Click HERE to watch a videos of Zion sermons.
Monday, February 25 2013
Luke 13:31-35; Genesis 15: 1-12; 17-18
Folks, I want to tell you today that when God makes a promise – God keeps that promise. Even when it seems that the promise that is made seems impossible – even for God to keep.
To show you what I mean, let’s go back to the story of one man and one woman. Both were very wealthy, and both were very old. They had no children of their own. Certainly that was not unusual, but a promise had been made to them by God that their descendants would one day become a great nation.
One day the man, this desert nomad, is lamenting the fact that he and his wife have no children of their own – no one to fulfill the promise made to them. That’s when the Lord speaks to the man, and says to him,
“Abram. Abram do not e afraid. Your reward shall be very great.” But Abram is disappointed with God. He complains to God, “You have given me no children. A servant of my household will have to be my heir.”
And the Lord says to Abram, “This man shall not be your heir, but a son born to you and your wife Sarai will be your heir.” And the Lord brings Abram outside of his tent, and says to him,
“Look. Look up at the sky, Abram. Count the stars if you can. So shall your descendants be.”
This wonderful episode in the life of the man that we know better as Abraham is a story that reminds us that when God makes a promise, God keeps that promise – no matter how impossible keeping that promise might be. The story of Abram and his wife Sarai – and just as Abram would be renamed Abraham, God also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah – is a story of promise. God makes a promise that God will gather to himself from the descendants of Abraham and Sarah a great many people.
But you see – there’s still that problem. They have no children. And in case you are unfamiliar with the story of Abraham and Sarah – to make matters even worse – Abraham is 100 years old. Sarah is not quite so old. She’s only 90. This is one heck of a challenge, wouldn’t you agree? And yet – and here’s the amazing thing – and yet in spite of their ages – and regardless of how – in human terms this is an impossible task – still they believed. They trusted God, and took Him at His word. And God kept His promise. Abraham and Sarah – even in their old age – had a son and named him Isaac.
Let me suggest to you that we might think of this as a starting point in human history. Since the time of Abraham and Sarah – God has always had a people. God is a gatherer – and God has always gathered to Himself those who would follow – and believe – that the promises of God are real!
And we – we who are disciples of Jesus Christ – and who, by faith, are descendants of Abraham and Sarah – I want you to hear that the promises of God are for you today. We are called and gathered by the God who gathers His people together.
We get a sense of this from our Gospel reading today. Jesus is lamenting over the city of Jerusalem.
“Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often had I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Let me share with you a story. In a small Swiss town there was a cathedral. It was called the Mountain Valley Cathedral. There had been a great deal of money spent on the wonderful stained-glass windows and tall arched ceiling. The cathedral also boasted of an outstanding pipe organ. The organ was designed in such a way that when it was played, people could hear it all over the valley. As the people would work on their farms, they could often hear the organ as it was played. It gave great joy to the people of the valley for many decades.
Then one day the valley became silent. The organ was in need of repair. They called in one expert after another and yet no one was able to solve the problem. Specialists from all over Europe were asked to help, and still no one was able to fix it.
Then one day, when all hope was gone, an old man came to the cathedral. He asked if he could work on the organ. The sexton agree, and the old man worked for two days.
The sexton was becoming nervous because the old man was saying nothing about what he was doing. Finally, on the third day, there was the sound of music all through the valley. People dropped what they were doing, and ran to the cathedral. When the old man was done playing, the sexton asked why it was that he had been able to fix the organ after so many had failed.
The old man said, “I am the one who built the organ, and I am the only one who can fix it.”
This was the cry of Jesus as he looked over the city of Jerusalem. He wanted to fix the people, but they would have nothing to do with him. The truth is, only the One who made us – the One who knows us – can fix us. The one who made us desires to gather us together – to heal us – to forgive us – to fix the broken and hurting areas of our lives.
And that’s why our God is a God who gathers. You see, God desires to be in relationship with people like you and me. People who need to be touched in the hurting areas of their lives – AND also people who will follow. People who will believe that the promises of God are for them. But as our Gospel lessons makes clear – not everyone is willing to follow. Not everyone is willing to be gathered in by God.
But let me tell you something. Just because there are some who run away from God – some who reject the promises of God – some who don’t want to be touched by God – doesn’t mean that God has given up on them.
Let me tell you another story – the story of another couple – this time a young man and woman. She was 18 and he was 19 when they met. They fell in love, and one year later, they were married. Some six years and three children later, she decided while standing before the kitchen sink with a pile of dirty dishes and with a pile of dirty diapers on the floor, that she just couldn’t stand it anymore. She just walked out the door.
Sometimes she would call home to check on the children – and on those occasions he would tell her how much he loved her – and would ask her to come home. Each time she refused.
After a number of days, he hired a private detective to find his wife. The report said that she was living in a second-class hotel in Des Moines, Iowa. He packed his bags – placed his children under the care of a neighbor – and drove to Des Moines.
He found the hotel and made his way to her room. When he knocked on the door, his hand trembled because he didn’t know the kind of reception he would receive. His wife opened the door, stood for a moment looking at him in shocked silence – and then fell apart in his arms.
Later, at home, when the children were in bed, he asked her a question that had long troubled him. “Why didn’t you tell me where you were when you called? You know I love you. Why didn’t you come home?”
She replied, “Before, your love was just words. Now I know how much you love me because you came for me.”
Folks, I want you to know – God shows His love for you in the same way. He doesn’t just tell us He loves us. No. God shows His love for us by coming to us in the person of His Son Jesus Christ – in order to gather us in.
God’s great desire for you is to gather you into His arms – to hold you and to touch you where it hurts – AND to repeat His promises to you once again. And quite frankly – that’s another reason why church matters. As the gathered people of God – and that is what we are – you need – I need – to hear those words – those promises – over and over again. It’s why church matters! This is where you’re going to hear God’s promises.
When you’re drowning in the sea of life, God promises, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid. I will gather you in.”
When you fret about today, and worry about the future, God promises, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things that you need will be given you. I will gather you in.”
When discouragement comes to you when you’re trying your very best to follow Him, God promises, “Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. I will gather you in.”
In the face of personal disaster. When your world is falling apart – God promises, “Let not your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. I will gather you in.”
When death comes knocking at the door – Jesus promises, “Because I live, you will live also.”
These are just a handful of the many promises that God in Jesus Christ makes to you today. These are the promises of the God who gathers – who gathers us in – AND whose promises are as sure for you today as they were for Abraham and Sarah. And like Abraham and Sarah – we too can trust God’s Word to us. You can trust the promises of God makes to you.
In a world that offers little to us in the way of hope – in a world that offers nothing but uncertainty – in Jesus Christ we have a hope for today and a bright promise for tomorrow. Our hope is found in the One who promises to be with us always – the One who promises to gather us in. And in those promises we can live in hope. Amen
Tuesday, February 19 2013
I have a confession to make. I do not own a smart phone. Although I know some day I will have one, I am resisting that purchase for as long as I can, because the idea of paying an extra $30 a month for such a phone – or $60 a month because you know if I get one – Nancy will want one too – is just something that really annoys me. Or is it just me being cheap – I mean – frugal?
Last week when I talked about face time being better than Facebook – some people at first thought I was talking about an app for the Apple line of products called Facetime. Yeah – I had no idea there was an app named Facetime. I was using the phrase face time as the better way of communicating in person with someone instead of using a computer or phone.
So I’m not at all up to date with app technology. And if you’re sitting there scratching your head – wondering “What in the world is app technology?” – it’s short cut talk for application. There are applications or apps that you can buy or download for free – I think I would definitely prefer those that are free – for your smart phone or ipad or any other mobile devices that you can download an app to.
Some estimates say that there are more than 500,000 apps available for your smart phones or whatever kind of mobile device you may have. The purpose of these apps is to make our lives easier. Well, okay. And I understand that there is an app for just about everything you can think of.
Anybody here have a smart phone with them? How many apps on your phone? Got a favorite? (Ask this of several people).
For instance you can point your smart phone up into the night sky, and it will tell you which constellation you’re looking at. Want to read the Buffalo News on your phone? There’s an app for that. For the narcissitic – there’s a mirror app – you know – pull out your phone and you can look at yourself. There’s an app – parents of teenagers listen up – there’s an app that will alert you if your teenaged son or daughter is texting while driving. Now that’s a smart phone! Runners can take keep track of their running – and the route they’ve run – and how far, how fast, at any point along the run. There’s an app that allows you to attack your enemies through a digital voodoo doll called iVoodoo. Yeah, well – there’s an app it seems for just about everything.
And I got to wondering – is there an app to help people overcome bad habits? Perhaps even start good habits. I think you will agree with me that there is a connection between the habits we develop and our quality of life.
I thought about that since our text for today is about the temptations – the three temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness – and they are not at all unlike the temptations that you and I face. When we talk about temptations, we often think of temptations as something that would lead us – or tempt us – to sin. Or more likely – lead us to develop bad habits.
In other words, is there an app that will help us to resist temptation?
Let’s take a look. Let’s look and see if Jesus can give us a clue. When tempted, Jesus made certain choices – choices that we most certainly can learn from. Choices that can change our lives for the better.
Now – as far as I know – Jesus has not written any apps for our smart phones. But when we turn to the Word – when we read about how Jesus handled the temptations that were thrown at him by Satan – what do we find?
Well, the first thing we find is the “Trust God, not self app.” Trust God, not self. After being in the desert for 40 days we find that Jesus is hungry. Well – he’s not just hungry – he’s famished! Try going 40 days without food. Try going 4 days without food. You’re hungry!
So when the devil says, “If you are the Son of God,” – notice Satan knows who Jesus is – “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan knows how to attack us when we are at our weakest. He knows our weak points.
But Jesus says no. Yes, he could have turned stones into bread, but because he is in the habit of trusting God, he says no. And so he responds to the devil by quoting a line from the book of Deuteronomy, "One does not live by bread alone”. Having food for the belly is not enough. Instead, we are to live by trusting what God says and trusting in what God can do.
“That, of course, is the genius of Alcoholics Anonymous. Members of AA are there for each other in times of temptation. Many times in the middle of the night a member of this group will be called to sit with a buddy and help him fight the cravings that would destroy him. Members of AA also know what it is to rely on God. They know that the key to turning their lives around is admitting their weakness, admitting that they were, are, and always will be powerless over alcohol. But they believe that a Power greater than themselves can restore them to sanity, and so they make a decision – they make a choice – they form a habit – to turn their will and their lives over to the care of God. It’s the “Trust God, Not Self” app.
What we learn from our friends in AA is that when you are tempted – no matter what the temptation is or how difficult the struggle – find a friend that you can call on – and learn what it means to surrender your situation – surrender your entire life – to the love and mercy of God. When we do that – we learn that temptations can be resisted.
So the first app that Jesus shows us is the “Trust God, Not Self” app. And of course the best way to put this app to work is to learn what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Then there’s another app the “Serve Only God” app. In the second temptation, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. The devil says, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Well, yeah, okay. All the kingdoms of the world. How great would that be! But first Jesus must bow down to Satan. Become a servant of Satan. Join the dark side, if you will. But for Jesus, that’s a price too high to pay. Again, Jesus quotes the book of Deuteronomy, and says, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Now I suggest that the “Serve Only God” app might be a hard one for us. Because, the world teaches us to look out for number one. How much can I get? What do I need to do to get ahead? Now, ambition is not necessarily a bad thing. But – what this app asks us to do is to put God first. To serve God ahead of ourselves. Jesus chose to focus on serving God, and not bowing down to the devil.
And finally, there’s this app, the “Do Not Put God to the Test” app. In his last temptation – according to Luke – the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and invites him to throw himself down, trusting the promise found in Psalm 91: “He will command His angels ... and they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone”. You see, even Satan can quote Scripture. But once again Jesus throws Scripture right back at him again, and says, “It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
You know, if we're honest with ourselves, we know that we’ve all put God to the test. If you’ve ever tried bargaining with God – or made a promise in exchange for a certain kind of help – those are examples of what it means to put God to the test.
“Lord, I know I didn’t study for this test, but if you just let me get an A – or, okay maybe even a B+, I promise I’ll go to church for a whole month.” Seems to me if we can avoid this temptation – the temptation to put God to the test – what we’ll find is a sense of peace, knowing that while God asks us to do what He has gifted us to do – at the same time – we can stand back and watch what it is that only God can do. But to bargain with God, in order to get what you want – probably is not the best thing to do. No, I would say avoid that temptation, if you can. Avoid all of them if you can.
Well – looking at the entire temptation story, we see that all of Jesus' choices enable him to remain close to God. And that’s what you and I want too, am I right? I can tell you it’s what God wants for us.
So just remember, that when it comes to our own temptations to sin, there are apps for that. What are they? The “Trust God” app, the “Serve God” app, and the “Don’t put God to the test” app. These are the apps that Jesus used when he was tempted. May I suggest to you that they can become habits that we can use when we are tempted. If we change our habits, from bad habits to good habits – we can change our lives, do you agree with me?
Too bad there isn’t an app for the smart phone that can help us to live like a Christian. And like so much of the technology that’s out there that I’m not familiar with, if there is such an app, well, I certainly don’t know about it.
Well, now wait. Maybe there is one. It’s called the Bible. The only thing that can help you and me live the way God calls us to live – and to be the kind of people He wants us to be – is found in the Bible.
Now I believe that there is an app for that! Amen
Thursday, February 14 2013
Psalm 51: 1-17
I love to travel. My best friend and travel companion – who also just happens to be my beloved wife Nancy – with whom I am well pleased – and I love to travel. We’ve been to London, England – twice to Germany – Belgium, the Netherlands – Greece and Turkey – Israel three times (I’ve been there four times) and Egypt – and just this past Fall – Kenya and Tanzania.
Only once in our many flights did we lose a bag, and fortunately that happened for Nancy on a flight to Buffalo – and we were able to reclaim her lost bag the next day.
Others I understand are not so fortunate. Maybe some of you have lost bag nightmares that you can tell. Now, as fearful of that happening as we might be – I understand that – according to the airline industry – 99 and a half percent of all checked bags find their way to their destination on time. Of the one half of one percent that go missing – 95% of those find their way home within 5 days.
However – have you ever wondered where unclaimed baggage ends up? You know – stopped at a red light with nothing else to do – and you start wondering, “Where does all the world’s lost luggage go?”
Well, anyway, did you know that there is a place in Alabama called the Unclaimed Baggage Center? It’s a 50,000 square foot retail store. This store contracts with the airlines to purchase unclaimed – and I would hope luggage that has no way of being traced to the rightful owners – but they purchase these lost pieces of luggage. And business is booming! Anybody can walk into this store and buy items that people have lost because their bags have been irretrievably lost in the airlines’ baggage claims systems.
Now you can imagine some of the stuff they find in this lost luggage. There’s the typical stuff like clothing and other essentials. But sometimes some of the things they find shock and surprise them. Dead things. Living things. Smelly things. Illegal things. I understand that one time they cracked open one bag to find a live rattlesnake!
I want to suggest to you tonight that you and I carry around a lot of baggage. SO let’s talk about that baggage, and what we can do with it. Now, I’m not talking about the physical baggage that you take with you on a trip. No. I’m talking about spiritual baggage – sin and guilt baggage and all that other baggage that we carry around with us every day. And just like we might be careful about what we pack into our physical bags when we take a trip – we carefully pack our sin and guilt bags as well.
Sometimes the stuff that we pack into our sin and guilt bags is heavy. Heavy stuff. Abuse that we’ve suffered. Brokenness. Some secret sin from the past. Some addiction or un-confessed sin. Something of which we are ashamed. Baggage that we’ve carried around with us for so long – or maybe I should say for far too long – that we might even have become used to it. Quite frankly – sometimes I think we’re even afraid to let go of some of that stuff!
But I want you to know that you are not alone in carrying around unwanted baggage. We all – every single one of us – carry around with us the shame and guilt of past mistakes. Everyone of us.
And what’s true for us is true of everyone you read about in the Bible. For instance, there’s the story of King David. The greatest king that Israel ever had. His suitcase was full of sin.
One of my favorite Psalms is the Psalm we read together a few moments ago. This is a Psalm written by David. Listen again to how he cries out to God for forgiveness – for relief from having to carry around a suitcase full of sin.
He says, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!" (Psalm 51:1-2).
He recognizes that God is a God of steadfast love, and abundant mercy. And quite frankly—he has no one else to turn to after he realizes the enormity of his sin. I won’t recount the entire story for you tonight – because – well, I retold the whole story last year on Ash Wednesday – but if you want to read the whole story – read about the baggage that David carried around – you can find the whole story in the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12. You don’t have to write that down. I included that reference in the line below my sermon title in your worship bulletins. But that does mean that you have to take your bulletin home with you, unless you have a steel trap memory.
Briefly – King David has been called out by the prophet Nathan for hooking up with Bathsheba – the wife of Uriah – and then arranging for the murder of her husband Uriah. David is desperate. He knows what he’s done. He knows that it’s wrong. And he knows that without Gods’ forgiveness he will not be able to live with the guilt and the shame and the pain of what he has done. He needs a place to leave this burden behind – a place to leave this baggage so that he can move on. And in the process, he writes this beautiful Psalm of repentance.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your bountiful Spirit.”
Let me suggest to you that this is a great place for us to start too. You already know that Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are a time when we focus on confession, repentance and forgiveness. Not that we don’t focus on these now – and forget about it the rest of the year. No. But I think that tonight is a good time and a good thing to stop and check out what’s in our bags.
So what’s in your bag? Let’s take a look. Maybe you’ve got one of these bricks that you’re carrying around with you. (One by one pull out the labeled bricks that are in the backpack. Name each one, one by one.)
You see, don’t you? The things you carry around are like the bricks in this backpack. And with these come the weight – the scars – the shame – the silence – that often come with these things that weight you down. This night – this Lent – let me invite you to drop these bricks – drop the bag that’s holding these bricks. Lay them at the foot of the cross.
But let me be very clear about something. The purpose for doing this –the goal that we are reaching for – is not to pick them up again! Leave that baggage behind – unclaimed, unmarked, and ready to be picked up by someone else.
What you need – what you and I need – is a porter – someone to carry this baggage for us. And you know who’s going to do that for you, don’t you? The whole purpose of our being here tonight is to come here with our bags packed – and to leave those packed bags here at the foot of the cross. Because here – at the foot of the cross – is where we find what David discovered he so desperately needed. God’s love. God’s mercy. God’s forgiveness. The joy of God’s salvation.
Leave them here. Unclaimed. Stay with me in this metaphor now – leave them where they’ll make their way to Alabama – where they will be bought by someone else. And that someone else of course is Jesus Christ.
He will take your unwanted baggage – and carry it to the cross. And there he will pay a price so high that it covers the cost of every sin-stuffed suitcase that you and I have been carrying around with us for far too long. He will give his life in exchange for every single piece of baggage that's been weighing you down.
On the cross, Christ will become the new owner of your sin and shame, bought with his blood, which means you are now free to leave it with him, the one person in the world who can own it, claim it, carry it, and not be completely crushed by it. That’s how it works.
Now in case you’re thinking, “Yeah, but Randy, you don't know the kind of stuff I'm carrying. I've got crazy stuff, insane stuff, kinky stuff, evil or downright disgusting stuff buried in these bags I'm carrying.” And maybe you’re thinking because of that that it's too much even for Jesus to handle.
Listen. If some store in Alabama can handle snakes in suitcases without a problem, don't you think the God of the universe can handle what you have hidden and have been holding onto? It's not as if you're going to surprise him. He already knows every burden you bear, every sin you're struggling with. The issue is not whether God can handle what you're carrying. The issue is whether you'll trust Jesus – whether you'll take these things to Jesus and leave them at the foot of the cross.
So let me suggest that you take inventory. Open up that baggage you’ve been carrying around, and then say to yourself, “I will not lug this thing around anymore.” Go ahead, say that with me. “I will not lug this thing around anymore.” I will lose it. I will abandon it. I will give it to someone who can handle it. I will drop it at the feet of my crucified Lord. I will leave it at the foot of the cross.”
Do that once, and then feel free to repeat as necessary. I have it on good reference that Jesus is accepting baggage all year round.
And then – and then – once you've experienced the freedom that comes from walking through life with a little less weight on your shoulders, be sure to spread the word. Tell others about a place where they can go to to leave their burdens behind – about a person to whom they can turn who will gladly bear those burdens for them.
By the way, the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama manages to add more than 7,000 items to its inventory every single day. That's a lot of lost stuff. Perhaps you're wondering, “Maybe that's where my favorite shirt and my rattlesnake are?”
Maybe. But even if you're one of those who has never lost their luggage, there's still time to join the club. The club made up of those who have left their baggage with Jesus at the foot of the cross. Hey! He’s cool with that. He’s already paid for it – bought and paid for by his own blood.
So lose that baggage. Take it and leave it with Jesus. No name. No tag. No questions asked. Your baggage is forever lost and gone. And he promises that you’ll never see it again.
Wednesday, February 13 2013
Luke 9: 28-36; 2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2; Exodus 34:29–35
You’ve all heard of Facebook, am I right? Whether you are on Facebook or not, I would be surprised if anyone here has not at least heard of it. It’s a way to be in contact with friends and family – or whomever you wish – by way of the internet. It’s an open forum for talking about whatever it is you want to talk about. Let everyone know what’s going on in your life. OR post your opinion on something. OR rant about this that or the other thing. You can post pictures from your vacation or your kid’s birthday party – or whatever. In many ways – it’s a neat forum for staying in contact with people you want to stay in contact with.
But I gotta tell ya. I hardly ever go on any more. Maybe once a week. Maybe. I heard on the news this week that more and more people are taking a break from Facebook – also known as FB. Some I understand are even giving Facebook up for Lent.
But since it is such a popular way to communicate – it is still a goal of mine – sometime in 2013 – to open a Facebook account for Zion. I’ll let all of you know when that happens. And then – I hope you’ll “like” us on Facebook. I assume since you’re here today – you like us anyway even if we’re not on Facebook. But we’ll see how helpful a tool that medium will be in getting the word out about what’s happening around here
I mention that today – because in all three of our readings today the word “face” is mentioned.
In Exodus we find that Moses has just received the 10 Commandments on two tablets of stone from the Lord on Mt. Sinai. As he comes down from the mountain, Moses’ face shines with the glory of God – after he has this encounter – let’s call it a face time encounter – a face time encounter with God. As a result, he has to put a veil over his face because God’s glory shines so brightly – that the people he brings the 10 Commandments to are afraid to come near him.
In our second reading, St. Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, uses this experience Moses had with God – and referring to the veil that Moses placed over his face – to say that in Jesus Christ – the veil has been removed. And we can look at Christ’s glory with unveiled faces – in other words – we can come to Jesus as we are – face to face.
And then, in our reading from Luke – we have what is called the Transfiguration of our Lord. The disciples – Peter, James and John – have a little face time with Jesus – and Moses – and the prophet Elijah. And as Jesus is transformed – or transfigured – before them – we are told that his face changes – and his clothes become dazzling white. What Peter and James and John see are Jesus in all his glory. Face to face.
These three readings – these three texts – are text messages that God is sending us today. And beyond the fact that all three texts have the word “face” in them – there is a message from these three texts that I want to talk with you about today. Call it Facebook vs. face time. Hi tech vs. high touch.
May I suggest that in the world of Facebook, video conferencing, Go To Meeting, Skype – text messaging – you name it – in this world of high tech communications – as convenient as these things are – may I suggest to you that nothing beats good old fashioned – one on one – face to face contact. And this is true whether we’re talking about life in the business world, the neighborhood, or in the church.
For instance, when a couple comes to me wanting to get married, I have them go online and fill out a pre-marital inventory. It’s a survey that asks all kinds of questions about the couple’s ability to communicate – about their finances – about their future in-laws – well, hey! That’s important. There’s just a whole host of things that a couple who want to get married needs to know about themselves and about each other – before they get married. Then I sit down with them, and talk about the results of the survey – face to face.
About two years ago, I did a pre-marital counseling session with a couple. They were living in Denver, and were not able to be back here in Western New York before the wedding. So – for the first and only time – I did a pre-marital counseling session via Skype. For those of you who don’t know what Skype is – it’s a way of talking to someone – anywhere in the world. All you need is a computer with a camera, internet access and a Skype account. And you can talk to someone through your computer face to face. Well, sort of. I’m happy to report that this couple is happily married – moving back to New York – with a baby on the way. So – it must have worked.
The thing is all of these technologies – Facebook, Skype, Go to Meeting, Webinars – are wonderful ways to get things done in the business world. They can save time and money. They are also really helpful when the grandkids live out of state.
But – for all of their conveniences – still – nothing beats face to face contact. But since we now live in this world of hi-tech communication – and there’s no going back – I guess we just have to live with that tension that exists between hi-tech and hi touch. But still…
I like the story of the busy father whose four year old daughter wanted him to read to her every night before she went to bed. The stories were often the same, so he came up with an idea. He read all of his daughter’s favorite stories into a tape recorder – this is when tape cassettes were the best technology available – showed his daughter how to put the cassettes into the tape recorder and how to turn it on. And she could listen to her father read her favorite books to her on tape.
So the first night, the father puts his daughter to bed, puts the cassette of her favorite book into the machine, kisses his daughter good night, closes the door, and goes about his business. In a few moments, his daughter comes running out of her bedroom, book in hand, and says, “Read to me Daddy.”
The father explains to her that that is what the cassette machine is for, and the daughter replies, “Yes, Daddy, but I can’t crawl up into its lap, and give it a hug.” Technology is a wonderful thing. But it cannot take the place of a face to face. Facebook cannot replace face time. Hi-tech cannot replace hi-touch.
Now, you know that you can read my sermons from our church’s website. And it is my hope that sometime in 2013 that we will be able to record my sermons – and perhaps someday even the entire worships service – as a podcast that you will be able to watch on your computer from our website. Some of our Florida snowbirds have asked us to do this. Again – I don’t offer this as a substitute – because nothing beats face time – us being here together on a Saturday or a Sunday. But as hi-tech ways of staying in touch on those weekends when you just can’t be here, it works. Or you just thought the message was so great that you wanted to see it and hear it again – or read it for yourself – or more likely – send it by email to someone that you think needs to hear it. On those rare occasions when I am asked for copies of my sermons – this is most often the intent.
And I think all of this hi-tech stuff is a wonderful thing. A wonderful way to get the word out. But let me tell you – high tech can never replace high touch. Facebook can never replace face time.
As you know, over the years I have run into folks from this congregation all over town here – at the post office, at Wegmans – at wedding receptions – on the bike path. And if they haven’t been here to worship in a while – sometimes a great while – I tell them we miss them here – and invite them to come back. And as I told you not too long ago – some people tell me they feel guilty when they see me around town. And others tell me all sorts of reasons why they don’t come more often – or don’t come at all – but will also let me know that they still pray every day. Well, okay. That’s fine. That’s fine as far as it goes.
AND I’ve also gotta tell ya, there are people here worshipping today – who used to fit into that category. People who used to stay away – sometimes for years – but who have discovered that there is just no substitute for the real thing. No substitute for face time. No substitute for face time with God – face time with each other – here in this place.
You see, here’s the thing. God wants greatly to be in relationship with you today. And you cannot be in a relationship – you cannot relate to anyone – unless you are communicating with them. God communicates to us through his Word, through worship settings like this, and through your brothers and sisters in Christ. We communicate with God and God communicates with us through worship and prayer and fellowship with other Christians. That’s face time.
So let me encourage to you to continue to meet God here in this place. Again – I can’t stress this enough – it’s why church matters. Let me invite you to enter into the life of God, and be ready for a transformation. After Moses saw the glory of God – after the disciples saw the glory of Christ – and after St. Paul saw the glory of Christ on the road to Damascus – each one became a different person. They were transformed by their face time with God. Transformed by their face time with Jesus Christ.
Let me tell you that as disciples of Jesus Christ – each of us has been “transfigured” – we have been transformed – by our face time encounters with Jesus Christ. And what’s more, we are called to be the face of God to the world. And what does this face look like? It’s like I told you last week: Love God. Love your neighbor. Nothing else matters.
So go ahead and use hi-tech methods like Facebook or Skype when necessary. They are great ways to stay in touch when that’s what you need to do – but let’s not lose the value of face time. We need face time with God – face time with each other. Face time with God – face time with each other. Face to face moments – here in this place – that build lasting relationships with God through Jesus Christ and with each other.
Facebook versus face time? I’ll take face time any time. And by the way, I learned after last night’s worship service – several people told me this – that there is an app called Facetime. It comes on iphones and ipads. I had no idea!
Anyway – any questions? If you do – just send me a text – at 984-XXXX. I’ve got my cell phone with me. Here’s my number. So call me, maybe. I’m serious! I’ll be happy to answer any of your questions at Mission Minutes time.
Wednesday, February 06 2013
Today’s Gospel reading is a continuation of last week’s reading. So I chose to have last week’s reading read again this week along with the appointed reading for the day. So instead of starting at verse 21 as the lectionary lays it out – I chose to start today’s reading at verse 14. So if the reading sounded familiar to you who were here last week – that’s the reason why.
Remember now, Jesus is in Nazareth – the town he grew up in. So he is well known by the folks here. In this longer reading you’ll notice that at first his home town folks like what he has to say. They like what he has to say about what his purpose is – what his vision for his mission and ministry are all about. He lays it all out for them. He lets them know that his message is Good News – and his ministry is all about grace.
– in other words God’s undeserved love and favor.
– It’s about compassion.
– It’s about
caring for the hungry and the thirsty, and for those in prison.
– Its’ a ministry that calls men and women to live their lives differently.
But here’s the thing that changes things. He goes on to tell them – in essence – that his ministry – his word of God’s love and grace and forgiveness – is for all people. Not just the people of Nazareth. Not just for the Jewish nation. But for all people – including Gentiles – people outside of the Jewish faith.
Now up until that point – he has them in the palm of his hand. After that – well, they are so outraged at even the hint – of a possibility – that God might be even on the side of Gentiles – even the hated Romans – that they grab him to take him to throw him over the side of a cliff that is just outside the town limits. But somehow – don’t know how, but somehow – Jesus passes through them and goes on his way. He can do this because – well, after all – He is Jesus.
The townspeople don’t like what they hear – and they have their own special way of dealing with things they don’t want to hear. Wouldn’t be our choice, I’m sure – but still. Throwing people off a cliff because you disagree with them – or they disagree with you – or they say something to offend you – is probably not our first choice. You might feel like doing that – but I am sure that’s not your first choice. So may I suggest to you that there is a better way? What the Apostles Paul in I Corinthians calls, “… a still more excellent way.”?
One of our readings today is from I Corinthians, chapter 13. And it is called the love chapter. Now – most of you are familiar with the words in this passage because – I suspect – many of you had this read at your weddings – or you have been at weddings where this passage – or portions of it – have been read. Listen! Here is the basic message of this chapter, and I want you to think about this. You can be the best Christian you can possibly be – say all the right things – do all the right things – and say and do them all in the right way – but if you do not have love – then you’ve missed the whole point of what it means to be a Christian.
So let’s talk about that today. I think that’s better than talking about throwing Jesus off the side of a cliff. So let’s talk about love life. When you see those two words together – you can see them in two ways. When I say, “Love life,” – it can be a reflection of my attitude towards life itself. “Luvvve life.” I love life. The second way, “Love life,” usually refers to the romantic side of things – between a man and a woman.
Now I know Valentine’s Day is just less than two weeks away – but today – when I use the phrase “love life” I want us to think about the love life that we as disciples of Jesus Christ are to have for God – for other believers – and for the non-believer as well. That’s our love life. So let me say it again – you can be the best Christian you can possibly be – say all the right things – do all the right things – and say and do them all in the right way – but if you do not have love – love for God and for others – no matter who those others might be – then you’ve missed the whole point of what it means to be a Christian.
And that’s why I really – love – this 13th chapter of First Corinthians. Now, I want you to see that St. Paul – the author of this letter to the Corinthians – is putting some meat on the teaching of Jesus when Jesus taught us that the Ten Commandments – can be summed up this way: “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” So you don’t forget that – not only is it our mission statement – but let me put it into that sing-songy way that will help you remember. “Love God – and love your neighbor as yourself.” (snap your fingers, and repeat several times.) Do it with me. Yeah. You know those words. You remember what Jesus has to say about how important loving God and loving each other really are. So Jesus tells us to love and love our neighbor, and Paul tells us what that love looks like.
That’s why I really like – I really love – about what Paul has to say about love especially in verses 4-8. Listen:
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; – do I need to repeat that one? – it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends.
Folks – I’m going to go out on a limb here and say – if you say you’re a disciple of Jesus Christ – but if you’re not also committed to a life of love, you’ve missed the whole message of the gospel. Being a Christian is more than just going to church on Saturday/Sunday. Being a Christian is more than just hoping to go to heaven some day. Being a Christian is both of those things – but if we don’t have love – as Jesus describes it – as Paul describes it – then our church going and our hopes for heaven – may very well mean nothing – IF we don’t also have love for God and for each other.
Elsewhere Jesus says that people will know that you are truly my disciples if you have love for one another. You know what that tells me? Love is the central task of the Christian. It’s what we do. Love is a verb. It’s more than just a feeling. It’s a verb. It’s what we do. If this is how people will know that we are followers of Jesus, then true – genuine love – for God and for others – is the central Christian task.
“Pastor Ray Pritchard gives us a wonderful way of grasping what Paul is saying. Suppose you multiply 1,000,000 X 1000, says Pritchard. You end up with one billion, don’t you? What comes after a billion? A trillion. What comes after that? A quadrillion. After that is a number called a quintillion, which is one followed by 18 zeroes.
“Now, says Pritchard, let’s do it the way children might do it. Let’s start with the biggest number in the world times the biggest number in the world. Now whatever that number is, let’s multiply it by zero. What do you get? Zero. It doesn’t matter what you start with. If you multiply that number by zero, the answer will always be zero.
Now, here’s the point. “Pritchard says: ‘God is saying that life without love is zero. You can pile up all the good deeds, all the education, all the spiritual gifts, and all the noble works that you like. Without love, it still equals zero. You can be smart, beautiful, strong, wealthy, educated, multi-lingual, rich and famous but without love it still equals zero.’”
So before you feel like throwing someone off a cliff, let me ask you – how’s your love life? Is there somebody in your life that you need to say, “I’m sorry,” to? Or are you waiting for somebody to apologize to you? Are you willing to be the one to take that first step?
Are you having a disagreement with someone? Heck – let’s call it a feud. What can you do – to the extent that it depends on you – to show love to that other person? Now I know – I know, I know, I know – that some people are just difficult to love. I know that. And if you’re in an abusive situation – get out. No one needs to stay in an abusive situation. That is not love! And if reconciliation is all but impossible – let me suggest that you can still pray for them. Maybe even find a way to speak well of them. Because – you know – that you can’t stay angry at someone for too long – if you’re praying for them – or saying kind things about them.
And when I say pray for them – I don’t mean, “Lord – help them to see things my way.” No. Just pray for them. And while you’re at it, pray that the Lord will give you – would give all of us – a heart that remembers that,
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends.
Folks – let me repeat – if you’re not committed to a life of love, you’ve missed the whole message of the gospel. If you’re having trouble with that – just look to Jesus. He gave us the greatest example of what it means to love. Remember? “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son . . .” (John 3:16).
Elsewhere – in 1John 4:19 – we are told that “We love because He first loved us.” How will people know that we are genuine disciples of Jesus Christ? By our love. So how’s your love life? Just remember,
“And now faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” Amen