Monday, February 22, 2010

Sermon: When God Grades the Test

Luke 4:1-13 - 1And Jesus, being full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and he was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2and for forty days he was put to the test by the Devil.

And he ate nothing in those days, and when they were completed, he was hungry. 3And the Devil said to him, “If you are the son of God, then speak to this stone so that it might become bread.” 4And Jesus answered him, “It has been written, ‘Not by bread alone will a person live.’”

5And after leading him up, he showed him all the kingdoms of the inhabited world in an instant of time. 6And the Devil said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and this glory, because to me it has been given and to whomever I might wish I give it. 7Now if you might prostrate yourself to me, all will be yours.” 8And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been written, ‘To the Lord your God you will prostrate, and to him alone, you will worship.’”

9And he led him into Jerusalem, and he was made to stand upon the parapet of the Temple, and he said to him, “If you are the son of God, cast yourself down from here. 10For it has been written, ‘His angels he will command concerning you to preserve you from danger,’ 11and ‘Upon hands they will lift you up, that your foot might not hit against a stone.’” 12And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been said, ‘You will not put to a test your God.’”

13And when all these tests were completed, the Devil withdrew from him until a suitable occasion.

************

As most of y’all know, right before coming up here to the minister at Cove, I was a part-time preacher and a full-time high school history teacher. And although I really enjoy working in the church, there are times when I miss teaching. I mean, there are things you can do in classrooms that you can’t do in churches. Take, for instance, tests; y’all would probably be surprised if I stood up here and said, “Put all your stuff under your seat and take out one clean sheet of paper.” Man, if I did that here, y’all would think I’d lost my mind, but in the classroom, I did it all the time.

And I’ve got to tell you, I really enjoyed giving tests. I’d write them all myself, always multiple choice, and that was a blast. And with Mozart playing in the background, I’d have the kid fill in answers on these sort of scan card. I even had my own electronic grader right by my desk. And of course, I enjoyed looking at the results, both at how well they did which gave me a pretty good idea about whether or not I covered the material and at individual questions to see if they were confusing or misleading. At least for me, testing was a lot of fun. I guess you could say that I’m sort a test junkie.

And maybe that’s why this particular passage kind of peaks my interest. I mean, here we have the devil giving Jesus a three-part test that’s he’d obviously written himself. But instead of using multiple choice, the devil’s test was more in the line of true/false. I mean, in each situation, the devil posed a problem and offered a solution, and all Jesus had to do was to say whether the solution was right or wrong. As Maggie would say, “Easy peasy.” And like I said, each situation dealt with one particular aspect of life.

I mean, think about the first situation, you know when he challenged Jesus to prove he was the son of God by just turning one stone into a loaf of bread, something he probably wanted to do anyway, given the fact that he hadn’t eaten for forty days. Right here the devil was zeroing in on Jesus’s priorities and his security as God’s son, something that he passed with flying colors when he said, “Not by bread alone will a person live.” The devil wasn’t going to distract him from what he was called to do.

And then the second situation, up there on the top of the world, something that the devil offered Jesus if he’d just do a little bowing and scraping, in a place no one would see. Right here, Jesus’s values and his willingness to compromise a little of his integrity for something huge, all that was at sake, something Jesus threw back at the devil when he said, “To the Lord your God you will prostrate, and to him alone, you will worship.”

And then the third situation, by far the trickiest, because it really involved faith, you know, whether Jesus was willing to test God. And to make it even trickier, the devil quoted scripture to show that he was right. But that didn’t fool Jesus, not when he said, “You will not put to a test your God.” And that was that. Jesus not only passed the test but got a one hundred percent, without a point of extra credit. And the devil, well, what else could he do. According to Luke, “the Devil withdrew from him” which would have been fine, if he hadn’t continued and wrote “until a suitable occasion.”

And you know, right there’s the kicker. That old tester just left for a while, ready to return when someone maybe a little less solid, a little less capable, a little less confident would have to take his test. That would be a more “suitable occasion.” And I’ll tell you, I think now’s that time, because as soon as Jesus ascended, I think the devil came back like white on rice with his little true/false test. In fact, I think we have to face the same kind of situation Jesus faced in the wilderness, with one big difference. I don’t think our results are anything to write home about.

I mean, just like Jesus, I think our priorities are always being tested. And although it may not involve bread, I think the devil throws things in front of us that can distract us from how we know we’re called to live. For example, I think most of us here this morning know what Christians are suppose to be doing, right? Man, it’s not rocket science. It’s two things: love God and love neighbor, that’s it. But then the devil tests us by saying stuff like, “Well, if you’re really a Christian and if God really does love, he doesn’t want you to suffer, right; and he wouldn’t want you poor, right; he wouldn’t what you go without, right? So go for it. Grab the gusto. Look after yourself. And that’s what we do. Although we may say that God’s first, come on, we all know who’s really number one, right? Change the stone into bread so you can eat, even if your neighbor doesn’t see a single crumb. That’s the situation the devil offers us, and let me ask you, how do you think we usually do on that part of test.

But of course that’s not all, because just like he did with Jesus, I think the devil also tests our fundamental values and our willing to compromise for the sake of what we consider important. I mean, although we may not say it out loud, the ends often justify the means, if the ends are good. Of course we can see this call to compromise all over the place, even in the church. Let me give you an example. In modern America, what’s the most important indication that a church is healthy, I mean, really on the ball? Is it the number of poor folks it helps? Is it a willingness to stand up for issues and people because it’s the right thing to do, but maybe not popular? Is it a decision to bury the hatchet and put those petty little things that divide behind us so that we can proclaim the gospel with unity and force? Do those define health in modern American churches? I don’t think so. Health is defined by numerical growth. Growing churches are healthy. And those that aren’t, well you know the answer. And how do you grow? Any way that works. If it means not talking about sin, if it means doing what it takes to make people feel good, if it means picking out some group in our society to be the scape goat; in other words, if it means moving away from the Word of God and presenting a more comfortable gospel...but remember, we’ll grow. “The world is mine, all you have to do is worship me.” Now, have we done any better on part two of the test?

And then, as sort of the cue de grâce, I think our faith is also tested. I mean, we know that “blessings are on the head of the righteous,” Proverbs 10:6. And “if God is for us, who is against us,” Romans 8:31. And “ask and you will receive,” John 16:24. These things we know, right? They’re in the Bible. Well then, how can we be wrong if we ask God to deliver? I mean, along with some hair, I could sure use a few more blessings on this head. And it might be nice if I didn’t have to go up against a few things. And “ask and you will receive,” daa, what more can you say? And I don’t even need God to save me from taking a header off the temple. Why can’t I expect some physical relief? And so ends part three of the devil’s test.

And if I’m honest with myself, based on the results, and understand that these same results I get over and over again, I really don’t think I passed. What about you? Man, there’s not enough extra credit in the universe to pull me up to a D and unless he’s using one heck of a curve, I’m toast. That is until I remember who’s grading the test. Because you see, although the devil may give it, I think it’s God who grades it. And although I don’t think he gives extra credit, he does grade on a curve, and that curve is called grace.

You see, I believe that God is well aware that even though we are his children, we just don’t have the focus and the strength and the confidence of his Son. We have feet of clay, and we make mistakes. That’s just who we are. And yet he loves us anyway. And even though the devil assumed that by distracting us, he could distract God, it just doesn’t work out that way. We may stumble and fall. And our priorities and our values and even our faith may be confused, still God is with us and just like Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I guess you could say that the Good News is that in spite of the fact that we consistently come up short, God grades the test, and because of that fact we can have hope as we face the future.

Remember, a little while ago, I said that I like giving tests. Well, I do like to give them, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy taking them. As a matter of fact, I’ll do an awful lot to avoid tests whenever possible. Unfortunately, though, there are some tests that we just can’t avoid, and I’m talking about the one that the devil loves to give us, a test that causes us to question and even to doubt our priorities and values and faith. But you know, before we just give up and drop out, I think we need to remember that, ultimately, it’s God who gives us our grade and that our destinies are grounded not on how we do but on what he’s done. In others words, although we may fail to make a very good score, we still have reason for hope and joy, knowing that God grades the test.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mayonnaise Jar & Two Pepsi's


A professor stood before his Philosophy 201 class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar he shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced two Pepsi’s from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed. ‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things---your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite assions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else---the small stuff. ‘If you put the sand into the jarfirst,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or golf balls.

The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Practice “romance” as often as possible. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of “Mama” first---the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Pepsi represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The Pepsi just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of Pepsi’s with a friend.'

Remembering Our Sister, Mary Lofland




Born in Neffs, OH on Nov. 13, 1924
Departed on Feb. 18, 2010 and resided in Weirton, WV.

Visitation: Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010
Funeral: Monday, Feb. 22, 2010
Cemetery: Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens



Mary Lofland, 85, of Weirton, passed away Thursday, February 18, 2010 in the Weirton Medical Center. Born December 13, 1924 in Neffs, OH, she was a daughter of the late Joseph and Helen Apach Lipan. She was also preceded in death by her husband Tyler L. Lofland on September 16, 1995, and her son, David Lofland, on October 9, 2009.

Mrs. Lofland was a homemaker, a member of the Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton Medical Center Auxiliary, Junior A.R.E.M.E. Club, Ladies Auxiliary of the V.F.W. and the Weirton Chapter 147 Order of the Eastern Star.

Mary is survived by her daughter Helen Callaghan and her husband Scott of Saint Paul MN; a brother Joseph Lipan and his wife Gloria of Wintersville, OH; and a sister Helen Flowers and her husband Robert of Wheeling, WV; a daughter in law, Kim Lofland; three grandchildren, Emily Callaghan, Eric and Lauren Lofland.

Friends will be received 1-3 & 6-8 PM Sunday, at the Greco-Hertnick Funeral Home, 3219 Main Street, Weirton. Additional visitation will be held on Monday 10 AM until the 11 AM funeral services at the Cove Presbyterian Church. The Reverend Ed Rudiger will officiate. Interment will be in Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens, Weirton.

Eastern Star services will be held 1:30 PM on Sunday in the funeral home.

Memorial contributions may be made to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, WV 26062.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sermon: How Is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?

Luke 9:28-43 - 28And it happened after those words, about eight days, [Jesus] took Peter and James and John and went up onto the mountain to pray. 29And it happened as he was praying, the look of his face changed and his clothes became white, flashing like lightning. 30And behold, two men were talking with him (Moses and Elijah) 31who appeared in glory. They talked about his exodus which must be accomplished in Jerusalem. 32And Peter and those who were with him had become weighed down with sleep.


And when they woke up, they saw his glory and the two men who were standing with him. 33And it happen when they separated from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. And we will make three shelters: one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He didn’t what he was saying.

34And after he’d said these things, a cloud appeared and it cast a shadow over them. And they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35And a voice came out of the cloud saying, “This is my son, the one who has been chosen. Listen to him.” 36And after the voice came, Jesus was found alone. And they were silent and told no one of those things they’d seen that day.

***********

How is a raven like a writing desk? Now, does anyone know the answer? Does anyone even have a guess? Of course this is a riddle, right; and in my opinion, a pretty tough one. Now before I go any further, I got to honest with y’all; I didn’t make it up myself. It’s the question that the Mad Hatter asks Alice at the tea party, you know, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

And I’ll tell you, this story’s been a pretty important around the Rudiger house. I mean, not only does Maggie have a couple of different movie versions, including the Disney cartoon, I think it may have been the first real book I read to her when she was really little. As a matter of fact, Alice was the first Halloween custom she wore after we’d moved to Weirton. The next year she was Hannah Montana and last year, a lady vampire, with blood and fangs and the whole nine yards. How things change. Anyway, according to the story, when Alice joins the March Hair and the Doormouse at the tea party, the Mad Hatter asks her the riddle: How is a raven like a writing desk?

Of course, I recognize that riddles aren’t for everybody. I mean, some people just plain love them, while others find them annoying, sort of a waste of time. Now for me, although I’m not very good answering them, I’ve always enjoyed a good riddle. My goodness, when I was a kid The Riddler was always my favorite Batman villain, and I’m talking about Frank Gorshin, not Jim Carey. But you know something, I think Jesus also enjoyed riddles. You know, that’s what the Greek word “parable” really means, riddle. And my goodness, Jesus told parables all over the place. He must have been a fan.

And I think you could probably say the same thing about Luke, because if you listen to what he wrote, there’s a riddle in the passage we just read. I mean, think about what happened, particularly when Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah. Luke wrote that “...they talked about his exodus which must be accomplished in Jerusalem.” And I’ve got to admit, I find his choice of words interesting, because he didn’t write about his “departure” or his “death,” but rather Luke used the Greek word ἔξοδος.

Now, it’s the only time this word is used in the entire New Testament, but not in the Old. In fact, it’s the title for the second book in the Bible, right after Genesis, and in that book, we can read all about how God led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land. That’s what the exodus was all about; therefore, Luke has thrown at us a pretty good a riddle, hasn’t he? Simply put, how are those things Jesus will accomplish in Jerusalem, in other words, his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, how are they like the Hebrew Exodus? Now that’s the question.

And the answer, well, the answer can not only tell us an awful lot about who God is and what Christ had been chosen to do, it can also offer us all kinds of comfort as we look at the past and face the future and just plain live in the present. Let me explain.

You see, as I look at that question, that riddle, it seems to me that just like the Hebrew Exodus, Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension reveals that God’s love involves our past, future and present. You see, first, just like he did with his people coming out of Egypt, I think what Jesus accomplished in Jerusalem certainly shows that God still loves us in spite of our past. And that’s certainly the case with the Old Testament, I mean, have y’all ever read the book of Genesis, and I’m not talking about a child’s picture Bible; no, I’m talking about the book itself? My goodness gracious, it makes “The Young and the Restless” look like a kids show. I mean, it crammed full of sex and violence, of murder and betrayal, of greed and lies. I’ll tell you, don’t let it fall into the hands of your children. Now I’m not saying there isn’t good, Sunday school lesson stuff in there, but give me a break, taken as a whole, man, this is definitely an “R” rated story. And yet, in spite of all this, in spite of people constantly and consistently making bad decisions and acting like total idiots, God remembered his promises and through the exodus, set them free from their oppressors.

And I’ll tell you something, God has done the same thing with us. I mean, even though we may not want to admit it, we haven’t always been the kind of people we know God wants us to be; am I right? I know I haven’t. Man, I’ve been petty. I’ve grumbled and complained, held onto grudges and withheld forgiveness. As shocking as it may be, I’ve even said things that I wish I could take back and done things that have hurt others. And if you need any confirmation, just ask Debbie.

But I don’t think I’m all that different from y’all. We can all be stinkers, right? And to make matters worse, as Christian stinkers, we often cover it all with this veneer of spirituality and all of sudden, gossip becomes a prayer request and intolerance becomes a sign of righteousness and trashing another believer is really speaking the truth in love. Now, aren’t we just great? I’ll tell you, the people in Genesis have nothing on us.

And yet, just like God set them free from their bondage, through Christ, he’s done the same thing for us. You see, Jesus was crucified on that cross to save the people who drove the nails. And since, according to Scripture, death is the only way to cure sin, because we participated in what he accomplished in Jerusalem, his exodus, we’ve been set free, free from our past, free from sin. Do you believe it? Right now, you are free. You see, just like he freed his people from the Egyptians, through the crucifixion, God shows his love for us in spite of our past. That’s one way the events are similar.

But you know, that’s not all, because second, in what’s going to happen to Jesus in Jerusalem, I think God is also showing that his love for us involves our future as well. And you know, it was the same the Old Testament. Man, the exodus wasn’t an end in itself. In other words, God didn’t lead his people into the wilderness and just leave them there. Instead he stayed with them, reminding them that they were moving toward a new and glorious future, a future in the Promised Land. And although thanks to their pigheadedness (is that a word) it took them forty years, they still made it. Their future was secure.

And you know, when you think about it, isn’t that what God does for us through the resurrection? I mean, you don’t have to be stranded in the middle of the Sinai for the future to be scary. My goodness, just look at the news: earthquakes devastate people who were living on the edge in the best of times, a college professor kills her colleagues over tenure, and the Saints won the Super Bowl and I had to pay Dar five dollars. You tell me that life isn’t tough.

And yet, in spite of it all, God has given to us the resurrection, hasn’t he; a tangible reminder that our ultimate futures are going to be O.K. I mean, regardless of what’s going on around us, we can move forward with hope, even joy. And the reason, well, just like he caused Jesus to rise, we can trust that God will do the same thing for us. It’s like Paul wrote, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.” I’ll tell you, God doesn’t want us children to live without hope, and so, just like he did with his people coming out of Egypt, the resurrection secures our future, and that’s the second way the events are similar.

And finally, the work Christ will accomplish in Jerusalem is like the Exodus in that it shows just how much God loves us right now. I mean, if the past and the future weren’t enough, through the ascension, God shows that he cares about us in the present, just like he did for his people during their exodus. You see, after they left Egypt but before they entered the Promised Land, something remarkable happened to the Hebrews; they truly became a people. In other words, we moved from being a rag-tag bunch of complaining slaves to a united and faithful nation that was able not only to conquer the land but to establish Israel.

And I’ll tell you, through the ascension, God has done the same thing for us. You see, before he left, Jesus said this to his apostles: “...you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And I’ll tell you, that’s exactly what happened at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down with tongues of fire and a new community, a new family was born. Something called the church.

And that’s exactly what we’ve been given too. You know, I think it’s remarkable, God has given us this wonderful, new family. God has led us to a place where we can praise him and hear his word and experience his spirit. But even more than that, he’s given us brothers and sisters with whom we can share our joys and disappointments, men and women who can offer us comfort when we’re hurt  and support when we’re overwhelmed and friendship when we feel alone. I’ll tell you, he given us a place where our gifts and talents can fit like pieces of a puzzle, and together, with his help, we can do remarkable things for his kingdom. You know, just like God brought together his own people during the exodus, after Christ’s ascension, he’s done the exact same thing with us, in my book another sign of us his love.

Now, remember the riddle that I asked at the beginning of the sermon. Well, what’s the answer: How is a raven like a writing desk? Of course, if you don’t know, that’s really alright. In the story, neither did the Mad Hatter. In other words, there was never an answer given. But you know, that’s really not the case with the question: How is Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension like the Hebrew Exodus? You see, we know that just like the Exodus, Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension reveals that God’s love involves our past, future and present. You see, that’s the answer. But then what we do with it, well, that’s another question, isn’t it?

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Best Poem in the Word

I was shocked, confused, bewildered
As I entered Heaven’s door,
Not by the beauty of it all,
Nor the lights or its decor
But it was the folks in Heaven
Who made me sputter and gasp
The thieves, the liars, the sinners,
The alcoholics and the trash.
There stood the kid from seventh grade
Who swiped my lunch money twice.
Next to him was my old neighbor
Who never said anything nice.
Sam, who I always thought
Was rotting away in hell,
Was sitting pretty on cloud nine,
Looking incredibly well.
I nudged Jesus, “What’s the deal?
I would love to hear Your take.
How’d all these sinners get up here?
God must’ve made a mistake.
And why is everyone so quiet,
So somber – give me a clue.”
“Hush, child,” He said, “they’re all in shock.
No one thought they’d be seeing you.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Remembering Our Sister Dorothy Jones


Born in McKeesport, PA on Jun. 26, 1923


Departed on Feb. 8, 2010 and resided in Weirton, WV.


Visitation: Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010


Service: Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010


Cemetery: Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens


Dorothy S. Jones, 86, of Weirton, passed away Monday, February 8, 2010 in the Weirton Geriatric Center. Born June 26, 1923 in McKeesport, PA, she was a daughter of the late James W. and Sarah Gladys Grimes Smith. She was also preceded in death by her husband Thomas J. Jones on July 3, 1996 and sister Gladys Kuhns.

Mrs. Jones was a homemaker, a member of the Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton Chapter 147 Order of the Eastern Star and Beta Sigma Phi. Dorothy lived her life through her family, especially her grandchildren.

Dorothy is survived by her daughters Dottie Zdinak and her husband Larry and Debbie Seifert all of Weirton; grandchildren Dawn Zdinak, Larry (Nikki) Zdinak, Wendy (Chris) Cutright and Ray Seifert and great-grandchildren Cody and Si Cutright and Averi and Adyson Zdinak.

Friends will be received Wednesday 2-4 and 6-8PM at the Greco-Hertnick Funeral Home, 3219 Main Street, Weirton where funeral services will be conducted at 11AM Thursday. The Reverend Ed Rudiger will officiate. Interment will be in Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens, Weirton.

Memorial contributions may be made to Wheeling Easter Seals, Miracle League Baseball, 1305 National Rd, Wheeling, WV 26003.

"See you later alligator."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sermon: Assumptions and Expectations

Luke 4:21-30 - 21And he began to say to them, “Today, this writing has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22And everyone spoke well of him and marveled at the words of grace that came out of his mouth. And they said, “He’s the son of Joseph, isn’t he?” 23And he said to them, “Certainly, you’ll say to me this parable: ‘Doctor, cure yourself. What we heard that you did in Capernaum, do also here in your native place.’” 24But he said, “Amen I say to you that no prophet is accepted in his native place. 25But in truth I say to you, there were many widows during the days of Elijah in Israel, when the heavens were shut for three years and six months, so there was a great famine in the whole land. 26And to no one was Elijah sent, except to Zarephath in Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and no one was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

28And everyone was filled with anger in the synagogue when they heard these things. 29And after they rose up, they cast him out of the town. And they took him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30But after he went through the middle of them, he went away.

**********

Let me ask y’all a couple of questions. How many of y’all either watched or read about the State of Union address and the Republican response? Good. Now, how many of y’all were surprised, and I mean really surprised by what you heard coming from either side, and I’m not asking about the quality of the ideas or the partisanship involved, just surprised by the words themselves? In other words, were they about what you expected?

Of course, for me the answer is really easy, because I wasn’t surprised at all. Based on the assumptions I have for both sides, they said pretty what I expected them to say. And I’ll tell you, nearly all of those expectations were based on assumptions that I’d been made long before Wednesday evening. And that only makes sense. I mean, if I were the kind of person who assumes that the president is a closet socialist bent on destroying the American way of life and that the republicans are the only ones who even care about our values, which by the way I don’t, that assumption would certainly determine what I’d expect both men to say. On the other hand, if I think that the president is the greatest thing since sliced bread and that all republicans are just greedy, nasty little people, which by the way I don’t either, if those are my assumptions, then my expectations would be very different. And although I’ve been talking about myself, I think this same kind of thing applies to us all. You see, I think our assumptions nearly always shape our expectations.

And I’ll tell you, I don’t think that just applies to politics. I mean, I think we make assumptions all the time; my goodness, I think it would be impossible to live without them. Good night nurse, we make assumptions about our spouses and our children, our bosses and our teachers, certainly our ministers and the folks sitting next to us in the pew. My gosh, just look around right now and tell me that you don’t have certain assumptions about the people you see, especially the ones you know well. And yes, take it to the bank, although we may not want to admit it, ministers make certain assumptions too.

And those assumptions, well, they shape our expectations, don’t they? And usually that’s fine. I mean, even if we have to use a little creative thinking, the two generally match-up pretty well. In other words, what we expect generally happens. The jerk acts like a jerk and the saint acts like a saint. The trouble-maker makes trouble and the peacemaker makes peace. You see, what I mean; it usually works.

As a matter of fact, we only get into trouble when what we expect doesn’t happen; therefore, our assumptions might not be right. I mean, what do you do when you see the person you assume is, for whatever reason, outside the Christian faith, what do you do when that person does something that shows genuine, self-sacrificial Christian love? What do you do? Or how do you handle a person who talks about how much Christianity means to them, someone who’s seen as a pillar of the church, how do you handle it when you hear them spreading gossip or trashing another believer? How do we handle situations when our expectations are disappointed and our assumptions are challenged? Man, that’s a tough one, isn’t it?

And I’ll tell you what, I think this same kind of thing also applies to our relationship with God. I mean, we have certain assumptions about God, don’t we? And what we assume shapes what we expect. In fact, it’s interesting, I think we make the same kind of assumptions and have the same kind of expectations as the folks in Jesus’s hometown. I mean, think about what happened in the passage we read. Jesus had just said that the prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled in their hearing. And according to Luke, that message was well received. In fact, I think you could even say they were proud by their hometown boy.

But you know, that didn’t mean they didn’t have some very definite assumptions and expectations. For example, I think they assumed that since Jesus was Joseph’s son, he would somehow favor his old friends and neighbors; therefore, they expected him to do for them, at the very least, what he’d done for people in other towns. That’s what they assumed; therefore, that’s what they expected. And Jesus must have known that; and that’s why he said, “Certainly, you’ll say to me this parable: ‘Doctor, cure yourself. What we heard that you did in Capernaum, do also here in your native place.’” They assumed and they expected.

And as we approach God, so do we. You see, I think we kind of see ourselves as sort of hometown folk. In other words I think we assume that because we’re here this morning and we’ve accepted Jesus as Lord and we haven’t violating any of the commandments, at least not any of the top ten in, you know an obvious way; since all that’s true, I think we assume that we’re close to God, right? And since we all assume that God is fair, it’s more than reasonable to expect a little something extra in our pay checks. I mean, whether they’re talking about immigrants coming to America or folks outside our congregation, I hear people say all the time that we should take care of our own first. And since we believe that’s the way it should be, naturally we assume that God feels that way too; therefore, just like Jesus’s homies in Nazareth, we expect God to do it, to give a little more in the way of blessings to us than sinners down the street.

Now that’s what I think we often assume and expect, and I’ll tell you, for that reason, it’s a real kick in the pants when it doesn’t happen. I mean, I don’t know about y’all, but I know exactly what those Jews at the synagogue felt, and I’m talking about men who watched Jesus grow up, I know how they felt when Jesus said, “Amen I say to you that no prophet is accepted in his native place,” and then started on about Elijah and the widow from Sidon and then, Elisha and Naaman the Syrian. To say that this was a shot to their assumptions would be an understatement, but not just to them as Galileans. Man, he seemed to be dissing them as Jews. You see, he was suggesting the unthinkable: That God’s love was a Jewish monopoly. Man, it can even extend to other outside the club. I mean, by using these two examples, Jesus was suggesting that God is free, isn’t he; that he isn’t bound to their or to our assumptions.

Therefore, even though we may have a whole bushel load of expectations as we approach him, if he wants to help a woman from Sidon or heal a leper from Syria and if he wants to do miracles in Capernaum but not in Nazareth and if he wants to accept people we find unacceptable and to forgive people we won’t forgive and to love people we don’t like, God’s going to do it, whether we think it’s fair or not. I mean, what do I do with all my expectations when some of my assumptions are just, plain wrong. Talk about frustrating.

And so, when they were forced to face this uncomfortable reality, I can understand why those people were “...filled with anger...,” and why “...they cast him out of the town,” and why they were ready “...to throw him off the cliff.” Man, we assume God is like us; therefore, we expect him to be fair. And brothers and sisters, what Jesus said just wasn’t fair. And imagine if we heard the same thing ourselves. I mean, what if I stood up here and said that although there’s plenty of people in the church who could use a hand, God just may chose to help a Moslem or an atheist or worse, a person who’s going to cheer for the Saints next Sunday. What if you heard that king of message? I’ll tell you, I don’t think anyone would blame you for feeling frustrated and even angry, so frustrated and so angry that you might try to throw me and by sermon about how God has the pure gall to challenge our assumptions and to disappoint our expectations, who would blame you if you tried to throw me out the church. My gosh, I must be proclaiming a false god, because we all assume that the real God looks and thinks and acts like us. And so that’s what we create, a little plaster god we can control. And you know, that’s only fair. My goodness, didn’t God create us in his imagine? Well we’re just returning the favor.

And the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit revealed in Scripture, maybe we should just shove them off a cliff too so we can worship a more comfortable and accommodating trinity, you know, one we can control. You see, right here and now, this is something we can decide to do.

But that’s not our only choice. You see, even though it may make us feel uncomfortable, we can decide that we’re going to accept the God who can heal foreigners and the Christ who can eat and drink with sinners and tax collectors and the Spirit who can enable us to feel divine love on our very worst day. You see, we can accept the one who created us and is free from what we assume and expect. In other words, right now, right here, we can decide to accept the God who was revealed through Jesus Christ and brought into our lives by a Holy Spirit that we can feel but never restrain or command. Now that’s something we can do.

And if we do, we’ll lose some of the false comfort we get when we assume God is beholding to us and from whom we expect all kind of stuff. Even though we’ll have to say good-bye to this idol; I’ll tell you, we’ll gain a relationship with the one who is greater than our assumptions and offers us more and better than we can ever expect. You see, it’s only after we turn away from the empty gods we’ve made that we can know the real God who is free to be truly faithful and merciful and gracious even to people who don’t deserve it, people like us.

And you know, that’s the reason we need to be careful about our assumptions and expectations. I mean, although they’ll always be involved in our relationships here on earth, let’s try to avoid them as we look toward God. In other words, rather than following in the footsteps of the good people of Nazareth when their assumptions and expectations caused them to reject Jesus Christ, let’s see God for who he is: the one who’s free from both what we assume and expect, in other words, the one whom we can trust with our lives and destinies.

Welcome, Nikos Anthony Palavis

As a congregation, we welcome Nikos Anthony, the new son of Anthony and Kristen Palavis. I believe he was born yesterday and came in weighing 6 lb 9 oz. Let's celebrate with the Palavis and Shaw families and with all their friends. Let's also remember to keep both mother and child in our prayers.