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 SERMON TEXT 
Monday, June 25 2012

Mark 4: 35-41

          Our Gospel reading today is that well-known episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples of a time when they are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus has just finished teaching and preaching.  And quite frankly, I can tell you, that that can be an exhausting task.

          So Jesus is tired.  He falls asleep in the boat, when suddenly a storm arises.  The disciples are doing everything they know how to do to keep the boat from sinking.  But when it looks like they are in danger of losing everything – they wake Jesus up.  “Teacher!  We’re sinking.  Wake up and give us a hand with this thing!”  Now I am not sure what they expected Jesus to do to help them.  Maybe they needed one more man to help bail or help with the rigging on the sail.  I don’t know.  But what Jesus does is totally unexpected.  In three words, “Peace.  Be still!” he calms the sea.

          I want to talk to you today about the storms that come into your life – and who – or what – it is that you turn to after you’ve done all that you know how to do – and still the storm rages on.  How do you give voice to your fears when the storms rage?  And yes, into everyone’s life storms will come.  We cannot avoid them.  But when storms occur, I want you to know that there is someone who is with us – and to whom we can turn – when life is at its worst.

          Let me share with you a story.  “Thomas loved music.  At a very early age, long before his music education at the Chicago College of Composition and Arranging, he was playing piano in a Vaudeville act.  After college, he frequented the jazz clubs, gaining quite a reputation as the very talented ‘Georgia Tom’.

          “In 1921, at the age of 22, Thomas gave his life to Jesus.  Almost immediately he left the jazz clubs and began writing Gospel music.  He took great effort to circulate his musical scores, but it was three long years before anyone started to notice.  Little by little his reputation grew, not only as a songwriter but as a church music director.

          Eventually, Georgia Tom became known as Reverand Tom. “One day in 1932 while Tom was leading a church service, a man came on to the platform to hand him a telegram – his wife had just died in childbirth.  Within 24 hours his newborn baby died also.  Thomas quickly spiraled downward into the depths of despair, doubting the goodness of God and determining never to write another hymn.

          “A week after that horrible, life changing day, Thomas was deep into his grief, sitting alone at a piano, in a friend's music room.  Into the room came a heavy peace such as he had never known before.  As that peace enveloped him, Thomas felt the urge to play the piano.”[i]  Later on he would describe this experience in these words:

          “Something happened to me then I felt at peace.  I felt as though I could reach out and touch God.  I found myself playing a melody, one I’d never heard or played before, and the words into my head – they just seemed to fall into place:

          Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand!

          I am tired, I am weak, I am worn,

          Through the storm, through the night lead me on to the light,

          Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.

 

          And then he goes on to say, “The Lord gave these words and melody, He also healed my spirit.  I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power.  And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.”[ii]

 

          And that’s how Thomas Dorsey came to write the words and the music to Precious Lord.   And up until this past week – until I researched the background of this song for this sermon – I had believed that it was the Tommy Dorsey of the big band era who had written this hymn.  But my research tells me – and I was kind of disappointed when I learned this – that the big band leader and the writer of this hymn were two different men. 

          But still – that in no way changes the power of the message of this hymn – nor does it diminish in any way the storm that Thomas Dorsey the hymn writer was going through when he wrote it.

          Let me share with you another story – another story of a storm – or rather a series of storms – that entered into the lives of Horatio and Anna Spafford.

          “Horatio Spafford was a wealthy Chicago lawyer with a thriving legal practice, a beautiful home, a wife, four daughters and a son.  He was also a devout Christian and faithful student of the Scriptures.  His circle of friends included the evangelist, Dwight L. Moody.

          “At the very height of his financial and professional success, in 1871, Horatio and Anna suffered the tragic loss of their young son.  Shortly thereafter on October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed almost every real estate investment that Spafford had.[iii]

          In 1873, “… when Moody announced his intention of holding evangelistic meetings in Britain, Mr. Spafford offered to go along to help.  He proposed to take his wife and four daughters as well.  It seemed a good opportunity to get them out of the devastated city for awhile.  But as things turned out, the lawyer was detained on urgent business.  So he sent his wife and daughters on ahead, saying he would join them later.  

          “It was not to be.  Their ship collided with another in mid-Atlantic, sinking in only twelve minutes.  Spafford’s four daughters, were among the 226 who drowned.  Only his wife was rescued.  From Cardiff, Wales, she wired her husband, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

          “Setting out to join his grieving wife, Spafford stood hour after hour on the rolling deck of the ship, thinking of the precious family God had given them, and then taken again.  Many would have spurned such a God.  But like Job, long ago, the sorrowing father had learned that God Himself is enough.  He is the believer’s present hope and future joy.”[iv]  While sailing near the place of his daughters’ deaths, he wrote the words to the following hymn:

          When peace, like a river, attends my way,

          When sorrows like sea billows roll;

          Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

          It is well, it is well, with my soul.

 

          Now, I want you to know that in a few moments – during communion – we are going to be singing both of those songs.  Both of them.  All the way through.  One is in the green book – the other is in the blue book.  And I know you don’t all like to sing – especially during communion – but let me invite you to sing anyway.  Bring the hymnal with you as you come forward for communion.  And if you don’t like to sing – follow along with the words anyway.  They are powerful expressions of faith in the midst of a storm. 

          Thanks to Thomas Dorsey and Horatio Spafford who gave voice to their grief in the words of these songs.  Perhaps you and I – we might use their words to express our feelings and fears as well.  And even though you and I might never become known for writing songs or hymns when we are hit by the tragedies and the storms of life – still we can give voice to our fears.  And I can guarantee you – the storms will come.  Indeed, for many of us – we have already had storms – sometimes overwhelming storms – that seemed to suck the life right out of us. 

          So how do you give voice to your feelings and your fears?  It’s hard, because sometimes it feels like you can’t go on.  And it’s not easy.  And it’s not fair.  But let me repeat to you what you already know.  And kids – I want you to pay close attention.  Life isn’t always easy.  And life isn’t always fair. 

          So when life isn’t easy – and life isn’t fair – when storms come into your life – as they surely will – when things are the darkest – I want you to know that it’s OK to cry out and wonder, “Where is God in all of this?”  But I also want you to remember that He is there.  Even when it seems He is silent – He isn’t.  He is there. 

          Earlier I asked, “To whom – or to what – it is that   you turn to after you’ve done all that you know how to do – and still the storm rages on?  How do you give voice to your fears?”

          In the middle of your storm – there is someone to whom you can turn.  Even and especially in the middle of whatever storm you’ve ever been through or maybe you’re going through right now.  His name is Jesus.  And as disciples of Jesus Christ we need to remember that we were never promised that storms would never come to those who follow Christ.  We were never promised that.  But the promise we do have is this.  Jesus tells us, “I am with you always.” 

          Christ is the One we can turn to.  To walk with us – walking – guiding – talking to us every step of the way.  And as you hear me say so often – the Lord is there – the Lord is near – to help you – not just to get you through the storm – but to help you to rise above it. 

          May I suggest to you that He is the One we can turn to voice our fears – and to trust in His promises.  What does the Lord say?  “I will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)And “I love you – and you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

                                                                                                                                                                                             Amen



[i] http://www.faithclipart.com/guide/Christian-Music/hymns-the-songs-and-the-stories/precious-lord-take-my-hand,-the-song-and-the-story.html

[ii] Snopes.com Precious Lord

[iii] http://www.faithclipart.com/guide/Christian-Music/hymns-the-songs-and-the-stories/it-is-well-with-my-soul-the-song-and-the-story.html

[iv] http://wordwisehymns.com/2010/10/16/today-in-1888-horatio-spafford-died/

Posted by: AT 09:31 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 04 2012
 

John 3:1–17; Romans 8:12–17

 

          Many of you are old enough to remember that for years, the opening of “The Wide World of Sports” television program illustrated “The thrill of victory and the…” what? That’s right.   “…and the agony of defeat.”  [That’s what happens when you stand for too long.  You get – the agony of de-feet.]  Well, if you remember Wide World of Sports illustrated the agony of defeat with the image of a skier who had what looked like a terrible ending to a ski jump.  Do you remember that? The skier appeared in good form as he headed down the jump, but then, for no apparent reason, he tumbled head over heels off the side of the jump, bouncing off the supporting structure down to the snow below.


          What viewers didn't know was that he chose to fall rather than finish the jump. He explained that the jump surface had become too fast, and midway down the ramp, he realized if he completed the jump, he just might land beyond the safe sloping landing area – a landing which just could have been fatal.  Surprisingly, the skier suffered no more than a headache from the tumble.

 

          That skier changed his course, and it made a big difference in his life. Though he took a tumble, I think we can all agree that it was better than a fatal fall at the end.


          Our Gospel reading today brings us face to face with a man by the name of Nicodemus.  And may I suggest to you that he is facing a fatal landing if does not change directions.

 

          You see, Nicodemus is a religious man.  He was a Pharisee.  And if you remember one of the things that the Scriptures tell us about the Pharisees is that they do not like Jesus.  In fact, they are among those who would like to make him go away – and in fact – are party to his eventual death by crucifixion.

 

          But we get the sense that Nicodemus – even though he is a Pharisee – senses that perhaps there is something about Jesus that he needs to investigate.  So he comes to Jesus – and I want you to notice that he comes to Jesus at night.  Why at night?  Because he is less likely to be seen by others – especially other Pharisees – talking to this man Jesus.  So he comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness.

 

          I think Nicodemus simply wants to learn more.  He wants to learn more about Jesus – more about what Jesus has to say about God.  He’s curious.  And the first thing he does is that he calls Jesus rabbi. 

          Now, this is a sign of respect.  He realizes that Jesus is a teacher – and that’s what a rabbi is.  So he says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  So right off the bat, we see that Nicodemus recognizes that there is something different – something special –about this man Jesus – and he needs to check it out.

 

          And Jesus starts talking to Nicodemus about the Kingdom of God – and about the importance of being born again.  So now – Nicodemus is confused.  He doesn’t know what Jesus is talking about.  It just doesn’t make sense to him.  The only thing that comes to Nicodemus’ mind is another physical birth – another trip down the birth canal.      

 

          And of course we know that that is not at all what Jesus has in mind when he says that a person must be born again.

 

          My guess is that Nicodemus knows that his religious system of do’s and don’ts is somehow missing something – and he wants to know what that something is.  I think that for all of his religiousness there was something missing.  Something empty inside that his religion just couldn’t fill.  It could be that Nicodemus knows that he has been heading in the wrong direction.  That maybe – just maybe – he needs a course correction – a change of heart – a change of direction.


          And Jesus says – you must be born again.  You must be born – not from a second entry into your mother’s womb – but a new birth from above – from God.  You must be born again.

 

          Folks – when religion alone doesn’t cut it.  When being religious – you know – saying the right things and doing the right things and saying and doing them in the right way – when being religious just doesn’t cut it – and you feel empty – like something’s missing – may I suggest to you that Jesus has the answer.  Jesus has the answer when he says you must be born again.

 

          And listen – let me tell you.  If you are a Christian – if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ – then you are born again.  Through your baptism into Christ Jesus – you are born again.  We are born from above as a gift from the Father above – in the name of Jesus – and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  You are born again – and don’t let anybody ever tell you that you are not!

 

          So did Nicodemus ever come to a saving faith in Christ?   I believe that he did.  Tradition tells us that he did.  And furthermore, if you read all the way to the end of John’s Gospel – you will find that it is Nicodemus – who along with Joseph of Arimathea – take the body of Jesus and place the body of Jesus in the tomb. 


          One of the best photographs from the WWII era is a photo of King George the VI inspecting a bombed out section of London.  He stops to talk with a little boy, who is sloppily dressed and has his cap on crooked.  The King is bending on one knee and looking directly into the face of the child, and even though it is a profile shot of the king you can see that his is a look of compassion.  Tell me that that child's life was not changed.  Tell me that if he lived to be a hundred he forgot that day?  I would suggest that once one truly looks into the eyes of Jesus, It is difficult to turn away.

 

          I think something wonderful – something profound – happened to Nicodemus that day.  When he looked into the eyes of Jesus – he began the process that led him in a change of direction.  That he did indeed become born again.


          To be born again is not only a gift given to us from god – but it is also to have a change of direction in one’s life.  Which begs the question – do you believe that people can change?  Do you believe that you can change?  I believe it is not only possible but that it does happen.  It has happened for many of us. 

 

          Later this month I will be attending my 40th anniversary high school reunion.  Yikes!  40!  How did I get here so quickly?  Anyway, I sent in my check for the banquet just yesterday, and on the invitation was a website link for do’s and don’ts of high school reunions.  One of the things that was pointed out is that people will walk up to you and say, “You haven’t changed a bit.”  But they are making that judgment based on outward appearances.  If you are really brave – you might just have an answer prepared to tell them that you are not the same person – and just exactly how you have changed.  I don’t think I’ll do that – but you know that you are different.  That you have changed. 

 

          How do you know – how can you yourself tell – that you are different.  That you have changed?  I don’t have an exhaustive list here, but let me suggest some of the following.  You know that you are a new person – you know that you have changed:

·        When selfishness turns to generosity.

·        When doubt turns to faith.

·        When hatred turns to love.

·        When apathy turns to compassion.

·        When men and women who have been broken by addictions to drugs or alcohol or whatever find healing, forgiveness and restoration.

          Yes, people can change – and they do change.  When you know that you are a new man or a new woman because you have had an encounter with Jesus Christ then it can be said of you that you are born again. 

          Peter J. Gomes, in his book The Good Book: Reading the Bible With Mind and Heart, puts it this way:

          “What ‘born again’ means is literally to begin all over again, to be given a second birth, a second chance.  The one who is born again doesn't all of a sudden get turned into a super-Christian.  To be born again is to enter afresh into the process of spiritual growth. It is to wipe the slate clean.  It is to cancel your old mortgage and start again.  In other words, you don't have to be always what you have now become.  Such an offer is too good to be true for many, confusing for most, but for those who seek to be other than what they are now, who want to be more than the mere accumulation and sum total of their experiences, the invitation, ‘You must be born again,’ is an offer you cannot afford to refuse.”

          We don’t have to be defined by what we used to do.  We don’t have to be defined by what we used to be.

          Folks – we are all broken men and women and our need is to be healed, changed, repaired, forgiven.  So the question for this morning is not “What Nicodemus was searching for?” but “What are you searching for?”

          I am going to suggest that what we need – what we’re all searching for – comes to us when we take Jesus Christ and his Word to us seriously.  I think what we really want is a contentment knowing that all is right between us and God and between us and each other.  What we want is for us and our world to be put together right – For our world to be right, right?

          Let me share with you another story.  Listen!  “One rainy Sunday afternoon, a little boy was bored and his father was sleepy.  The father decided to create an activity to keep the kid busy.  So, he found in the morning newspaper a large map of the world.  He took scissors and cut it into a good many irregular shapes like a jigsaw puzzle.  Then he said to his son, ‘See if you can put this puzzle together. And don't disturb me until you're finished.’

         

          “He turned over on the couch, thinking this would occupy the boy for at least an hour.  To his amazement, the boy was tapping his shoulder five minutes later telling him that the job was done.  The father saw that every piece of the map had been fitted together perfectly.

 

          “‘How did you do that so fast?’ he asked.  ‘It was easy, Dad.  There was a picture of a man on the other side.  When I got the man put together right – the world was right.’”


          A person's world can never be right until the person is right, and that requires the miracle of new birth.  Don't you dare stop asking God for the experience of new birth until you can shout from the housetops, “Through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit, God has fundamentally changed my life!”

 

          In other words, “You know who I was.  You see who I am.  Jesus makes the difference.”

 

                                                                                                Amen

 

 

Posted by: AT 12:03 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 04 2012
 

John 17: 6-21

          Some of you may be familiar with the name Garrison Keillor.  He is known for his radio show, “The Prairie Home Companion” broadcast on National Public Radio.  I want to share with you a story he once told about an experience he had as a teenager.

          Walking down the sidewalk one day, he saw this unbelievably beautiful woman coming toward him – stunningly beautiful woman.  How was he going to get her to notice him?  What could he do?  He spied a large, white Cadillac parked next to the sidewalk.  Strolling over to the Cadillac, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a dime – that’s all a parking meter cost in those days – he put the dime into the parking meter, and leaned confidently against the Cadillac, acting as though he owned the thing – and smiled at this beautiful woman.

          To his delight, she returned his smile.  She moved towards him, and spoke to him, saying, “Thank you.”  And she got into the Cadillac – and drove away.

          Folks – I offer this to you today as a modern day parable for the church. All of us – and especially I as your pastor – need to remember the message that this story teaches.  And the message is this:

          The church is not our Cadillac.

          The church is not our Cadillac.  We all need to remember this truth.  So whose Cadillac is it?  To whom does the church belong?  It belongs to Jesus Christ. 

          To be sure, you and I belong to the church.  We are members of the church.  And just in case you missed it – I really don’t like using the word member anymore.  Because the word member can imply ownership – it can imply – as the credit card commercial used to say – that membership has its privileges.  We have responsibilities –  but privileges – not so much.

          Truth is, we are not owners.  Christ is the owner – and we are disciples – and that’s the word I prefer to use these days – disciples instead of members – we are disciples who belong to Jesus Christ.  THREFORE – we are at best caretakers of this place – this building – or better yet – this organism that we call the church.

          And I’ve gotta say that I feel a certain amount of pride in this place.  Pride in all of you who give of yourselves – you give your time to this place – you give your talent and your financial resources to the work of ministry that is making a difference in so many people’s lives in and through this place.  I am always amazed at what God is doing here – and maybe even feel a little bit like Garrison Keillor sometimes – you know – wanting to lean up against it in order to look good – and yeah – to feel good.  But ultimately – we all need to remember – I know that I need to remember – that this church that we love so much – ultimately – this church – belongs to Jesus Christ.

          Now here’s the thing.  Even though we are not the owners –still – the church – this church – has been entrusted to us.  And that’s a big responsibility if ever there was one.

          The people who made up the church in the early days of the church completely understood this.  Even before the day of Pentecost – the day we call the birthday of the church – those first disciples of Jesus Christ understood this. 

          Our first reading from the book of Acts tells us that the disciples are waiting for the promised Holy Spirit.  And as they wait, they feel it necessary, after the death of Judas – to name a successor to Judas to take his place among the twelve.

          They did this because they knew that Jesus had entrusted the church to them – and that the work and the mission and the ministry of the church had to continue – and that it was up to them to make sure that it happened.

          And in the middle of all this – they remembered that Jesus prayed for them.  They remember that on the night just before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus prayed for them.  A portion of that prayer is in our Gospel reading from John’s Gospel.  And we need to remember this.  Just as Jesus is praying for his disciples – he is praying for you and me as well.  Listen.

          “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.…As you have sent me into the world, so I  have sent them into the world….I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on   behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.”

          Did you catch that last sentence?  We are those who believe through the word and witness of those first disciples.  Jesus sent those first disciples out into the world – and he sends us out into the world too!  To share the good news.  To make disciples.  And what’s more – the owner of this place is praying for us.  The owner of this place is praying for you!

          So Jesus is praying for us – and what he prayed for is that we might be one.  Do not miss that point!  We are a body – the body of Christ.  We are a family.  We are not a gathering of individuals who take up space in a church pew.  We are a family. That’s why we come together – to be together – to worship together – to pull together – to support each other, and to pray together.  That’s what the church is – that’s what the church does – and that’s why the church matters!

          You see – there is a difference – a big difference – between just being a part of the crowd – you know – taking up space in a pew – and being a part of the congregation. 

          A man by the name of Charles Jefferson once described the difference between an audience and a church.  I like what he has to say.  Listen.

          “An audience is a crowd.  A church is a family.

          An audience is a gathering.  A church is a fellowship.

          An audience is a collection.  A church is an organism.

          An audience is a heap of stones.  A church is a temple.”

 

          And he concludes, “Preachers are ordained not to attract an audience, but to build a church.”  And I have to add to what Mr. Jefferson says here, and that is to say, that it is not just the job of the preacher to build a church.  This is not a task just for the preacher – but a calling for everyone gathered here today.  The owner of this church is Jesus Christ – but it is our job to build it. 

 

          Eleven years ago – those who were here eleven years ago – we watched this building go up – arch by arch – and brick by brick.  But when I talk today about building the church – I’m not talking about brick and mortar.  I’m talking about the people who visit us for the first or second or more times – people who for the most part are here primarily because you invited them.  You invited them to “come and see” – or they have come here because of this place’s reputation.  People looking for a church home.  People looking to be connected with God’s people in the body of Christ.  And I must say that we are happy to be receiving 14 new disciples here at Zion this weekend.  That’s great.  But that’s just one way in which the Lord is building His church.

 

          So when I talk about the Lord building His church, I’m not talking about bricks and mortar.  I’m talking about changed lives.  People looking for a relationship with Jesus Christ or looking to grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus Christ.  People who have been changed and are changing.  I’m talking about a church that’s alive.  I’m not talking about bricks and mortar.

         

          So – I’ve got to ask you a question.  And what I want to know is if you’re being changed through what you hear – and what you see – and what you experience in this place?  I want to know – because that’s one of the goals I have for myself – it’s a goal I have for each one of you – that we be changed – that we be transformed – that we grow in faith – in our love for God and for each other.  That we become more and more like Christ in our thoughts – in our words – and in our actions.  This is my hope – and this is my prayer – for all of you.  For all of us. 

 

          And to that end, I also want to ask you, are you praying for this church – this congregation?  For its leaders?  For its pastor?  Are you praying for those who have not yet visited with us, but who we know the Lord is sending our way?  Have you prayed?

 

          Remember – this church is not our Cadillac.  This church is not my church.  This church belongs to Jesus Christ.  And just as Jesus prayed for those first disciples – he also prays for us.  Therefore – we need to pray too.  Will you promise to do that?  Will you promise to pray for Zion and its mission?  In fact, I invite you to join with me in doing that right now.  Let us pray.

 

          “Father God, we come to you in the name of Jesus, the head and the owner of this church.  Lord, we love this church – this place – and the people gathered together here today to worship you.  May we continue to reach out – and invite – and pray for those who have not yet walked through our doors – but who we know you are sending this way.  Continue to work in and through us through the power of your Holy Spirit.  We turn to you for strength and for courage to do what needs to be done every step of the way.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  And all God’s people said….  Amen.

Posted by: AT 11:53 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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