Monday, April 26, 2010

Sermon: Selective Hearing

John 10:22-30 - 22Then the Feast of Dedication happened in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the colonnade of Solomon in the Temple. 24Now the Jews circled him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you’re the Christ, then tell us openly.” 25Jesus answered them, “I told you and you don’t believe. The works which I have done in the name of my father, these bear witness concerning me. 26But you yourselves don’t believe, because you aren’t from sheep which are mine. 27The sheep which are mine hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28And I give them eternal life, and they will absolutely never perish into eternity, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my father has given to me is greater than all these, and no one is able to snatch it out of the father’s hand. 30I and the father are one.”

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Now before I say anything else, let me offer an apology. I know some of y’all really don’t like funny bulletin covers. And before anyone leaves upset, let me be as clear as I can, the cartoon isn’t intended to show any lack of respect or dedication. Rather, it’s there for two reasons: first, because I think it’s fundamentally true and second, because I believe it illustrates how we often approach God better than any words that I can think of. And that’s why it’s there. But if you do find it offensive, I’m sincerely sorry and ask that you kind of put it aside at least until you get home.

But you know, regardless of how you feel about whether it’s appropriate for a bulletin cover or not, you’ve got to admit it’s true, right? I mean, the baseball season has just started as have the both the NBA and NHL playoffs. And for the last couple of weeks the NFL draft has been analyzed and then, starting Thursday evening, has been shown live, in prime time no less. And whether it’s stuck in their ear or implanted somewhere in their brain, every male sports fan has been using a selective hearing aid like the one on the cover; am I right? Sure, and the nob has been almost superglued to T.V. And I’ll tell you, I think it’s working. I know, speaking for myself, I’ve been able to filter out all those little distractions so I can focus on what’s really important, who the Colts will take with the two hundred, forty-fifth pick. Now that’s selective listening.

But you know, I think we’d all agree that this doesn’t effect just men watching sports. It seems to me, we’re all pretty good at this kind of thing, you know what I mean, focusing on what we want to hear and see and believe while at the same time filtering out all the stuff that may cause us to question and wonder and reconsider. And that makes sense, at least to us. My goodness, we already know what’s right. We already know what’s appropriate. We already know what we should be doing and saying and thinking. We already know.

And so why should we think about any other opinion or approach? That would be stupid. And why should we waste our time looking at a situation from someone else’s perspective? That would be dumb. And you tell me, why in heaven’s name should we listen to anything that might cause us to question old standards or consider new possibilities? That would be ridiculous, da. If we already know what’s right, why should we do this? It just doesn’t make sense.

And so we don’t, even if it’s God who’s speaking. We turn that selective hearing aid either off or to something else, maybe something more comfortable, you know, in line with what we want to hear; of course, we’ll listen to that. Man, we’re even creative enough to pretend that it’s actually God who’s dishing out this cotton candy.

And although there’s nothing better than worshiping a God who thinks and acts like us, who values what we value and hates what we hate, and this is the best one, who enforces the commandments we think should be enforced and kind of let’s slide the stuff we enjoy doing ourselves, in other words, although there’s nothing more comforting than worshiping a god that we’ve created, when we do that, there’s really is a price to pay. You see, even though we may belong to Christ, when we’ve made this decision, we’re going to miss what he’s saying to us, unless that is he tells us what we want to hear. And even though he knows us, we’re not going to know him, not the one revealed in Scripture. And I’ll tell you, even though he’s called us to follow, we’re probably not going to do it; I mean, we’re probably not going to set as a top priority loving God and loving one another, much less loving our neighbors, not when it interferes with loving ourselves. Why, simply because we’ve decided that even when comes to Jesus Christ, our hearing is going to be selective.

But you know, that doesn’t have to be the case, not with us who have, at sometime, heard the voice of the shepherd and who are known by him and who have the opportunity to follow his example. You see, we really aren’t like those folks in the passage who didn’t believe, because they weren’t his sheep. We’re not like them, and for that reason, it makes no sense to act like them. Because, when you get right down to it, unlike them, we can make a different kind of decision. In other words, right this minute, we can decide to hear, to hear his voice, to hear him even when he says things we don’t like. And we can decide to recognize that he really does know us, that he knows us right to the core of our being, man, he knows us on our very worst day and he loves us anyway. And we can decide that we’re going to follow; we’re going to follow where he leads us and we’re going to do that even if it means we may have to change. You see, brothers and sisters, right here and right now, we can decide to listen to the Son of God. Now, are we ready to do that?

I sure hope so, because when we are, when we’re ready to hear the voice of Christ and to recognize that he knows us and to follow him out into the green pastures that surround this church, I’m telling you, God will give us three things we may never have experienced before. I mean, first, he’s going to give us knowledge, knowledge of who he is and why his son came. And even though at first glance it may not seem to be the case, that’s what I believe Jesus had in mind when he said about his sheep, “I give them eternal life.” I mean, listen to how Jesus himself defines these words: “And this is eternal life, (sounds like a definition to me) that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” You see, eternal life brings us this wonderful knowledge, this incredible understanding not sometime in the distant future, but right now, in the present. And it’s through this knowledge that we can not only believe that Jesus is the light of the world and the Son of God, but that through him, we, with all our weaknesses and warts, can enter into a relationship with the Lord and creator of the universe. Imagine that, the Lord and creator of the universe.

And I’ll tell you, I think that’s exactly why John wrote this in his first letter: “And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life... And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” Man, when we decide to listen, this is what we’ll know. This is what God will give us. But that’s not all.

And second, God is going to give us a source peace beyond anything we can imagine. I mean, just listen to what Jesus said, “The sheep which are mine...will absolutely never perish into eternity.” Now you tell me, how can it get better than that? We’re talking about eternity for crying out loud. You see, when John wrote that during his life, “[Jesus] didn’t lose a single one of those whom [God] gave [him],” so it will be for us. What does the psalmist say: “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Brothers and sisters, we are part of the flock; we are sheep in God’s pasture. And unlike “the thief [who] comes only to steal and kill and destroy, [Jesus] came that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly.” You see, that’s the kind of peace we can know, the minute we decide to listen.

And finally, when we turn the knob of the hearing aid to the good shepherd, we’re going have a sense of confidence that will enable us, working together, to change the world. I mean, do you realize that as soon as we stop talking and start listening, we’re going to hear our savior say about us: “and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” You see, Jesus is not like “the hired hand, who is not the shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep, [who when he] sees the wolf coming...leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” No sir, that’s not the one who calls to us and who knows us. You see, “the hired hand runs away because a hired hand doesn’t care for the sheep.” But that’s not Jesus. Instead, he says to us, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” Now, just think about what that means. It’s like that story about the three little pigs, with one important difference. Instead of having to build our own house, God has already done the heavy lifting. I’m telling you, he’s already built us a house of brick that no matter how much he huffs and puffs, the wolf will never blow it down.

Or maybe even better than that, God has given a suit of solid steel, what Paul calls “the whole armor of God, so that [we] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” As Paul wrote in his Letter to the Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Wow! And that’s the kind of confidence we can have, when we listen.

Now, I think from time to time we can expect our internal hearing aid to either get turned off or turned away from some stuff that’s really important. Now, that’s a shame, but it’s probably going to happen at least until the Pens wrap up another Stanley Cup. But let’s try as hard as we can to not let it affect our relationship with Christ. Instead, let’s recognize that we are his sheep; therefore, we have heard his voice and he knows us and he’s called us to follow. In other words, let’s decide to listen, because when we do, God is going to give us knowledge and peace and confidence that can absolutely change our lives.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Caught in a Draft

Last evening I watched the NFL draft. Now, I really didn't have any choice. I mean, for the last month, I've been listening to the "experts" talk about what each team needed and the player they should select first, and I've been following a lot the mock drafts. And so when the first prime-time draft started, I was pretty much stuck. In fact, as a good Presbyterian, I'd almost be willing to say that it was preordained that I watch the commissioner announce each name and listen to Mel Kiper evaluate the choice.

And as I was watching, I found one thing particularly interesing. It seemed as though some organizations had been listening to the stuff I'd been following. They appeared to be in tune with what the analysts said while others drew their own conclusions. Now I understand that every team went through their own process of assessing their needs and the talents of the different players. Still, it sure appeared that some teams were on the exact same page with the guys on television while others were reading different books. I mean, how else can you explain Denver taking Tim Tebow with the 25th pick. They were willing to take a chance and go it alone. Of course, time will tell if ignoring the voice of experts was good or bad.

Now it seems to me that some Christians take the same approach to following Jesus Christ. They seem to be willing to ignore what he calls us all to do (to love God, to love one another, and to love our neighbor) and step out on their own, charting their own course and believing that time will tell whether they've made the right decision or not. In other words, they set their priorities without listening to God speaking through his word.

And although taking this kind of risk may pay-off if you're an NFL team, it's probably not to going to work out when dealing with Christian living. Unfortunately, as we separate ourselves from God's word, we're setting ourselves up for isolation and frustration in the future. And for that reason, we'll talk about listening for God during the service on Sunday.

Sermon: Now What?

John 21:1-19 - 1After these things, Jesus again showed himself to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. And he showed himself in this way. 2There were together Simon Peter and Thomas, who was called the twin, and Nathanael, the one from Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee and two others from his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I’m going fishing.” They said to him, “We’ll also go with you.” They went and they got onboard the boat, and that night they caught nothing. 4And it was already early morning when Jesus appeared and he was standing on the shore; however, the disciples had no knowledge that it was Jesus. 5Then Jesus said to them, “Little children, you don’t have any fish, do you?” And they answered him, “No.” 6And he said to them, “Cast the nets on the right side of the boat, and you will find.” Then they cast, and they were no longer strong enough to haul into the boat the fish.

7Then that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” Then Simon Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, tucked in his smock, for he was dressed for work, and he cast himself into the sea. 8And the other disciples went in the boat, for they weren’t far from the land, about a hundred yards away, and they were dragging the net full of fish. 9Then when they got out onto the land, they saw a charcoal fire on which a cooked fish was laid and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have caught now.”

11Then Simon Peter came up and hauled the net onto the land full of large fish, one hundred, fifty-three of them. And although there were so many of them, the net didn’t tear. 12Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” But none of the disciples dared to question him, “Who are you;” because they knew he was the Lord. 13Jesus went and took the bread and he gave it to them and the fish likewise. 14This was already the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after he rose from death.

15Then when they’d eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” [Simon] said to him, “Yes Lord, you know that I like you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16Again [Jesus] said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” [Simon] said to him, “Yes Lord, you know that I like you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17[Jesus] said to him a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you like me?” Peter was saddened because [Jesus] said to him a third time, “Do you like me?” And [Simon] said to him, “Lord, all things you know. You know that I like you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked wherever you wanted. But when you might grow old, you will stretch out your hand and another will gird you and will carry you where you want.” 19But he said this to indicate with what kind of death he would glorify God. And after he said this, he said to them, “Follow me.”

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I want to show you one of the saddest, most pathetic things I’ve ever seen, and I’m not talking about the picture of me in my high school year book. Believe it or not, I talking about something worse than that. (Show wilted plants.) Didn’t I tell you? Aren’t they sad? They look like I feel sometimes, especially after hearing Justin Beiber sing “Baby, Baby” about a dozen times. Now, when you look at them, it’s hard to imagine how pretty they were a couple of weeks ago and I’m talking about on Easter morning.

Of course, y’all remember Easter? That was the Sunday when the chocolate in the basket was fresh and every pew was nearly filled. How things changed: for flowers and candy and attendance. And I’ll tell you, when you think about it, it’s changed for us as well. I mean, on Easter, we remembered something that was incredibly important, didn’t we; and I’m talking about that wonderful story about how the women came to the tomb and found it empty and how the disciples, huddled behind locked doors, suddenly saw Jesus standing here as plain as day and how not only did he bring to them peace, but he breathed and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Now all of that is part of what I guess you could call the “Easter experience,” but let’s get real, that was back when the candy was sweet and the lilies were in bloom and the pews were full.

But here we are, two weeks later, with stale candy and brown lilies and pews that are, well, let’s just say a little less than at capacity. And given all that, I think it’s pretty natural for us to scratch our heads, and to turn our faces to heaven, and to ask: “Lord, now what?”

But you know, if that’s what we’re asking, we’re in pretty good company, because in my opinion, the disciples were asking the exact same question themselves. I mean, think about the passage we just read. Man, I believe we’re all on the exact same page. In fact, I think they were so confused about what they should do next, that when “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I’m going fishing,’ they said to him,
‘We’ll also go with you;’ [and] they went and they got onboard the boat...” Man, those guys didn’t have a clue about what to do, just like us.

But I’ll tell you, it was while they were out in that boat and then after they came to shore that their understanding changed. In other words, when Jesus spoke to them and later to Simon Peter, they were told what they would be doing now that the resurrection itself was history. And brothers and sisters, if we listen and trust that the Holy Spirit speaks through these word, we’re going to hear the same thing ourselves and we’re going to receive a new focus that will absolutely change our lives.

You see, according to what Jesus said and did in these verses, I think we can respond to the risen Christ by looking at and by focusing and maybe even by changing our actions and our attitudes. And personally, I think that’s pretty cool, because it really involves doing something on both the outside and the inside. And this stuff applies whether you’re talking about a person sitting in a pew or congregation sitting in a community.

You see, like I said, we can respond to Christ by focusing our actions, and I’m talking about what we do not inside these walls or within our own skin but primarily on the outside, you know, out in the world. And I’ll tell you, for me, that’s the point of the story about the disciples in the boat. I mean, think about what Jesus told them to do; he said, “Cast the nets on the right side of the boat, and you will find.” And according to John, “then they cast;” in other words, they did exactly what Jesus told them to do, to cast their nets into the water.

And the result? Well, again according to John, “...they were no longer strong enough to haul into the boat the fish.” And a little bit later, after Simon had taken a dive and the others had rowed the boat to shore, John wrote that “Simon Peter came up and hauled the net onto the land full of large fish, one hundred, fifty-three of them. And although there were so many of them, the net didn’t tear.” Now that’s what John wrote.

And you know, if we assume that he’s communicating more than meets the eye, some deeper meaning, I think this says a lot to us about what we could be doing. For example, if we’re really called to be fishers of people, I think this story suggests that like good fisherman, we’ve got to go to where Jesus tells us the fish are. And if it’s on the right side of the boat, then that’s where we’ve got to cast our nets. And that makes sense. Let’s face it, although our houses may be comfortable and safe and warm, we’re going to catch very few fish if we drop our line in our bath tub. It’s not going to happen. And I’ll tell you something else, fish aren’t going to jump in the boat either.

No, if we’re interested in touching the lives of people in our world, people in our community, my goodness, people in our own families, we’re going to have to go to them and we’re going to have to speak in a language they understand and we’re going to have to help them to see how God can address their needs, because no matter how much we want them to come to us and use only words that we know and share our concerns, it ain’t going to happen.

And then after we’ve obeyed Jesus Christ and dropped our nets and after he’s blessed us with results beyond what we can imagine, man, we’ve got to be willing to haul the fish to shore. You know, the Greek word that John used for “haul” is the same one used by Jesus when he said, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; ...And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Haul and drawn, the exact same word. And to me, it means that maybe after the resurrection, maybe it’s folks like us who are now the instruments that God uses to draw people to himself. And although Jesus is the one who’s the focus, I think we better be ready to do some heavy lifting, to haul the fish to shore.

And I want you to think about the catch; one hundred, fifty-three large fish, but the net didn’t tear, which tells me that Christians from all kinds of backgrounds and perspectives should be able to get along without the church falling apart. I think that’s the kind of action we’re called to make.

And right along with that, I also believe that Christ wants us to look carefully at our attitude; in other words, to get ourselves straight on the inside. And you know, when you think about it, that’s really what Jesus was doing with Simon Peter after he had his breakfast. You see, when Jesus asked him not once but twice, “Simon, son of John, do you love me;” I think he was challenging the leader of the disciples to take a hard look at himself. You see, in Greek, this particular word for love has nothing to do with feelings and everything to do with intentions, with making a decision. In other words, we can choose to love. We can even choose to love people we don’t like. And that’s the reason Jesus can command us to love one another.

I mean, give me a break, he doesn’t expect us always to have warm and fuzzy feelings about all our fellow believers, and that’s a good thing because that’s probably not going to happen. No, he doesn’t expect us all to be best buds. But I’ll tell you, he does expect us to love one another, which means, even if we don’t like the person, we’ve decided to treat him or her with respect and kindness and generosity. As a matter of fact, according to Jesus, we should even be willing to die for them. And so, when Jesus asked Peter, and you know what, when he asks each and every one of us, “do you love me,” he asking if we’ve decided to be loving.

Now that’s the question, and if our answer is yes, yes in spite of everything, we’ve decided to love you, then we have a responsibility, don’t we? We have a responsibility to feed the lambs, those who are babes in the faith. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re five or ninety-five, we’re going to bend over backwards so that they may grow. Man, we may even sacrifice what we want for their sake. Imagine that. But then, that’s what love is all about, isn’t it? And if we love Jesus, that’s what we’re going to do.

Right along with tending or shepherding the sheep, which means a lot more than just throwing out food and waiting for them to come. No, if we’re serious about loving Jesus we’re going to do whatever we can to care for and to protect and to guide those folks who have heard the voice of Christ, whether they’re in this fold or not. Do you love me, that’s what Jesus asked Peter twice.

And I want you to notice that twice good, old Simon said, “Yes Lord, you know that I like you.” You see, in John he used another Greek word for love, one that seems to involve emotions more than intention. In other words, even though Jesus was asking Peter if he’d made the decision to love, Peter’s response was all about feelings. Man, he liked Jesus, maybe even felt affection, but deciding to love, not yet. I’ll tell you, this reminds me of that Bud lite commercial where the guy just can’t say “I love you” to his girl friend. Peter couldn’t say it to Jesus either. And you know, Jesus must have recognized it, because in his third question, that’s what he asks, “Do you like me?” And finally, Peter could reply and say, “Lord, all things you know. You know that I like you.” And you know, even though for Peter, at that point his relationship with Jesus wasn’t much deeper than the emotional, he was still given a job, “Feed my sheep,” by far, the easiest of the three commands. And the same is true for us. Even if we haven’t made the decision to love, to love God much less to love one another, we can still do something for God’s kingdom. You see, in this passage, I think Jesus challenges us to look at our attitudes.

Easter is done for another year, something that I understand as I look at these beautiful plants. And I’ll tell you, the same goes for the stale candy and the empty pews; they’re reminders that Easter is over. And like the disciples, I think a little confusion is understandable. I mean, after celebrating the resurrection, it’s not necessarily clear what we’re expected to do next. But you know, if we take this passage as a guide, I think our vision will clear up a little bit. I mean, we can respond to the risen Christ by focusing both our actions and attitudes. And with that done, we should be ready to answer the question, now what?

Friday, April 16, 2010

After Easter

Well here we are. Right now, I hear some of the deacons setting up for the Community Flea Market tomorrow (8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.), arranging all the VALUABLE BUT UNDERPRICED items. The sun is out. The birds are singing. And I've already bought a bunch of jazz LPs that I'm going to copy onto my computer. All is right with the world.


A couple of days ago, I finished Mary Chestnut's Civil War. Now if you're not a history buff or haven't seen Ken Burn's Civil War, the name might not ring any bells, and so let me explain. Mary Chestnut was an upper-class South Carolina lady who kept a diary from 1860 through the summer of 1865, the years of the American Civil War, and the book I read is that diary. And I'll tell you, it's really fascinating, because she shares not only what she saw but also what she felt and thought. But one the things I found most interesting was how she described the time immediately after the surrender of the Confederate armies. After almost five years of turmoil, she seemed confused, almost numb about what they were supposed to do next.

And as I read the passage I'll preach on Sunday (John 21:1-19), the disciples appear to be in the same sort of situation after the resurrection. For them, everything changed, and they just don't seem to know what to do next. And you know, we're often in the same boat ourselves. The tomb was empty. Christ was raised. And now we have to consider how we're going to respond. Now this is the question we'll consider during worship service on Sunday.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sermon: We're the Lucky Ones

John 20:19-31 - 19Now while it was early evening of that first day of the week and the doors were locked where the disciples were because of fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace to you.” 20And after he spoke, he showed [his] hands and side to them. Now the disciples rejoiced because they saw the Lord. 21Now he said to them again, “Peace to you. Just as the father sent out me, I’m also sending you.” 22And after he said this, he breathed and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you might forgive the sins of any, then the sins have been forgiven. If you might retain [the sins of any], then [the sins] have been retained.”

24But Thomas, one of the twelve, who was called the twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25Now the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I might see in his hand the mark of the nails and put my finger in the mark of the nails and put my hand into his side, then I will absolutely not believe.” 26And after eight days, again his disciples were inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came although the doors had been locked, and he stood in the midst and said, “Peace to you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Bring your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put [it] into my side, and don’t show a lack of belief but believe.”

28Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God.” 29Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me have you believed? Blessed are those who don’t see and believe.” 30Now many other signs Jesus also did before his disciples which are not written in this book. 31But these things have been written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so that those who believe might have life in his name.

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As a life-long sports fan, I’ve always believed it’s better to go to a game than watching it on television or reading about it later. As a matter of fact, without question, that’s the thing I miss most about living in Indianapolis. You see, when I was out there, I had Colt and Pacer season tickets, and I never missed a game unless there was some kind of emergency, and I’m talking about a big emergency, which, praise the Lord, never seemed to happen on a Sunday afternoon or Monday evening when the Colts were in town. I’ll tell you, I miss going to the games. And although I guess that feeling is always hanging around somewhere in the back of my head, it was shoved to the front of my brain last Monday evening, you know, during the national championship. You see, as I was watching the crowds going crazy at Lucas Oil Stadium, and folks with their face painted and guys jumping around and acting so silly that you know it caused their wives and children, sitting in front of their televisions back home, sort of to cringe in embarrassment, when I saw that all I could think about was that could’ve been me. Man, there’s nothing like being there in person.

But you know, this kind of thing doesn’t apply to just sports. My goodness, if you like a certain singer or band, going to a concert has got to be better than just listening to a CD. And I can tell you, as an old history teacher, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be standing outside Freedom Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776 or to be with that crowd in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863 just to hear President Lincoln give his address or speaking of Lincoln, to be there in front of his memorial a hundred years later and to hear Martin Luther King share his dream. It causes chills to go through me, simply because reading about this stuff is one thing but actually being there is entirely different.

And I honestly believe most Christians would say the exact same thing about being with Christ. I mean, don’t y’all think those disciples were pretty lucky to have had been right there with Jesus? Now I know most of them ended up suffering for what they believed, but just imagine what it would have been like to see Jesus actually heal the sick and to see him still the storm and to see him feed the five thousand. My gosh, I can’t even get my brain around how I’d have felt if, after the crucifixion, Jesus suddenly appeared inside locked doors and then showed me this hands and side, in other words, if what happened to those disciples in the passage had happened to me. Talk about life-changing! Now you tell me that those disciples, even Thomas, weren’t lucky. Da, that sure seems obvious to me.

But you know, using this passage as a guide, I’m not sure it was obvious for Jesus at all. I mean, remember what Jesus said to Thomas, a guy who actually saw the risen Christ, something that caused him to make the most complete and profound statement of faith in the whole gospel Remember that Jesus said to that lucky guy something that, by the way, would also apply to his other lucky disciples, “Because you have seen me have you believed? Blessed are those who don’t see and believe.” In other words, if you want to talk about blessings, if you want to talk about believing, man, if you want to talk about luck, don’t look at the people who’s understanding of who Jesus is and why he came is grounded on sight. And although their faith was fine, true blessings go to those who believe even though they haven’t seen. That’s what Jesus said. Therefore, who’s really lucky: those who see or those who don’t? You tell me. According to Jesus, those who don’t, right?

And you know, even though that answer may force us to change how we look at things a little bit, man, I’m telling you, this is great news for everybody here, and I’ll show you why. How many of y’all believe in Jesus Christ, and I’m talking about believing that he’s the son of God and that he came to redeem the world? How many believe that? O.K., how many of y’all have seen Jesus, you know, like walking down Main Street or in the McDonalds drive thru or even sitting beside you in church? Now, I’m not trying to be cute nor am I talking about seeing the presence of Christ is others, I’m asking how many of y’all have seen the word made flesh and looked at the nail prints and put your hand in his side? How many y’all have done that? Nobody, and yet most of y’all believe; therefore, according to Jesus, who’s blessed; the disciples who saw or us who didn’t? Now you tell me, when you get right down to it, who are the lucky ones? We are, aren’t we?

And you know, when you look at this passage, I think it’s pretty clear why. I mean, although they could see, we’ve got three things those disciples didn’t have. For example, first, we have the Bible, the Book, don’t we? My goodness, just think about what John said about his one gospel: “Now many other signs Jesus also did before his disciples which are not written in this book. But these things have been written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so that those who believe might have life in his name.”

Now he was talking about one book. We’ve got sixty-six books in the Old and New Testaments. And in those books, we’ve got histories. We’ve got poetry. We’ve got letters. We’ve got prophesies. Man, we’ve got all kinds of stuff. But you know, if we take it all together, we have one story: a story about the God who loved the world so much that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. That’s what we have. And in that same story, we know what we’re called to do: simply to show our love to God and to all those people whom he also loves. You see, we know that because we have the book. And I’ll tell you something, what’s really cool, God doesn’t even require that we learn the languages in which it was written. Instead, he led men and women to translate the ancient Hebrew and Greek into a story that we can understand, something the disciples didn’t have. And so again, you tell me, who’s lucky.

But that’s not the only advantage we have, because, second, we’ve also been given the Holy Spirit, something that’s described in this passage. According to John, “...he breathed and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” In other words, just like when “...the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being;” Jesus has breathed new life into us.

And if that’s not exciting enough, this spirit not only helps us live, it also helps us understand. Just listen to what John wrote in his first letter: “This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.” And before the crucifixion, Jesus himself made this promise: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Now, those disciples didn’t receive the Holy Spirit until right at the end of the story, but it’s been given to us right now; therefore, we can believe in Christ without seeing anything at all. And so again, who’s lucky, them or us.

And finally, unlike those disciples, we have a great opportunity to do what the risen Christ has called us to do, and I’m talking about when he sent them out and said, “If you might forgive the sins of any, then the sins have been forgiven. If you might retain [the sins of any], then [the sins] have been retained.” Now before anyone gets the wrong idea and assumes that we can go around forgiving the people we like and condemning those we don’t, I don’t think that’s what Jesus has in mind at all.

I mean, remember, we know that our sins have been forgiven when we believe, right? Well, when we allow ourselves to be used by the Holy Spirit and share the love and grace of God to others, we’re communicating that forgiveness. But if for whatever reason, we decide that we’re not going to be loving to someone else and that we’re going to withhold the good news from the guy who lives next door, well, he may never know that he’s been forgotten. For him, his sins have been retained, something that people who are dedicated to loving their neighbors as themselves wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy. No, Jesus calls us to share and to show his love.

And I’ll tell you, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time in human history to do that. Man, we have communication technology that couldn’t have been imagined fifty years ago. For example, every day I send out Bible readings to about two hundred e-mail addresses and it takes about a half an hour and costs the church nothing. But not only that, I can post short devotions, quotes, sermons and church events on Facebook, something can be viewed by over nineteen hundred friends right here in Weirton and around the world. And we haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Brothers and sisters, unlike those guys two thousand years ago who didn’t even have a printing press, our ability to share the gospel is only limited by our understanding and will. And so, who would you say is lucky.

Like I said a little while ago, I miss going to live sporting events. And there are few things better than a live concert. And if I had a hot tub time machine, I know exactly where I’d like to go. I think in most aspects of life, up-close and personal is generally better than way-out and detached. But not according to Christ. You see, if we trust what he said, those who are blessed are those who believe without seeing; in other words, those who claim the Bible and the Holy Spirit and the opportunity that his disciples just didn’t have. Now that’s what Jesus said, and so I guess when you get right down to it, if you want to talk about luck, we really are the lucky ones.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Every Reason to Feel Good

I hope everybody had a wonderful Easter and is having an outstanding week. Personally, I feel better every day, which reminds me that God is truly good. But last Sunday, I wasn't sure that everybody in church felt as good as me. You see, although it was Easter Sunday and we were all celebrating the resurrection, I assumed that some of the congregation would be down. West Virginia lost to Duke the night before; therefore, knowing how passionate some of the folks around here are about their Mountaineers, I thought that might temper the enthusiasm of some of our worshippers. And so, during the time during worship that we lift our needs to God, I mentioned something about the game, how some of us might need God's help to get through the sadness. And although I expected a chuckle, a member spoke right up and said something like, "We shouldn't be sad at all. Although the game didn't turn out the way we wanted, they still had a great year." And right there, I realized that she was 100% right. Instead of feeling bad about the one loss, West Virginia fans had every reason to feel good about a wonderful season and tournament.

And I think we can have that same attitude as we look at our lives. Now I know that we all encounter problems and pain from time to time, and some of us seem to have more than our fair share. Still, when we consider what God has given us, we have every reason to feel good. I mean, he's given us the Bible so that we might better understand why Christ came and what he's called us to do. And he's given us the Holy Spirit so that the words we read in the book might change our lives. And he's given us the opportunity not only to enter into a relationship with him but to share his love and grace with others. And although I'm not suggesting that God expects us to be happy in the face of problems and grief, I believe that remembering what we've been given can help when times are tough. And this is something we'll talk about during the sermon on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sermon: And They Remembered

Luke 24:1-12 - 1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] went to the tomb, bringing spices which they’d prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3And after they went inside, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it happen while they were at loss concerning this, two men stood beside them in clothes that were dazzling. 5And because they were frightened, they bent to the ground and [the men] said to them, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead? 6He is not here, but he was raised. Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee, 7when he said that the son of man must be given over into the hands of sinful people and crucified and on the third day rise again.” 8And they remembered his words.


9And after they returned from the tomb, they announced all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10And it was Mary Magdalane and Joanna and Mary the mother of James. And the rest of the women who were with them said to the apostles these things. 11And these words appeared as an idle tale to them. And they didn’t believe the women. 12But Peter arose and ran to the tomb, and when he stooped to peep in, he saw the wrappings alone. And he went, wondering within himself at what had happened.

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Well, here we are on Easter Sunday. And I’ll tell you, hasn’t God given a drop-down gorgeous day to remember his resurrection. I mean, how can you be in a negative mood on a day like this? Man, we worship a gracious God, don’t we?

And you know, like almost every other holiday, Easter brings up all kinds of memories. At least it does for me; what about y’all? I mean, right now I can close my eyes and see just the way it was in the mid-sixties back when my parents were children; I mean, when my parents had young children, like me. You see, at the Rudiger house, Easter meant doing certain things, you know, following traditions. For example, right after we got up, my sister, brother and I got our Easter baskets that always included a big, sort of exotic egg which only my father would eat, a big chocolate bunny that my brother would finish off before dinner and then start on mine, a lot of those marshmallow peeps, always yellow, always chicks (that’s the way God intends), and of course jelly beans. And then we’d put on our Easter clothes, really spiffy stuff that we’d never worn before; therefore, unlike the rest of my wardrobe, there were none of those iron-on patches on the knees. And ladies, I don’t want y’all to get too excited, but I’m sure mom had plastered down my very blond hair with some of dad’s Brilcream, and usually I was wearing a bow tie. My sister had a frilly dress and ankle socks, with her hair covered with the kind of curls you get when, the night before, you wrap little bits of hair with toilet paper, curl them around and secure them with a bobbie pin. And my little brother, well, he looked pretty good, that is if you could get past the chocolate bunny stains on his jumper. And so in our Easter best, we’d be herded into the front yard, generally with the flox and candy tuff and dog woods in bloom, and my grandfather and grandmother Rudiger would come by in their Cadillac, you know the one with the big fins, and they’d take our picture with their Polaroid camera. And after all this, we’d pile into the Fairlane and off to church. Now, when I think Easter, that’s what I remember.

And you know, this whole business about remembering, well, that seems pretty appropriate this morning, because in this passage from Luke, isn’t that what those two men in the tomb told the women to do? I mean, they didn’t tell them not to be afraid, and they didn’t say that they should go and tell anybody. Instead, after asking, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is not here, but he was raised,” they said, “Remember [...remember] how he told you while he was still in Galilee, when he said that the son of man must be given over into the hands of sinful people and crucified and on the third day rise again.” Now that’s the only command he gave, just remember. And you know, it’s interesting; that’s exactly what those women did. According to Luke, “...they remembered his words.” And I want you to notice how that remembering changed them. I mean, even though they were never told to do it, once those women started to think about what Jesus had taught and what he had done and maybe what he’d called them to do, what’s the first thing they did? “And after they returned from the tomb, they announced all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.” On their own, they went and told. And although most of the disciples thought their words were nonsense, Peter responded, didn’t he? In fact, like those women, he was so excited that he ran to the tomb just to check it out himself. You see, those women were changed when they remembered.

And I’ll tell you, the exact same thing can happen to us, if we also do what the angel told the women to do. I mean, right now, we can remember some of the things Jesus taught when he was with us. I mean, when we’re down and feel as though in life’s rat race, the rats are winning, we can remember that Jesus said that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And when we wonder if God has forgotten us and whether divine justice is just a lot of words, we can remember that, according to Jesus, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” And I’ll tell you, when we feel as though there’s no way we could be loved by God, you know, that we’ve made so many mistakes that we’ll never be good enough, I think we need to remember that when his disciples asked Jesus, “Then who can be saved,” he replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” I’ll tell you, these are some of the things Jesus taught, things that we need to remember.

But that’s not all; I think we also need to remember what he did. Now I want you to think about this. What are some of the things Jesus showed during his life? Man, he showed power when he stilled the storms and kicked out demons. And he showed courage when he stood toe to toe with the people who pulled the strings and confronted all those religious leaders who used God and his word like a club to beat down the people. But most of all, I believed he showed love. And although that love wasn’t limited to one group, he seemed to make sure that those folks who were ignored and condemned by their society knew that they weren’t alone. Now that’s what he did.

And you know, that power and courage and certainly love sort of came together at the cross and the empty tomb. I mean, like I’ve said before, I have a hard time understanding how he could allow himself to be hung on a cross to save the people who drove the nails. And just think about what that empty tomb means? Man, it means that our savior has power over death itself and that he had the courage to stand toe to toe with Devil and beat him at his own game and that he loves you and me so much that he gave us a concrete sign that our futures are secure. You see, because his tomb was empty, we can believe that so will ours. I’ll tell you, that’s what Jesus did, and these things we can remember.

And then we can remember what we’ve been called to do. And although often it’s made really complicated by minister-types like me, it’s really not rocket science or brain surgery. In fact, everything we’ve been called to do can be reduced to one word, and you know what it is: love. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Man, that’s it; I told you it was simple.

But just imagine how that simple command can change our lives. I mean, what do you think would happen if every morning we woke up and said to ourselves, “Today I’m going to show what a lot of people just talk about. I’m going to show that I really do love God. And I’m going to show it in what I say and what I do.” What kind of day do you think we’ll have? And then I want you to imagine what would happen if, when we walked into our office or our classroom or even our church, we said to ourselves, “I’m going to show as much love to my neighbor as I’d like to be shown myself.” Man, if we say that and mean it, are we going to spread gossip about our boss or are we going to join in and make fun of that person who nobody in school likes anyway or are we going to grumble in church, of course loud enough so the people around us can hear (what’s the fun of complaining if nobody knows) and are we going to look at certain hymns like my daughter Maggie looks at fruit cocktail (“I don’t like it and so I’m not going to try it.”) and I’ll tell you, are we going to threaten to take our ball and go home because we may do a few things in worship that we don’t not like but that we know really touches another brother or sister in Christ? Are we going to frown and want everything to be our way even though a guy on the other side of the aisle is smiling and feeling at home? Brothers and sisters, are we going to do that kind of thing if we’ve decided to love our neighbor as ourselves? I don’t think so. Instead, I think it’s a better than even chance that not only will we step away from gossip, we may actually give the other guy the benefit of the doubt. And we may even befriend or a the very least treat that person who’s on the fringe with as much respect and kindness that we’d like to be treated. And as to worship, it really excites me to think about the possibilities when we’re so full of love for one another that we’re just as excited and happy about doing or singing something that’s meaningful to our neighbor as we are as when it’s important for us. My gosh, if we did that kind of thing, I think God could use this congregation to change our whole community, maybe even the world. But then, that’s just what God has called us to do, something else we can remember.

You know, Easter is a time for memories. I mean, it’s tailor-made for us to remember life when we were younger. And I sincerely hope that when she’s thirty-nine like me, Maggie remembers what we did as a family. But as this passage reminds us, Easter is more than just a time we remember the sentimental stuff. Just like the men in the tomb commanded the women, right here and now, I think we’re told to remember: to remember what Jesus taught and to remember what Jesus did and to remember what we’re called to do. And I’ll tell you, right along with that, I think we also need to recall what they did, you know, that they remembered and that fact absolutely changed their lives.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Remembering Our Sister Edna Galownia



EDNA LILLIAN GALOWNIA

(August 27, 1920 - April 1, 2010)



EDNA L. GALOWNIA 89 of Weirton, WV, passed away on April 1, 2010 at Weirton Medical Center, Weirton, WV. Edna was born on August 27, 1920 in Birmingham, England, a daughter of the late William & Elizabeth Dews. She was a War Bride of Walter Galownia, who passed away in 1991, also preceded in death by son, Raymond in 1959, and brother, Raymond Dews in 1998.

Edna enjoyed cooking, gardening & visiting school to talk about England. She was protestant by Faith, a homemaker & a Cub Scout Den Mother.

Surviving are three sons, Trevor (Jean) Galownia of Weirton Colin Galownia of Weirton Derick (Kathy) Galownia of Williamsburg, VA, four grandchildren, Colin, Jr., Raymond, Chad & Kara, one great grandson, Raymond,J Daughter-in-law, Laura Galownia.

Vistiation will be held on Saturday, April 3, 2010 at 1:00 P.M. until Memorial Services at 2:00 P.M. at the James Funeral Home, 1245 Main St. Follansbee, WV. Interment will be held at the convenience of the family.

Something to Remember

Well, here we are. Easter is almost upon us. And although it may not be as challenging as Christmas, there's still a lot to get done before Sunday. I mean, even if all the candy and new clothes have been bought, eggs still may need to be dyed and meals planned. And if you have family coming in from out-of-town, you may still need to figure out the sleeping arrangements and get the last bit of cooking done before it's too late. And of course, getting everybody ready for church on Sunday may be a real challenge, especially if it's not something that's done every week. However you cut it, there's a lot to do on Easter.

But as we're getting all this done, I think we should try as hard as we can to remember why we celebrate this day in the first place. And even though, for some, chicks and bunnies may have taken center stage, this is still the day we remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the single event that changed human history. You see, before the resurrection, any hope for eternal life was wishful thinking at best. It was something rooted in myth and mysticism. But when those women came and found the tomb empty and when they heard those two men say, "Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is not here, but he was raised," humanity received something that's real and concrete. Because Jesus was raised, "the first-fruit of those who've fallen asleep," we find something solid on which to hold. In other words, because his tomb was empty, we can believe that one day so will ours. And as we approach Easter morning, let's not forget that simple yet profound fact.

And that'll be our focus during both our services on Sunday. At 8:00, we'll read the resurrection account from Luke 24:1-12 and discuss why the women shared the good news to the disciples without being told. And then, at 11:00, we'll use the same passage to focus on the importance of the words from the two men in the tomb ("Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee, when he said that the son of man must be given over into the hands of sinful people and crucified and on the third day rise again.") and the response of the women ("And they remembered his words."), and we'll consider some of the things we might need to remember.