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Monday, July 29 2013
Last week I touched briefly on three of the six marks of discipleship. Weekly worship. Pray daily. Read the Bible every day. Today I want to zero in on one of those marks – the one that invites us to pray daily.
I want to suggest that of all of the six marks of discipleship – and if you’re with us today for the first time, and have no clue what I’m talking about – let me direct you to page 2 of our Mission Minutes where we have all six marks of discipleship listed there for you. But of all of these six marks – the one that tells us that a disciple is one who prays daily – might just be the one mark out of the six that we are most likely to do every day.
It may even be the easiest for us to do. Why? Because you can pray anywhere – anytime – during any given day – about anything. Any yet – I also know that for some of you sitting in this room today – you may be thinking that it is one of the more difficult – one of the more challenging things you do as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Especially when someone asks you to pray out loud in front of a small group of others.
When it comes to prayer – I hear upon occasion, “Pastor – I just don’t know how to pray.” Well, guess what! You’re in good company. It might very well be that half the people in this room might be thinking the same thing. And certainly we know that the disciples felt the same way.
This is what they ask Jesus. “Lord, teach us to pray.” Lord, teach us to pray. That in and of itself is a prayer. And Jesus answers them by teaching them what we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer – or what some will call, “The Disciples’ Prayer.”
SO let’s talk about prayer today. And let me say at the start that I certainly do not consider myself to be an expert on prayer. Neither do I consider myself to be the professional prayer that some count on to do all the praying around here. “Pastor – they can’t start eating until you say the blessing.”
Look – whether you are comfortable praying – or whether you are not – let me tell you that you will never get good at doing anything unless you practice. So when it comes to prayer, simply practice. Practice in private. Find a quiet time – a quiet place – whenever – doesn’t matter. Pray out loud. Listen to the sound of your own voice. And just start talking to God. That’s what prayer is. Just having a conversation with God.
Listen to what Jesus tells his disciples. “When you pray, say, ‘Father.’” Let’s stop right there. Jesus says we are to address God as Father – our Father. In other places Jesus refers to God as Abba – which simply means “Daddy.” I know some people trip over calling God Father, because they don’t have a good relationship with their earthly father – or their father was abusive or absent – or perhaps have no idea who their father is. But when we understand that God is the perfect father – that even the best earthly father cannot measure up to who God is as our heavenly Father – perhaps we can begin to get a grasp on what it means to know God – and to trust God – as the loving Father that He truly is.
To call God Father points to relationship. Not some distant and far-off deity. Not some impersonal, generic god. But One who loves us with a love that is unconditional – with a love that says the Father cares about you – about who you are – about your situation – and your needs.
So we can be bold to call God Father. And that’s an important place to start – by acknowledging God and who God is.
You see – prayer is really all about God. And you thought it was all about you, right? Prayer is all about God. I came across a story this week. “A little boy was sitting next to a grizzled holy man seated beside a river. ‘Will you teach me to pray?’ the boy asked. ‘Are you sure that you want to learn?’ the holy man asked? ‘Yes, of course.’ With that the holy man grabbed the boy's neck and plunged his head into the water. He held him there while the boy kicked and screamed and tried to get away. Finally, after an interminable period the holy man let the boy out of the water. Gasping and sputtering for breath, the boy cries, ‘What was that?’
“‘That was your first lesson in prayer. When you long for God the way that you longed to breathe, then you will be able to pray.’”
Isn’t that what prayer is? Isn’t prayer really a longing for God? Wanting to get God’s attention? Prayer is all about God. It’s all about us going to God – calling on God by name – and wanting what God wants. Am I right? If I’m not right about that, then why do we pray, “THY kingdom come – THY will be done.”
Prayer – is a seeking after God. And Jesus encourages every one of us today to do just that. Listen to what he says, “Ask, and it shall be given you – seek and you will find – knock and the door will be open to you.”
Now let me get a little technical with you here. The verbs ask, seek and knock in the Greek – the original language in which our New Testament was written – puts these verbs in the present imperative tense. Now you don’t have to remember that. This isn’t English class. There’s not going to be a test. But when a verb is in the present imperative tense – what that simply means is this – it is an ongoing action. So what I want you to remember is this. Asking – seeking – knocking – these are not just one time things. It’s not a once and done kind of thing. Asking – seeking – knocking are an ongoing action – a habitual action – an ongoing way of life or lifestyle.
Jesus illustrates this with a parable about a man who has an unexpected guest drop in at midnight. The man has no bread to feed his guest – and hospitality is an important way of life in Jesus’ day. So the man goes to his neighbor – at midnight – and asks for bread to feed his guest. So what happens? The New International version of the Bible reads this way,
“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”
I like that phrase, “shameless audacity.” In other words – when you pray, don’t give up. Don’t stop. Follow the PUSH model for prayer. P-U-S-H. Pray Until Something Happens. Pray until something happens.
Maybe this is a good point to say something about answered prayer. Let me repeat –as I have said this numerous times before – God always answers prayer. But those answers are yes, no and maybe, or not yet.
Pastor Carveth Mitchell tells the following. “On a subway platform in one of our Eastern states there was a large printed sign that said "God Answers Prayer." Some experienced person had scrawled across the bottom underneath the printed letters these words: ‘Sometimes the answer is NO!’ This is what we have to deal with in any discussion of prayer.” Sometimes the answer is no.
We have a hard time accepting “no” answers to our prayers, don’t we! But let me tell this story from Robert Allen. “A mother sent her fifth grade boy up to bed. In a few minutes she went to make sure that he was getting in bed. When she stuck her head into his room, she saw that he was kneeling beside his bed in prayer. Pausing to listen to his prayers, she heard her son praying over and over again. ‘Let it be Tokyo! Please dear God, let it be Tokyo!’
“When he finished his prayers, she asked him, ‘What did you mean, ‘Let it be Tokyo’?’
“‘Oh,’ the boy said with embarrassment, ‘we had our geography exam today and I was praying that God would make Tokyo the capital of France.’
And then Robert Allen goes on to say, “Prayer is not a magical means by which we get God to do what we want. Prayer is an inner openness to God which allows his divine power to be released in us. Ultimately, the power of prayer is not that we succeed in changing God, but that God succeeds in changing us.”
You see folks, God doesn’t answer prayer just to give us what we want. No. And although you’re hearing me say today to pray until something happens – in other words – to pray with shameless audacity – God answers prayers NOT because of repeated requests. As Pastor Mark Batterson says, “Prayer is answered to preserve God’s good name. After all, it’s not our reputation that is on the line; it’s his reputation. So God doesn’t answer prayer just to give us what we want; God answers prayer to bring glory to His name.”
You see, prayer is all about God. The reason why Jesus encourages us to call God Father – to call upon God by name – is so that we realize that the focus of our prayer is on God – to earnestly desire what God wants for us and for others. And there is a trust issue here. Because we also pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And I want you to know that daily bread means everything – everything we need for daily living. Food and clothing. Home and family. Favorable weather and meaningful work. So God is not insensitive to your needs. It’s okay to pray for the things that you need – either for yourself or for someone else.
Let me share one more story. “A man once said that his life and faith were strengthened mightily one night when he opened his mother’s bedroom door and saw her on her knees in prayer. He said, ‘I heard her mentioning my name to the Lord, asking that he would guide me to be strong against temptation and to lead a life that was pleasing in his sight. I realized, then, that she had been doing this every night of my life. I have not been the same since that night.’”
Again, I am not an expert on prayer. But this much I can tell you. Whatever it is you’re praying for – whoever it is you’re praying for – don’t give up. Perhaps the Lordis saying, “Maybe,” or “Not yet.” But don’t give up. Pray with shameless audacity.
Because prayer is all about God. He is not a god who is distant and somewhere far away. He is with you in every joy and celebration. He knows your every heartache, every illness, every tragedy, every need. He knows. And He cares about you.
So keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. Pray with shameless audacity. The Father can be trusted to bring you through. Amen
Tuesday, July 23 2013
I hope you’re enjoying this summer adventure as we read through the Gospel of Luke. Everything is this 10th chapter of Luke is unique to Luke. In other words, none of the other Gospel writers include what he includes here: the sending of the 70; the parable of the Good Samaritan; and today’s reading – Jesus and his disciples in the home of his friends Mary and Martha.
The story is short and sweet – but it packs a wallop. When our story opens Jesus is teaching and Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus – paying attention – listening to his every word. By the way – this was not unusual. Rabbis in Jesus day would sit, and the rabbi’s students would sit at their rabbi’s feet. What was unusual was for a woman to be included among those students. Sorry ladies – it’s just the way it was back then.
So we find Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet – soaking up everything he has to say – and Martha – Martha is working like crazy. How do we read it here? It says, “Martha was distracted,” – that’s important to note – “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”
Martha appears to be overworked and overtired – she gets annoyed at her sister Mary – but instead of letting Mary know how she feels – Martha goes to Jesus and says, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” I think some of you have been there before, and you understand exactly what’s bugging Martha, am I right?
“Martha, Martha,” says Jesus. “Chill out. You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is really important right now and Mary has chosen it.”
When I have preached on this text in the past, I have focused in like a laser on just two words that Jesus uses here. And those two words are, “One thing.” So today we’re going to revisit the “One thing” that Jesus is talking about here. Because, folks – I know – I know that you know that there is more than one thing—in fact there are many things that are important in life. But I want to suggest to you that there is one thing – one thing – that is of ultimate importance – and that is to sit at the feet of Jesus – and to learn from him.
Now – after hearing Jesus speak to Martha this way, we tend to think somewhat less of Martha than we ought to. Let’s be clear. Martha was not in the wrong in going about her duties. And quite frankly – let’s understand that Jesus knows that as well.
“Max Lucado is right on target when he writes: ‘Every church needs a Martha. Change that. Every church needs a hundred Marthas. Sleeves rolled up and ready, they keep the pace for the church. Because of Marthas the church budgets get balanced church buildings get repaired and cleaned babies get bounced on loving knees in the nursery. You don't appreciate Marthas until a Martha is missing and all the Marys of the church start scrambling to find the keys to lock doors, turn off the lights and turn off the fans. Yes, the Marthas are the Energizer Bunnies of the church. They keep going and going and going.’”
But let me suggest to you – especially if you associate with Martha today – let me suggest to you that you need a time out. You need a time to recharge before you burn out.
By the way – one of the downsides of taking a story like this and reading it as a standalone episode is to miss the story’s placement in what either comes before or after it. There are scholars who suggest that Luke places this story of Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha immediately after the story of the Good Samaritan for a purpose.
If you were here last week, you’ll remember that the Good Samaritan story shows us what it means to love our neighbor – no matter who that person is – relative, friend or stranger – and to show acts of kindness and mercy. The Good Samaritan parable is the loving the neighbor part of the love God, love your neighbor commandment.
So for nearly 2,000 years Christians have been doing just that. We at Zion have been busy doing just that. Feeding the hungry; responding to disasters; working with the homeless; supporting the free medical care clinic at Resurrection Lutheran in Buffalo; sending mission teams to Haiti, and next year to Belize.
And that’s good. Those are all good things that we are being led to do. And I for one want to thank all of you for your participation in and partnerships in these ministries. And the wonderful thing is – these acts of kindness and mercy – whatever it is we do – are the very things that we as disciples of Jesus Christ are called to do – and doing those things in his name.
BUT – as important as it is for us to serve as ministers to others – there is still that one thing that Jesus is talking about here that we dare not ignore.
And that one thing is to take time to sit at the feet of Jesus. I hope that you are at least somewhat familiar with the six marks of discipleship. We print them every week in our Mission Minutes, on our website, and in our monthly newsletters.
Three of the six marks of discipleship have to do with this one thing that Jesus is talking about. Let’s call it sitting at the feet of Jesus. We’re talking about weekly worship. Now I know that you can’t always be here every week. I know that. But still – we are called to worship the Lord as we are able weekly. So we’re talking about weekly worship. We’re talking about daily prayer. We’re talking about daily Bible reading – or Bible study with a small group of others. Because when we engage in worship and prayer and Bible reading – we are in effect sitting at the feet of Jesus.
Martha was a fine person – a wonderful homemaker – a marvelous host. But, in her busyness, just as in ours, she ran the risk of missing what was most important in life – sitting at the feet of Jesus. The Bible says that she was distracted.
Folks – I must confess to being distracted sometimes. And I think that maybe – just maybe – oh heck – all of us are – probably more often than we care to admit. Sometimes I am – we are – distracted by things that – well – things that really aren’t important. But – as we can see here with Martha – sometimes it’s even the good things that we do that are a distraction. I am convinced that God wants us to do good, responsible things – things that show mercy and care for the neighbor. It’s just that even when – perhaps even especially when – we are involved in doing things for others – those are the times when we need to remember to spend time with God. We can’t let that which is good get in the way of that which is essential.
Arthur Windhorn puts it this way. “Have you ever been in a hurry and buttoned up a long overcoat with lots of buttons and when you were done, found out that the coat was uneven? What went wrong? I'll tell you what went wrong. When you don't get the first button in the right hole, all the rest are out of sequence too, right?! That's a parable about life. Jesus said it this way in the Sermon on the Mount: “Seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33) If the Lord is not the high priority in your life, then, like the overcoat, so many other things in life will be out of whack as well.”
So let’s focus on the “one thing.” The “one thing” is Jesus himself, the one whom Martha had welcomed into her home. Martha, fixated on fixing stuff, forgot that the most central act of hospitality is to focus on the invited guest. Of course, we know that this focus needs to be a lifetime attachment, not just a one-time meal.
Here’s the difference between these two sisters. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, but Mary welcomed Jesus into her heart.
So getting back to the Good Samaritan parable and Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha – these two back to back readings focus on both parts of the Great Commandment. The Good Samaritan parable focuses on the “love your neighbor as yourself,” part, and this story about Mary and Martha focus us on that part of the Great Commandment that says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.
That last part? That’s the “one thing” – the one thing – that must take priority over all other things. Just take the time. Just make the time – to sit at the feet of Jesus. Let me share with you a story.
I came across an urban legend – which means the story I’m about to tell you is not true. But still, it’s a good story and hi-lights what I’m saying. “In 1990 a woman entered a Haagen-Dazs in the Kansas City Plaza for an ice-cream cone. While she was ordering another customer entered the store. She placed her order, turned and found herself staring face to face with Paul Newman. He was in town filming Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. His blue eyes made her knees buckle. She finished paying and quickly walked out of the store with her heart still pounding. Gaining her composure she suddenly realized she didn't have her cone; she turned to go back in. At the door she met Paul Newman who was coming out. He said to her, "Are you looking for your ice-cream cone?" Unable to utter a word she nodded yes. "You put it in your purse with your change."
When was the last time the presence of God made you forget what was going on around you? Made you forget the dishes? Made you forget the ball game? Made you forget the bank account? Made you forget where...you put your ice cream cone?
When was the last time – other than right now – you focused on the “One thing?” – and you sat at the feet of Jesus? Amen
Monday, July 15 2013
Luke 10: 25-37
Late on the evening of July 2nd – just a week and a half ago – 9 houses and several cars in my neighborhood were vandalized with black spray paint. My house was one of them. I was here at the office when Nancy called me and told me I needed to come home.
Using a combination of Goof Off, Magic Eraser, water, and a hefty amount of elbow grease, the paint came off, although there is still a slight shadow of what was written on the side of my house. And the neat thing was that – even though I know my neighbors – this incident brought us together like no other event in the neighborhood ever has – well, other than the October Surprise of 2006. And the wonderful thing is – we all helped each other to get that paint off our houses.
The State Trooper who investigated the incident asked me what I thought should happen to the ones who did this if they were ever caught. I said, “community service.” The Trooper said, “Well, that would be up to the judge to decide.” But later on I thought, what I should have said is “Make them attend my church – for 10 weeks in a row. And if they miss one week during those ten weeks, the ten-week count starts all over again.”
Now some might think of that as cruel and unusual punishment. But my purpose would not be to punish. My purpose would be for them to see – and to hear – and to experience – that there is another way – a better way to live life. A way of love, and respect, AND forgiveness – BECAUSE – we are already loved, and respected and forgiven. And what better way than to see that life as we live it out here in Christian community? Amen? Okay!
Now if those perps ever are caught – and quite frankly I don’t think any judge could ever make church attendance mandatory following a crime – I don’t know – but if caught – I will invite them to come to this church – and if they ever DO find their way here – they will hear things like what we’re hearing today in our Gospel lesson. It’s the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan.
This is certainly one of the better known of Jesus’ teachings – rating at least a 5 on anyone’s top 10 list of Jesus’ parables. It’s told by Jesus in response to a question asked by a lawyer – in other words – a man who was an expert in Jewish religious laws.
So this lawyer asks the question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Emphasis on the word “do.” What must I do? What do I need to do so that I will know for sure that I will go to heaven some day? What – must – I – do?
How would you answer that? Anybody want to take a stab at it? Use your outdoor voices so I can hear you. How would you respond to someone who might someday ask you, “What must I do?” …… Okay. Good answers.
You know—the lawyer’s question is a question that every Christian ought to ask him or herself at one time or another. Just to be sure, right? What must I do? What’s the minimum requirement?
- Believe in Jesus? Check.
- Be baptized? Check.
- Show up at worship at least on Christmas and Easter? Check.
- Take communion and make a contribution at least once a year? Check.
- Let’s see – does that cover all the bases?
What must I do? May I suggest to you – that you don’t have to do anything? Oh certainly belief is important. Repentance is certainly something that is characteristic of the believer. Baptism and regular worship attendance and prayer and acts of kindness, and coming to the Lord’s Table, and connecting with other believers –these are all important. Marks of discipleship. But it seems to me that these are things we do after – things we do – things we choose to do – once we realize that we don’t have to do anything at all.
And it’s all because of grace – God’s undeserved love and favor. Now – if after hearing that you don’t need to do anything – and yet you still feel you need to do something – then just simply accept the fact that you are accepted. Stop doubting it. Just accept the fact that you are accepted.
“That’s it? It can’t be that simple.” Well, it is that simple. But the problem for us – and I find myself falling into this way of thinking – the problem – or maybe I should say – the challenge is – that we are so used to earning our way in life. “There’s no free lunch.” We hear that – and we tend to believe that – and in a lot of cases that’s true.
But when it comes to God’s Word – and what we hear from God’s Word in this place – what we learn is that you can’t do anything to make God love you any more than He already does. And you can’t do anything to make God love you any less than He already does. If you’ve heard me say that a number of times before – well I’m saying it again because I need to hear it. I need to be reminded of that from time to time – and I think probably – so do you.
So the Lawyer in our reading from Luke, simply wants to know if there is something that he is missing. “What must I do?” And I love the way Jesus answers the man. He answers with a question of his own. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
The lawyer quotes from Deuteronomy 6:3 and 6:11. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replies. “Do this and you will live.”
What Jesus was trying to get the lawyer to see was quite simple. Real life is lived to the fullest when you learn what it means to love God and love your neighbor. And what was true for that lawyer, is true for you and me. If you want to know the secret to life – learn what it means to love God and love your neighbor. And again – not in order for you to make God love you – BUT – in response to the fact that you are already loved – that you are already accepted. Accept that fact that you are already accepted – and then learn what it means to love God and love your neighbor.
Now – the lawyer is not satisfied. And his second question might very well be a question that someone here today is asking. And that question is, “Yeah, okay, but who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then tells the parable that most of us are familiar with – the parable of the Good Samaritan. And at the end, Jesus asks the question that turns everything around. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" And the lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
You see – the question is not – who is my neighbor – but what kind of neighbor am I? Am I a neighbor who seeks revenge when his house has been spray painted – or am I a neighbor to – I’m assuming young kids – a neighbor who shows mercy – who thinks that spending time with Christians at worship is a great way to show these kids – kids who made a big mistake – that there is a better way to live. A better way of life. And that’s to learn what it means to love God and love your neighbor.
For those of us who accept the fact that we are accepted by God because of – and through – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and that there’s nothing else that we need to do – we do need to ask the right question. “What kind of neighbor am I?” or “What kind of disciple am I choosing every day to be?”
Let me share with you a story, and then I’ll sit down. “There is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the center of his lawn, so he decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking.
A neighbor asked, “How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?”
The man answered, “I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!” Okay, so you’ve probably heard something like that before.
But let me tell you. If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away!
If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion or mercy or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away!
If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, for God's sake, and the for the other person's sake, and for your sake, get rid of it!
Why? Because you are loved and forgiven. Just remember that you are loved and forgiven. And because we are loved and forgiven, we are free to love God and love our neighbor – because nothing else matters. Amen
Tuesday, July 09 2013
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Have you ever wondered who they were? These 70 people that Jesus sent out to tell others about the Good News of Jesus – the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come to them.
Ever wonder who they were? The only time we ever hear about them is when we read this passage in the tenth chapter of Luke’s gospel. This is the only place. After this, we never hear about them again. Who were they? We don’t know because we’re not given a single name of any of them.
Now, I’m sure that most of us could name at least a few of the more well known disciples – the names of the twelve who were on this adventure with Jesus. Anybody want to give it a try? (Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Matthew, Thomas, Judas, Bartholomew, Thaddeus/Jude, Simon, and another James.) Yeah, those we know. But these 70; we have no idea who they were. They never attained super star status like the 12 that we’re more familiar with.
No. These 70 were not superstars. But do you know who they were? I’ll tell you who they were. They were ordinary people – people just like you and me – who were sent out by Jesus to announce the Good News of God’s love – the forgiveness of sins. They were messengers of hope. Messengers of peace. They were – ordinary people.
We tend, however, to focus more on superstars and super heroes. That’s why there are so many movies about heroes. This weekend the Lone Ranger and Tonto came to the big screen. A new Superman movie is out. Iron Man III is still showing. There is just something about the super hero character that draws people – young and old – to the theaters over and over again.
I remember when my sons were young boys, their favorite super heroes had names like Michelangelo, Rafael, Leonardo, and Donatello. Anybody here who can tell me who I’m talking about? Yeah – the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – heroes on the half-shell.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a child or an adult. There’s something magical about the superstar, super-hero image that captures our attention. There’s something special about that hero image that says only super people can do great things.
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking has invaded the church. And my friends – I’m here to tell you it’s a lie. The work of spreading the Gospel – of telling others about the Good News of Jesus Christ – is not the work of superstars. And if we had to come up with a list of Christian superstars today – we might have a tough time putting a list together. Although I think on anyone’s list we would certainly remember Mother Teresa, and include Billy Graham, Pope Francis I, [Arlene Tesnow] [April Folckemer].
No, the work of proclaiming the Gospel – the Good News of the Kingdom of God – is not the exclusive job of super stars or super saints. It takes ordinary people – like you – and like me.
One of my favorite movies is the Christmas classic “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Maybe you have felt at one time or another like the main character, George Bailey. George Bailey dreamed of an adventurous life – of traveling and exploring all over the world. But circumstances keep him tied to his home in Bedford Falls. There he lives what he considers to be just an ordinary life. No excitement. No adventure. Just ordinary.
Finally, George feels the world caving in on him – and in a moment of desperation, wishes that he had never been born. And his wish is granted. He has been given a gift that no one else has ever been given – to see what life would have been life if he had never been born. And what George discovers is that his ordinary life had not been quite so ordinary after all – touching the hearts and lives of countless other people.
Now you and I don’t have the insight of a George Bailey to know what life would have been like if we had never been born. But you and I are just like George – ordinary people living ordinary, everyday lives. But oh, what a difference – as George Bailey discovered – one ordinary life – your ordinary life – can have on so many other people.
Ordinary people are people who are involved in the work of the church – in the work of ministry. People on a mission. You know what that means, don’t you? It means that I am not the only minister here. We are all on this adventure together with Jesus Christ – committed to following Jesus Christ. We are ordinary people touching the hearts and lives of other ordinary people – in the name of Jesus Christ.
Jesus sent out 70 disciples – ordinary people – to proclaim the Kingdom of God. And that’s what they did. And they were amazed at the results of their ministry. The Gospel – proclaimed by ordinary people who spent time and energy – who reached out and touched other people – who took time to be with other people. They made a difference.
Let me share with you a story. During the middle 1600’s England was ruled by a man by the name of Oliver Cromwell. The story goes that England was running out of silver for making coins. So Cromwell sent his men to the cathedrals of England to see if they could find any silver there. The men came back and reported, “The only silver we could find is in the statues of the saints standing in the corners.”
Cromwell replied, “Good! We’ll melt down the saints and put them into circulation!”
Friends – that’s where saints belong – ordinary saints like you and me – out in circulation. And I can tell you that we don’t belong in the corner of some church somewhere gathering dust. We belong out among the people.
Ordinary people can reach out to other people about Jesus Christ. The door to door evangelizing that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for just isn’t going to cut it. In fact, as I was writing this sermon this past week – I kid you not – I had a Jehovah’s Witness at my door. I would rather that we be known – as Lutheran Christians – for the one thing that will make a difference – the warm, real contact of ordinary people.
Pastor Mike Slaughter says that, “Sometimes a simple invitation is all people need. Surveys show that, if you invite a friend to church, 50% of the time they will respond with a ‘yes.’ That percentage goes up substantially with a second, third, or fourth invitation.”
And I know that many of you have done just that. You are excited about this place – about Jesus Christ – and what God through the power of the Holy Spirit is doing in this place. And that is one of the reasons why this church has been for so many years a growing church. And why it is still a growing church – by invitation and reputation. I want to take a chance and ask – how many of you are here because either someone brought you here as a child – or someone told you about this church and invited you to come here? Let’s see a show of hands.
Some of you may know the name Garrison Keillor, host of the popular program on public radio, A Prairie Home Companion.
Keillor was brought up in a fringe group of the Plymouth Brethren Church. Finding the church’s heavy legalisms and dullness off putting, Keillor stopped going to church. From then on people would ask him, “Do you go to church?” And he would say, “No.” Then they would say, “Why don’t you go to church?” And he would tell them.
That ritual exchange served him well for many years until, sometime back, a Lutheran friend – yes, some Lutherans do do the work of evangelism – engaged Keillor in those same two stock questions, “Do you go to church?” and “Why don’t you go to church?” But then this person surprised him with a third question: “Why don’t you come with us?”
Never having been asked that before, Keillor didn’t have a stock answer. And before he knew it, he found himself saying yes. And that’s all it took and he was back in the fold once again. Wouldn’t it have been a shame if no one had ever asked? For all we know, Keillor might still today be unchurched IF no one had ever invited him. And then we would never have heard about the Lutherans of Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.
All it takes is an invitation. Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, talking about his church puts it this way, ‘Our whole evangelism strategy is summed up in two words: invest and invite. Invest in relationships with unbelievers and, at the appropriate time, invite them to an environment where they can hear the gospel.
Invest and invite. Folks – God demonstrated His love for you when He sent Jesus, His Son. Christ’s life, death and resurrection proved that love for all of us. God invested the life of His Son in you! And he invites you to come and follow Him and to invite others to come along with you.
Jesus sent out 70 people – 70 ordinary people – to proclaim the Good News of God’s love. How about you? You don’t have to be a Christian rock star – or a super saint. Invest and invite. Invest and invite. All it takes is ordinary people. Because ordinary people can – and ordinary people do.
Ordinary people – like you – and like me.
Tuesday, July 02 2013
Luke 9:51-62; Galatians 5:1, 13–25
Being a follower – or using the word “follower” these days – seems to be a big thing on the internet. For instance – if you’re on Twitter you want to have people follow you on Twitter.
If you are a blogger – and for those of you who don’t know what a blog is – simply put, it’s short cut language for web log—or blog for short. And a blog is a website that a person or a group of people create where they can write – the technical word here is post – where they can write or post their thoughts and opinions on whatever subject they want to write about. But it does a blogger no good to write anything unless he or she has followers – people who will log onto their blog just to see what they have to say.
By the way, I’m not on Twitter, and I don’t blog. Things I read tell me that as a pastor I should take advantage of these media in order to reach out with the Gospel to people who are beyond these walls. Well – one thing at a time. Let me see to it that Zion gets a Facebook page first. Kurt Schlewitt, our Youth Director, is working to get a Zion Facebook page up and running. So shortly you’ll be able to follow us on Facebook – although I guess the proper term is to “friend” somebody on Facebook. But the idea is that once we get our Facebook page up and running with all kinds of cool pictures of things that are happening around here – the idea is that you will invite your friends to check out our facebook page – and they’ll invite their friends – and on and on – and maybe what we have to say around here will go viral – and get exposure to a wider audience.
The whole idea is not to get people to follow me – or Kurt – or anyone else around here – except as way to invite people to come and follow Jesus. Because – let me tell you – that’s really what we’re all about here. Following Jesus and inviting others to come and follow Jesus too! Especially people who might not really be too much into Jesus these days. Following Jesus is more than just doing a Google search on Jesus Christ – or liking Jesus on Facebook. By the way – did you know that Jesus has a Facebook page? Yup! Turns out He’s got lots of them. So if you want – anyone can go on Facebook and LIKE Jesus!
But rather than talking about liking Jesus – let’s talk today about following Jesus – and what that might mean for you today.
I guess the first question we could ask is does Jesus even care? Does Jesus care – is he concerned about whether people follow him or not? What do you think? Well, Yeah! And more to the point – I also think Jesus is concerned about what kind of followers follow him.
Our Gospel reading today tells of three men who come to Jesus as he’s walking along – and all three want to come and follow Jesus. The first man said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Another said, “Lord, first let me go bury my father.” And another said, “I will follow you Lord, but first let me say farewell to those at home.”
To the three he says, you will be homeless, your family will be left behind, and your past life is over. As you can imagine the three, who were at once so certain, now aren’t so sure. SO what I want you to see is that this story – and the message I want to give to you today – is that following Jesus is all about commitment or – in the case of these three guys – the lack thereof.
You see – it’s pretty clear that Jesus questioned just how serious each man was about wanting to follow. Being a disciple is serious business. In fact, two of these guys offer excuses. It’s like they’re saying, “ I’ll follow you Jesus, but right now is not a really good time.” Now his responses might seem rather harsh to us – but they show us that Jesus is serious when he calls people to follow him. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next year. But now! Today!
Let me share with you a story from the life of Dr. Clarence Jordan. I think I’ve used this once before, but if it’s good once, it’s good a second time. “Jordan is known for his version of the New Testament called the ‘Cotton Patch Gospel.’ In the racially segregated south in the 1960's he attempted to build a Christian community across racial lines. He established the famous Koinonia Farms to help poor southerners, black and white, establish cooperative farms. His critics used every legal trick they could to stop his work.
“For help in these matters, he turned to his brother Robert – a distinguished attorney. They had both accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior –were baptized – and joined the Baptist church on the same day.
“Something interesting happened when Clarence Jordan asked his brother Robert for his help. His brother recently had been nominated to the Georgia Supreme Court. Robert told Clarence, ‘I’m sorry, I just cannot do it. You know my political aspirations. If I represented you, I would lose everything.’ Then he said to Clarence, ‘You see, it’s different for you.’
“Clarence said, ‘Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church on the same Sunday as boys. And I expect that when we came forward the preacher asked me the same question that he asked you, ‘Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?’
“Robert said, ‘I follow Jesus up to a point.’ Clarence replied, ‘Would that point by any chance be the cross?’
“‘That’s right,’ said Robert. ‘I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I am not going to get crucified.’
“Then Clarence said, ‘I don’t think you’re a disciple. I think you are an admirer of Jesus, not a disciple. I think you ought to go back to our Baptist church that we belong to and tell them that you are an admirer of Jesus, not a disciple.
“Disciples are called upon to do more than be just an admirer of Jesus. To carry the cross is a distinguishing mark of a disciple.”
Maybe that’s a question that we should all be asking ourselves. “Do I admire Jesus? Or am I a follower – a disciple – of Jesus?”
Folks – Jesus wasn’t looking for fans. He wasn’t looking for admirers. He was looking for followers. And that’s still true today! Jesus has lots of fans. He doesn’t need any more fans, he doesn’t want any more fans. He isn’t looking for people to like him on Facebook. What Jesus wants is people – men, women, children – who will walk with him. Every day.
Folks, this is a daily decision. A daily choice. Day after day after day after day. I hope you know by now that being a Christian is more than just going to church on Sunday [Saturday night.] It’s more than just hoping to go to heaven some day. Being a Christian – following Jesus – is a way of life. Choices that we make every single day about how we are going to follow Jesus today. Regardless of what’s happening. Regardless of the circumstances. How am I going to follow Jesus today?
And yeah – sometimes – maybe a lot of times – it means turning our backs on the old way of life. Especially that old way of life that just might not be working for you anymore.
I can’t close this message without directing you to our other reading this [evening] [morning]. Look at what Paul says in Galatians 5. I want you to take your bulletins home so you can look this up when you get home. In verses 19-21 he lays out what the old way of life for some might have looked like. Take a look at them with me on the screen.
19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it! Hey – I’m not here to point fingers; I’m not here to scold. These are just examples of things that people choose to follow – a way of life – choices that lead away from Christ.
But now here’s the good news for those who genuinely desire to follow Christ. Verses 22 and 23. You know I love talking about the fruits of the Spirit– and one of these days I will get this memorized in the right order.
22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
In other words – Paul is contrasting what an old way of life once might have looked like – vs. what the new way of life in Jesus Christ is like.
Let me go back to talking about blogs for a minute. If you Google “put Jesus first,” you will find a blogger, who identifies herself only by the title of her blog, “Grace for the Road.” She wrote that the Sunday school advice to “put Jesus first” lulled her into a “blissful spiritual sleep.” She added, “I thought it was a one-time decision. Will I put Jesus first? Yes. I will. So what did I think I meant?’
“She said she started reading some of the harder parts of the Bible. And Grace realized that putting Jesus first was about where her heart was. She said, ‘What he really wants is my heart, not my decisions ... for me to want him so much that the other stuff becomes secondary. And for me to actively want that every day. It's not passive. It's not coasting. But it's also not drudgery. We love him. And so we get out of bed, and we follow.’”
Folks – I hope you’re seeing that this is a matter of the heart. It’s a daily thing. It’s a “following Jesus is an everyday – get out of bed in the morning – determination to live as Christ would have you live.” And you know what? As Grace says, it’s not drudgery. Yeah, it can involve some tough choices – but let me tell you – it’s worth it! It is an adventure! Following Jesus is a great way of life.
So let me ask you. Are you ready to be Christ’s man, Christ’s woman? Followers? Not fans? Can he count on you?