Sermon: April 19, 2009

20 04 2009

Sermon

April 19, 2009

Zion Lutheran

Jeff Greathouse

 

Before we begin today’s message, I want you to take a few seconds and think of a time when you got hurt (physically, emotionally, spiritually, or otherwise).

 

What’s the most important thing you learned from that experience?


In the weeks leading up to Easter this year, sad news filled nearly every newspaper and broadcast. In just over a week, there were five mass murders in the U.S. alone, from Oakland, CA, to Binghamton, NY, killing nearly 40 people. In Italy, just as that predominantly Roman Catholic country was beginning to celebrate Holy Week, a massive earthquake killed at least 260 people. Violence continues in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in other war-torn corners of the globe. And all over the world, people continue to struggle with a devastated economy and our community has not gone untouched.

 

The week after Easter is an unmatched Sunday in the church. On most Sundays, the appointed readings are different each year, following a three-year cycle. But every year, on the week after Easter, we hear this story about Thomas, the disciple who asked for proof. That makes me wonder: What’s so important about this story that the church asks us to read it every year during this time?

It seems to me we could answer that question with two words: doubt and scars.

 

In the midst of danger and suffering, it’s normal for a little doubt to creep in. Thomas asked, and for good reason, to see the same proof that Jesus handed — literally — to the other disciples. For Thomas, as for most of the citizens of Jerusalem, the resurrection had not changed anything. Well, not anything they could see anyway. Life was still hard, and death was still at hand. So before Thomas took the message of “He is risen!” very far, he needed to be sure he wouldn’t just be telling a cruel joke to people who needed some real, meaningful hope.

 

(pause)

So, we look today at Doubting Thomas ……

Doubting Thomas is a term that is used to describe someone who will refuse to believe something without direct, physical, personal evidence; a skeptic.

The term is based on the Biblical account of Thomas the Apostle, who doubted the resurrection of Jesus and demanded to feel Jesus’ wounds before being convinced (John 20:24-29), although the Bible does not mention if actual contact took place. After seeing Jesus alive and being offered the opportunity to touch his wounds – Thomas professed his faith in Jesus; on this account he is also called Thomas the Believer.

Even though Thomas earned a negative label, he was not lacking in some very good qualities. He displayed great courage and loyalty. When the other disciples tried to keep Jesus from going to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead because of the danger from those in the area who had just earlier tried to stone Him (John 11:8), Thomas said to them, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). Thomas also asked Him one of the most famous questions. John 14:5-6 says, “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”

I think I have behaved similar to Thomas at times. I have gone through stages in my life when I questioned God. Have you ?

 

So, let us take a look at the story once again, with the focus on Thomas

Shock and Disbelief

On Saturday he is in shock. On Sunday he is so disillusioned that he doesn’t gather with his fellow disciples for an evening meal. Thomas is dazed, hurt, bitter — and lashing out. Monday morning, the disciples go looking for Thomas and tell him what has happened in his absence.

“Thomas, we were in that upper room where we’d been meeting. We lock the doors for protection. Yet, all of a sudden, Jesus appears. ‘Peace, Shalom,’ he says. Then he shows us his hands. There are jagged holes where the nails had been. He pulls back his tunic and shows us where the spear penetrated his chest. But he isn’t weak or sick or dying. He is alive, raised from the dead!”

Afraid to Believe

“I don’t believe it,” barks Thomas. “I don’t believe a word of it. You’re seeing what you want to see. Jesus is dead. I saw him die, and part of me died with him. But he’s dead, and the sooner you accept that fact, the better off you’ll be. Give it up!”

Peter pleads with him. “Thomas, I saw him myself, I tell you, and he was as real as you are!”

Thomas is cold, with an edge in his voice that cuts like ice. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

But Thomas’s anger cools, and by the next Sunday evening he is eating with his fellow disciples in the same locked room. Suddenly, Jesus stands among them once again and speaks — “Shalom, peace be with you.”

All the blood drains from Thomas’ face. Jesus turns to him and speaks plainly, without any hint of rancor or sarcasm, “Put your finger here, see my hands.” Jesus holds out his scarred hands for him to examine. Thomas recoils. Not out of fear, really, but from a mixture of amazement and revulsion.

Jesus begins to open his outer garment and says, “Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

My Lord and My God

Thomas is weeping now and then begins to sob out loud. Jesus reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder. Then Thomas slips to his knees and says in awe, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas, “Doubting Thomas,” as he is sometimes called, is the first disciple to put into words the truth that Jesus is both Lord and God. “Doubting Thomas” utters the greatest confession of faith recorded anywhere in the Bible.

—————————————————————————-

I don’t see Thomas as a doubter at all.

I see Thomas as someone who is seeking the truth.

I see Thomas as an unusual someone

who does not just go along with the crowd,

but is willing to stand up and say,

Sorry, I just don’t buy this.

I need a little more evidence

 

Jesus knows and loves Thomas, too.

Jesus understands the depth of Thomas’ love for him.

Jesus returns when Thomas IS there with the other disciples,

and the very first thing Jesus says is,

Peace be with you.

 

A small side note ….

 

Peace be with you.

 

Imagine how our relationships would change if we began our conversations—especially our conversations with those who question us, with those we disagree–if the first thing we said to them was, Peace be with you

 

Now, back to Thomas ….

 

Thomas seeks the truth.

Because he knows it is only the truth that will give him freedom.

Freedom to be whom God has created him to be.

Freedom to do God’s work in the world.

Freedom to face himself in the mirror.

 

Easter is not one day in our church.

Easter is a season.

Easter is the season of resurrection, of transformation

 

Not just the transformation of Jesus, but the opportunity for our own transformation, our own resurrection. Easter is the season when we are invited to seek the truth:

Put your finger here and see my hands

Reach out your hand and put it in my side.

 

Easter is the season we are invited to celebrate the truth, to leave the dark realm of secrets and shames and to stand in the light of Christ.

The joy of the resurrection is, understandably, mixed with paralyzing fear, and the gospel of John portrays the ongoing struggle among Jesus’ followers to understand exactly what happened and what it meant for this community of believers. Doubt, confusion, and disbelief raised more questions than answers, which is why John focuses on the physical details of Jesus’ resurrected body. Jesus was not a disembodied spirit floating among them, but a tangible being whose wounds were still present: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27). Without believing in the resurrection, the disciples could not live it, and if they could not live the resurrection, neither could they “reach out” and bear the new life of Christ to the world.

But they did believe. In the following months, the community’s faith in the resurrection was so strong that, in Acts, Luke testifies that it bore the truest mark of the new reign of God, for “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32). To be Christian was to participate in a unique community in which all were of “one heart and soul,” sharing both social and material equality.

Theologian María Pilar Aquino insists that the liberation wrought from the resurrection means that we who believe in it are called to “reach out” and touch the wounds of Jesus in the world. There we must repair inequalities in every aspect of human relationships, building community and healing where oppression and exclusion exist.

We, too, live this Easter faith in a dead and dying world. Thanks be to God, Jesus lives and breathes in the midst of our doubts, bearing the scars, and yet overflowing with life.

Jesus, you lived and died and live again, feeling in your own body how hard life can be. Help me see your love and grace in the midst of the entire world’s, and my own scars. Be patient with me, and accept my doubts even as you give me faith. Amen.





Sermon: March 29, 2008

30 03 2009

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

                                                Romans 15:13

 

 

 

There is an old story about a farmer whose mule fell into a dry well. The farmer heard the mule making noise and discovered the poor animal’s misfortune.  After assessing the situation, the farmer decided the mule wasn’t worth the time and expense it would take to save it.  Essentially, he lost hope in the old mule.  So he called his neighbors together and asked them to help him haul dirt to bury the animal and put it out of its misery.

 

When the first shovefuls of dirt came down, the mule became hysterical and began to kick.  But as the dirt continued to his back, it dawned on the creature that he should shake it off each time and step up on the growing mound of dirt beneath him.  Load after load of dirt hit him square in the back, but no matter how painful it was, he shook the dirt off and stepped on it.

 

Before long, the accumulation of dirt was such that the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of the well.  The dirt that had been meant to bury him had actually saved his life because of the manner in which he had responded to the situation.

 

When we possess the hope and belief that ultimately we’re going to be successful in our journeys, there’s not much of what comes our way on a daily basis that we can’t handle.  When we see negative events as stepping stones and have hope that our problems can actually propel us toward our goals rather than hinder us, then we are, of all people, truly blessed.  If I could pass along one virtue to all of our players – and to every reader of this version of the Winner’s Manual – it would be the virtue of hope.

 

            What is hope?  I will never forget a sermon that I heard a long time ago.  In that sermon the pastor said, “Hope is like being an Olympic Runner and as you stand at the starting line – as you are ready to get in position for the start of the race – one of the judges runs over to you and hands you the Olympic Gold Medal.  Before the race begins, you know that you have already won the race.”  That is the hope that we as Christians have.

            You know, last week I spoke about worry.  How we worry about everything in life.  We worry about how life will turn out for us.  Well, the wonderful thing about being a Christian is that we know that it will turn out just fine.  The promise of the cross tells us that life will turn out just fine.  The promise of the cross tells us that we have already won the race.

St. Paul is near the end of his life – or so he thinks – and he writes to his good friend Timothy to say goodbye.  He says in Second Timothy:

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

 

Now listen to this.  Here comes the hope part:

 

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

 

So Paul had this hope.  The hope that he had already run the race and won it.  The hope that the Crown of everlasting life was already his.  Not something that he had to earn.  Not something that might happen.  Not something that was still out there.  Not something that he might achieve.  No, something that already was his.  And because St. Paul knew that he had already won the race that meant that he then could run his race of life with wild abandon.  It was already a done deal.  Heaven was his home.  So what was there to fear?  What could possibly go wrong?  And it was that hope that drove St. Paul.

What drives you?  I think that for far too many it is fear.  Fear of what lies behind us.  We had better keep running and running and running as fast as we can.  Faster.  Faster.  Always looking back to make sure that we are ahead of all of the things which frighten us.  Always afraid to slow down for fear that those things might overtake us.

And yet sometimes afraid to go forward.  Who knows what is just around the corner.  Who knows what evil lurks in the shadows.  And so we get frozen.  Afraid to stay where we are – afraid of those things that might catch up with us – but afraid to go forward – because of what might just be ahead of us.

Doesn’t that make you tired?  I mean really tired.  Afraid to slow down and yet afraid to go forward.  Always afraid.  Always looking back over your shoulder to see what might be catching up and yet afraid that if you do that you might run into something just ahead.   And yet if you keep your eyes looking ahead that you might miss the danger sneaking up from behind.  That makes me tired just thinking about it.  And yet I know many people who do just that.

And that is where Hope comes in.  Hope that all of those things that we say here in this place are real.  It is Hope that holds on to the words of our Lord.

Cast all your cares upon me for I really care for you.

 

Nothing ever separates us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.

 

Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

 

Hope is what remembers the words of Jeremiah:

 

I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.  Plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and hope.

 

Or as I said last week – FOCUS ON THE THINGS OVER WHICH YOU HAVE CONTROL.  GIVE EVERYTHING ELSE UP TO GOD.  And then have the hope that God will lift you up so that you can fly on eagle’s wings.

Amen!





Sermon: March 22, 2009

23 03 2009

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

 

                                               

                                    James 1:2-4

 

 

 

How do you act when the pressure’s on

When the chance for victory is almost gone,

When Fortune’s star has refused to shine,

When the ball is on your five-yard line?

 

How do you act when the going’s rough,

Does your spirit lag when breaks are tough?

Or, is there in you a flame that glows

Brighter as fiercer the battle grows?

 

How hard, how long will you fight the foe?

That’s what the world would like to know!

 

Cowards can fight when they’re out ahead.

The uphill grind shows a thoroughbred!

You wish for success?  Then tell me, son,

How do you act when the pressure’s on.

 

 

            I would just like to know by a show of hands – how many of you here this morning have never faced adversity?  How many of you here this morning have never had a problem that seemed insurmountable?  How many of you have never faced difficulties in your life?  Just raise your hand.  What?  Are you telling me that everyone here this morning has had problems to face and overcome in their life?

            Well, that is the truth.  The question never is have we ever faced adversity.  Everyone of us has a some time in our life.  For some it has been financial.  I remember a friend of mine who had been in the Air Force – was married with a family – and then decided to go back to college so that he could be a teacher.  Several times during those years he almost quite – the amount of money that he had got smaller – the cost of tuition got higher – he had a family to take care of.  How was he going to make it?  Lately I have seen a lot of anguish on people’s faces as they have lost jobs – faced the frustration of looking for work with so few opportunities.  Just last week I heard about a janitor’s job that opened up and 1,100 people showed up to apply for the job.

            Maybe your adversity has been health.  “I never had a thing wrong with me.  I have always been as strong as an ox until this happened.”  I cannot tell you how often I have heard that sort of thing from friends and members of churches that I have served.  The loss of health can take the wind out of your sales and the bills that accumulate can devastate a family.

            Maybe death has been your adversity.  There is not a person here this morning who has not been touched by death – a spouse – a parent – a child – a good friend.  We all know that death is a reality.  We all know that death comes to us at some time or another, but that is always tomorrow.  And when tomorrow becomes today, it is like a two ton boulder comes crashing down on us.

            Adversity is real.  It comes to each and everyone of us.  The question is how do we handle it.  And after being a pastor for almost 40 years, I have come to the conclusion that this is the best advice that I can give someone who is facing adversity:

FOCUS ON THE THINGS OVER WHICH YOU HAVE CONTROL.  GIVE EVERYTHING ELSE UP TO GOD.

 

            Do you have a health issue?  Then go see the doctor.  Listen to his advice.  Take the drugs that he prescribes to you.  Do the therapy that he has given you.  And then give everything else up to God. 

            Are you out of work?  Look for jobs.  Go where you can and put in your applications.  If you think additional training or learning a new skill would help, then sign up for some classes.  And then give everything else up to God.

            Are you depressed because you just lost someone who is near and dear to you and the feelings are overwhelming you?  Then go and talk to someone.  If necessary, go and see a counselor.  Do what he tells you to do.  Take his advice.  And then give everything else up to God.

            To do other than this is just a waste of time.  I know that there are some people who when they face adversity will worry.  There are some people who have worry down to a pure science.  What will happen?  And then…  It could lead to…  I know this young woman who worries all of the time.  She worries about everything.  In fact, she is one of those people who worry if she doesn’t have something to worry about, because she is afraid that she must be missing something.  Finally one day I told her that if she could convince me that worrying about that sort of thing would make a difference that I would sit down with her and worry with her.  “That’s silly, Pastor!” she said.  “No sillier than you worrying about things over which you have no control.”  Focus on the things over which you have control.  Then give everything else up to God.

            And, you know, that giving up everything else up to God thing.  That is good advice, because you see the promise of our God is that He will always be there for us.  “Cast all your care upon me, for I really care for you.”  “Nothing every separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”  “Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world.”

            And there is something else to remember here.  Every time you do that – every time you get through adversity – by focusing on the things over which you have control and by giving everything else up to God – every time that you do that and get through that – you will get stronger.  I promise you.  And the next one – the next time – will be easier – until finally you reach the point where you sail through adversity because you focus on the things over which you have control and give everything else up to God.  Because – you see, what you will discover – is that your faith gets bigger and stronger.

The ancient Lakota hunter warriors handcrafted their own bows from seasoned ash wood.  There were two ways to acquire he proper wood.  The conventional way was to find a young ash tree, harvest it, and let it dry for at least five years.  But the hunter warriors were always on the lookout for a mature ash tree that had been struck by lightning.   Such a tree had been dried and cured in an instant by the awesome power of lightning, and any bows made from it would be much stronger.  Such trees were rare, but they were preferred because they had suffered the ultimate adversity, and ultimate adversity produces ultimate strength.

 

FOCUS ON THE THINGS OVER WHICH YOU HAVE CONTROL.  GIVE EVERYTHING ELSE UP TO GOD.

 

 

 

                                   

 

Amen!





Sermon: March 15, 2009

16 03 2009

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1

I would like to begin this morning by sharing with you a poem from “The Winner’s Manual.” The poem is entitled “The Guy in the Glass.”

When you get what you want in your struggle for self, And the world makes you King for a day, Then go to the mirror and look at yourself, And see what that guy has to say. For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife, Who judgment upon you must pass. The feller whose verdict counts most in your life Is the guy staring back from the glass. He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest, For he’s with you clear up to the end, And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test If the guy in the glass is your friend. You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum, And think you’re a wonderful guy, But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum If you can’t look him straight in the eye. You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years, And get pats on the back as you pass, But your final reward will be heartaches and tears If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass. Today I want to talk about faith and belief.

Now I know when I say those two words, most of you are thinking that they are the same thing. Faith. Belief. Two words for the same thing.

Actually they are two sides of the same coin. Faith is what people have inside themselves in something bigger than themselves. Belief has to do with what you do with that faith. Another way of saying that is to say that Faith is who you are. Belief is what you do with you faith. In other words, Faith is my belief in something greater than myself. I believe that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. I believe that God loves me so much that He gave His only Son to come down here on earth – to live – to die – and to rise again – so that I might have the promise of eternal life. I believe that that this God loves me so much that He walks beside me in each and every moment of life and that nothing ever separates me from His love for me – as St. Paul said:

Nothing ever separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, neither height nor depth, nor powers nor principalities, not even life or death separates me from the love of God in Christ Jesus. I believe that this God who loves me and walks with me and lifts me – doesn’t desert me in the moment of death, but that when I reach that final moment of life that I pass from this life into the arms of a loving and caring God.

Again as St. Paul said: Brethren, I would not have you to be ignorant concerning them which have fallen asleep that you sorrow not as those who have no hope, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. Now that is Faith. Belief is what I do with that Faith. How I live out my life each and every day. Now I know even as I say that – that there are people who live out there life totally unaffected by their Faith. There are people who come to church every Sunday – sit in pews or chairs – who listen to organs or guitars – who say all the right words – worship every Sunday – and then leave their places of worship totally unaffected by the things that they have said or done in places like this. I think that some people do that because they are afraid. We spoke of them last week.

Those people who are so afraid to live in the now because of what will happen in the then. They are so afraid that if they live their lifes as Christians in the now that they will be taken advantage of in the then. They are so afraid that if they give away some of themselves in the now – their time – their talents – their treasures – that there won’t be enough of their time – their talents – their treasures – for them in the then. There are many like that. They come to church. They say the right words. Do the right things. And then go home and live in fear. They are afraid that all of those promises of God aren’t true. They are afraid that they will be left without. Then are those who simply compartmentalize their faith. Here is church. Here is the rest of my life. Here is love and joy. Let’s all join hands and sing Kum By Yah. Out there it is a dog eat dog world. It is every man for himself. It’s a jungle out there. It is almost as if they are schizophrenic. They live two lives. One here. One there. They have faith. They just don’t have belief. They have faith in God.

They just can’t put that faith into action. And that, my friends, is belief is all about. St. Augustine said: Faith is believing what we do not see. The reward of faith is to see what we believe. I am going to say that again. Faith is believing what we do not see. The reward of faith is to see what we believe. Do you have faith but are you a little short on the belief? Well, join the rest of us. That is what all of us struggle with. Translating that faith that we have into belief. Translating that faith into action. But here is something to remember.

This is Jim Tressel speaking: Those outside our belief system will evaluate whether or not they should consider our beliefs as they observe the way we live. My hope is that when people observe me – whether it’s on the job, in the neighborhood, at church, or at the store – they’ll see something they’d like to know more about. Faith is who you are. Belief is what you do with you faith. How you live. You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years, And get pats on the back as you pass, But your final reward will be heartaches and tears If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

Amen!





Sermon: March 8, 2009

8 03 2009

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children.  Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father?  No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening – it’s painful!  But afterward there will be peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

 

                                         Hebrews 12:7, 11

 

 

            When I say the word discipline, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?  I’ll bet that for many of us here this morning that the first thing that popped into our minds when we heard the word discipline was punishment.  Discipline implies punishment.  As a young boy when my mother said that when Dad gets home that he is going to discipline me for what I have done, she didn’t mean that Dad would have a talk with me.  It usually meant that I was going to loose some privilege – or I was going to be sent to my room for a certain period of time – or I was going to get a spanking.  If you are in the military and they talk about disciplining a soldier, it usually means some form of punishment for an infraction that a soldier has committed.  Messy bunk leads to walking guard duty.  Being late for a duty means doing KP.  That’s what discipline means.  Right?

            Well, that’s not the definition that we are going to use.  Discipline actually comes from a Latin word which means “instruction or learning.”  Therefore a “disciple” – one who “disciplines himself” – is a pupil or a student who learns through instruction.  A “disciple” is a pupil or a student who follows and learns.  A “disciple” is a pupil or a student who repeatedly practices something until he is prepared to go out and do it.

            You know, I remember when I played football I use to really hate practices.  We would go over and over and over certain things – angles of attacks – footwork – over and over and over again.  And finally one day I asked the coach why do we go over and over and over these things.  And he said, “We go over and over and over those things so that you will do them when no one is watching.  You will do them without having to think about it.  It will be who you are and not what you do.”  “It will be who you are and not what you do.”

            There is a parallel there between that and what we do here.  We go over and over things here too.  We talk about the love of God – over and over and over again.  We talk about how God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son – over and over and over again.  We talk about how this should motivate us to love God in return for all that He has done for us – over and over and over again.  We talk about Grace being the underserved love and kindness of God.  And we do that over and over again.  We talk about how being a child of God means that we should love one another – and that that love should be unconditional.  And we do that over and over and over again.  And why do we do that – over and over and over again?  We do that so that we might be disciplined.  So that these things become so much a part of who we are – how we think – what we do – that these things are who we are – not just what we were are taught to do.  We love God – because that is who we are.  We love one another because that is who we are.  We do these things when no one is watching.  We do these things without having to think about them.  We do these things because that is who we are and not just what we do.  We are the children of God who live out our lives as children of God.  Other people will do whatever it is that they do.  We, however, are the children of God and we live out each and every moment as children of God.

            And, I think that we can do that, if we always live each moment in the moment.  You know, I think that the problem that most people have with doing the right thing when no one is watching is that they fail to live in the moment.  They are always living in the next moment.  They become afraid – afraid that if they give away something in the “now” – that there won’t be enough for them in the “then.”  People become afraid to give up something in the “now” because they are afraid that they won’t have enough left over in the “then” when they need it.  If I give away some of money now, how do I know that there will be enough later for me.  If I give away some of my time in the “now”, how do I know that there will be time for me later in the “then.”  If I dare to love someone in the “now,” how do I know that I will be loved in the “then?”  If I focus on the needs of someone else in the “now,” how do I know that there will be enough left over for me in the “then.”

            And, you know, I think that the only way that can happen is if we remember that the then is already taken care of.  You know, God’s promise to us is that we don’t have to worry about the morrow, because the morrow is taken care of.  Jesus tells us that we should look at the birds of the air or the lilies of the field.  They live in the moment.  They don’t worry about the “then.”  They just live in the “now.”  And yet God takes care of them.  And if God takes care of birds and lilies in that way – how much more will He take care of us who are so much more valuable to Him than birds and lilies.

            And so God is telling us that we tell ourselves that over and over and over again.  We remind ourselves of that over and over and over again until it becomes a part of us – something that we believe down to our very DNA.  And once that happens – well then we will live in the now – because we know that the “then” is already taken care of.  We can live as children of God in the “now” – because the promise of God is that “then” is already taken care.  We can live as we have learned – as we have been taught.  We can live in the moment when no one is watching – because it is who we are and not what we do.

            I would like to leave you with this poem:

 

TODAY FIRST

 

In this time of change, help me to be patient, God.

Let me not run ahead of you and your plans.

Give me courage to do only what is before me

And to keep my focus on my responsibilities.

I am tempted to daydream about the future:

However, the future is in your hands.

Thus may I be close to you in all my thoughts,

Accomplish the task before me today,

And do it with all my heart.

 





Sermon: March 1, 2009

2 03 2009

I have learned to be content with whatever I have.

 

                                    Philippians 4:11

 

           

 

            “You need to talk to that son of yours.  He has got a real attitude today.”  Often times those were the words that greeted my father when he came in the house after a long day of work.  “You need to talk to that son of yours.  He has got a real attitude today.”  And guess which is true.  Do you think my mother was talking about my brother Bob, the good son, or Alan?  Second, do you think that my mother meant that that day I had just been the perfect son and that my father needed to go into my room and compliment me on what a fine boy I had been that day?

            There were many times when my parents would go in for a parent/teacher conference and one of the things that they would often hear is, “Your son is very smart.  His work is way above average.  However, sometimes he can get a real attitude.”  Now, of course, you know what that means – I was very smart – and I was always a joy to be around.  Right?  Wrong!

            Today we want to focus our attention on the importance of ATTITUDE.  Jim Tressel in his book, The Winner’s Manual says, “A good attitude can overcome some other limitations, but even great talent can’t overcome the wrong attitude.”  St. Paul says to us, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have.”  St. Paul is talking about attitude there.  And, I think that what we hear St. Paul saying is that the right attitude is important.  We all need to develop the right attitude.  And I am hear to tell you this morning that I think that what St. Paul is telling us that there are three parts to having the right attitude:

Gratitude – Humility – Enthusiasm.

GRATITUDE – Have you ever known someone who is unhappy no matter what they have.  If they have a car, they are unhappy because it is not a new car.  If they have a new Ford, they are unhappy because it is not a Lexus.  If they have a job, they are unhappy because they are only making $25,000/year.  If they get a raise to $50,000, they are unhappy because they should be making $100,000.  There are some people who are unhappy no matter what they have – no matter where they live – no matter what’s going on in their life.  They are always wishing that they would be some place else – imaging that if they were only there – doing that kind of thing – being that kind of person – having those kind of friends – that they would be happy.  The problem is that no matter where they were, they would always be unhappy.  It is a matter of having an Attitude of Gratitude.

St. Paul says, “I am content with whatever I have.”  That is an Attitude of Gratitude.  St. Paul looked at his life and saw where he had been and saw where God had taken him.  Why he had been a persecutor of Christians.  He was on the fast track to hell.  Now, by the grace of God, he was a child of God.  Now he was on his way to heaven.  Now he was being given the opportunity to share this Good News with others.  And in the process God was going to give him everything that he needed.  Not everything that he wanted, but everything that he needed.

Do you have a Attitude of Gratitude?  Do you live in the moment?  Do you wake up every morning – glad to be alive – looking forward to the blessings that are in store for you that day?  Do you spring from your bed and out of the house because you can hardly wait to see what God has in store for you today?  And you feel that way because you know that you are one of the luckiest people on the planet – because God so loved you that He gave His only begotten Son  – because God has promised you that He would be with you always even unto the end of time – because you know that His Grace is always sufficient.

HUMILITY – Have you ever been around people who are constantly reminding you of how wonderful they are?  Don’t you just love serving on a committee where someone is constantly reminding you that if weren’t for them nothing would get done?  How about the woman at work who tells every body who will listen how this place would go out of business in a heartbeat if she ever quite?  Don’t you just love being around those kind of people?

St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

I remember the first time that I preached a sermon.  After the service, I asked my supervisor what he thought of my sermon.  He said that the sermon was marvelous – a great sermon.  There was only one thing missing.  The six foot mirror in front of the pulpit.  His point was that I was preaching to show everybody how wonderful I was – how smart I was.  I needed to remember that the sermon needs to be about the people.  That was a lesson for me in humility.  If we are humble, Paul tells us, then we can see others, even as God sees others, and then we will have the Christ-like attitude.  Then we will have the ability to love others even as God loves us – unconditionally.  And that, my friends, is humility.

And finally ENTHUSIASM.  You know, I actually looked this word up in the dictionary, and what I discovered is that the word comes from the Greek, entheos, which literally means “full of spirit, full of God.”  Are you full of God?  Do you attack everything before you – your job – your family – your marriage – your friendships – your relationship with God – with enthusiasm – full of spirit, full of God.  You know, I love being around enthusiastic people – they are just aglow – aren’t they?  Enthusiastic people seem to have a glow about them – perhaps because they are going a hundred miles an hour.  But they’re playing with their whole hearts – with the power of God – and doing it constantly.  I just love being around those kind of people.  They suck me in.  I catch their enthusiasm.  And before you know it I am attacking everything at a hundred miles an hour.  Believing that by Grace of God I can do anything.  A wise man once said that there are three kinds of people: 1) there are those who make things happen; 2) there are those who watch things happen; 3) there are those who say, “What happened?”  Which are you?  People who are filled with the Spirit of God make things happen, because they know that God has given them their talents and their abilities – and the time in which to do it.  So they are the ones who want to get busy spreading His love and His joy  and His grace – for as long as they can.  Those are people who have enthusiasm.

This morning I am going to leave you with this bit of wisdom:

I AM ONLY ONE, BUT I AM ONE.

I CAN’T DO EVERYTHING, BUT I CAN DO SOMETHING.

AND WHAT I CAN DO, I OUGHT TO DO.

AND WHAT I OUGHT TO DO, BY THE GRACE OF GOD, I SHALL DO.

 

Now that’s somebody with an attitude!

 

Amen!





Sermon: February 22, 2009

23 02 2009

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

 

 

 

                                                            Mark 9:2-9

 

 

 

            Have you ever had one of those times in your life that you just didn’t want to end?  Have you ever had one of those times when everything was just so great that you didn’t want it come to an end?  I remember about two years ago – I had one of those days.  Well, not actually one of those days.  It was several days.  Ohio State had just won the Big Ten Title.  Finished Number One in the Country.  Was scheduled to play in the National Championship Game in Phoenix, Arizona.  My daughter and I decided to go.  We bought our tickets for the game.  Managed to find reservations at a Hotel in Tempe.  The hard part was booking a flight into Phoenix.  But we managed that.  We flew out on Friday, even though the game wasn’t until Monday.  The plane to Phoenix was filled with other crazed Buckeyes – everyone decked out in their Scarlett and Gray.  We were singing the whole way out.  Hang on Sloopy.  Carmen Ohio.  March Across the Field.  When we got there, we did all of the Touristy things.  We took a Hum V Tour of the desert.  Went to several Tailgate Parties in Glendale, even ran into several Wooster Families at the Festivities.  I had a great time, and I just didn’t want it to end.  By the way, it wasn’t because Ohio State won the game.  No, that was the year that we got beat by the University of Florida.  But I still wouldn’t have changed a thing about that trip.  I was with my daughter.  The other day I came across a picture of Jen and me standing in front of Giant Cactus in Sonora Desert.  I just stared at the picture and smiled.  I wouldn’t have changed one thing. 

            Did you ever have one of those kind of days?  Well, if you did then you understand what it was like for Peter, James and John.  You see, the story tells us how one day Jesus decided to go off and pray, and He invites Peter, James, and John to go with Him.  You kind of get the feeling that this has happened before, because the other Disciples and Peter, James, and John don’t act as if this is anything unusual.  However, this time is to be different.  This time Jesus is going to show Peter, James, and John something special.  This time as they are praying suddenly Jesus begins to glow.  He reveals himself in all His glory to these three men.  He lets them see just a glimmer of who He is – the Son of the Most High God.  And then, as if that wasn’t spectacular enough, we are told that suddenly two of the greatest of all the Israelites suddenly appear on each side of Jesus – Moses and Elijah.  Moses who had led the people of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land.  Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets in the Old Testament.  Wow!  That must have been something special.  Peter apparently didn’t want the day to end.  He suggests to Jesus that they build three houses – one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah.  If we do that, Peter is thinking, then we can stay up here on the mountain forever.  This day never has to end.

            But Jesus understands – that as wonderful as this day is – as much as Peter doesn’t want it to end – that all good things must come to an end.  I loved being in Phoenix with my daughter.  But all good things must come to an end.  I needed to get back to work and so did Jennifer.  There was a church for me to take care of.  Jennifer had patients in the hospital.  We needed to get back to work.  So did Peter, James, and John.  They had to get back to work.  There were people with which to share the Good News.  There were people to tell about Jesus.  There were people to save.  There were people to tell that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  And so do we – we too need to get back to work.

            Why do you come to church?  No!  I am serious.  Why do you come to church?  Do you come to church because that is what you are suppose to do on Sunday Morning?  Do you come to church because that’s what your parents got you into the habit of doing?  Do you come to church to praise and worship God – to give thanks to God for all that He has done for you in your life?  Do you come to church because you have needs that only God can answer?  Do you come to church because faith in Jesus gives you the courage to face whatever life throws your way – because you know that you are never alone?

            Those are all good answers.  But, you know, those answers are all about me.  One of the answers needs to be about them.  I come here so that I can get armed – prepared – ready to go out there and tell others about Jesus.  That’s what Peter, James, and John needed to do.  Yea, it was wonderful up there on the mountain, but they needed to get down and tell others about what they had seen and heard.  We need to go home and tell others about what we have seen and heard.  We need to tell our friends and our co-workers about this Jesus that we meet every Sunday.  We need to tell our relatives and our neighbors about this Jesus that we meet every Sunday.

            You see, there is one thing that I understand.  The job of the church is to evangelize – to tell the world about Jesus.  No pastor can do that.  No advertising campaign can do that.  No spectacular church building can do that.  People can do that.  People sharing their faith.  People sharing what they see here every Sunday.  You coming down from the mountain top.  You sharing your faith. 

            And just stop and think.  If over this coming year, everybody in this church would just bring one person to Jesus.  On Sunday morning twice as many people would be here.  And if the next year everybody did that again, we would have to knock the walls out.  And if everybody in every church in every city and every country did that – the Kingdom of God would double every year. 

            What a thing of beauty that would be!  Wouldn’t that be something to behold?  Wouldn’t that be something to celebrate?

 

Amen!