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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! 


Categories: Weekly Sermon

No Shame

Message Delivered on August 2, 2015

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a                    “No Shame”

Have you been to a ball game, a meeting or any kind of public gathering where someone stands up, says whatever they feel like saying off the top of their head–and then–sits down not worrying a bit how their words or actions will impact the people in the crowd?

People seem to be at their worst when they travel.  It is one thing to be seated next to a mom whose child is hollering, but babies are babies.  What about the person next to you who chats incessantly?  Nancy’s dad used to say that some people rattle like an empty wagon, making lots of noise and saying nothing relevant.  What do you do when your seatmate on a plane, train, or bus clips their toes nails, or a mother changes a baby and stuffs the dirty diaper in the seat pocket next to yours?  These things all happen– and then some.  Flight attendants could fill volumes on their experiences.  Recently, a new URL has been created: Passenger, in which smart phone pictures have captured the behavior of passengers and they have been posted on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  The pictures show piles of newspapers and other trash, passengers sleeping with their feet between the seats of the passengers in front of them–no shoes or socks–bare feet in the aisles and other obnoxious views.  The site is supposed to be a deterrent for bad behavior.  Whether or not it works remains to be seen.

In the account of David and the prophet, Nathan, Nathan paints a word picture for David about a rich man taking a lamb from a poor man and David is greatly agitated, espousing that the perpetrator deserves to die for his crime.  David had behaved badly by abusing his power when taking Bathsheba for his pleasure and then manipulating her husband, Uriah, to assure his death on the front lines of battle.  David then wants justice for the poor man whose lamb was taken from him and Nathan lowers the boom stating, “You are the man!”  Nathan does not need to spell out the details.  Everyone sees and knows, except David, who is oblivious to the consequences of his actions.  Many, or most of us, sometime behave in ways we do not immediately see as a problem for the people around us.  We can become frustrated with those who drive while being distracted by talking on the phone–until we get an important phone call about a family emergency–and then resort to Bluetooth headsets to chat while driving.  How about sitting in a restaurant next to someone whose phone rings constantly while you are trying to carry on a conversation with your dining companion?

What happens when you are venting to a friend about a bad experience with someone who likes to gossip–and then–whoa! Lights and bells go off when you realize that you are guilty of hypocrisy as you gossip about that person, passing judgment on him/her?  We are so good at seeing the bad behavior of others and missing it in ourselves.

After David’s wake-up call, he realizes that not only has he been blind to his own bad behavior, but he has also been blind to the blessings of God.  Nathan’s “story” about the rich man was a reality check for David.  He had begun to think that he could take whatever he wanted without consequence, including the wife of another man, if only for an afternoon–or if it could be arranged–even longer.  Nathan reminded David that it was God who made him king, who kept him safe from Saul when he tried to kill David and who gave him all his riches, including his wives.  If David wanted more of anything, all he had to do was to ask God .

In the moment that David spotted Bathsheba bathing on the roof top, he was not thinking about how incredibly blessed by God that he already was–or the huge flocks he owned, or the protection he received as king.  All he saw was what he wanted and he put everything he already had in jeopardy.  Do we lose sight of what we already have and in a weaker moment, make a grab for more?

Years ago people dressed up to get on a plane or to take some kind of public transportation.  Things have certainly gone a long way in the opposite direction.  Some have forgotten what they have in our modes of transportation and have lost the ability to appreciate it for what it is.  It is easy to avoid casting ourselves in the role of David as the sinner.  We want to see the sins of others and to be charged with pointing them out.  We are not Nathan.  We have not been called to fulfill his difficult job of advising David.  To David’s credit, he repented.  His prayer of repentance is found in Psalm 51.

There is an old story about a Catholic priest who was hearing confessions.  Nothing the priest heard that day was out of the ordinary…until one man walked in, sat down and quietly closed the door.  The man told that he had not been to confessions for many years.  He had systematically stolen building supplies from the lumberyard where he worked for many years and no one had noticed.  The priest asked, “How much do you figure you stole in all those years?”  The man replied, “Enough to build my house,  a house for my son, and one each for my daughters.”  The astonished priest replied, “That is a lot of lumber.”  The man responded, “Did I tell you that we also had enough left over to build a cottage by the lake?”  In a stern voice the priest continues, “What you have told me, my son, is very serious.  I need to think of a highly demanding penance to give you.  Have you ever done a retreat?”  The priest was wondering if the man had ever gone to a prayer retreat to contemplate his life’s plans and outcomes.  “No, Father, I have not,” said the man.  “But if you get me the plans, I can get you the lumber!”

Some people have no shame.  We can all laugh at or be disgusted by someone else’s poor behavior.  It is so easy to see it in others.  Yet, when it comes to our own bad behavior, we often do not see it.  David needed God, through Nathan, to point out his sin and to remind him of all that he had.  We need to be open to the voice of God telling us about our bad behavior.

We all have sin in our lives and have forgotten how blessed we are.  There is no time like the present to repent. Read Psalm 51:10-12.  Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Traveling Light

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Mark 6:1-13         “Traveling Light”

Have you noticed the signs of doors of public buildings that have knives and guns with a big red X drawn through them?  It will come as no surprise to anyone today that no guns, knives, crossbows, meat cleavers, box cutters, mace or similar items are allowed in carry-on luggage if you plan on boarding an airliner.  That makes sense to me but what is wrong with mascara, toothpaste, mouth wash, hair gel, yogurt or pudding cups in your carry-on bag or purse?  A few personal care items are permitted in very small amounts, if packed in a special way (see through Baggie), but not any of the other stuff in any quantity. Unfortunately, explosives can be disguised to look like those innocent products, so we either have to put them in our checked bags or leave them at home.

The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) would be happier if we all took nothing more than the clothes on our backs for air travel, but that really is NOT practical. Essentially, Jesus told his disciples when he sent them out in pairs to cast out demons, heal the sick and to call people to repentance, “Take nothing for the journey.”  According to Mark, Jesus allowed them to take a staff and to wear sandals, but no extra clothing, only that which they were wearing.  Like the TSA, Jesus had a list of prohibited items:  no bread, no bag, no money in their belts and no second tunic. (Matthew and Luke do not allow a staff or sandals.) Jesus banned items that could undermine the mission on which he was sending the disciples  They were to depend on GOD to provide for them through the hospitality of strangers.  There is an exercise in faith for you!  How they traveled and were welcomed was to be a demonstration of God’s care.  No check-on bags and only one small carry-on.

A lesson for us:  when Jesus sends us out to be his people in the world and tells us to rely on him–and take nothing, zip, nada, with us–only who we are, including our normal baggage. The baggage we carry is the personal history we drag with us that interferes with our living fully in the present.  This baggage could be non-productive ways of dealing with conflict, inappropriate responses that are triggered at inopportune moments, unresolved fears from childhood, psychological damage from abuse, scary ideas about God–just about any holdover from our past that keeps us from getting on well in our relationships or with our daily responsibilities.  Most of us have some kind of baggage that travels with us even when we think we have taken nothing for the journey. What can we learn from Jesus and his sending out the twelve?

  • He tells them to take nothing extra for the journey, only the clothes that they are wearing. They will be vulnerable.They

can take their shortcomings, scarred psyches and damaged emotions, and they can still do the work to which he calls them: cast out demons and heal the sick.

  • The disciples were working for the Divine Healer.Mathew adds to his account that by casting out spirits and healing the sick that Jesus had fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet, Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:17).  Healing diseases and taking away infirmities (casting out spirits); infirmities could include emotional baggage which needs divine healing.  Sometimes folks who have high opinions of themselves are guilty of pride, while those with low self-esteem attempt to hide how worthless they feel.  These kinds of baggage need healing.
  • On the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told listeners not to be anxious about their lives, what they would eat, drink or wear.Instead of worrying, he pointed out that we should trust God to care for us and to seek God’s kingdom.  The tendency to worry about everything does not mean we are not faithful followers of Christ, only that we have baggage.

So…how can we deal with baggage?

  • Ask God to help us face our problems head-on without rationalizations that keep us from doing well.
  • Take a look at those whom we blame for some of our hang-ups.Decide what to do to set those memories aside and move-on.
  • Accept the responsibility for how we are today.The past has shaped who we are today but we are responsible for dealing with life’s issues today–to become the whole persons God intended us to be.
  • Lay the problem before God to begin healing.Leave our baggage behind.

Grudges are like baggage.  They are a form of obsession we carry around with us.  When others have hurt us, we fantasize about revenge. Eventually, we come to realize that our grudge is a far greater burden than the original incident.  The only thing to do is to lay it down–like the extra coat Jesus says to leave behind.  When we shed that baggage, we will be traveling light, according to Jesus’ recommendation.

Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” came to mind when  I was writing this message:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Categories: Weekly Sermon

Hooray for the Underdog

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June 21, 2015             “Hooray for the Underdog”

1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49

Underdogs are called “underdogs” for a reason.  They are outnumbered, or they are small, weaker or lacking in tools or weapons.  They should not prevail in the contest in which they are entered.  Yet, often, they do. Why?  How could a young shepherd boy prevail in a contest against an armed and dangerous giant?  Some people interpret scripture to say that Goliath was 6’9″ and that the numbers of the description were reversed or inflated.  In either case, Goliath was a lot bigger than David!

We tend to think of David and Goliath as a bedtime Bible story that we read to our children to instill confidence.  Goliath was BIG, fully clad in armor with multiple weapons, ready to attack and kill.  How would we face such an opponent–or any opponent, for that matter?  As I was writing this message, a reverse 911 call came into the office.  I did not know that such a thing existed, so we called the police department to be told that an armed and dangerous male had escaped from the jail across the street.  Lock the doors and remain inside until we receive a call saying that it is safe to go out.  Wow!  Our own Goliath to deal with on a Friday afternoon.  I pray for boredom and this was definitely not the answer I expected from God.

Life in any era presents challenges.  When David went forward to meet Goliath, not usually an advance made by a sole warrior (and David’s presence certainly did not appear to be that of an enemy), Goliath sneered and taunted the youth armed only with a sling and five smooth stones.  David still accepted the challenge to meet Goliath in combat and loaded a stone into his sling, and slung it right at the target–between Goliath’s eyes!

We tend to think of a slingshot as a child’s toy to practice aiming at a target and hitting it with a small projectile of some kind–for amusement, mostly.  The sling David carried was a highly effective weapon.  Armies used them in battle, and shepherds like David used them to protect their flocks from wild animals like lions and bears.  Malcolm Gladwell describes the sling as “a leather pouch with two long cords attached to it, and a projectile, either a rock or a lead ball..” It’s not a child’s toy.  It is in fact, an incredibly devastating weapon.  If you do the calculations on the ballistics, on the stopping power of the rock fired from David’s sling, it is roughly equal to the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun.  When David lines up he has every intention and every expectation of being able to hit Goliath at his most vulnerable spot..between his eyes.  Everything else is covered with armor.

Although this may seem like a surprising victory, it makes perfect sense.  Throughout history, Davids have found ways to conquer Goliaths.  Today the fearsome Bradley Fighting Vehicle has fallen victim to Improvised Explosive Devices.  In response, the army is developing an 84 ton Ground Combat Vehicle that will be massive enough to survive a roadside bomb.  Dads may want one of these vehicles for Father’s Day, especially if a resident teen is looking to get a driver’s permit or new license.  Sorry they will not be available until at least 2019.  In the New Yorker magazine (May 11, 2009) Malcolm Gladwell explained the secret of being a successful underdog.  He begins by talking about the game of basketball, in which towering Goliaths usually win by rising over their shorter opponents.  Gladwell believes that David can win by using the full-court press.  Full court press is when you prevent your opponent from advancing up the court to the basket.  If you are a David, and you allow a Goliath to get to the basket, he will probably score but if you press him, and keep him at the other end of the court for a significant amount of time, you stand a chance of winning.  Isn’t that just what David did when he faced Goliath?  He did not give Goliath any ground, but ran quickly to the battle line.  He used the full-court press.

Each of us has been given a unique talent by God for use in the challenges we face.  The first disciples were fishermen, and Jesus used them to “fish for people.” Paul started out as a passionate persecutor of the church and God used his zeal to preach the gospel. Dorcas was “devoted to good works and acts of charity”, Lydia showed gracious hospitality to Paul, and Apollos used his eloquence to tell people about Jesus.  Fishing, zeal, good works, hospitality, and eloquence.  What a diverse group of talents found in people across the community.  God has given each of us a unique gift, and victory is possible when we put it to use.

David refused to be intimidated and told Goliath, “This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand” (v.46).  David not only tried harder but he believed harder.  He surpassed his fellow Israelites in showing confidence that God would exert effort on their behalf.  David stood up to Goliath and put complete faith in God.  All of us face challenges in our health, in our work, in our education and in our relationships.  In each of these areas we can make the same kind of effort that David did, refusing to give up and run away.  We can trust God to make an effort on our behalf, helping us to survive and thrive.

Sometimes we have to be insurgents by challenging authorities about how things are supposed to be done.  This is hard because we have a negative view of people described as insurgents.  All of the attacks in the Middle East and elsewhere made on innocent people make us cringe at the use of the word.  An insurgent can be a villain or a hero.  We are called to be insurgents for God.  The sudden sprint toward Goliath by David must have frozen Goliath for just a short time, a moment for David to act as a point guard and flick the sling right at the target.

David shows us that we can be victorious when we choose an unconventional approach, when we try harder than anyone else and righteously challenge authority.  We all have been given a unique set of talents by a God who can be trusted to work for good in our lives.  So..pick up your five smooth stones and run quickly toward the battle line.  God’s presence in our lives gives us the courage to face danger and to overcome our fears, for God listens and responds to all who call on the name of the Lord, as David did so long ago. 


Categories: Weekly Sermon

Thru Mortal Eyes

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Message Delivered on June 14, 2015

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Have you ever been a judge for a talent or beauty contest?  Shows like America’s Got Talent, The Voice, The Apprentice and others have been appearing on television.  Hordes of people are watching them.  There is also The Bachelor, Dancing With the Stars and Dance Moms, plus other programs where contestants are being selected because they meet particular criteria.  Some are chosen for beauty, some for skills and talents, and some for their abilities to please others romantically or possess specific vocational credentials.  Our culture is programming us to be involved in these processes.  We are looking at windows of possibility from the exterior appearance, rather than from the inside looking out.


In today’s Old Testament reading we look at Saul as a reasonable, understandable, common-sense sort of guy.  From outward appearances, we view Saul as a person facing certain problems and making the decisions he thought were best for his countrymen but the situation was that God commanded Saul to do a certain thing: to go into battle with the Amalekites and to literally wipe them off the map.  He was to see that every man, woman, child and animal was destroyed.  For practical reasons he allowed livestock to be captured and brought back to Israel.  Couldn’t the Israelites benefit from eating those prime animals?  What harm was there in providing food for his nation?  Saul was relenting under the pressure of the people and desiring to be a merciful king, but God was extremely angry with Saul and rejected Saul as king.  The stage was being set for a new king who would rule with wisdom, courage and prudence to maintain stability–and here comes the glitch–it was to be according to God’s rules and regulations–no exceptions allowed!


How does God’s commissioned prophet/servant, Samuel, go about selecting the candidate that would meet God’s specifications?  Does Samuel interview brave warriors, people of suitable physique or men experienced in making political and economic decisions while running a country?  Should the candidate be a “local” person or someone from afar with a variety of experiences that would assist the candidate in ruling a God-fearing kingdom?


The scene is being set for David, a shepherd lad, who is off tending sheep in one of his father’s fields.  What can David possibly offer in competition with Saul, a great warrior king?  In your mind, try to put on Samuels’ sandals and the responsibility of interviewing a potential new king.  How does Samuel go about fulfilling God’s order to secure a new king?  Why replace Saul, anyway?


Saul forgot to listen and obey.  In our culture and time frame, what about humanity has changed?  Listening and obedience are certainly not strong characteristics of twenty-first century people.  We are more prone to talk, rather than listen, and to question, instead of obey.  Who are we willing to obey–to succumb to rather than making our own bold, sometimes brash decisions?  Saul had the characteristics/qualities to be a king:  power, wealth, status, stature, common sense, and the willingness to compromise when the need arose.  Saul lacked the gumption to follow God’s orders and therefore, failed God, and he was ousted from the throne for what boils down to making a bad decision.


Samuel proceeds to Bethlehem to make an offering as ordered by God.  Samuel invites Jesse and his sons to join him.  Seven sons were paraded before Samuel until all visible were rejected by God.  “The Lord doesn’t see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  David had to be called in from the field to stand before Samuel, and ultimately before God, who was searching for a new able-bodied, spiritually-filled king.


Saul did not have it in his heart to listen to God and to obey God above all else.  The main qualifications for being king under God was to listen and to obey, in spite of all other pressing considerations at the moment.  God had instructed Saul and Saul had chosen  to follow the will of the people.  It was time to move on and God moved on to David.  Saul’s day was over.  God looked at David’s heart and liked what he saw.  David was not chosen because the spirit came upon him with power and made him competent to be king.  What did God see in David’s heart?  A heart which could listen and obey.


In our world we are bombarded with numerous voices pulling us from one side to another on any given issue.  We long to understand clearly what God wants and expects of us.  What we call the human heart is a fairly dependable instrument of God’s will–leading us in God’s way.  In Vacation Bible School we learned about the G-Force, God in us at work.  When we listen to our hearts, things usually work out.  The times we regret our rash decisions are the times we ignored what our hearts were telling us.  Call it the inner sense, the conscience, God at work.  Fear, anxiety, harsh experiences and self-interest can lead us astray from God’s plan for our lives.  Saul experienced “heart failure”, and God, looking into David’s heart, saw some new possibilities.


If you have ever watched the “Miss America” pageant and guessed at who the finalists would be, (my Mom would make a list of her favorite ten candidates and then narrow it down to five, predicting on her own who she thought Miss America should be based on her analysis) were you surprised when the “dark horse” candidate won?  Maybe her formal was too long or too short, or did not seem to fit her personality.  When she was asked the final question that would help color the judges’ decisions, often the winner was the one who expressed from her heart her concern for the welfare of particular persons or causes.


God plants little seeds that are tended by the Holy Spirit–the G-Force.  They are nurtured until God determines the time to call you forward, to call you into service for the building up of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).  Let your heart lead you where God would have you go.  God has eternal plans for each of us and clearly spells out the qualifications:  listen to your heart and let your eyes lead you in the godly direction.


Who would want to be a judge or politician or diplomat in our culture?  Can our mortal eyes see through people to know if their intentions are godly?  Does it matter?  Judging is God’s job and we sometimes have trouble sharing that responsibility with God.  When God is in our hearts and our hearts are with God, we treasure God above all things.  Given half a chance, our hearts will lead us where God wants us to go. 


Categories: Weekly Sermon

By Reason of Insanity

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Message Delivered on June 7, 2015

Mark 3:20-35                  “By Reason of Insanity”


This past week we hosted Vacation Bible School, “G-Force,” God in us.  We learned that if God is truly in us, we move, act, care, follow and share the example Jesus set before us, giving us his all, his life that we might have eternal life.  The kids discovered that it is fun to learn about God and God’s amazing sacrificial love for all people.  Keep these thought on the back burner of your minds.

 Recently, there have been some murder trials and all the media hype surrounding them.  The attorneys’ arguments presented to the jury went something like this: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask that you find my client not guilty.   Yes, my client had motive.  It has been established that my client’s fingerprints are all over the crime scene and he pulled the trigger but that does not mean he should be convicted.  He is absolutely, certifiably insane.  I rest my case.”  Not guilty by reason of insanity; what a plea.  The theory behind this defense is that one who lacks the “malice aforethought” or the intent required to perform a truly criminal act because the person is either incapable of discerning the difference between right and wrong, or incapable of restraint, even in the face of such knowledge.”  Using the defense of insanity raises some interesting questions:


[if !supportLists]·       [endif]Can someone be held accountable for doing something bad if his/her mind is clouded with craziness?

[if !supportLists]·       [endif]What is crazy anyway?

[if !supportLists]·       [endif]What is the threshold for craziness that suddenly makes one incapable of being found culpable?

[if !supportLists]·       [endif]What about subjectivity? One generation’s “crazy” is another generation’s “eccentric.”

[if !supportLists]·       [endif]How about the issue of genius?  Sometimes our most enlightened and creative people look, think and act in much the same way as our most unstable ones.


Why do I bring up the insanity plea?  In this Scripture Jesus is accused of being crazy.  Why would such a charge be made?  In Mark’s gospel we learn that Jesus is growing in popularity as he performs miracles (kids learned about the healing of a blind man and a paralytic): cleanses lepers, restores withered hands and says strange things like “I am Lord of the Sabbath, your sins are forgiven.” and “Hey, disciples, I give you authority to cast out people’s demons.”  Jesus was drawing an uncomfortable amount of attention to himself.  Those who were closest to him (family and extended family) and those most threatened by him (people in authority: Pharisees and scribes, and other “bean counters” looking for ways to entrap Jesus) were seeking ways to restrain him from religious authorities.  Can’t you hear people asking, “Is this guy crazy?”


Jesus’ loved ones are trying to stage an intervention, and fail.  They went out to get him away from the religious establishment, who claimed that he was possessed by Beelzebul (an evil spirit).  We know that Jesus was not crazy, but God in the flesh.  The religious scholars were puzzled because usually sane people do not make claims to be deity or to publicly discuss demons.  That is not normal behavior.


Sometimes crazy and genius look similar.  Jesus is not mad, it is just that he is leader of his world, his kingdom, and that surprises everyone who hears it.  Humanity had never seen such power or public display or heard such values being taught.  Jesus was a homeless, self-made rabbi from Nazareth with “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him.”  We most likely would have called him a “nutcase.”


Jesus does not appear to take the insanity accusation very seriously; instead, Jesus takes the response of those concerned and uses it to illustrate a dividing line between saving faith and damning disbelief.  Those who will be forgiven are those who can see that behind the incredible miracles and alarming message is the very Spirit of God (4:28-29).  The Kingdom of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, will always disrupt and disturb a “sane” world.  If “craziness” is persistently violating social norms with little regard for oneself, then the work of Jesus fits the description.


The world idolizes logic and reason, but God’s people live by faith and they love mystery.

The world abuses the weak and attempts to fix the poor.  God’s people embrace the lowly as the greatest among us.

The world rewards the strongest and most capable.  We Christians openly confess our struggles and repent of our sins.

The world says, “You are entitled to hate those that hurt you.”  Christians are to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors.

The world is full of people stocking up earthly treasure, but Christians give it away in favor of heaven’s treasure.

The world says to “Love yourself and try not to hurt your neighbor.”  Christians say, “Love your neighbor and be willing to sacrifice yourself.”

The world sleeps later on Sundays and Christians gather to sing praises to a God they cannot see, yet still believe is coming back.


God breaks into our world through the Son, the Word and Spirit-filled people.  If the God we worship is not disrupting and confronting some part of our lives, then God must be one of our own creation, not the Creator of the universe.


The gospel can be very confusing: incarnation- “Jesus, though in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  Being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5). Cross- what a confusing message.  “To those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God at work” (1 Corinthians 1:18).  God in the flesh gave his life as a gift for a rebellious, evil humanity.  It is pure foolishness (Paul has said). Salvation- Every other religious system requires the one being rescued to do something–no–Christ died for us while we were still sinners and made us alive when we were dead to sin.  Resurrection- we only need turn to Acts 2 and see how the world responded to the early believers.  They shared everything and celebrated the sacrament eating flesh and drinking blood, and the world called them insane cannibals.  The early believers confronted culture and paid the price.


What if the church today embraced the weirdness of the early Christians?

What if the Christians put out Christmas decorations, checked the mail in boxer shorts and sat in the driveway waving to passers by drinking wine out of a box? (My neighbors in Ohio did that.)

What would happen if a homeless person wandered in on Sunday? Would he/she be given a seat of honor?

Would the church create ministries that do more than entertain children and educate the adults?

Would the pastor preach the depths of God’s demands upon humanity?


Jesus’ friends and family wondered if he was crazy but we need to ask ourselves if we are crazy enough.  Let us go forth out the door with the reminder that we have been set free as agents in a world turned upside down–in an insane world known as the Kingdom of God.  If by some chance we come under fire for radically and faithfully following Jesus, we have a great defense:  Not guilty by reason of insanity.  Are you crazy for Christ?  Do you have the “G-Force”?  Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Spirit Code – 5/24/2015

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 Message Delivered on May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 4b-15

“Spirit Code”
You have heard the traditional readings for Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Christian Church. Paul in his letter to the Church at Rome in Romans 8:22-27 touches on multiple theological principles: soteriology (salvation), pneumatology (Doctrine of the Holy Spirit; that the Holy Spirit intervenes between God and people and eschatology (last things — or the future ahead). The text offers a message of hope to Paul’s audience by encouraging them to look beyond the current experience of groaning to a future hope and intercession from the Spirit.

I read a story this past week about mail delivery in Ireland. We complain about our United States Postal System and it is not quite like the “free” delivery system envisioned by Benjamin Franklin, but it is definitely better than that which exists in Ireland. The practice of the Irish postal system has been to “deliver to the oldest Patrick Murphy first.” If you write a letter to Patrick Murphy in Abbeyfeale, County Limerick, your message might not get to the right man. It could be passed through multiple guys with the same name before it gets to the right Patrick Murphy. Towns in many parts of rural Ireland do not use house numbers or even street names. They do not have postal codes (Zip Codes here in the U.S.)!

So, when a forty year old man, Patrick Murphy, moved to Abbeyfeale, he became the third man by the same name in the neighborhood. None were related. All had different homes, but the addresses were the same. The postman took the letter to the Patrick Murphy who had lived there the longest and then he would pass it on. The new Patrick Murphy said, “My neighbors would get it first, they would have a good read and then they would say, ‘No, it is probably not meant for us.’ ” Definitely not a good system.

Getting our prayers through to God sometimes feels as difficult as getting Patrick Murphy his mail, but there is hope! God knows that we need help with our prayers and Paul says, “We do not know how to pray as we ought.” We do not know God’s exact address or even how to phrase our requests.

In Ireland, the government wants to end the mail delivery confusion (what a concept!), so it is instituting its first postal-code-system that will assign an individual number to every home and business. No more letters bouncing from Murphy to Murphy. No more residents experiencing, “If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Instead, accurate deliveries.

On the first Pentecost, followers of Jesus were together in Jerusalem and suddenly “There came from heaven a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). God knew exactly where the apostles were and sent a special delivery: the Holy Spirit. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages” (Acts 2:4).

Moments later, they used this awesome gift from God to tell others about God’s deeds of power. The Holy Spirit enabled this news to be delivered accurately and speedily to “Parthians, Medes and people from all parts of the known world who were in Jerusalem that day. What a delivery system was begun that day–the Spirit Code. No more hoping, no more waiting, just accurate deliveries. People in Jerusalem were amazed. How could those Galilean back-country followers of Jesus, not known for eloquent language skills or experience in international communications, speak in all the languages of the people assembled in Jerusalem? Some folks even accused them of being drunk at 9a.m.!

Innovation is always met with resistance. The change in Ireland is truly necessary. refuses to “Deliver to the oldest Patrick Murphy first, then figure it out over time.” Initially, the Spirit Code improved person-to-person communication, allowing Jesus’ disciples to speak to people around the world. Deliveries that began on Pentecost are continuing today, helping Christianity to grow into a global religion with more than 2.3 billion followers.
The Spirit Code also helps our prayers to get to God. “The Spirit intercedes with sighs to deep for words,” giving us communication assistance–no more worries about confusing or misdirected prayers. We do not run the risk of praying like a woman, “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept stupid people the way they are, courage to maintain self-control and wisdom to know that if I act on it, I will go to jail.” Probably not the way we should or want to pray. We do not want our prayers to bounce from Murphy to Murphy, so what can we do?
First, begin by accepting help. The Spirit is willing to help us in our weakness, so when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s help, we find that our prayers move beyond our personal agendas to the wider agenda of Almighty God. Dutch theologian, Hendrikus Berkhof, says that prayers include “thanksgiving for what God does; adoration for who God is and losing oneself in God’s incomprehensible love.” These are God – centered prayers as opposed to self-centered prayers. The Spirit helps us to focus on God’s divine agenda, instead of our human desires.
Second, the good news is that God wants to assist us. The Spirit intercedes–which means that the Holy Spirits acts as a mediator, a “go-between”, between us and God, helping with our communication. Berkhof lists prayers for divine human dialogue as: prayer for faith and forgiveness, prayer for strength in the fight of the faith, a plea for the lostness of our existence, prayer for help in need, wisdom to make the right decisions, for submission and surrender when we see that our wills conflict with that of God’s.” No request to win the lottery, no serenity to accept stupid people the way they are. Instead, prayers for faith, forgiveness, strength, help, wisdom, submission and surrender. These prayers are delivered directly to God via the Spirit Code.
Third, best of all, these prayers are answered. The Holy Spirit enables God’s will to be done in the lives of all who pray to him. We do not get everything we want when we pray to God, just everything we need, according to God’s will. One of the most well-known prayers is the Serenity Prayer, central to recovery from addictions, used by many in 12-Step programs: “God grant me to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.” God is not asked for miraculous healing, just to give serenity, courage and wisdom to people so that they can become well. The Serenity Prayer is said in order to change the hearts and minds of people, not God. Prayer does work, in ways that align us with God’s desire for healing and wholeness in human life.
A prayer for help in time of need will always be heard and answered by God. We might not get the answer we want but we will get the answer we need, in accordance with God’s will. Accurate delivery is guaranteed, per the Spirit Code.
Maybe we need to also remember the Senility Prayer: God grant me the senility to forget those people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into those I do like, and the eyesight to tell the difference. 

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Building a Legacy – 5/17/2015

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 Message Delivered on May 17, 2015

Acts 1:1-11; John 17:6-19 “Building a Legacy”

Ascension is one of the Christian celebrations that has been somewhat lost in observance. It is still on the calendar but we tend to focus on Pentecost, which follows. Pentecost rushes in with fire and color and gets our attention. Easter has its powerful message for Christians and Christmas is well accepted, albeit overrun with consumerism. Ascension sits on a little shelf in an alcove of our faith.

The Book of Acts is written by a Syrian physician, Luke, who could have believed that heaven was just above the dome of the sky that is clearly visible. The idea of Jesus rising into the sky and entering heaven seemed logical. Luke had no idea that far above the clouds there was an enormity of space containing billions of galaxies, each of them containing millions of stars like our sun. There was no reason to question that the Messiah would return the same way he left. The Jewish hope was that the Messiah would rip open the heavens themselves and descend to earth with chariots and an almighty army of angelic warriors to put aside all disorder and sin, and establish a single kingdom that would rule all the earth. It was a glorious vision, and it kept the Jews going when they were hemmed in by nations that wanted to destroy them.

This hope is evident in Luke’s report that the disciples “gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ ” Despite the crucifixion, which the Romans practiced to instill fear into the people, Jesus’ disciples believed that Jesus would be like the Messiah of legend. They were still thinking of earthly glory, where the nations of the earth, rather than ruining Israel, would be ruled over by Jesus Christ (the Messiah). They had been hoping for this from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. They are still hoping even though Jesus told them to stay together and wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. If Jesus were about to establish an earthly kingdom, what role would the baptism of the Holy Spirit play in that scenario? Jesus had been frustrated from time to time when the disciples did not understand the parables he told, or the healings he had performed. He had done everything to train and educate them for the work ahead to be done. He even died for them. They had not understood the resurrection. Even after his resurrection he had continued to teach and the disciples were still talking about restoring the kingdom to Israel. He tells them, “It is not for you to know.” and then he commissions them: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That commission applies to all of us, as well. We are to report to others all that Jesus has done for us, for others, and for the world. Jesus intended that we bring hope and joy to the world around us.

If the disciples listened closely, they would realize that they had an enormous task ahead of them. They were to preach in Jerusalem (a dangerous proposition), in all of Judea and Samaria (the land of pagans who worshiped in a temple other than the real temple in Jerusalem where God lives). The disciples had traversed on foot from Galilee to Jerusalem, to Caesaria, Sidon and Tyre–but–to go to the ends of the earth would mean to travel by sea which they had never done (Simon Peter, Andrew,

James and John were fishermen on Lake Galilee surrounded by land), preferring to buy goods from others who did the shipping.

The disciples waited…and waited for the inflowing of the Holy Spirit, not knowing that event would transform them, change them from frightened people, hiding in a locked house, into charismatic preachers. Jesus sent them forth to establish God’s Realm, but it was the power of the Holy Spirit that would enable them to begin the transformation of the world. How would they do the work for Jesus in his worldly absence?

In John’s gospel, it is noted that Jesus prayed “Those whom you gave me from the world…the words that you gave to me I have given to them and they have received them.” Jesus’ teaching is the essence of his legacy–one that will remain with the disciples and guide them as they continue his work in the world. This “changing of the guard” from Jesus to his disciples can be compared to late night television hosts Jay Leno (Johnny Carson before him) and soon, David Letterman, who established formats for late night viewing programs. What makes for a lasting legacy? There is no longer-lasting legacy than that of Jesus–one that has lasted over 2000 years, yet is not relegated to the history books. Instead, it is a living, breathing legacy that each Christian contributes to every day.

Words have power and can affect the legacy we leave, especially the negative effect that ill-considered words wield through the power of the internet and social media. When all we have to do is hit the “send” button, it is very easy to let our emotions get the best of us and to say things to the world that once we might have said only to those closest to us. Those words can now impact millions.

Everyone wants to leave a legacy but how is one built? We want to leave behind something that will make an impression, make a difference and create a footprint that will stand the test of time. As talk show hosts retire or move on, President Obama is approaching his final year in office. Young people are graduating from college and at other educational levels, closing a chapter of their lives to being another. Some will be retiring from careers in which they have spent decades. What will graduates and retirees leave for those who come after them? Will goals be higher because of what they did? Will the job be easier or harder because of them? What will be their legacy?

In John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is preparing them for his departure and speaks of the things he wishes to leave for them: the Words God gave to him, which he gave to the disciples; God’s truth in Scripture; Jesus asks for the disciples to be protected and kept in unity and reconciliation. Jesus leaves the disciples the same joy that comes from being in relationship to the Father. Jesus gives the disciples a sense of mission, “I have sent them into the world.” All of the worlds, all of the unity, all of the joy is of no account if it is hoarded, or kept as a trophy or a treasure. Like the bread and wine of Holy Communion, they must be broken, poured out and shared with the world before they can know their true value as refreshment, renewal and empowerment for faith.

Have you ever written a will? Maybe for high school or college, in which you explained what you would be leaving to your alma mater and the underclassmen thereof. I have. They were copied, collated and distributed the last week of classes. Some of the wills were funny and some made little sense, but it was an opportunity for myself and others to consider what would be left behind for those who came after us. My classmates had given me so much. What would I leave in return? Were there any new standards because of something I had done or one of my classmates had accomplished?”

As the Easter season comes to an end, let us ask ourselves, “What have we done or created in the name of Jesus Christ that will serve the next generation? What will live on after we are gone that will bear witness to God’s grace and love for those who need to hear it most? Have we set precedents or learned how to turn a negative situation into a positive outcome for the building up of the Kingdom of God? Our words are the testimony we give about what we truly believe and no testimony is more powerful than that of the Christian life. 1 John 5:9-13 says, “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony [of God] in their hearts.” Words can have the power to enlighten as well as to demean (Ephesians 1:15-23 suggests). Given the power that our words can have, it is essential for us to consider how we use them and in whose service we employ them.

Christ gives peace and his words are fully truth and truthful. The words we have from Christ and how we use them are part of the immediate legacy we leave on the hearts of those who receive them. In building a legacy to leave for others, kind and loving words, or sometimes harder truths spoken in love, should be our guides. It takes commitment, patience and love to build a legacy for those who will follow us. Once again, we are waiting for the Holy Spirit to move us to action. 


Categories: Weekly Sermon