an over-arching theme in this section of Mark’s gospel.  Verse 22 involves the healing of a blind man and ends with the incident involving Blind Bartimaeus.  Jesus asks, “Do you have eyes and fail to see?”  “Do you have ears and fail to hear (Mark 8:18)?”

As the disciples walk to Jerusalem, Jesus getting closer to the cross, Jesus’ words about suffering are falling on deaf ears.  Visions of courtly splendor fill their eyes as they jockey for a position in the Kingdom of God, wanting to be at the right and left of Jesus in glory.  They do not see the glory of Jesus hidden in his servanthood.  Blindness is a biblical metaphor for spiritual blindness.

Bartimaeus’ call for help causes Jesus to respond immediately.  His sight is restored.  The blind man is you and I, missing all the details of Jesus’ love that comes to seek us out and open our eyes to living in a kingdom whose priority and values are fashioned by a crucified Lord.  Jesus can do something about things that bind and blind us.  We need to take a leap of faith and ask for help, believing that we qualify for help before we can even ask.  Like Bartimaeus, we are children of God, looking for a Savior who already claims us as his.  Faith can make us well.  Faith is the catalyst for asking and asking is the key to healing.  One of the keys to asking and receiving help is gratitude.  When we have an attitude of gratitude, it shakes us out of our self-sufficiency and allows us to celebrate what others have done for us.  It feels good to receive gratitude when we have done a service for others and it feels good to give gratitude when someone has done something for us.

Do not be afraid to ask, to have faith, and to be grateful to the God who supplies all our needs  Be thankful for the people ready to help us in God’s behalf.  In asking, you shall receive (Matthew 7:7).

Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it.—Unknown.   Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

World Communion Sunday

Message Delivered on October 4, 2015                          

Psalm 26

As I pondered the psalm for today’s reading, I thought about the joy we are to share in worship.  The choir sang praise joyfully to the Lord.  There is a story about church the late Erma Bombeck told:  “I was focused on a small child who was turning around and smiling at everyone.  He was not gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals, or rummaging through his mom’s handbag.  He was just… smiling.  Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theater off broadway said, ‘Stop that grinning! You are in Church!’  With that, she gave him a glare, and as the tears rolled down his cheek, the mother added, ‘That’s better,’ and returned to her prayers.”  Bombeck reflected, “We sing, ‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!’ while our faces reflect the sadness of one who has just buried a rich aunt who left everything to her pregnant hamster.”  She continued, “Suddenly I was angry.  It occurred to me the entire world is in tears, and if you are not, then you had better get with it.  I wanted to grab the child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God.  The happy God.  The smiling God.  The God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us.  I wanted to tell him that He is an understanding God.  One who understands little children who turn around and smile in Church, and even curious little children who rummage through their mothers’ handbags.  I wanted to tell that little child that I too have taken a few lumps for daring to smile in an otherwise solemn religious setting.  By tradition, I suppose, one wears faith with the solemnity of a mourner, the mask of tragedy.  What a fool, I thought, this woman sitting next to the only sign of hope–the only miracle left in our civilization.  If that child could not smile in Church, then were was there left to go?”  Lives are changed when we turn the Church on its head.  Children have a way of warming our hearts and moving us to do what we are called to do by our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

Have you seen the HGTV show Flip or Flop?  It is about a husband and wife who attempt to transform run-down properties into valuable homes.  Tarek is a specialist in renovating distressed properties, while Christina is a real estate agent with an eye for design.  Together, they snatch up foreclosed homes, rehab them and attempt to sell them at a profit.  Occasionally, they buy a home that turns out to be a structural nightmare requiring difficult and expensive repairs.

In Psalm 26 the “house of the Lord” is described as the place where God’s glory lives.  The psalm writer goes into God’s house to sing thanksgiving and to speak of God’s wondrous deeds.  God’s house is clearly a valuable property with charming, original architecture.  Many of the people through the  years have not behaved themselves–at least not in the house described in the Bible.  People have been hypocrites and evil doers.  In one of the houses purchased by Tarek and Christina, the outgoing tenants poured concrete in the toilets, smashed out all the windows and pummeled the wooden floors with a hammer.  In God’s house the damage is not so much physical as it is spiritual.  Some church leaders have abused their power and committed various forms of misconduct, leaving a trail of damage in their wake: some physical, emotional and spiritual damage.

How do we renovate the house of the Lord for those who want to sing praise to God, speak of God’s wondrous deeds, to bless the Lord–and to smile with joy at what they are experiencing around them?

Church consultant, Loren Mead, recommends that the church be turned on its head, upside down.  Church members need to be seen as the leaders of Christian mission and clergy supporting the members in their endeavors.  For years the church mission was organizing efforts to send goods and services to far-reaching places.  Our denomination in the past has built a presbytery structure for local, regional and national entities that could gather and deploy resources to the critical points in the missionary frontier.

The missionary frontier has transitioned to around the local church and surrounding state boundaries.  We are not sending as much to other countries, with the exception of Central and South America and Mexico.  If anything, other countries should send missionaries to us to renew and relight a spark within us.  We need to work at ways to fund vital local missions and ministries in our own neighborhood.  Members taking the initiative for mission are flipping the church.  Turning it upside down.  Many churches have fund raisers to make money for mission.

The people in church sitting in worship are not there on Sunday morning because it is time to go to church.  Instead, they are present because they trust in the Lord and are trying to walk in integrity–to be Church is a place to learn, grow and be tested in the faith, knowing that the steadfast love of God is the unshakable foundation of Christian life.  No engineer is going to find any structural damage in this foundation.  All necessary structural repairs have been made.  Even in an upside-down church, the love of God, seen so clearly in Jesus Christ, is going to be rock solid and strong.  Eric will play “Solid Rock” this morning.  Stories are told, liturgies are led, Scripture is taught, sermons are preached and sacraments are given for the very reason of sending the fed and forgiven back into the world.  Worship services are geared toward “living our faith beyond our walls as we do the other 167 hours of the week.  We are called to worship about an hour to support the work being done the other 167 hours.

Flipping a church or presbytery shifts the focus from what goes on inside to what goes on outside.  Energy is redirected to connections that will strengthen everyone for mission and ministry that changes lives.  It can be done by anyone who is willing to make God’s house a base for mission to the community.  Lives will be transformed by the good news of God’s love.  God’s house will never be a run-down property, instead, it will be a location that will inspire people to say, “O LORD I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.”  Upside-down on its head is okay, as long as God is present and lives are changed.  Like the little boy in

Bombeck’s story, are you smiling yet?  Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Intentional Living

Message Delivered on September 27, 2015

Mark 9:3-50 

Today’s text from Mark follows Jesus’ second announcement of his coming suffering and resurrection.  All of the implications sail over the disciples’ heads and as they continued their journey, they argued over who was the greatest.  In the Kingdom of God, all are seen as equals by God–even children are valued, the subject of my message last week. 

John is eager to report to Jesus that the disciples saw another person casting out an evil spirit in Jesus’ name.  How can he do that when he isn’t part of the disciple’s team?  The disciples are missing Jesus’ teachings on the nature of the kingdom.  They think that only they can engage in the acts of God.  Jesus quickly rejects their exclusive thinking, stating that the Kingdom of God includes a lot more people than just the disciples. Jesus affirms that anyone who does a miracle in Jesus’ name (giving Jesus recognition for supporting the acts of God ) is on his side–and theirs.  He reminds them that anyone who offers a cup of cold water in his name will be performing a valuable service for Jesus.  The Kingdom of God receives children and those “outside” of Jesus’ religious circle.  Jesus continues his theme of inclusion by talking about those who stumble–or sin, that if the sinners believe in him, the kingdom is still open to them.  People who would cause believers to sin will face heavy consequences.  Remember the old television show, “Truth or Consequences”?  The questions asked were impossible to answer from the contestants’ viewpoints and they had to engage in goofy contests to be eligible for rewards/prizes, but not for a place in the Kingdom of God, unfortunately. Four times in verses 42-47 the verb scandalizo  is used (Greek: causes to stumble/fall/sin–the root of scandal) having a communal application–meaning inviting others in the community to sin.  Mark is trying to explain that Jesus was saying that provoking someone else to sin is just as evil as an individual sinning.

The word used for hell is Gehenna, a transliteration of the Hebrew phrase “valley of Hinnom,” a place located just west of Jerusalem.  In Old Testament times this place was known for being a location in which children were sacrificed by fire to the pagan gods Moloch & Baal (Jeremiah 7:31; 32:35).  After King Josiah’s reforms, it became a trash dump where fires continually burned in order to consume the garbage.  In that place maggots fed and multiplied, hence the reference in today’s reading to worms.  It was considered the metaphor for the place where the wicked would be cast in some strands of Jewish thought.

With this background, consider what the gospel is saying:  cut off a hand or foot, tear out an eye–whoa!  What is Jesus saying?  Could he possibly be asking us to consider what we are doing in our own lives that keeps us from authentic living? It appears that Jesus is also talking about those whose faith is new, who are vulnerable to criticism or challenge.  What stands in our way that causes our faith to stumble?  Are we over-programmed, seeking to amass materialistic goods?  We hear about fulfilling our bucket list, but what if focusing on the bucket list–or seeking to fund retirement fantasies is keeping us from living the opportunities available to us today?  If our kids are still in school, we might be programming them to do well academically to qualify for a scholarship, rather than nurturing their faith formation (which teaches them that with God all things are possible!  Matthew 19:26).

In recent years, a popular response to over-scheduled, over-cluttered, over-fantasied, unrealized lives has been “de-cluttering.”  We are encouraged to downside, de-clutter and purge our lives, homes and workplaces.  It is emphasized at the beginning of a new year and lately, has been found in the Tiny House movement, which forces you to simplify your life if you choose to live in a small, confining home.  It would be viewed differently if you have no home.

These things focus on living mindfully, intentionally and maybe even come closer to John the Baptist’s version of simplicity of living:  “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none” (Luke 3:11).  Simple living involves a lot more than keeping our closets and drawers clean.  It is a way of thinking and being.  It is a way of life that we choose for reasons that are important to us.  Simple living means stripping our lives down to core values, which need to be identified.  In your mind, look around your home, consider who you spend time with, how you spend your time, and how you spend your money. All of this reflects your values.  Ask yourself, “Are these the values I want to pass on to my children…grandchildren?”  If not, what needs to be changed?

To live a simpler life, we need to identify what is not supporting our values and let it go.  Some things are easier to say goodbye to, while other things feel like obligations that we have to maintain to make others happy. Are our lives cluttered?  Clutter is a manifestation of either holding onto the past or a fear of what might happen in the future–or it could be an unexamined thrifty nature that goes back generations. (Parents survived the depression and were frugal)  Have you gone through the phase of downsizing as an empty nester, only to have your kids move back in with you?

I have family antiques and memoirs that have become a part of me and how I live my life–but –do they keep me tied to the past?  I am discovering that living more in the present is freeing.  I have begun sorting through closets and giving things to charities.  The good news is that we live in a time when items of clothing, packaging, and household goods can be reused or recycled by others to make new items.

Living without all that baggage may allow us to move forward into Kingdom living.  Jesus would ask us what can we do to remove stumblin blocks from those around us.  If you are a traditional, seasonal cleaner/sorter, as I was taught to be, you can set aside a place in your garage or covered patio to place those items you can live without, that would benefit others.  The Finance Committee is talking about a garage sale where Savers would bring a truck, load all your discards/donations, weigh the truck’s contents and then pay the church by the pound for the donations.  No hauling leftovers to charities  or filling all the church trashcans, or taking even more stuff home to place in your own receptacles.  No set-up, pricing or clean up!  We can serve the Lord by building the Kingdom and getting more free space for relaxed living at home.

In the last five years, Google searches about God have decreased 15% from the previous five year period, while pornography searches have grown by 83%.  The top Google search that included the word “God” was for the video game God of War.  There are 4.7 million searches per year for Jesus Christ while the pope receives 2.95 million searches ( and even more now that Pope Francis is visiting America)…but, if you can imagine, there are 49 million searches for Kim Kardashian.  What kind of values will our generation pass on? Will they help make the world more like the Kingdom of God that Jesus is asking us to build  How intentional is your living? 

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Welcome a Child, Welcome God

Message Delivered on September 20, 2015

Mark 9:30-37     “Welcome a Child, Welcome God”

 

In order to be last, you must give others a place in front of you.  This is important if you hope to ever reach first place.  Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  In the world in which we are a part of, the people whom you must permit to go before you will definitely be a mixed bag.  You cannot pick and choose, because that would mean the discards would be behind you and they would become last.  They would take the place you want, since you want to be last of all and servant of all.  You would get farther and farther from your goal.

 

Jesus was teaching his disciples “the first must be last”  in order to be first by permitting a disciple to betray him, he was about to consent to being put to death, all this to make it possible for all people to be first with God.  God wants us to be first and asks that we welcome the child, the least of the Lord’s siblings.  It is not easy to be last, and even harder to wait while others go before you.  How easy is it to welcome those whose servants you are to be?

 

Think of a long check-out line at Walmart or Fry’s.  As you stand at the end of the line, you see an elderly or disabled person carrying a small basket with only two items in it, ready to stand in line behind you.  You turn to him/her and say, “No problem. You will have your sale completed before I can even get the contents of my cart on the counter.  Go ahead.”  Along comes a “pushy person” with their arms piled full of things and that person says, “Mind if I go ahead?  I am in a hurry.”  At that point you would like to say, “Aren’t we all?”  You definitely want that person to earn the title of “greatest” by being stuck at the back of the line. Whatever happened to fairness?

 

Remember Bobby Fisher winning eight national chess championships beginning at age 13?  He beat Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship in 1972.  The German word for a young genius is wunderkind, a kid who is a natural wonder.  In Jesus’ day children were not considered to be people until they reached the age of 13 and went through the rite of passage to adulthood. (Bar Mitzvah/boy and Bas Mitzvah/girl)  That rite made them full-fledged members of God’s covenant community.  At that point they were expected to act/function like adults, having survived childhood in an ancient culture with a high rate of childhood mortality.  There were no child prodigy awards or scholarships for those kids.

 

At 12, Jesus dazzled the teachers in the temple with his reading and interpretation of Scripture. I am speculating that is why Jesus was so fond of children.  He saw them with the capacity to do great things in spite of their humble status.  It was not their IQ(Intelligence Quotient) that Jesus valued, it was their openness.  Jesus’ disciples were acting like spoiled children on their way back to Galilee from the mountain where Jesus was transfigured.  He was talking about his future as a human being; that he would be killed and rise up in three days.  They did not understand and they did not ask questions.  As they moved toward Capernaum (where Peter’s house was located), they argued about who was the greatest.  Kids had no status and they were acting like kids.  The disciples perceive Jesus as a potential elevator, whereby their own social status could shoot to a higher floor.  If he is truly the Messiah, then those closest to him will surely rank higher in his kingdom and just maybe, get a seat closer to him near the throne in Jerusalem.  James and John will even be so bold as to ask to be seated to the right and left of Jesus in glory.

 

Jesus predicts his death and they have no real idea about the kingdom Jesus is really talking about.  He asks them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”  They respond like kids with their hands in the cookie jar, they keep silent.  They were arguing about moving up in status while Jesus was reminding them that following him is an act of downward mobility.  To be first you have to be last and servant of all.

 

The kids in Jesus’ kingdom are the ones willing to be lowest class and volunteer to serve everyone else.  It is not so much an IQ test as it is a servanthood  test.  Jesus gathered a child into his arms as if it were the most important person in the world at that moment.  Jesus exemplifies the value of the child.  He says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.”  The disciples are about to be humbled, to become like children–willing to learn and willing to serve.

 

Let me ask you, “What can children teach us?”  1. Children are not our personal avatars.  We cannot expect our kids to live out the hopes and dreams we have in every way.  2. Children do not exist to validate us.  We value intelligence, physical ability, physical attractiveness and the ability to produce–all the things the adults in our world strive for–we lay those expectations on our kids, and want them to achieve a better status than our own.  3. Children remind us that humility, vulnerability, and weakness are OK.  Weaknesses are cracks through which the light of God can shine (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  4. Jesus blessed the children and so should we.  All children are people of sacred worth.  If you welcome them, particularly the least of them, you are welcoming Jesus himself.  If you welcome Jesus, you are welcoming God.  Every child is a child of God.  5. We should worry less about the future.  The disciples are fretting about their role in the coming kingdom.  Jesus tells them to be more like the children.  6. Jesus said the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  7. The greatest persons among us are the servants.  8. We are to be child-like, not childish.  As God’s children we are all blessed by God.  We are charged to go out and be a blessing to the world.  We are blessed to be a blessing, part of our covenantal relationship with God.  Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Hot Mic

Message Delivered on September 13, 2015

James 3:1-12                 “Hot Mic”  (Microphone)

 

William Shakespeare, playwright and poet used the line, “All the world is a stage,” in “As You Like It,” Act 2, Scene 7.  He follows in the tradition of Greek theater in which the human condition is played out in the way we live our lives; sometimes successfully, and at other times—not.

 

Jesus’ half brother, James, probably wrote the book that bears his name.  Quite possibly it was written in Jerusalem where James was the leader of the Church.  Two dates have been suggested by scholars:  around 60 A.D. or near 50 A.D. (If so, it would likely be the first New Testament epistle written.)  In the opening chapter of James 1:22-25, James warns, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks  intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.”  With practical guidelines and penetrating insights, James exposes the wrong motives and shaky foundations of the confused Christians in his company.  He calls believers to live out their faith, holding to God’s promise to provide the wisdom to do so.  This prompts the question, “Do we remember to act wisely at all times as Jesus’ representatives to the world?”  People who live in the public arenas of life today always need to be on their toes.  What they say and do serves as a role model to millions around them.  During this spring’s NCAA college basketball tournament (“March Madness”), Nigel Hayes from the University of Wisconsin was interviewed by multiple reporters at a press conference.  He was somewhat enamored by one of the stenographers and made an off-the-cuff remark about her in a whisper “(She’s beautiful!).  He heard snickers from reporters and realized that the sensitive microphone had picked up his comment, amplified his words and millions heard it–even the stenographer he had admired.  Nothing like opening your mouth, having words fall out, then –they go viral but they can “go virus,” infecting more people than we care to know.  Like a bit in a horse’s mouth, our tongues can lead us places we do not want to go.  The damage can be far more than catastrophic.  Like a tiny spark lights a fire and spreads rapidly, it can destroy everything around it.  Likewise, a careless word can wreak havoc upon reputations and relationships.

 

Once leaving our lips, our words are out of our control.  You cannot get toothpaste back in the tube.  Our words may not go “viral” but they can “go virus,” infecting more people than we care to know.  Like a bit in a horse’s mouth, our tongues can lead us places we do not want to go.  The damage can be far more than catastrophic.  Like a tiny spark lights a fire and spreads rapidly, it can destroy everything around it.  Likewise, a careless word can wreak havoc upon reputations and relationships.

 

James admonishes us to choose between words that can hurt or words that heal.  When I was eight years old, I took group tap and ballet lessons at the Community Center for $1/month.  Maybe I should preface this example with the comment that “you get what you pay for.”  I loved tap and practiced in the basement on the cement floor daily to hear the rhythmic beat of the taps on my patent leather shoes.  Ballet, on the other hand, was more work than I ever imagined.  The ballerinas in “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” glided along so agilely.  And then there was my rendition.  My mother’s comment was, “I know why I did not name you Grace.” I can laugh now but I was deeply hurt–and still remember those words from sixty years ago whenever I think about dancing of any kind.  Casual words spoken so long ago can still be amplified and echo in our hearts without the aid of a microphone.

 

Fortunately, our words can also be used to bless as James notes.  They can be used to bring healing to injured souls.  Some might try to dismiss James’ warnings about the use of words by recognizing that he directs his admonition to teachers.  We may not all consider ourselves as teachers but there are times when our words carry that kind of authority.  As a parent, mentor, role model, we have a teaching role and all the world around us is the stage where we make our debut.

 

We must use our words wisely.  James tells us that our words tell something about our hearts.  Like the fruit that falls from the tree, our words say something about us.  Our words not only represent us, but our whole community, sometimes they represent Christianity.  Before posting, sharing, tweeting or chatting, we need to measure our words to be sure we are representing Christ as well.

 

Words have power to destroy, but thankfully, they also have the power to strengthen, encourage and affirm those we love.  As people of God we gather on Sunday mornings to praise God, unite our voices in prayer and together confess our faith through creeds and affirmations.  We are using our tongues in service to God.  After worship, during coffee hour, we tell our stories to someone who might learn from our mistakes–or even pause to pray with a struggling friend.  We are, in James’ words, sharing a blessing.  When we offer a word of encouragement to a fellow worker or leave a note of appreciation for a waiter on the tab at a restaurant–with a tip, when we compliment the youth in our church, we are living our calling.

 

Our tongues are like power tools and we must use them wisely.  Hot microphones can be awfully embarrassing when they amplify the wrong things, but not a problem when we are building others up and blessing God.  Would you use a reciprocating saw or drill without taking precautions?  James tells us, “Watch your mouth!”  Pretty good advice.  Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Quid Pro Quo or Not

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Message Delivered on September 6, 2015

Proverb s 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23   “Quid Pro Quo or Not”

Today’s reading in Proverbs opens with the admonition that “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,” meaning that a good reputation is a valuable asset.  Considered a portion of “wisdom literature,” Proverbs emphasizes repeatedly that one’s place in society and before God directly reflects the degree of a person’s wisdom: wise persons are held in esteem by others and are honored by God; shame is for the foolish, immoral and indolent.  Riches are not despised in Proverbs, but they are prioritized and coveting them has often proved to be the undoing of otherwise sensible people.

 

There is a cartoon of a man and a woman eating dinner in a seafood restaurant.  The man said to the woman, “I will give you a bite of my calamari for one of your stuffed shrimp.”  The caption below said, “Squid pro quo.”  That is easier to explain that the Latin phrase, “Something for something” or you do something for me and I will do something for you.  You scratch my back and I will scratch yours, “Quid pro quo.” ” Quid pro quo” is essentially the basis of commerce. Think of it this way: I pull up at McDonalds, drive through, order, pay money and get a bag of food in return.  Some organizations use “Quid pro quo” as a fundraising tool:  give a contribution and get a coffee mug, t-shirt or cap with the organization’s logo.  If you give a big enough gift, they might name a building or wing after you.  Morally and ethically speaking, “Quid pro quo” itself is neutral but can be positive or negative.

 

Proverbs 22:9 speaks of doing good and loving God, “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.”  No “Quid pro quo.”  Some are blessed but not in any you-do-it-for-me-because-I-did-it-for-you way. The “payback,” if that is the correct word, for sharing bread with the poor is exactly that…sharing with the poor.  Giving is its own reward.  The point of the proverb is that serving God has no “Quid pro quo”; serving God is its own reward.  Jesus implied the same thing with what we call the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31).  My brother and I would say, “Do it to others before they do it to you.”  In reality, Jesus was calling for a standard of behavior that is its own reward: Do to others as you would have them do to you, whether or not they actually treat you that way.  It is not simply “Do your Christian duty to others even if you never receive any appreciation from the recipients.”  It is more…doing good for others is a way of loving God. 

 

Author Gary Chapman has written about love languages with God.  Participating in services of worship is not the only way to tell God of your love.  Another exciting way to show love for God is by doing things for the kingdom.  I have had life insurance through a Christian company most of my life.  Last months’ newsletter printed a list of ways to serve God in the kingdom–to do mission in the community. Mission is tri-fold.  It can be giving of time, talent or money.  In an age where everyone is asking/ needing money, it was refreshing to see a list of ways to show love to God by serving others.  As the holidays approach, form a team and ring the bell for the Salvation Army–it will give you  joy to know you are helping others when maybe you cannot afford to write a check, but can throw a handful of change into the red kettle and ring the bell until your arm aches and your heart swells. Other things:  adopt a neighbor, become a volunteer, support the homeless, pass along clothing for special occasions (those bridesmaid’s dresses that groups ask to give teens to wear to the prom who cannot afford a dress), volunteer at a public library, send notes to heroes, support the arts in your town, plant a tree, give up your seat, reach out to an old friend, mentor a child, give away stuff you do not need, and offer the gift of babysitting.

 

When we spend time in service, the time for worship comes and we realize we have been in God’s presence all along.  This is the kind of blessing the text is talking about and is pictured on the bulletin cover today: those who are generous are blessed” (Proverbs 22:9).

 

It can be argued that some folks claim the reward for doing a good deed is being “turned on” (I want to think they are turned on for serving God).  In an old television “Friends” episode, Phoebe and Joey discuss the merits of doing good deeds.  Joey insists that since such actions make the doer feel good, the deeds are, in fact, selfish.  He says that selfless good deeds do not exit; the good feeling is the “reward.”

 

Phoebe sets out to prove him wrong by purposely doing good things from which she receives no enjoyment–but she cannot escape some inner satisfaction from the good she did.  The point is for those of us who try to follow Jesus, “What we will get out of it” ought not to be the motivating factor in helping someone.  Both the proverb and the Golden Rule call us to do the right deed without consideration of personal benefit.

 

Jesus never condemned the idea of being rewarded for doing good  He told us not to seek a reward by doing good.  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).  Act without seeking a reward here, wait for the reward in heaven.  Jesus seems to acknowledge that things people do come with a motive, so let us aim for the highest motive possible: pleasing God.  Whatever motives may be behind our good works, the mainspring of them is to do the will of God.

 

How do we get beyond “Quid pro quo” and as Christians, move to “Quid pro”…NO!  ?  Christ calls us to service.  How do we move beyond “What is in it for me” thinking?  In Acts 4:13 Peter and John spoke of what they had experienced when with Jesus, which enabled them to do what the situation called for.  We can all act without “Quid pro quo” by spending time with Jesus.  We can draw our motivation from participation in worship, Bible study, prayer and other spiritual disciplines influencing our daily thoughts and conversation, causing us to prepare ourselves for right actions. Such actions serve as a tribute to our upbringing, increase the number of our friends, help us to experience self-worth, have pride, meaningfulness and happiness.

 

Like Peter and John, we can live with courage.  “Quid pro quo” becomes “Quid pro No” when we act to please God…and then those around us can flourish because of it.  Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Products of Technology

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Message Delivered on August 23, 2015

Ephesians 6:10-20

If you have been on a commercial plane at any time in the last twenty-five years, you have been exposed to the Sky Mall catalogue.  The book was full of innovative, yet weird products that most of us really do not need: a sleep mask that plugs into your iPod, a replica Harry Potter wand, or perhaps a voice-recognition grocery list organizer.  Personally, I pore over the weekly grocery ads, select the specials and plan my menus on those products that are available.  It is a bonus when the coupons in the Sunday paper coincide with the store specials.

Alas, Sky Mall filed for bankruptcy and gadgetry is not something people wait to purchase while they are on business trips or family vacations and reunions.  The most appealing of gadgetry has been those which feature wearable technology which leads into today’s text from Ephesians 6:10-20.

 You have all seen ads for the new Smart watch from Apple, activity trackers like Fitbit that you wear on your wrist to assess if you could use more exercise to become healthier, and cameras you can wear from a hat, helmet, shoulder or lapel to be a watchful eye while determining safety/security, or the lack of it.  While a lot of this gadgetry is interesting, most of it is not essential, nor is it a cure-all for the messiness of life.  A Smart watch might make it easier to answer your phone or to check your calendar quickly, but will it prevent/protect you from over scheduling yourself?  Your helmet camera may record exciting videos of some new sports adventure like sky-diving, bungee jumping or rock-climbing and repelling but it will not keep you from bashing into a tree.  Our reliance on technology can get us into trouble, like people who hike with a wristwatch GPS instead of a map and the battery runs out.  What then?

In our era of rapidly developing technology, what would we do if there was wearable technology that never fails, is highly mobile, offers ironclad protection from danger, never runs out of power and is affordable?  Paul offers us an overview of just such a product, and the best thing is  that unlike the defunct Sky Mall catalogue, it is free!  It is a suit of armor that is actually functional.

 

The Greek work for it is “panopoly” which was the light, maneuverable, state-of-the-art armored kit of the Roman legionnaires, who were seen all over the Mediterranean world.  Designed to be used within the virtually impenetrable Roman phalanx, the panopoly featured gadgets with both offensive and defensive capabilities that shielded the empire from outside threats better than any anti-virus software your Smart phone could ever have.

Paul perceived this panopoly as a metaphor for the kind of technology that the church needed to wear in order to survive “the wiles of the devil” and stand against “the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers of the present darkness–and against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.” (We are supposed to be making the world more like the kingdom of heaven right here on earth.)  The church’s enemies are still the powers that seem always poised to invade our lives, upsetting our values and drawing us away from God and each other.  There are plenty of images and invitations on the gadgets we wear and use that are contrary to God’s will, even if you are not looking for them.  My e-mail address has been ypat@hotmail.com for almost twenty years.  It was set up long before the suggested format of lower case and upper case letters, and some numbers or other characters added to the mix.  I get solicitations for merchandise and services I did not know exist, nor do I want them.  The more conveniences our lives have, it seems like we become more complacent about guarding our hearts and minds. 

The apostle Paul is inviting the church to band together to defeat the spiritual enemy that is always ready, willing, and able to strike at us.  Each Roman soldier was protected only so long as he stayed in ranks with his fellow soldiers and kept their shields locked together.  The armor was designed to protect from a frontal attack.  What about the legionnaire’s backside?  His front was facing the enemy unless he broke ranks to fight alone or run–to be vulnerable.  Technology works when it is used in community.  In our highly individualized, cell-phone staring, button-pushing, thumb-twitching world, we do not realize that we are only as good as the community of people around us.  It was not the armor that saved the Roman soldier in battle; it was his connection to the others.

 Paul goes on to describe each piece of wearable technology, that when used together, makes for a strong defense against the forces of evil.  The “belt of truth” is foundational to the strength of any group of people.  The ability to trust each other and to speak the truth is essential to both soldiers and churches.  The “belt of truth” enables the community to “put away falsehood”  that “leaves no room for the devil” to operate.  Truth is most protective of the cohesion of the community of faith.

The “breastplate of righteousness” and “helmet of salvation” are echoes from Isaiah 59:17, where God puts on armor to go out and repay his enemies for their evil.  God’s righteousness and salvation guard our hearts and heads in the knowledge that God has already defeated the enemy through the righteousness and salvation offered by Christ on the cross.  The knowledge of what God has done for us in Jesus, revealed in the “word of God,” helps us to gauge our spiritual health.  It can be like a heart rate monitor app on your Smart phone or Smart watch.  The more we exercise the grace offered to us, the more likely we are to stay strong in the knowledge that we are eternally protected from the arrows of the evil one.

The Roman boot, “caliga,” enabled the legion to keep pace on the march with more precision than the step counter on your belt.  Paul encourages the church to put on “whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”  The best defense is a good offense, so a church moving outside its walls to preach the gospel of peace in the community through words and actions will be equipped to “stand firm” while moving out into the neighborhood.

The shield was vital to ward off flaming arrows.  Soldiers would have to drop the shield to put out fire and be vulnerable to attack.  The Roman soldiers would soak their leather shields in water to extinguish the fires of enemy arrows before they got out of control.  Faith acts as a shield to guard against the flaming arrows of the evil one.  A strong faith is the result of a church that rallies together in defense of the gospel and holds up to those who are struggling.

The “sword of the Spirit” is the “word of God,”  easy access to Scripture in our pockets and on our wrists.  A sword can slice into the lies of the enemy and can cut us to the heart when we are convicted or our sin.  Scripture helps us to see the enemy’s catalogue of temptations for what they are–worthless junk that is harmful to body and soul.  Sky Mall is on the way out, but technological gadgets are here to stay with new ideas bursting forth all the time.  Truth, righteousness, salvation and faith, together bound by God’s word become a shield to fight off the temptations and evil doings acceptable to the culture around us.  Paul exhorts us to guard our lives in Christ and to put on the gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer (Verse 3 of “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”).

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Praise the Lord

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Message Delivered on August 16, 2015

 Psalm 111; John 6:51-58     “Praise the Lord!”

You are probably wondering why I would choose to preach on Psalm 111, right in the midst of lectionary passages about Jesus as the Bread of Life—and on a Communion Sunday.  I want to emphasize that everything in the Old Testament points to God at work, preparing the world for Jesus, establishing a new covenant and making it possible for believers to become heirs to Jesus’ righteousness and the promise of eternal life with God.  WOW!  What an awesome God we have to make elaborate, detailed plans to open the gates of heaven to those who put their trust in God.

Hebrew poetry is very different from the style we grew up studying in American and English literature in grade school, high school or college.  We tend to think of poetry as stanzas ending with rhyming words.  The Hebrew poets thought of repetitive ideas as the focus of their literature.  “He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations (111:6). The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy (111:7).”  Everything God has done intentionally to benefit the faithful (and to redeem the unfaithful).  That is God’s promise and is worthy of thanksgiving and praise.  In fact, the psalm opens with “Praise the Lord!” Psalm 112 can be set alongside Psalm 111 to parallel the thoughts that the righteous are rewarded for their faithfulness to God.  God’s blessings endure forever.

Psalm 111 is a carefully crafted, alphabetic acrostic with the Hebrews letters beginning each line.  The subject of the acrostic is the praise of God for all that God is and does.  The theme is developed by 22 lines of Hebrew poetry, each one of which begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (aleph, bet, gimmel, dalet)  The content of this psalm makes it very clear that it was written by someone who wanted to give thankful testimony about God’s goodness to the worshiping community.

The psalmist begins with a call to the community to praise the Lord (like our traditional “Call to Worship”).  This praise is expected to give attention to the way that God has blessed those who worship and then the psalmist goes on to lead the worshiping community through a litany of confession about the great deeds of God.  Did you ever wonder why the confession comes after the Call to Worship?  The psalmist gives considerable attention to God’s character, which is described as the motivation for the great deeds God does.  The Lord is described as “gracious” and compassionate.  God is a nurturing presence among the people.  “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.  I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15).  “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).  The Lord remembers the covenant promises and always works for the well-being of those who approach in faith.

The psalmist is also concerned about the character of the worshiping community.  He tells them thanks should be offered with the “whole heart,” and we might add “our whole mind.”  The heart in ancient Israel was believed to be the source of human thought.  Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the LORD your God with all  your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” the words of the Shema, which follows the Law of God, the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5.  Every home had a copy of the Shema in the Mezzuzah attached to the doorpost.  They would touch the box on their way going out and coming in to keep God in their hearts and minds everywhere they went.

The main point of the psalm is that a God as great as Israel’s Lord (and our God, as well) deserves more than half-hearted worship.  Readers of the psalm are also reminded that proper thanksgiving takes place in “the company of the upright” (v.1).  Worshipers are not expected to be morally perfect; that is impossible.  Think of King David, the young shepherd anointed by prophet, Nathan, to become king over all Israel.  He had God’s support and everything material he could ever want–but–he still lusted after Bathsheba, making God very sad.  When David’s son, Solomon, followed his father to the throne, he prayed for wisdom to lead God’s people in the way of the Lord.  God was pleased and most likely relieved, and blessed Solomon with wisdom, power and wealth.  God faithfully keeps promises and is always attentive to the needs of the people, and asks that we have consistency between what we say and what we do.  The worship of a God with integrity is carried out by a people of integrity resulting in a level of spiritual and ethical maturity: “wisdom.”  Worshiping God with integrity leads to wisdom that allows for meaningful living.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (v.10).  “Perfect love casts out fear” (1John 4:18).  When God saw that his people kept wandering from the ways he set before them, he created a plan that Jesus, his only Son, would suffer and die to show how great God’s love for them truly is.  Perfect love, or agape, is the answer.  Love engendered and nourished in the context of Christian community can, and does, banish fear.  In a community that understands the need to create a safe place for peoples’ spirits, emotions, and bodies, fear will dissipate.  In a community rooted in the Holy Spirit and leaning into God’s healing grace, fear will fade into the holy qualities of trust, Spirit led affection and hope.  Fear or awe leads to wisdom, being full of hope in the fullness of God’s presence.

The gift of Holy Communion reminds us of God’s eternal love for us and his plan to draw us together into community.  Through the grace and power of Jesus’ death on the cross, shedding of his blood for us, we experience forgiveness and receive strength to follow in his footsteps–all the way to eternity.  And now, you know the rest of the story.  Praise God for everlasting love, mercy and goodness!  Praise the Lord! 

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Redeemed

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Message Delivered on July 12, 2015

Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29          “Redeemed”

Whenever I think of redemption, my mind wanders back to the days of Holden Red Stamps, S&H Green Stamps and Gold Bell Gift Stamps, reward programs offered by gas stations, department and grocery stores.  I remember shopping at Rogers Department Store on Wednesdays because it was “double stamp day.”  I always wondered, if the redeemed prizes were free, why did you have to pay sales tax on the items? — Not free!

Today’s text from the Apostle Paul, written to the Christian church at Ephesus, gives us one of the longest continuous sentences in ancient Greek literature.  Ephesians 1:3-14 is one complete sentence from the lofty viewpoint (“heavenly places”) the epistle writer reveals in what he has glimpsed–the vision of God’s purpose and plan for the church and for all who become his “adopted children” through the work of Christ, to be “holy and blameless.”  In love, Paul says, “We are all chosen by God in Christ.”  Our adoption rests wholly upon God’s “good pleasure.”  God’s “glorious grace” is the only official stamp on our adoption papers and no value added tax has been added!  Verses 7-10 enumerate three of God’s great gifts now made available to us through Christ.  First is the redemption  we have received from the sacrifice of Christ’s own blood.  Second, forgiveness, so that no guilt, no past events may stand between us and our full acceptance as adopted children of God.  Third, God bestows on us ” wisdom and insight”  through which we can finally glimpse “the mystery of God’s will.”  The unifying plan of God continues to inform the final thoughts of this text.  In verses 13-14, the writer turns to Gentile believers and notes that “You also” are a part of that select group, full members of the inheritance (Predestined).  Through Christ, Jew and Gentile have been brought together to form a seamless unity, an undifferentiated family in God’s grace.

Phyllis Trible, a Christian author has written about a book she authored called Texts of Terror,  in which she examines the most awful texts in the Old Testament.  They are the accounts we wish would disappear from Scripture: the story of Jephthah’s daughter in the book of Judges.  The little girl loses her life because of her foolish father’s promise.  Mark’s gospel has its own text of terror.  The story of John’s beheading is gruesome.  It reminds me of the beheadings in the Middle East today.  The events leading up to John’s death are hard to believe; they are like reading a soap opera.  King Herod divorced his wife so he could marry his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Oh, yea, there’s more:  Herodias was also the daughter of another of Herod’s half-brothers, so when he married Herodias, he was marrying his sister-in-law and his niece at the same time–a clear violation of Old Testament law.  John the Baptist publicly denounced the marriage, angering both Herodias and Herod.  At least, Herod had a conscience.  He did not want to kill John.  He respected and feared John because he was a righteous and holy man.

Sadly, Herod chose cowardice over courage.  Rather than stand up for what he believed, he gave in to the selfish obsession of his wife.  John was beheaded and the head presented on a platter to his wife’s daughter, who presented it to her resentful mother, fulfilling her wish.

Where is the hope in this story?  It is a story where evil triumphs over good.  True, the righteous man loses his life, and the weak and vengeful people get away with murder, making this a sordid tale of anger and revenge, resentment and death.  The name of Jesus is never even mentioned.  But this account comes right after Jesus’ instructions to his disciples.  Jesus tells them how to embody God’s love in the world.  He even tells them to expect opposition and trouble.  All they need to do is take the gospel to people and trust that God will do the rest.

There is often danger when you tell the truth, especially to those in power.  The story of John’s death reminds us that being a follower of Jesus does not guarantee success in this life, but might even bring some suffering.  This story is also about the delusions of the powerful.  Herod is afraid.  He fears that Jesus is John raised from the dead.  Since Herod had John killed, he thinks that John has returned to get him in the form of Jesus.  Another soap opera plot in the making.  Can dead men come back to harm those who use their power for evil

One of the things that kept Ghandi, Prime Minister of India, going against overwhelming odds was the conviction not just that love would conquer but that evil would defeat itself. Ghandi said, “When I despair, I remember that throughout history tyrants and dictators have always failed in the end.  Think of it.  Always.”

Oscar Romero, was appointed Archbishop of El Salvador because the church hierarchy thought he was a safe and conservative scholar.  He surprised them by becoming a champion for the poor and spoke out against the oppressive government forces.  He won the love of the people he served and the hatred of those in power.  He was murdered during a mass and he became the unstoppable spiritual force in the hearts of the Salvadoran people–and a symbol of freedom and justice around the world–at a price.

God’s work is risky.  When you speak the truth to the powerful, there may be a bitter price to be paid, but God’s plan cannot be stopped.  Being faithful to God is not easy.  John lived for the truth and died for it.  When I was eight years old, the Sunday school gave me a Bible, which my mother wrote in: “Always be truthful to yourself and others.”  This was Polonias’ advice to his son in a Shakespeare play.  God’s truth permeated even Shakespeare’s works!

Jesus lived for the truth, the truth that sets us free, and died that we might be set free from sin, forgiven and promised to be heirs of the Kingdom of God by virtue of our faith inspired by the Holy Spirit.  John Calvin summarized this theology as “guilt, grace and gratitude.”  We are guilty of sin, set free by the grace of God through Jesus’ death on the cross.  Our response is to serve the Lord as a sign of our gratitude.  We have been saved, redeemed, like those stamp books we used to cash in for prizes.  The greatest difference is that salvation, redemption from sin, is free–no tax or cover charge.  Jesus’ saving death accomplished for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

One of the Presbyterian theological bugaboos is predestination, described in Ephesians in today’s reading.  I explained to a realtor in N. Carolina who questioned me about Calvin and his interpretation on the phone: Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit inspires us to faith in Jesus Christ, who died to set us free from sin that we might spend eternity in heaven with God.  We believe we are chosen by God to be heirs of the Kingdom and profess our faith in baptism as we pray for the Holy Spirit to be with us always–always renewing our faith and preparing us to be redeemed servants of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.  Redemption is the free gift of God–no strings attached.  Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Eating for Eternal Life

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Message Delivered on August 9, 2015

John 6:35, 41-51     “Eating for Eternal Life”

The current suggested lectionary readings for five weeks in a row all have to do with Jesus as the Bread of Life with the eating of the bread of his flesh.  How palatable…  Bread is the universal stuff of life.  Anywhere I have traveled around the world the waiter first brings bread, sometimes butter or oil infused with spices–or not.  In America there are 19,000 bakeries employing over 350,000 people, and each year they mix 11 billion pounds of flour, 163 million pounds of dried milk, and 616 million pounds of shortening.  The average American eats about 70 pounds of bread annually.  That is over one loaf of bread per week!  The top food sold in supermarkets is bread, with 96.8% of shoppers choosing from over 70 varieties.

Spiritual bread is more important and the church’s most vital task is to distribute living bread to every person in the world.  This bread is so vital that Jesus identified himself as “the bread of life.”  It was no accident that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Hebrew meaning “House of Bread.”  Bethlehem was situated in a good, fertile area which abounded in grain.  After Jesus’ baptism, Satan asked him to turn stones into bread.  In Jesus’ model prayer, we petition for “daily bread.”  Jesus provided bread for thousands all from five small loaves.  When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he took bread, blessed and gave thanks for it, and said, “Take, eat.  This is my body.”  There must be something terribly important about bread in order for it to get so much attention from Jesus and to form the basis for Chapter 6 in the Book of John.

What if Jesus said, “I am the peach of life, from Xi Wang-mu’s (Shee Wong moo) garden.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  Holy Communion services around the world would be forever changed.  Instead of pieces of bread, we would be eating slices of peaches.  Kind of a messy thought.

Peaches have a connection to eternal life in China because peaches grown in the garden of the goddess Xi Wang mu are an example of godly gastronomy.  Chinese mythology teaches that the gods are nourished by a steady diet of special peaches that take thousands of years to ripen, the peaches of immortality” from Xi Wang mu’s garden give long life to anyone who eats them–3000 years from a single peach!  One time, the trickster god, Monkey, devoured an entire crop in one year.  To punish him, he was expelled from heaven and sentenced to a lifetime of stone fruit.

Jesus does not say that he is the peach of life—no, bread of life.  The person who eats this bread is promised endless satisfaction–freedom from hunger and thirst and life everlasting.

Today there are many popular diets.  Pick up any magazine or watch television and see commercials for Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutri-

System, South Beach, Pro-biotic and a whole lot of others that encourage

healthy eating for a longer life–but which diet advocates eating for eternal life? 

The Jews complained about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  How could he say that when they knew him as the son of Joseph and Mary, Galileans from Nazareth?  If your neighbor told you that he/she had come from heaven, you might recommend a visit to a mental health professional.  The Jews were not exactly opponents of Jesus, they were confused and concerned.

 

Jesus insisted, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life” (v.47).  This is a clue to understanding that belief is the key to receiving

the benefits of the bread of life.  Eternal life comes from putting faith in Jesus Christ.

Augustine preached about the connection between faith and the bread of life.  He said in a sermon about Holy Communion, “What you see is the Bread and the Chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the Bread is the body of Christ and the Chalice is the blood of Christ.”  With your eyes you see bread, of course.  With your faith you receive the body of Christ.  Jesus invites us to believe in him and to receive the eternal life that he offers us.  The ancient Israelites ate the bread (manna) in the wilderness and they died.  But it was physical bread–the kind that you can see with your eyes and taste in your mouth.  Jesus offers himself as living bread.

Second clue: Jesus offers living bread that is not bread at all but a living person.  Belief is key.  If you want to see living bread, look to Jesus.  “Whoever eats of the bread he offers will live forever, and the bread that he gives for the life of the world is his flesh” (v. 51). Jesus wants us to believe in him and to take him into ourselves; much as we would eat a piece of bread, digest it and incorporate it into our bodies.  Jesus invites us to trust that he is the living bread that has come down from heaven, bread that is broken in communion, just as Christ’s body is broken on the cross.  “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14) and “God so loved the

world that he gave his only Son” (3:14).  Bread.  Flesh.  Life of the world.  Love for the world.  The bread that Jesus gives for the life of the world is nothing less than his own flesh.

Jesus is all about giving, not taking.  This is the third clue.  The body of Christ.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.  We can trust Jesus to be at work inside us.  Because he forgives us, we can forgive others.  Because he loves us, we can love others.  Because he fills us with his Spirit, we can inspire others.  After receiving the body of Christ in worship, we can go out to be the body of Christ in the world.

It all begins with belief and understanding that Jesus gives, offering himself to tax collectors, healing lepers, and blessing the children.  He forgives sinners and challenges his disciples to do likewise by showing hospitality to the strangers at our doors, supporting medical missionaries to underserved communities, helping children to feel welcome in worship, offering forgiveness to those who hurt us and feeding the hungry families who are living all around us.

Believe.  Look to Jesus.  Give.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.

Now, that is a menu for eternal life! 

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon