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 SERMON TEXT 
Tuesday, February 27 2018

Mark 8:31-38


    Most of you know, I am sure, that as Chtistians, we begin our Christian walk at our baptism.  We pour water over – or we fully immerse a person in water – and up out of that water arises a new creation – a Christian.  But the transformation into a fully devoted disciple of Jesus Christ has only just begun.  When it comes to making a disciple of Jesus Christ – well – it’s just something that takes some time.  And I like to say that it’s a process – a process that takes a life-time.  

    So, becoming a disciple is a process.  It’s a marathon not a sprint.  Something we grow into.  And sometimes it feels like – you know – it feels like –three steps forward and two steps backwards, doesn’t it!  Fits and starts.  Trials and temptations.  Sometimes there’s suffering or the sake of Christ – so – yeah, sometimes it hurts.  And we question – this God stuff – this church stuff.  And that’s a good thing! Let me tell you – I’ve grown the most in my own discipleship when I’ve asked those tough, tough questions of what this is all about.  Questions like, “God, are you real?”  “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?”  “Is there life after death?”  So, asking questions is good.  In fact, it’s absolutely necessary. And then there are times of prayer.  And meditating.  And digging deeper.   
    Well – that’s how growth as a disciple occurs.  That’s how disciples are made.  Disciples aren’t born. They are made.   It is something that – well like these winter Olympic athletes – it’s something we train for.  AND – it is a team effort.  

    Jesus tells us today that as his followers – as his disciples – we are to take up our cross and follow him.  He says we are to deny ourselves in order to follow him.  And that can be painful.  Letting go of the past – letting go of those things that would keep us from becoming and being the kinds of disciples Jesus is calling us to.  Sometimes it might even feel like God is taking a hammer and chisel to us.  

    SO let me invite you to watch this video.  I showed it some six years ago.  And after I had shown it, someone came out of church and said, “You need to show that again sometime.”  SO – I’m showing it again.  It’s called “God’s Chisel: Remastered.” (watch at: skitguys.com/videos/item/gods-chisel-remastered).   

    Ephesians 2:10:  “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

    So when you look into the mirror what do you see?  Do you see Jesus living in you – the Christlikeness that we’re talking about all the time around here?  Are you more concerned with your image – or character?  Character still counts, doesn’t it!  

Listen!  YOU are God’s workmanship – God’s masterpiece.  You see – God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay there.  He loves you too much to let you stay that way.  Just remember that God is working on you.  God is at work in you and me to make us the kind of people He wants us to be.  In order that we might do the things He is calling us to do.    
 
    So just remember –when you’re struggling with this whole discipleship thing – that it takes time.  The process of being – of becoming a disciple – takes time.  And practice.  Just remember we are all in this together.  

    And together, we encourage each other to practice the marks of discipleship.  And you already know what those mark are, right?  The marks of a disciple – pray daily – read the Bible every day –worship weekly (that’s spelled w-e-e-k-l-y not  w-e-a-k-l-y) – develop Christian friendships – give – and serve.  These are the tools God uses to chip away at the old self – the old self that rebels against God.  But as He chips away – even those areas of our lives that we would just as soon He leave alone – as God chips away – in the place of the old arises a new self – what the Bible calls a new creation.  

    It takes time, but hey!  God doesn’t make junk.  You’re a masterpiece!  You are God’s original masterpiece.  

Listen.  We’re going to do this together.  I want you to say your name, and then say “is God’s original masterpiece.”  Ready?  Say your name – “is God’s original masterpiece!”  Yes, you are!  Yes.  Even you!        Amen
    

Posted by: AT 08:27 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 19 2018

Mark 1: 12-15
    This past Wednesday, the nation was witness to yet another school shooting.  This time in Parkside, Florida.  

    I’m sure some are saying – or at the very least thinking – why didn’t God stop this?  Why did God allow this to happen?  The answer to those questions is, “I don’t know.”  I also suspect that behind those kinds of questions is more than just asking “Why.”  I think behind the questions – at least for some – is to somehow place blame on God for not stopping it.  

    I also think that some will look at this and say, “See?  How can there be a God when these bad things happen?”

    Tough questions, I know.  But I’m here to tell you today that God did not cause this tragedy – or any other tragedy for that matter – to occur.  

    You see, here’s the thing.  People make choices.  And what we had this past Wednesday was a man who made a choice.  And I know I am not going to say anything new about this that we haven’t heard before.  And I really don’t want to get political here, but some things just need to be said.

    This is a complex situation.  And it seems to me that there are multiple factors behind this man’s choice – that helped him to make the choice that he made.  You see, this is not just about guns – and a too easy access to assault style weapons.  This is not just about the state of mental health care in our society.  It’s not just about bullying – and I understand that the shooter was bullied in school.  It involves all of these things – assault weapons, mental health, bullying –  BUT did anybody notice anything strange in the days and weeks leading up to this and not say anything?  Now we’re asking what did the FBI know, and when did they know it, and why didn’t they do anything to stop it?  I don’t know.  So – it’s not just one thing.  It’s all of these things.  

    Here’s the thing.  God gives each one of us the ability and the freedom to make choices.  Nikolas Cruz made a choice.  And we know the results.  

    So the reasons are many, and they are complex.  But let me add this one thing.  This is at heart a spiritual issue.  I don’t know what kind of faith background, if any, Nick Cruz had.  But behind events like these there is always a spiritual issue.  

    Folks, I want to talk to you today about making choices – and when it comes to making choices – what is it that leads us to make the choices we make.  So this is not a sermon about what happened in Florida this week, but I’m using it as an illustration about what happens when bad decisions – bad choices – are made.  I think you will agree with me that – for the most part – life is all about making choices.  And hoping that we will make the right choices.  Hoping that our children will make the right choices.  Life is all about learning how to choose and to make the right choices.  

    And we all make choices.  Every day.  We all make choices.  The challenge, of course – a challenge that always complicates matters – is always this thing called temptation.  This is a spiritual issue.  We can’t get avoid it.  We can’t ignore it.  What we need to do is to learn what to say or do when it pokes its ugly head into our business.

    Our Gospel reading today from Mark’s gospel is short and to the point.  Jesus is driven into the wilderness where he is tempted by the devil.  But I want to know more.  I want to know just exactly what those temptations looked like – and how Jesus was able to make the right choices.  Since Mark does not tell us the details – we have to turn to either Matthew or Luke.   

    All together we are told that Satan tempts Jesus three times – to turn stones into bread – to jump down from the pinnacle of the temple – and to bow down and worship Satan whereupon Satan would give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world.  But what we find is that Jesus does not give in – the worldly allure of fame, fortune and power cannot get him to make wrong choices.  And in the end, Jesus says to Satan, “Away with you, Satan!  Get out of here.  Scram.  Put an egg in your shoe and beat it!  For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

    You see, Jesus recognizes the wrongness of these temptations – these choices – and fights back.  Jesus resists by reminding Satan that God alone is to be worshipped.  God alone is the one who shows us the way to true joy, happiness, and peace.  Jesus makes the right choices.  

    Now the challenge for us is to recognize the slick and cunning and alluring dynamics that the three biggies throw at us.  And you know what those three biggies are.  The devil, the world and our own sinful desires.   What’s so alluring about the temptations that these three throw at us is that they try to get us to think that by giving in we will be happier.   

    “Go here – do this – get that – and you’ll be…happy.”  Well – not if those things are contrary to the will of God!  Not if those things take us away from God!  However, the choices we make always have consequences – wouldn’t you agree!  When it comes to making choices – there are always consequences.  

    Unfortunately, there are no guarantees.  You’ve heard me say this before.  If you always make bad choices, you will always get bad consequences.  If you always make good choices – if you always make the right choices – you might get good consequences.  There are no guarantees.

    Now that’s not very comforting, is it!  Not too encouraging at all!  But the only chance we have of getting good consequences from our choices – good consequences for our lives – is to make the good – the right choice in the first place.  I know – not always an easy thing to do.  But it also means learning to recognize a temptation.  It means learning to say no to the temptations that would lead us away from God – away from Christ – away from the church.  Recognition is half the battle.  

    Let me remind you of an old Indian legend.  Listen!   “Many years ago, Indian youths would go away in solitude to prepare for manhood. One such youth hiked into a beautiful valley, green with trees, bright with flowers.  There he fasted.  But on the third day, as he looked up at the surrounding mountains, he noticed one tall rugged peak, capped with dazzling snow.  I will test myself against that mountain, he thought.  He put on his buffalo-hide shirt, threw his blanket over his shoulders and set off to climb the peak.  When he reached the top he stood on the rim of the world.

    “He could see forever, and his heart swelled with pride.  Then he heard a rustle at his feet, and looking down, he saw a snake.  Before he could move, the snake spoke.

    “‘I am about to die,’ said the snake.  ‘It is too cold for me up here and I am freezing.  There is no food and I am starving.  Put me under your shirt and take me down to the valley.’

    “‘No,’ said the youth. ‘I am forewarned.  I know your kind.  You are a rattlesnake.  If I pick you up, you will bite, and your bite will kill me.’

    “‘Not so,’ said the snake.  ‘I will treat you differently. If you do this for me, you will be special. I will not harm you.’

    “The youth resisted awhile, but this was a very persuasive snake with beautiful markings. At last the youth tucked it under his shirt and carried it down to the valley. There he laid it gently on the grass, when suddenly the snake coiled, rattled, and leapt, biting him on the leg.

    “‘But you promised...’ cried the youth.

    “‘You knew what I was when you picked me up,’ said the snake as it slithered away.”

    We need to recognize dangerous temptations when we see them.  When it comes to making a choice we need to know what we’re dealing with before we are tempted to pick it up.  So we can be taught – we can be lectured – by someone else.  We can be given examples – both good and bad.  But ultimately we are the ones who need to learn how to make good choices.  And may I suggest to you that experience – as much as anything else – it is experience that serves as the best teacher when it comes to learning how to make the right choices.  

    Listen.  “A seeker after truth came to a saint for guidance.  ‘Tell me, wise one, how did you become holy?’
“‘Two words.’
“‘And what are they, please?’
“‘Right choices.’
“The seeker was fascinated.  ‘How does one learn to choose rightly?’
“‘One word.’
“‘One word!  May I have it, please?’ the seeker asked.
“‘Growth.’
“The seeker was thrilled. ‘How does one grow?’
“‘Two words.’
“‘What are they, pray tell?’
“‘Wrong choices.’

    There is a certain irony here, isn’t there!   We grow the most – we learn the most – after we have made the wrong choices.  We get the experience we need after we need it.  

    The reality is that we will not always make the good – the right choices.  But making wrong choices can also be a good teacher.  If and when we let ourselves learn from those mistakes.   Otherwise, if you’re like me – you’re going to end up making the same mistakes over again – and having to learn the same lessons over again.  Experience is a good teacher.  That’s why I like today’s Psalm.  It has one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture.  “Remember not the sins of my youth.”  Anyone else catch that?

    So what can we learn from all this?  What can we say in hindsight that we wish Nikolas Cruz had learned?  Well – what I hope WE learn is this.

1.    Where are you when bad choices are made?  Avoid those places.
2.    What people are you with when bad choices are made?  Avoid those people.  And consider that maybe what you need is a new group of friends.
3.    In the time of testing – when temptations would want us to make wrong choices – what I hope we learn is that God does give us the faith and the strength we need to trust him to get us through – and more to the point – to rise above whatever temptations – whatever challenges come our way.

    I hope you’re seeing that the choices we make always have a spiritual component to them.  With God’s help and by God’s grace we can learn to say no to temptation.  Not always easy, I know.  But when it comes to making choices, we can learn to say no to those things that would lead us away from God – we can learn to say no to those things that would hurt other people – things that would do harm to our own selves  Because those are places where temptations to sin want to take us.

But please know this – and this is so important – that when we make the wrong choices – when we give into temptations to sin – that there is always, always, always, mercy, peace, pardon and forgiveness from God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  
    
So life is all about making choices – and when it comes to making choices – trusting God to give us the wisdom, the strength, the skill, the experience, and the desire to make the right choices.     Amen

Posted by: AT 11:16 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, February 15 2018

Joel 2:1-2; 12-17

    Is it just me, or does it feel a little strange to be celebrating Valentine’s Day by attending an Ash Wednesday worship service?  The last time this happened was in 1945.  We had a potluck supper here an hour before the service started.  And this past weekend, I invited the men – if they didn’t know where to go out to dinner tonight – to bring their sweetheart to Zion’s potluck dinner tonight and then stay for worship.  I mean – think about it.  Nothing says “I love you,” more than a church potluck – followed by a smudge of ashes on the forehead!  Kind of puts you in a romantic mood now, doesn’t it!

    Oh – and when I told Nancy of my invitation to the men to bring their sweeties here for Valentine’s Day dinner – she said – without skipping a beat – she said, “And did you tell the men that they need to cook something to bring?”  

    Hey!  Regardless of why you chose to be here tonight – and yeah – I know – Ash Wednesday is not the most romantic way to celebrate Valentine’s Day – but nevertheless – what I want you to see is that tonight is still about a love story.  A different kind of love story to be sure – but a love story nonetheless.   

    I’m here to tell you tonight that of all the love stories that could be told tonight – the most wonderful love of all is the love God has for you and for me.   And maybe – just maybe – that’s the reason you’re here tonight.   Regardless of how you feel about wearing ashes – you know – even for myself.  Some years I wear them – and some years I don’t.  The thing is – it’s a choice.  But the wonderful thing is that the theme behind the observation of Ash Wednesday is to focus on two things.  First – it’s about God’s great love for you and me.  And second – it’s an evening that calls us to repentance as it helps us prepare our hearts and minds for the season of Lent.

    I like the story of     “A Sunday School teacher who once asked a class what was meant by the word ‘repentance.’  A little boy put up his hand and said, ‘It is being sorry for your sins.’  A little girl also raised her hand and said, ‘It is being sorry enough to quit.’”
    On of our readings tonight is from the book of Joel.  We don’t often hear much from the prophet Joel.  His is a book – a short book – but nevertheless, an important book – from the Old Testament.  But nowhere in the Bible will you find more powerful words encouraging folks to repent of their sins than right here in the words of this prophet.  Listen again!

    “Return to me with all your heart.  With fasting.  With weeping.  With mourning.   Rend your hearts, and not your clothing.  

And nowhere in the Bible will you find more powerful words describing God’s attitude towards those who do repent. Again – Listen!

    “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

    Those sound like love words.  Those sound like words of love.  I told you God loves you!  God is gracious. God is merciful.  God is slow to anger – I like that!  And listen – God is abounding – abounding! – in what?  That’s right.  Abounding in steadfast love.  

    Ash Wednesday.  Valentine’s Day.  The two kinda go together don’t they? Tonight is all about love – repentance – and forgiveness.  In fact – that’s what all of Lent is about – the entire 40 days of Lent!  Love.  Repentance.  And Forgiveness.  And the forgiveness that is ours is made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

    Now I’ve got to confess that I do not truly understand everything there is to know about that sacrifice Jesus made on the cross on our behalf.  I just know that on that cross – by dying on that cross – Jesus took away the sin of the world.  He took away my sin.  Your sin.  So that we might have forgiveness, and the gift of eternal life with God.  Something happened on that cross that changed the world forever.  

    So tonight I ask you to think about – the sacrifice Jesus made on your behalf when he offered up his life for you.  That’s love!

    But we also need to think about our own lives.  The things we have said – the things we have done – that we should never have said or done.  And of course, the things that we have not done that we should have done.

    Maybe the following will help.  “Bruce Larson notes that when someone enters the army at a place like Fort Dix, New Jersey, there is a great box at the entrance with a big hole in the top.  The rule is that you may drop in that box – without consequence – any illegal substance you have with you – drugs, alcohol, knives, guns, whatever.  No questions asked.  You drop these items in the box and begin a new life in the army.  However, if you keep them, and are caught, you are held accountable.”

    Folks, you and I – we’ve picked up some garbage along the way – stuff we need to get rid of.  That’s where repentance comes in.  And that’s what we’ve come here tonight to do.

Remember what that little girl in Sunday School said, “[Repentance] is being sorry enough to quit.”  In other words, we’ve got some garbage in our lives that we need to let go of.  Not always easy, I know.  But we’ve got to make some changes here.

    “In his book, Den of Lions, Terry Anderson tells about his captivity by Islamic militants in Beirut.  Anderson was held longer than any of his compatriots during that time.  This gave Anderson time to reflect on his own spiritual pilgrimage.  Like a soldier entering Fort Dix, Anderson had some stuff he needed to get rid of.  

    “At one point in the book, Anderson, a fallen-away Catholic, confesses his sin to Father Jenco, a fellow prisoner.  Anderson confesses that he has fallen away from the church and that he is not a good man.  In fact, he concedes that his drinking and pursuing other women were largely to blame for the failure of his marriage.

    “This is a very emotional time for Anderson and Jenco.  This was Anderson’s first confession in 25 years.  Father Jenco laid his hand on Anderson’s head and pronounced absolution: ‘In the name of a gentle, loving God, you are forgiven.’

    “Anderson came out of prison a new man.  He knew the joy of repentance.”

    Terry Anderson had a change of heart.  And isn’t that what God is interested in?  You bet it is.  A change of heart.  “Return to me with all your heart,” says the Lord.  

    With all your heart.  That’s repentance.  It means to turn your life around.  It means walking in a new direction.  It means turning away from sin and turning towards God’s will and God’s way.  And letting yourself be embraced by God’s love. Listen again!

    “Return.  Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

    So whether our repentance is accompanied – as the prophet Joel says – with fasting, or weeping, or mourning – or whether it’s by the wearing of an ashen cross upon our foreheads – doesn’t matter – what’s important is the attitudes of our hearts.  

    Sorrow over sin.  Being sorry enough to quit.  Joy over God’s goodness.

    The prophet Joel says, “Return to the Lord your God for he is –what? – gracious and merciful – slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  We have come here tonight to repent – and to take advantage of God’s love.  God’s forgiveness.  God’s grace.

    Why?  So that you and I might be reconciled and restored to God through Jesus Christ.  

    “A couple of decades ago, an angry man rushed through an art museum in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and when he got to Rembrandt’s Nightwatch, he took out a knife and slashed it repeatedly?  And then there was the time, not too long after, that another distraught man went into St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome with a hammer, and began to smash away at Michelangelo’s The Pieta.  Two cherished works of art severely damaged.  

     “But what did the officials do?  Throw those damaged works of art away, and forget about them?  No.  Working with the best experts who worked with the utmost care and precision, they made every effort to restore those treasures.”

    That is what God is doing with us tonight.  We are his treasures.  And God wants to restore us into fellowship with himself.  
    Rend your hearts, and not your garments.

    Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful – slow to anger – and abounding in steadfast love.  Love.  Repentance.  And forgiveness.

        You know something?  Maybe Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday DO go together after all, don’t’cha think?        Amen

Posted by: AT 11:53 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, February 13 2018

Mark 9:2-9; Matthew 5:14-16; 2 Corinthians 4:6


    Boy, you know, the more I read the newspaper, and watch it on TV – I can’t get over how much bad news there is out there.  Take California, for instance. First there was the Thomas wild fire that destroyed more than a thousand homes.  And then the rains came, and mudslides wiped out even more, not to mention the tragic loss of life from both.  Then there have been all those charges of sexual misconduct – seems like there’s a new one every week.  There’s dysfunction in Washington. And of course, we are living under this insane threat of nuclear war with North Korea.  

And the list goes on.  The thing is, the news often seems rather dark, wouldn’t you agree?   Well, I’m here to tell you that there is good news to share too.   

A theologian from the last century named Karl Barth once said that every preacher ought to prepare sermons with a Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.  What that means is that as I read about the world’s troubles in one hand, I still have good news in the other.  I’m here to tell you today that in the face of bad news – when times seem dark – there is hope.  There is light.

Listen again to what we just read in 2 Corinthians.  Tell me if you agree that this is good news:

“For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made HIS light” – whose light? – that’s right – God’s light – the light of Christ – God made this light “shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

So just what does this light look like?  Glad you asked.  For that we turn to our Gospel reading in Mark chapter 9.

Jesus is on a mountain with three of his disciples – Peter, James and John.  When suddenly, Jesus is changed.  He is transformed into dazzling, brilliant light.  And not just Jesus either, for along with him appear two of the great heroes of the faith from Israel’s past.  Moses and Elijah.  I’ve often wondered how the disciples knew that it was Moses and Elijah, and the only conclusion I can come to is that –  they were wearing name tags.

But here they are – Jesus, Moses and Elijah – surrounded in brilliant light!  This is Jesus in all of his glory.

So Peter – good old Peter – the Vice President in Charge of Doing Something – wants to do something.  He is so amazed – so overwhelmed – he wants to capture the moment.  “Lord it’s good for us to be here.  Let us build a shrine right here on this mountain top to remember and to capture this moment.”

Hey!  You know what Peter’s doing.  You’ve done it yourselves.  Whip out your cell phone.  Snap a picture.  Take a video.  Post it on Facebook.  You simply want to capture what we used to call a Kodak moment.  You’ve done that, haven’t you!  Sure you have.
There are some things that we get so excited about, that we just want to somehow capture the moment.  
It’s kind of like what happened when a pastor by the name of “Greg George of Palmetto, Georgia, was watching a college football game.  The home team won in the final seconds of the game.  The crowd went wild.  Goal posts were pulled down and the people actually began cutting up pieces of the Astroturf to remember their excitement about winning the game.  

“Pastor George suggests that we should get that excited about the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ.  He says that” – listen to this – “he says that we should have to re-carpet our churches every year because people are cutting up pieces of that carpet to remember the great moving of God’s Spirit during the service.”

 Now folks – I like a little excitement – but don’t go crazy on me.  Don’t you go cutting up the carpet in here – although it’s getting to the point where it needs to be replaced.  Seems like it’s brand new doesn’t it!  But you know, it is seventeen years old.  But can you imagine what life might be like if we got that excited?  Can you imagine if we got as excited as the Philadelphia Eagles fans did this past week?  I  know – we Bills fan can ONLY imagine!  Can you imagine if we got as excited as Peter and James and John at not only seeing the light of Christ – in all his glory – but also hearing the voice of God the Father?  Can you imagine?

And what did the voice say?  “This is my Son whom I love.  Listen to him.”  Listen to him.  God didn’t hand those three disciples a digital camera and say, “If you really want to capture this moment, take a selfie with the three of them over by that tree.”  No.  God said, “Listen to him.  Listen to him.”

So – when Jesus speaks – what do YOU hear?  Huh?  What words do you hear?  One of the phrases that most often comes to my mind is this, “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  You’ve heard that before, haven’t you?

And there is so much more that Jesus said.  But since we are in the season of the church called Epiphany – also known as the season of light – let me touch on two things that Jesus had to say about light.

First, he said, “I am the light of the world.”  But he also said – and he says this to all of us – “You are the light of the world.  Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Now when Jesus says that WE are the light of the world – and that we are to let our light shine – what Jesus is saying is that we are to be a reflection – a reflection of his light.  You see – our light is not our own.  We are merely reflectors of the light of Christ.  That’s why Jesus can make both statements – that he is the light of the world, and therefore, we also are the light of the world.   

So if you’re excited about being here today – or anywhere else where you know you were in the presence of God – then let that excitement – let that joy – let that light shine!  Be a reflection of the light of Christ.  Be a reflection of God’s love.  I’ve gotta say that that’s a much better way than tearing up the carpet in here. 
 
Because – I want you to think about this.  What happens when you do NOT let your light shine?  What happens?  That’s when the darkness – the bad news of life – takes over.  When we DO NOT let our light shine.

Let me share with you a story.  I absolutely love this story.  “One summer, an American tourist was traveling to villages throughout Germany.  One Sunday evening, she got a room in a small, picturesque town.  After she settled in, she opened her guide book to read about the town, when she heard a church bell ringing.  The guidebook told her about a 12th Century castle church.  Glancing out her window, she saw a number of people hurrying in the direction of the sound of the bells.  Each of them was carrying something that resembled an antique lamp.

“Curious, she went to the town square to join the people who were heading to the church.  On the steps of the old church, she stopped an elderly woman, and asked her what she was carrying and why.

“The woman told her, ‘This is a lamp.  We carry these to church to keep alive a tradition that dates back tot the time of the Reformation, when there was no other way of lighting our church.  Back then, the Duke provided in his will that all of the villagers should be given a lamp which they were to bring with them to church on Sundays.  At the church, worshipers light their lamps from a single candle in the narthex, and then proceed to their seats.  There they place their lamps in a special holder.’

“Having said that, the woman quickly added, almost as though she were embarrassed to say it, ‘Of course, nowadays, it is not very convenient to use these lamps to light the church, but we still do, and everyone who attends makes the sanctuary a little brighter.  And if on a Sunday evening, you are tempted to stay away, you must live with the knowledge that there will be that much less light in church for others.’  With that, the woman turned and went into the church.

“The tourist also went into the church.  She took an empty pew near the back.  [I think she must have been a Lutheran!] It was fairly dark back there, but she was able to see that a nameplate was attached to the pew.  She tried to read it.  Slowly in the dark she learned that this was Anna Schilling’s place.  And she wondered, ‘Who is Anna Schilling, and why is she not here with her lamp?’
“‘Anna Schilling, your light is missing – and it is missed.  Anna there is but darkness in this place where your light ought to be.
Anna Schilling, where is your light?

    Anna Schilling – remember what you are: You are a bearer of light.  No.  Much more that that.  You are light!’”

 It makes a difference, doesn’t it!  This past weekend most of us watched the Eagles defeat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.  As fascinating as that game was to watch – what I found to be of even greater fascination was the post-game interview with the head coach of the Eagles – Doug Pederson.  Watch.  
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6xwxJUS1_k&feature=player_embedded

And immediately following the coach were two players – tight end Zach Ertz and quarterback Nick Foles – who gave glory to God.  I also saw a post-game moment in the Eagles’ locker room when the entire team kneeled and said the Lord’s Prayer together.  It was the fastest Lord’s Prayer I ever heard, but they said it together.  On a national and international stage – these athletes were letting their light shine.  

Now, we will never have that kind of exposure – but still – the light from just one flickering candle can make a great big difference.   In a world where we read about bad news in one hand – we do indeed have good news in the other.

So – let me ask you.  Where is your light?  Huh?  Where is it?  We have come here today – to Zion Lutheran Church – to experience Christ in his glory.  And then – to go from here – to take that joy – that excitement – that light – to those places where there is no light.  To be light-bearers.  To be light.  Reflectors of the light of Christ.

So – where is your light?  Who is your light?  Remember, your light is not your own.  Your light is a reflection of the light of Christ.  And I want you to think about this – after all – you MAY BE the only light in someone’s darkness.

You know, some say – we need to make America great again.  But you know what I say?  We need to make America kind again.  Remember what Jesus says. “You are the light of the world.”  Therefore.  Let. Your. Light. Shine!  Amen

Posted by: AT 09:05 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 05 2018

Randy Milleville

Mark 1:29-39

          It’s great to see all of you here on this Super Bowl Sunday.  Kind of a national holiday – one of three along with the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.  National holiday.

          Now I know this isn’t true of everybody here today – but how many of you became instant fans of the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago?  Yeah.  Me too.  And for you diehard fans of – well – that other team – we respect your choice.  We really do.  But just remember – this is Bills country – and most of us here in Bills country are fans of two teams.  Number one – the Bills.  And number two – whichever team is playing the Patriots!  Right?

          And we all have an opportunity to make our choice felt today with our own Souper Bowl – that’s souper with a “u” in it – by making a cash gift – or if you brought a can of soup, it all goes to feed some folks in need. 

          But since it is Souper Bowl [weekend] Sunday, let me tell you about, “…one young guy who is really in a difficult situation.  He bought two tickets for today’s Super Bowl far in advance.  He just happened to forget that he and his fiancé had scheduled their wedding for the same day and time.  Not too smart, I know.  But now, he realizes he can’t go.  It’s just out of the question.  So, I understand if anyone is interested, and you want to go instead of him, here’s what you need to know:  it’s at St. Peter’s Church in New York City at 5 p.m. Her name’s Louise. She’ll be the one wearing a white dress.”

          I learned long ago, that you never – never – schedule anything on the first Sunday of February.   I once scheduled a confirmation class on the Super Bowl  Sunday, and when I complained to the NFL – they were not willing to change their schedule, so I had to change mine. 

          Well, anyway.  In today’s Gospel reading, we find that Jesus gets overwhelmed by people in Capernaum.  If you remember from last week, Jesus has just healed a man who storms into the synagogue where Jesus was teaching.  The man had been possessed by an unclean spirit – or demon – and Jesus healed the man by casting out the demon.  

          So if you had been a witness to what Jesus did, what do you think you would have done?  [Wait for answer].  Yeah!  You probably would have gone out of there to tell somebody what had just happened! 

          “Hey, Fred!  Ethel!  You won’t believe what just happened in the synagogue.  Some rabbi just cast a demon out of crazy old Mordecai.   His name is Jesus!  He’s staying at Simon the fisherman’s house.”

          Well – news travels fast.  Even without Facebook!  And when people hear the news – they drop what they’re doing and they all run over to Simon Peter’s house.  The whole town crowds around Simon’s door – much like most of us will be crowded around our TV sets [tomorrow night] [tonight].  Anyway, that evening, the people of the area brought to Jesus all their sick and demon-possessed.

          Think of that, “The whole town was gathered at the door . . .”   It seems that everyone was looking for something.  What they wanted was to see Jesus.  They wanted Jesus to do for them and their loved ones what he had done for the man who had the unclean spirit.  And that’s what Jesus does. 

          Now, the next morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed.  Simon and his friends go to look for him, and when they find him, they tell him, “Jesus!  Where have you been?  Don’t you know?  Everyone is looking for you!”

          Everyone is looking for you.

          Listen!  We’re all looking for something, aren’t we!  What we’re looking for is meaning.  Purpose.  Happiness.  Inner peace.  Something or someone to believe in.   Something or someone to live for.  It’s like there’s this big hole inside us that we’re trying to fill – with meaning and purpose. 

And people try all kinds of things.  You have, I have, we all have.  And whether its money or power or fame, drugs or alcohol, sex, well, you name it, none of these things fill that hole that all of us have and want to have filled.  Something that will make us feel good, if even just for a little while. 

          Some have called this need a God-shaped hole.  You know what a God-shaped hole is?  It’s a hole that only God can fill. And yet – when we try to fill it with these other things – these other things just won’t fit.  They just don’t fit.  They aren’t made to fit.  They aren’t designed to fit.  And still, we try to make them fit.

          May I suggest to you today that the only thing that can fill that God-shaped hole – what people are really looking for – is Jesus Christ.  Everybody’s looking for something.  But what some people haven’t yet discovered – is that deep down what they’re looking for – is Jesus Christ.  

          To me, this is the only thing that makes sense. 

          Back to our Gospel reading.  After the disciples find Jesus, and tell him that everyone is looking for him, he says, “Yeah, I know.  And that’s why we need to be moving on – to the next town – the next village.  So that I can proclaim the message of God’s love and forgiveness in those places too.  After all, that’s my purpose.  That’s what I was sent to do.”

          Folks, listen!  The message of God’s love and forgiveness is for you! This message is for everyone.  This is the good news that Jesus brings to a world that is hurting.  I don’t know about you – well – okay – maybe I do – so let me tell you.  This is what I need to hear.  And you do too!  

          Michio Kaku, an outstanding physicist and thinker about our future, in his book Physics of the Future tells about when he was eight years old. He remembers all the teachers at his school buzzing with the latest news that a great scientist had just died.

          That night, the newspapers printed a picture of this deceased scientist’s office. On his desk was an unfinished manuscript. The caption read that the greatest scientist of our era could not finish his greatest masterpiece.

          “What,” thought young Kaku, “what could be so difficult that such a great scientist could not finish it? What could possibly be that complicated and that important?”

          To Kaku, this became more fascinating than any murder mystery, more intriguing than any adventure story. He had to know what was in that unfinished manuscript.

          Later, of course, he found out that the name of this scientist was Albert Einstein, and the unfinished manuscript was to be his crowning achievement. This was to be Einstein’s attempt to create a “theory of everything,” an equation that would unlock the secrets of the universe and perhaps allow him to “read the mind of God.”  But Einstein never finished his search. He was never able to read the mind of God.

          Einstein never dismissed the possibility of the existence of God.  Einstein believed a divine mind had conceived the universe, and he spent his life trying to understand.  He would tell his colleagues who believed that the universe came into being by random chance, “God does not play dice with the universe.”

          I don’t know if Albert Einstein ever found what he was looking for.  But I’m here to tell you that WE can know – we CAN find the meaning of what it is we’re looking for.  Because we’re all looking for something.  Something to believe in and to live for.  Someone we can live for.  Whether it’s ourselves – and if so how’s that working for you – or someone else – or Jesus Christ.

          Like St. Augustine – a man who lived some sixteen hundred years ago – discovered.  One of Augustine’s most famous quotes goes like this:  “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

          Our hearts are restless until they rest in you!

          Restless hearts.  You know what a restless heart is, don’t you?  A restless heart will try to find whatever it is it’s looking for – sometimes wandering off after other things in other places. 

I understand there is a sign as you walk down the stairs toward the baggage claim area of the Memphis, Tennessee Airport.  Memphis, of course, was the place singer Elvis Presley called home.  On the sign in the Memphis airport is the motto of Graceland, the former home of the king of rock and roll. The sign reads: “Discover Your Inner Elvis.”

          Any Elvis fans here today?  He was a great singer – and I enjoy his music.  Any DJ knows that all he or she needs to do to get couples out onto the dance floor at a wedding reception is to play “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”  But let me tell you – I don’t think trying to find our inner Elvis is the answer.  What we need to find is not our inner Elvis.  What we need is to find our inner Jesus. 

He is the way, and the truth, and the life. 

                    He is the light that shines in the darkness.  

He is the hope that never fails.  

He is the life that never ends.  

He is the key to the secret of life.

He is our only hope for making sense out of life and giving us a sense of meaning and purpose.   

And the formula he gave us for living a life that has meaning and purpose is really rather simple.  And you already know what it is.  It’s, “Love God; love your neighbor.  Because nothing else matters.”  A simple formula for living a life of purpose and meaning from the only one who can fill our God-shaped hole.

          Well, no matter which team wins this tonight – there is a team where everyone is a winner.  It’s team Jesus.  He is our owner.  He is our captain.  He is our coach.  He is the filler of empty holes – in our hearts – in our lives – and in our souls.                                                   

Amen

Posted by: Randy Milleville AT 01:09 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email

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