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Monday, November 27 2017
Vicar David Sivecz
Matthew 25:31-46 “Where Do You See God? - Part 3”
Today we finish our mini-sermon series called, “Where Do You See God?” Over the last two weeks, we’ve been looking for where we see God working as we wait for the Parousia. Again, the Parousia is a big church word that in Greek means the second coming of Jesus Christ. That's what we heard about in Matthew’s twenty-fifth chapter. As we wait for Christ to return, to bring everything back into order, to end pain and suffering, to rid our lives of anxiety, to bring joy and peace, we are looking for where Christ is already working in the here and now.
Two weeks ago we heard that Christ is working through each of us as we encourage one another to persevere during the difficult times in our lives. We rely on each other through simple deeds such as giving someone a listening ear, providing food, or praying.
We can also support each other through larger avenues such as having a career of service, being a parent, or being a mentor. Regardless of how we strengthen each other, Christ can work through anyone to make a meaningful impact.
Sometimes we have difficulty seeing it, which is what we heard about last week. Christ works beyond what we perceive. When we have grown accustomed to God in a specific area, we might not see where else God is working. To see where else God is working, sometimes we have to look beyond what’s present. Our sight can only go as far as our eyes can see. In other words, as we wait with each other we should change our perceptions.
So, everything we’ve been hearing in Matthew twenty-five, during the last two weeks, sets us up for today’s Gospel reading. It's probably one of the more argued passages in all of Scripture. I’ve had my fair share of debates with other pastors and professors about it. It is one of those passages that most of us would prefer to forget when we walk out of here.
What just listened to was Jesus telling the disciples that when the Son of Man comes in his glory, all the angels will be with him. He will sit on his throne, and all the nations will be gathered. Then he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
These verses don't portray the grace-filled Jesus that we are so accustomed to hearing. If anything this type of separation might cause a little fear and anxiety. Some have used this passage as a way to feed off it to make us do what God says or else. In other words, what we hear is that God will separate the good people from the bad. If some of us want to continue to interpret this passage like this then we are free to do so.
However, based on what we’ve read the last two weeks, there is more to it. There’s more there than God separating good people from the bad. There’s so much more there than an ultimatum to act correctly. Again, there’s more there than what we can see.
What Jesus said about the separation between the sheep and the goats was merely a set up to surprise us. Ironically, that’s how both those who identified as sheep and goats react to what Jesus said. As we heard when those on the right answered, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you something…” This verse was followed by what those on his left said, “When was it… we did not take care of you…” Both were shocked when Jesus commended or condemned their behavior.
It’s not that they denied their behavior; they were fully aware of what they did. Instead, what both couldn’t see was the Son of Man, or where Jesus was present. I believe this is why it’s so difficult to see where God is working. We have difficulty seeing where God is working; we get caught up in own expectations of God.
Many of us expect to see God as an all-powerful ruler who has come to be in control of everything. But think about what happens when God doesn’t follow our expectations. What happens is that we get mad at God. We become mad at God because we didn’t get a promotion. We become mad at God when we become ill. We become mad at God when a loved one has died.
Let me be clear; it’s alright to be mad at God. In Scripture, many people became mad at God for many reasons. But, perhaps, we become mad at God because God didn’t fulfill our expectations. What we expect is that God should be a God of control. We expect God to prevent bad things from happening. We expect God to make us happy. We expect God to do what we want.
But God doesn’t follow our expectations. God is not a God of control; instead, God is a God of redemption. God shows up in unexpected places, unexpected times, in unexpected ways to meet our needs. We know this because of what follows in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew. What follows is Christ being betrayed, beaten, crucified, and killed. What follows ultimately leads to his resurrection. This wasn’t the leader the disciples expected.
It just so happens this weekend is also Christ the King weekend. Jesus shows up not as a king we would expect, or as powerful leader who rules nations with force. As we will see in a month, Jesus showed up as a vulnerable infant. He didn’t show up in a castle, or house, or even a hotel, but was born in a dirty grungy animal stable. Jesus went on to show up as one who ate with prostitutes, tax collectors, and Gentiles.
Jesus continues to show up as a king who is unexpectedly present through our brokenness. He unexpectedly shows up as one who understands and cries with us in our pain and suffering. He unexpectedly shows up and resides with the disadvantaged, the marginalized, and the oppressed.
The closest example I can think of an unexpected king comes from the movie “Lord of the Rings.” Specifically, there was one scene at the end of the third movie that sticks with me. It was right after Frodo and Samwise fought their way through the evil clutches of Mordor to discard the “One Ring to Rule Them All.”
The scene I’m referring to was when Aragorn the “leader of men” was officially crowned king. You could see countless people lined up on the top of the castle watching as the wizard, Gandalf, anointed Aragorn as king when he placed the crown on his head. You could see the joy and happiness on everyone’s face. There wasn’t any death or war. There was just peace.
But that wasn’t the end. Once Aragorn turned around and gave a small speech, he proceeded out to greet his elf and dwarf friends. From there he continued, and people started to bow in honor of him being the king. But then he came upon the hobbits.
As they started to kneel, he looked at them and said, “You bow to no one.” Then he bowed to them. In a moment the camera backed away, and you could see the whole crowd gathered together also bowing. This king, this lord, this ruler, didn’t do what the culture expected; he did the unexpected thing and went beyond it.
So, where else do we see God unexpectedly showing up? Where can we show others where God is present? Where do we see God meeting the needs of those in our society, in our community, and in our homes? Whether we realize it or not, all of us can see God working in unexpected places. Better yet, all of us can point out God working to others.
Think about that for a second. It doesn’t have to be in some profound way through a long speech or debate. We can do this by sharing a story. All of us have told a story. If we’ve ever had a conversation with someone else, we can share a story. We’ve shared the facts of the event. We’ve shared who was present. Through the tone of your voice and facial cues, we’ve even shared the emotional side. Sometimes sharing a story that involves the love of God can be difficult. Maybe it’s because we don’t know where to begin.
It wasn’t until a few years ago when I was in Atlanta, where I found a place to begin. It occurred during a worship service. It was a mix of all our worship services. But what made it different came in the middle of the worship. After sharing the peace and the announcements, but immediately before the sermon, they asked one question. It’s the question we've been getting asked over these three weeks. “Where have you seen God at work?” It's so strange, but yet so simple. Never did I think to ask that question on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.
Well, when that question got asked every week people began to share their stories. The stories we heard weren’t extravagant testimonies. They weren’t mountaintop moments. Instead, they were simple ordinary events that came from everyday experiences. But, over time they added up. It was powerful to hear that God is present right then and right there. When we left worship, we went with the peace, the joy, and the hope of Jesus Christ.
I believe we always look for God in the big overwhelming miracles, and we don’t look for where God is acting in the small unexpected places of our daily lives. So, here’s what we are going to do right now. We are to take a step out of our comfort zones. I’m not Zion’s called pastor, so I’m going to do something different.
We are going to talk during worship. I want each of us to turn to the person next to us. They can be a spouse, family member, or a stranger. If you notice someone sitting by him or herself, go over and sit next to them. Introduce yourself and ask them his or her name. Each of us may decide between the two of you who goes first.
But what I want for us to do is to share a simple story, in one minute or less, when you unexpectedly saw God work in your life. After that, I’m going to ask you to switch. If it feels awkward, weird, clunky, and uncomfortable, then we are doing it correctly. So right now turn to your neighbor and begin.
(Each person took thirty seconds to share a story with their neighbor.)
(Afterwards, the congregation was asked if anyone wanted to quickly share one with everyone.)
The stories you just heard are the stories that were unexpected places where people saw God’s grace working. These were places where people were restored and renewed from brokenness. Sometimes in the midst of our daily routines, in the midst of our grief, or even our joys, we forget that Christ is present. We become so fixated on what’s next that we don’t see God working on our journey. Sometimes we forget that Christ does impact our daily lives.
Whether we realize it or not Christ is with us through all the fear and anxiety. Christ is with us as we wait for him to make all things new. Christ is with us in places we don’t expect. Christ is with us through the love we share with others we know and don’t know. That’s the promise we heard again this morning.
In today’s society, people need to hear this. They long for God’s unconditional love and favor. So for this week, my friends, continue to look for where God is working. Continue to share it with others, whether it’s your family, friends, or neighbors. It will be awkward at first. But you have the skills and ability to share a story. Share God’s compassion. Share God’s work. Share that Christ, not just was or will be but is, with us from now until to the end of the age.
Tuesday, November 21 2017
Vicar David Sivecz
Matthew 25:14-30 “Where Do You See God? - Part 2”
Last week we began a mini-sermon series titled “Where Do You See God?” Over these three weeks, we are discovering where we see God working as we read through Matthew twenty-five. These readings will carry us into the season of Advent. Then it’s followed by Christmas. Although the radio stations are playing Christmas music and the television stations are showing Christmas commercials we as the church are not there.
However, before we arrive at Advent, we are coming to the end of our church calendar. Each of these passages we receive during these weeks is a parable, or story, from Jesus. Within each of these parables Jesus share with us images about Parousia. Last week you did an excellent job pronouncing it. So let’s try it again. We’ll take it one syllable at a time - “Pair” “Rue” “See-ah.” The Parousia is a big church word that in Greek means the “second coming of Jesus Christ.”
So, we’re not only getting a vocabulary lesson, but we’re also seeing that as we wait for Jesus’ ultimate return, he is acting right here right now. We can see that Jesus is acting as we are waiting together. We can see God at work in the ministries at Zion, in our relationships, in our homes, and in our daily lives. We can see God working anywhere and everywhere to show us God’s grace or God’s unconditional love and favor.
The whole point is for us to know how far God is willing to go to show us how much God loves us. God loves us so much that God’s doing everything to end our pain and suffering, rid our lives of fear and anxiety, and make death and sin cease to exist. So, it’s through worship we give praise and thanksgiving to God as well as to be empowered to go and live out this great love.
But, how often do we leave here and don’t live out God’s grace? How often do we revert to our old ways? How often do we fail to see where God is working? I’m not trying to be accusatory. I will confess that I also fail to see God working at times. Maybe we fail to see where God is working because of how we perceive the world around us. We fail to see because of how we recognize or understand what’s happening.
Each of us has different perceptions of others, which comes from our prior experiences or knowledge. So, what we might perceive might not be what’s present. What we perceive to be there might not be the only thing that’s happening. Just because we perceive an event or action in a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s true.
All of this might be a bit confusing. But to help I have four pictures, I want to show you. Maybe some of you have seen these pictures before. If you have, look at them again. (The first picture was shown). When we look at the first picture what do we see? Do we see a rabbit or duck? Based on our perception we might see one or the other. How many of us can see both?
Let’s try the next picture. (The second picture was shown). What do you see? Do you see a young woman or an old woman? Again, based on our perception we might see one or the other. If you can, try to see both?
Let’s try another picture. (The third picture was shown). I had difficulty with this one. Do you see an old man or a young man? If you only see an old man the old man’s nose is the young man chin. Are you able to see it now?
I have one more picture. This one is a little different (The fourth and final picture was shown). What do you see? With this one, we need to stare at the center of the image for at least thirty seconds. Then look at a blank white wall or a piece of paper. Again what do you see? Hopefully, when we blink, we can see the face of Jesus.
These pictures are all optical illusions. They are pictures that challenge what we perceive. More often than not our perceptions play a role in how we act. What we perceive dictates what we will do. The way the three servants in our Gospel perceived the landowner determined what they did.
In our second parable, during these three weeks, was about a man who went on a journey. He summoned his slaves and gave them property. We don’t know anything about the landowner at this point. Matthew didn’t share whether this landowner was generous or harsh. All that we know is that the landowner gave each of the servants a certain number of talents.
In the Scriptures, a “talent” isn’t the same definition as we have today. We think of a talent as one’s natural ability such as drawing, playing music, or writing. A talent during those times was worth more than fifteen years’ wages of a laborer. So, when the man gave each of them a certain number of talents, it’s as though he’s investing his money with the servants.
As we heard, when the servants took their own portions they went away, and each did what he perceived to be correct. The first and second servants made more talents or money for the master. As a result, the master placed them in charge of more, and they got to enter into the joy of the master. That third servant selected a different route. He took what the master gave him and buried it.
When he went back to the master, he explained his rationale. He said, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
The servant acted out his perception that the master was a harsh man. On the other hand, the other servants seemed to act out of the perception that the master was generous. Could both be true? Could this be true about how we see God? Could this be true about where we see God?
Allow me to be more clear. First, what I am saying is that God does NOT act according to how we perceive God. God is beyond the realm of what we see. That’s why there’s always more places to look for God working. Second, could the way we perceive God affect how we respond? Could our perceptions impact where we see God in our society, in our communities, and in our homes.
Do we primarily perceive, or see God, as an enforcer of rules? As a result, we get caught up in the legalism of religion. Do we see God as stern and prone to punishment? Then do we see that everything that's wrong in our lives must be a punishment from God? Do we see God as erratic and judgmental? Then do we experience an unsympathetic God who doesn’t satisfy our expectations and desires? If so, then maybe we will continue to experience that suffering as described at the end of this parable.
Or instead, do we see God through the Crucified and Risen Christ? Do we perceive God as a God of grace, mercy, and acceptance? If so, then we will be surprised and uplifted by seeing all of the moments of grace all around us. We get to experience the abundant joy of dwelling with God’s presence.
But, these perceptions not only play a significant role in how we view God but they also impact how we view others. When we perceive God to be a God of love, we will find it far easier to see God’s love in our own lives. Thus, it will be easier to share that love with others. We are more willing to take risks with what God has given us.
Then it won't be as scary to explore and experiment with new, creative, and innovative ideas. If we are scared, then we would be more willing to face that fear head-on. Or better yet, we might be more empathetic towards others. We will try to look at the world from their perception. Then we could see how God might work through those people. We could see God working through others that we wouldn’t expect.
George C. Wallace was someone most people wouldn't have expected to work through. Many of us have probably heard or read what he said at his inauguration as Governor of Alabama in 1963. Wallace infamously proclaimed, "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”
During that same year, Wallace blocked the registrar's office door at the University of Alabama as an attempt to halt National Guardsmen who were there to help enroll the university's first two black students. Wallace was so adamant about segregation that he ran, unsuccessfully, for U.S. President in 1964, '68, '72, and ’76. Records show that in 1968 election he received ten million votes.
But in May 1972 while campaigning in Laurel, Maryland someone attempted to assassinate him. Although he didn't die, the bullet did paralyze him. From then on he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Years later, in 1983, Wallace’s perception changed when he genuinely converted to Christianity. At the same time sincerely repented of his earlier views on race matters. In his last term as governor of Alabama, he appointed black officials to state offices. He even reached out to Arthur Bremer, the man who had tried to assassinate him in 1972.
Wallace once wrote to Bremer in prison, telling him three words he would never have said during his run for president. He told Bremer, "I love you.” Then on September 13, 1998, George Wallace died at age 79.
At the time of his death, then Alabama Governor Fob James, Jr., said, "Governor Wallace was prepared to do battle where he thought it necessary at the time and where he thought it was right, and then he had the courage to change and say, 'There were times I was wrong.’”
The day before Wallace’s funeral there were an estimated 25,000 mourners. Furthermore, there were almost as many blacks as whites who walked reverently past his coffin in the Alabama capitol building. That’s the most remarkable part of George Wallace's life. It was how his perception changed. In his early days, he had a nasty reputation for standing for some wrong ideas. But, by the time of his death, even his enemies had to admit George Wallace was willing to take the risk of change.
So, where do we see God working as we wait for Christ's ultimate return? Where do we see God working to bring wholeness and restoration to a broken world? Where do we see God working in our daily lives? Is it through a simple conversation with our child? Is it in making friends outside of our social circles? Is it in changing our perceptions?
What if our perceptions need to be changed in order to see where else God is working? What if God is working in the places that we don’t perceive God to be? If all we see in this world is chaos, brokenness, and pain, then we should change our perceptions. As we wait with one another for Christ’s ultimate return, for the Parousia, we should change our perceptions.
We should change our perceptions to see that God is acting. We should change our perceptions to see that God is using those times to transform, support and encourage one another. We should change our perceptions to bring communities together. We should change our perceptions so we can take risks in carrying out God’s great love.
One of my favorite phrases about risk comes from Martin Luther. He said, “If we are going to sin then sin boldly!” In other words, what Luther was saying was we should take risks to live out the Gospel of God’s grace even if it’s in the wrong way. If it’s wrong we then "pray boldly" to receive God's grace even more profoundly.
So, don’t be mistaken. Changing our perceptions isn’t the same as the power of positive thinking. It is not looking at the bright side of situations. This is acknowledging what is present but also understanding this isn’t the end. There is more to come. What will be coming is the joy we get to enter into being with the Christ Jesus.
Tuesday, November 14 2017
Matthew 25:1-13 “Where Do You See God?” - Part 1
Matthew twenty-five. This is one of the more difficult chapters in the Gospel of Matthew. It’s probably one of the more difficult chapters in all of Scripture. But, over the next three weeks, including today, this is what we receive. As we approach the final weeks in our church calendar we will be hearing about the Parousia. Say that with me - “Pair” “Rue” “See-ah”. The Parousia is a big church word that in Greek means the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The reason why Matthew twenty-five is one of the more complicated chapters is that there are many different views how people see Parousia. Each of us has a certain image formed by previous pastors, teachers, and parents. Some of these images might evoke fear and anxiety. Unfortunately, this fear and anxiety comes from what we see in our daily lives. We’ve seen it on the news, in our communities, and on social media. For some of us, the images we have heard and seen are disturbing enough and we want to come to worship to get away from it.
So, what should we do? Should we change the Gospel lessons to something that appears to be more joyful? Or, skip worship until Christmas Eve? Or, should a petition be passed around to hear a sermon on another lesson? All of these might seem appealing, and I wouldn’t argue with them.
But, when anything difficult is presented to us in life we can go one of two directions. We can run from it, or we can face it head-on. Part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ means that we gather together and face our challenges. This means we might have to roll up our sleeves, become uncomfortable, and get a little dirty. We dive in head first and see to what God is showing us because there’s more there.
That’s what’s in Matthew twenty-five. There are three parables, or stories, that Jesus shared that provide hope beyond what is seen. That’s what Matthew’s community needed to hear. These disciples, who were formerly Jewish, were the minority in society and being persecuted.
Unlike today, Christianity is the dominant religion in the United States. Although worship attendance in every congregation is drastically decreasing, and more people are claiming they don’t associate with any religion, many people still claim to be Christian. Even if we believe we are being persecuted for our faith we really aren’t being persecuted, in the United States, the same way as the early Christians.
As those Christians were being persecuted they were told that Jesus would return. They fully expected Jesus to come within their lifetime. However, with each passing hour, day, and week they were having more and more difficulty waiting for Jesus’ return.
This is what Matthew was addressing in the first part of this chapter. He was addressing those first Christians who were having difficulty seeing that Christ would return. It had been only thirty years since Christ came the first time, and they deeply longed for him to come back. It gave them hope, not fear, for the future. But as they waited to see an immediate sign they began to be filled with fear and anxiety.
Waiting is one of the most difficult experiences to endure. In one way or another, all of us have had to wait for something. There are different types of waiting. Sometimes we wait for something good. We wait for the birth of a healthy child. We wait for the closing on the house of our dreams. We wait for the promotion in a job or an acceptance letter from college.
This is vastly different from another type of waiting. The other type of waiting comes from something that is hard. We wait to see if this time we will be able to get pregnant. We wait for the foreclosure notice of our home because we couldn’t make the payment. We wait for the doctor’s report confirming that cancer has returned.
Whether we are waiting for something good or bad, when the anticipated arrival is delayed, it almost always leads to fear and anxiety. But this doesn’t come from what we see and hear in that moment. Instead, it comes from what we don’t see and don’t hear. Our minds bring up questions. Why haven’t I heard from the college admissions office? Did my child arrive safely on the trip? When will we hear from the doctor? We start to imagine what’s not there. Waiting is hard because we don’t know what’s going to happen.
So, what do we do? Do we passively wait, watch the world pass us by? Do we wait by being consumed with fear and anxiety? Do we wait and daydream of the outcomes? Or, do we wait with each other?
Perhaps that’s what we heard in our parable. We heard about ten bridesmaids who waited for a groom. All of them took their lamps with oil. All of them fell asleep, and all of them were woken up by the announcement. Yet, the so-called five wise bridesmaids only entered the banquet. We can assume that the foolish ones were at fault because they didn’t bring extra oil. Yet, how can we blame them? How many of us don’t pack enough in anticipation for catastrophic events? Probably most of us.
So, we don’t know what prompted the wise bridesmaids to bring oil and the foolish bridesmaids to not to. Perhaps, that’s not the difficult part of this parable. Maybe it’s not that the foolish bridesmaids didn’t bring extra oil, but that the wise bridesmaids weren’t willing to share. This completely contradicts everything Jesus has said up to this point in Matthew’s Gospel. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel Jesus teaches people to care for the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed.
So, how could the wise bridesmaids assume there would not be enough for all? They already knew the groom would be arriving soon. Couldn’t the wise bridesmaids have been simply ungenerous bridesmaids? Couldn’t the wise bridesmaids simply have waited for others to get oil? Better yet, couldn’t they have waited for the others so they wouldn’t have been locked out and isolated? Perhaps that’s where we can see God. We can see God by keeping each other focused on Christ’s ultimate return as we wait.
There was one person who people saw God at work in as he waited with others. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer, was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian, in the early 20th century. For most of Bonhoeffer’s life, he was well known for speaking out against the Nazi regime and teaching at underground seminaries throughout Germany.
Although he evaded the Gestapo or Nazi secret police, they eventually found him and arrested him. For a year and a half, Bonhoeffer waited in prisons hoping that one day he would be released. As he waited Bonhoeffer continued to minister, write, and give words of hope to others who were also imprisoned.
As one of his friends wrote, “He was always good-tempered, always had the same kindliness and politeness towards everybody, so that to my surprise, within a short time, he had won over his warders… His attitude, so he had stated, was rooted in his Christian convictions… The few things which we possessed and which we were allowed to accept from our relationships and friends we exchange according to our needs… It delighted him that even in prison he was able to help his neighbor, and share what he had.”
Even on the eve of Bonhoeffer’s death, which was the first Sunday after Easter, he performed his pastoral duty by holding worship. Throughout Bonhoeffer’s time in prison, he did not wait passively for death. He continued to be obedient to the will of God up unto his final moments. He waited with others so they wouldn’t have to wait in isolation up until he was killed the day before the end of the Nazi regime.
Now, to live the life and ministry of Dietrich Bonhoeffer seems a little far-fetched for some of us. It might feel like we could never live up to those standards. For some of us, we are led to take on such a major role. We are able to care for others in times of their waiting through our jobs, in our families, and our schools. Yet for others of us, we can wait with others in more subtle ways. This work still has a major impact. So, it might not be one person but a whole community doing small deeds.
I can’t think of a better time when I’ve heard about a community, more specifically a church, waiting, encouraging, and supporting someone, then in Ken’s life. Now, I met Ken during my internship in Cincinnati. Ken and his family were an average upper-middle-class family. His wife was a nurse, and he was an attorney. They had four young, busy, and active kids. For many years they went to worship and helped out at church. Although life was busy, they managed.
But one Fall, he and his wife of 20 years, would see how others waited with them in times of uncertainty. It all started when Mary was battling a persistent cough for a couple of months. When she had enough, she decided to ask for a chest x-ray to make sure her “bronchitis” had not progressed into pneumonia.
Well, the chest x-ray indeed showed that she did not have bronchitis. It also showed she did not have pneumonia either. What they found out was that the x-ray uncovered two advanced stages of cancer. Within a period of 36 hours, the tests and an oncologist concluded that she had 2-3 months to live.
Through their waiting, questions started to arise. How could this be? How did they miss the symptoms? Above all, they wanted to know where was God in all of this? Within a short time, they saw God. Ken described how God showed up in new ways, through other people as his family waited for their future to unfold. They saw it through extended family. They saw it through school and community friends. They even saw it through the church.
As he explained that for years they had always been “doers”, but in all honesty, they were not very good at letting others “do for them”. For at least a year, others helped get their four non-driving kids where they needed to be. They kept them regularly fed. They helped clean their house. But more importantly, people simply prayed for, walked with, and supported them. They learned how to accept in new ways, and in so doing, learned how to serve in new ways. They even developed deeper relationships within their faith community. For the first time, prayer and its impact were real, very real.
He went on to say that God helped them remember that they were never alone. Especially during those times when they felt the most alone, that was exactly when the Holy Spirit worked through their faith community to encircle and carry them through those challenging times.
In these uncertain times, when we are so consumed by fear and anxiety, when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, when we are in the middle of waiting for the Parousia, we can see God. God is here in the present. God is saying “stay awake” because God not only will act but is acting.
God is acting as we are waiting with each other. God is acting as we support and encourage one another. God is acting as we keep each other’s eyes on Christ’s return. We can already see this in the various ministries at Zion participating such as Operation Christmas Child, the Harvest Dinner, and Family Promise. We can see this in the relationships we have with each other, in our families, and in welcoming new people. I’ve specifically seen it as you’ve supported me while I’ve tried to become an ordained pastor.
Above all, we know God is present right here right now because we will experience God in as will share in Christ’s Holy Meal. We can see the presence of God in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine. So, why should we live in fear? Why should we be anxious about Christ’s return? We should welcome the Parousia.
We should be excited to hear about Christ’s coming. We should be on the edge of our seats waiting, because that means there will come the day when there will be no more fear and anxiety, pain and suffering will cease to exist, and death and hatred will be a distant memory. That, my friends, will be the day when we will experience and ultimately see the love of God.
Monday, November 06 2017
I John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12; Revelation 7:9-17
[Sing] “Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who? I really want to know…”
Hey! Do you know who you are? Do you really know who you are? We’re going to talk about that today, but first I want to ask you a question. And there’s no need to raise your hand, but have you or someone you know ever been a victim of identity theft?
When we learned about the Equifax security breach that occurred just a few months ago – did you check to see if you were among the 143 million Americans whose personal information had been compromised?
Now, you know what identity theft is. Someone wants to pretend to be you – so they can rip you off – or rep off the financial institutions that you do business with. They get your personal information – social security number, driver’s license info, bank account information, credit card numbers, and even your medical insurance account numbers – all of these kinds of information about you can be stolen and used to create a fake you!
Identity theft as you know is a serious crime. We need to be vigilant – we need to be watchful – we need to take care that all of those personal data pieces that we use to identify ourselves to the government and financial institutions – these date pieces that are a part of who we are – we need to take care that they don’t fall into the wrong hands. Because once stolen, someone else can cause real damage to us financially – not to mention the time and money needed to undo the damage that can be done.
Now, I hope I haven’t made you paranoid about all of this stuff, because that is certainly not my intent. But I would caution you to take care with your personal information.
Listen! No matter what would be identity thieves might want to do to us – there is a part of who you are that no thief can ever take away. That’s why I really love our reading today from I John chapter 3. Listen to it again:
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
So [Sing] “Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who? I really want to know…”
Who are you? According to what the Scripture tells us here in I John, we who are disciples of Jesus Christ – we are children of God. Again – this is who you are – and it is something that cannot be taken away from you. I want to tell a story that I may have used before – I don’t remember – but it’s really good. In fact, it’s been told so many times that you may have heard it from some other preacher some other time.
This is a story told years ago by the late seminary professor Fred Craddock, who tells of going back one summer to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to take a short vacation with his wife. One night they found a quiet little restaurant where they looked forward to a private meal – just the two of them.
While they were waiting for their meal they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” He didn’t want the man to intrude on their privacy.
But the man did come by their table.
“Where you folks from?” he asked amicably.
“Oklahoma,” Craddock replied.
“Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there,” said the white-haired man. “What do you do for a living?”
“I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips University,” Craddock answered.
“Oh, so you teach preachers, do you? Well, I’ve got a story I want to tell you.” And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife.
Dr. Craddock said he groaned inwardly. Oh no, here comes another preacher story. It seems everyone has one.
The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born so I had a hard time. When I started to school, my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunchtime because the taunts of my classmates cut so deeply.
“What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through me. They were all wondering just who my real father was.
“When I was about 12 years old a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking at me.
“‘Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?’ the preacher asked.
“I felt the old weight come on me. It was like a big, black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down.
“But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition.
“Wait a minute,’ he said, ‘I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God.’
“With that he slapped me across the rump and said, `Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.’”
The old man looked across the table at Fred Craddock and said, “That was the most important single sentence ever said to me.” With that he smiled, shook the hands of Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends.
Suddenly, Fred Craddock remembered. On two occasions the people of Tennessee had elected the son of an unwed mother to be their governor. His name was Ben Hooper.
Folks – let me tell you. I know who you are. I can see the family resemblance in every single one of you. You are a son – you are a daughter of God. Terrible things happen to people when they forget who they are. Some of them forget their values. Some of them lose their sense of purpose. All of them lose their joy.
Today is All Saints’ Day. One of the things that we do this day is to remember those people – those saints – who have gone on before us. And as I tell you every year, we are all saints. That’s what the Bible calls all of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ. If you are a son – if you are a daughter of God – then you are a saint. Not because you or I or any of those who have gone before us are perfect. You see, unlike popular usage of the word saint – the title “saint” is not just a word used to describe super Christians from the past. No. It also applies to just ordinary folks like you and me.
So you are a saint. If Jesus is your Lord and your Savior – then you are a saint. That’s who you are. And maybe some of you are struggling with that right now. But once we realize who we are in God’s eyes – then we also realize that we are people of great value. Al because we are daughters and sons of God. All because we belong to God.
A number of years ago, an auction was held. The money that was bid for the objects that were auctioned off was far higher than one would expect to be paid under other circumstances. For example, the winning bid for a rocking chair that had been valued between $3,000 and $5,000 was $453,500.00. And that’s the kind of bidding that went on all day at this auction. For four days articles of common, ordinary value were sold for wildly inflated prices. Why? Because the value of the items auctioned sold on the basis of the one to whom they had once belonged. The items sold had once belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Look! I want you to know that you are of inestimable value. And it’s all because of the worth placed on you by the One to whom you belong. You are loved and you are valued so much that the Father gave his one and only son to free you from sin, death and the power of the devil.
[Sing] “Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?” Folks – let me tell you. I know who you are. You are one of God’s saints. I can see the family resemblance in every single one of you. You are a son – you are a daughter of God. Never forget that! Never forget who you are! Amen