Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sunday's Sermon: The Costanza Principle

Luke 14: 1, 7-14 - 1And it happen, when [Jesus] went into the house of a certain leader from among the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching him closely. 7And [Jesus] said to those who had been called a parable, when he noticed how the seats at the head table were chosen, saying to them, 8“When you might be called to a certain wedding feast, don’t take a seat at the head table, lest a more notable person than you might have been called by [the host]. 9And after the one who called you comes, he will say to you, ‘Give this place.’ And then you will begin, with shame, to take the last place. 10But when you might be called, go and sit in the last place, so that when the one who called you might come, he will say to you, ‘Friend, come up higher.’ Then there will be glory to you before everyone who is there with you. 11Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and who humbles himself will be exalted.”

12And he said to the one who’d called him, “When you might give a dinner or supper, don’t call your friends nor your brothers nor your relations nor neighbors who are rich, lest they might also call you back and it might become a repayment for you. 13But when you might give a reception, invite those who are poor, disabled, lame, blind. 14And blessed you will be, because they don’t have the ability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

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Now, I think most of y’all have a fairly good idea about where I got the sermon title. But if you don’t, let me a explain. At one time in my life, I was a huge Seinfeld fan, and I’m talking about when the show was on Thursday night and then when reruns were on every day between five and six. Now, if you’ve ever known a real fan, they have no problem dropping Seinfeldisms into conversations almost at will, things like “Yada yada yada” or “shrinkage” or of course “No soup for you!”

And I guess, in a way, that’s what I’m doing today. You see, in one of the episodes, I don’t remember the season, George Costanza, Jerry’s best friend, came to a life-changing spot in his life. He suddenly realized that every decision he’d ever made had been wrong or at the very least, had turned out badly. And so, from that point on, whatever his instincts told him was right, he was going to do the opposite. In other words, if he thought “up,” he said “down;” “black,” “white;” “right,” “wrong.” When it came to decisions, he did the exact opposite of what he thought was correct. And although I don’t think the term was ever used on the show, this became, at least for me, the Constanza Principle.

And I’ll tell you something, after reading this passage from Luke, you know the two parables Jesus told at a dinner party, I think the Constanza principle might have a very definite application to modern, American Christians, and I’ll tell you why. I think often the values and perspectives of our culture have such a powerful influence over us that we completely forget that following Jesus demands that we look at our world and our communities and even ourselves in ways that are very different from what we’ve been taught; as a matter of fact, at times they may even be the exact opposite.

I mean, take, for example, the story we just read, and in particular the two little moral examples that Jesus taught, the first one dealing with how we see ourselves and the second with how we see others. Now, I don’t know about you, but their implications could be right from that episode of Seinfeld, because what Jesus said not to do is exactly what we generally do and vice-versa.

I mean, as I think about how I view myself, I know that I’ve been shaped by the world, what about you? And good night, if I’m going to have any integrity at all, I’ve got to admit that I’ve bought into the idea that I should focus most of my attention on myself, you know, that I’m a V.I.P. My gosh, I’m important, right; and so is what I think and believe, what I like and hate, what I want and fear. Man, I belong at the head table. Humility may apply to you, not me. Because when you get right down to it, my ideas are the best; therefore, I expect to get my way, right? That’s how the world tells me to think. Good night nurse, I deserve what I want. And if I don’t get it, if things don’t go the way I think they should go, if, by some chance, I don’t get to stay at the head table, then I have a duty to whine and complain. Look, if the one who called me here doesn’t recognize my importance, doesn’t recognize my value, doesn’t recognize that he’s darn lucky to have me here, I’m going to take my basketball and go home. I’ll tell you, if the one who’s the host of this party is so short-sighted and confused that he assumes someone else might be more important than me, well, I’m not going to put up with that kind of humiliation, right? Sure, at least according to how the world tells me to view myself.

And as I look at others, well, I think must of us want folks around us with whom we feel comfortable. It’s like going to a wedding reception and being stuck sitting beside someone you just don’t like. Man, nobody wants something like that. But it applies to more than parties. Let’s take the church for example. I mean, suppose the church was like a brunch or maybe a dinner party, what kind of people should we invite? In other words, if we’re making out the invitations, whose names are we going put on the envelopes? Well, I’ll tell you, if I’m going to follow what the world says is right, I know exactly who’ll I’ll invite, what about you? First, I’m going to include all my friends, because I’d much rather be around people like me than a bunch of bozos I don’t know. That’s one. And then, I’m going to work to get as many members of the family as possible, and if they don’t want to come, well, I’m not going to take no for an answer. And finally, it would sure be nice to have someone come who has deep pockets, if you know what I mean, because let’s get really, bills have to be paid, right? Anyway, if I scratch their backs, y’all understand. And what’s wrong with that. Isn’t that how the real world works. Sure it does. In fact, that’s exactly how it works.

And maybe that’s why Jesus said what he did in those two parables, those two stories that talk about a lot more than seating arrangements and guest list. I mean, maybe that’s why Jesus suggested that the people at a party, maybe they need to show a little humility as they look at themselves. In other words, maybe instead of assuming that they belong up front and that what they think and want should be most important to the host, maybe instead of having that attitude, maybe they should choose a seat in the back and let someone else lead the band for a while and even though they would have served roast beef, to sit back and enjoy the chicken. You see, even though it’s certainly not what the world tells they to do, maybe they should recognize a very simple principle: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and who humbles himself will be exalted.” And I think we all know who, ultimately, does the humbling and exalting, don’t we? That’s what Jesus said.

And to the folks who do the calling, who make up the guest list and who send the invitations, Jesus sure seemed to be suggesting that they need some compassion as they look at others. I mean, why else would he suggest that they not spend any time inviting friends and family and people who could repay, but rather focus on those who really need to be there, because they have nothing else; in his world, we’re talking about the “poor, disabled, lame, blind.” Now that’s what he said, but why, why did he say it? Because “...blessed you will be, because they don’t have the ability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

You see, Jesus was challenging those folks to have humility and compassion, wasn’t he? And you know what that means. As people who are surrounded by what the world says is right, what the world says we should be doing, as followers of Christ, he’s calling us to follow the Costanza principle. And if we don’t, well, “no soup for you.” Now, that’s what he’s saying, isn’t he? Sure he is.

And although we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing it’ll be easy (I mean, I’ll be turning from what worldly common sense says is right), we can still do it. In other words, if we have the will, there is a way. For example, with God’s help we can really change the way we see ourselves. And I’ll tell you, it all starts with accepting that little principle that we heard just a minute ago, that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and who humbles himself will be exalted.” You see, we can claim this idea and trust that, when you get right down to it, it’s God who humbles and exalts anyway. And with that in mind, we can intentionally take our focus off ourselves and what we think is right and what we believe is best. And without storming out of the party because our feelings are hurt or working as hard as we can to make everyone around us unhappy too, we can listen to and actually learn from others. You see, we can find new ways of doing things we may never have considered before, some of which we might like almost as much as the stuff we know is right. And with a little humility added to the soup, who knows, we might actually find that we that we can finally relax and enjoy ourselves. My goodness, being in control is tough, the expectations are high and the responsibilities are even higher. Sometimes it’s a whole lot more fun just enjoying the food than plaining the dinner, especially when God is the host of the meal. You see, humility just may make living a whole lot easier.

And as we look at others, you know, the potential guests to our little shin-dig here, well, we can put compassion ahead of comfort. And although Jesus was frankly uncomfortably clear about who we should and shouldn’t invite, I really don’t think we’re talking about something that’s mutually exclusive. I mean, do I really have choose whether to invite my friends or the poor? Is it really a matter of inviting either my brother or the disabled, my relatives or the lame? And can I only include the blind by excluding the rich? Now, understand, I’m told all the time that you can’t do both, you know, that you can’t to reach out to those on the outside without neglecting those on the inside and that we have to make a choice: it’s either them or us. Without getting into what choice Jesus would make, you know, What Would Jesus Do, because frankly I don’t know; I’m not at all sure this is a choice we have to make. If we humbly work together, why can’t we do both? As a matter of fact, isn’t doing both the very best thing we can do? I mean, I think it’s pretty easy to see how it will help the poor, disabled, lame, blind. But I think it’ll also help our friends and our brothers and sisters and our wealthy neighbors; it might even help us. Gasp. I may be wrong, but something like this just might offer a purpose and a focus that we didn’t have before, a reason for unity right now in the present and genuine excitement and hope as we look into the future. And again, I may be dead wrong, but I think it could also feel dog-gone good, spiritually and emotionally and any other way you can think about it knowing that not only have we responded to the call of Jesus Christ but that we have made a positive impact on the people around us. Do you think just might make us feel good? Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to affirm that Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “blessed you will be, because they don’t have the ability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” We may feel this all because we decided to follow Jesus and not the world.

Now, if you follow Seinfeld, you know what happen when George changed his life. He met a beautiful girl and ended up working for the New York Yankees. The Costanza principle worked for him, but fortunately for the show, it didn’t take long for him to go back to his former ways. And us, well, since Jesus offered these two parables that sure seem to be saying that we should reevaluate how we see ourselves and others and that maybe we should ditch the values of the world and work into our lives a little more humility and compassion, well, who knows what will happen for us.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Church Picnic

Good morning in the name of Jesus Christ. And I hope you're having a wonderful day. As most of y'all know, Sunday we're having our annual worship service/picnic at the park on Marland Heights. And even before we get together, I want to thank Frank and Mary Bohach along with all the other people who'll help out. Speaking only for myself, this is an event to which I look forward every year. And so let me encourage everyone reading this to come over the park at 11:00 a.m. If you need directions, please call the church, 304-748-5980.

It's interesting, on this picnic Sunday, the passage is Luke 14: 1, 7-14:

1And it happen, when [Jesus] went into the house of a certain leader from among the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread and they were watching him closely.

7And [Jesus] said to those who had been called a parable, when he noticed how the seats at the head table were chosen, saying to them, 8“When you might be called to a certain wedding feast, don’t take a seat at the head table, lest a more notable person than you might have been called by [the host]. 9And after the one who called you and him comes, he will say to you, ‘Give this place.’ And then you will begin, with shame, to take the last place. 10But when you might be called, go and sit in the last place, so that when the one who called you might come, he will say to you, ‘Friend, come up higher.’ Then there will be glory to you before everyone who is there with you. 11Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and who humbles himself will be exalted.”

12And he said to the one who’d called him, “When you might give a dinner or supper, don’t call your friends nor your brothers nor your relations nor neighbors who are rich, lest they might also call you back and it might become a repayment for you. 13But when you might give a reception, invite those who are poor, disabled, lame, blind. 14And blessed you will be, because they don’t have the ability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Although in these verses Jesus talked about a dinner party and not a picnic, I think the point is very similar. You see, the world teaches us to grab the best seats first (first come first serve) and to invite those who are most important to us. Jesus though seemed to turn these values on their head. You see, he challenged us to demonstrate humility in how we regard ourselves and others. Now that's what he said. And I think this is something we apply whether we're at a picnic or not. This will be the focus of the service on Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sermon: Shame or Joy

Luke 13:10-17 - 10And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11And he saw a woman who had a spirit which caused weakness for eighteen years, and she was doubled over and wasn’t able to straight up at all. 12And when he saw her, Jesus called and said to her, “Woman, you’ve been released from your weakness.” 13And he put hands upon her. And immediately she was made straight again. And she began to glorify God.

14And the ruler of the synagogue answered, because he was indignant because on the Sabbath Jesus cured her, and said to the crowd, “There are six days on which you must work. Now on one of them come and be cured but not on the day of the Sabbath.” 15The Lord answered and said to him, “Actor, don’t each one of you on the Sabbath release your ox or the donkey from the stall and lead it off to drink? 16But this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound eighteen years, mustn’t she be released from these chains on the day of the Sabbath?” 17And as he said these things, many of those who opposed him were put to shame, and all the crowd began to rejoice at all the glorious things that were being done by him.

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Yesterday morning, somewhere between three, thirty and eight o’clock, I had a dream. Now, generally I don’t remember my dreams, but for some reason, this one was different. You see, in the dream, I was the minister in the church where I was raised, Ocean View Presbyterian. You see, I grew up there, until my dad got mad at the minister and left, something that of course never happens now-a-days. We’ve outgrown that foolishness, right?

Anyway, I was in this church, and we were about to start the service, and I remember I was worried about the stuff that ministers often worry about, things like attendance and if so-and-so would be there and of course whether people would leave happy or mad, you know, stuff like that. And so I was up front and I guy I knew in the dream but not in real life came up to me and said something like, “Don’t worry, (I must have looked worried.) We’re going to do something different, and it’ll be great.”

And so the service started, and we all stood up to sing the first hymn. But instead of playing what was in the bulletin, the organist started playing “Roll Out the Barrel.” And then everybody and I mean everybody started to sing. And they were all smiling and clapping and waving their hands around, you know, all those things Presbyterians would never do. Get this, they even formed a conga line and started to sort of dance down the aisles, kind of kicking their feet out and singing and laughing as “Roll Out the Barrel” was being played.

And as I remember, I just kind of stood there (I was wearing a robe, by the way, and so I looked very formal.) I just stood there, and I didn’t have a clue what to do. Clearly I had lost control.

Now that’s what I dreamt yesterday morning, and although given some of the stuff that happened this last week, I think a psychologist might come up all kinds of reasons for it, one that he or she might not pick up on is the passage we just read, you know, the one from the Gospel of Luke. You see, as I was working on it Friday afternoon, it suddenly hit me what was going on here. You see, the more I studied it and prayed over it, the more I came to the conclusion that the key to this passage is what happens at the very end, and I’m talking about after that wonderful miracle, how “many of those who opposed him were put to shame, and all the crowd began to rejoice at all the glorious things that were being done by him.” I’ll tell you, that’s what I think Luke wanted to get our attention. You see, this is his point: at the end of it all, we’ve got two groups of people; therefore, our question is simply this: if we’d been there, in which group would we have been? I think that’s exact what Luke wants us to ask ourselves.

I mean, just consider what happened in the story. You’ve got Jesus teaching in a synagogue, sort of a Jewish church, on the Sabbath, the day that, according to the Ten Commandments, you were suppose to rest. And so Jesus was teaching, and a woman came in, all stooped over. And when he saw her, “Jesus called and said to her, ‘Woman, you’ve been released from your weakness.’ And he put hands upon her. And immediately she was made straight again. And she began to glorify God.”

Now that’s what happened, and I think most of us would think that’s a pretty good thing, right? But of course, that wasn’t the case with the ruler of the synagogue, was it? No sir, he was really ticked off. And why, “because on the Sabbath Jesus cured her, and [so he] said to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which you must work. Now on one of them come and be cured but not on the day of the Sabbath.’” That’s what he said, and guess what, he was right on the mark. I mean, this was something he couldn’t ignore. Jesus had cured someone on the day of rest, right? And we all know, only ministers and restaurant employees should have to work on the Sabbath. And she’d been bent over for eighteen years for crying out loud, that’s six thousand, five hundred, seventy days; you’re telling me one more day would have been a big deal. It wasn’t like she was dying. Jesus could have told her to come back tomorrow: good night, he could have done some home visitation, right? Give me a break, she didn’t need to come and he sure didn’t need to cure her, not on the Sabbath, that was wrong. And the ruler of the synagogue told him so.

But Jesus had a different take on what happened, didn’t he? I mean, first he pointed out that the ruler was kind of a hypocrite, because he was playing pretty fast and loose with how he defined “work:” “The Lord answered and said to him, ‘Actor, don’t each one of you on the Sabbath release your ox or the donkey from the stall and lead it off to drink?’” I remember one Sunday, years ago, some church folks telling me about the good old days, you know, when the stores were closed on the Sabbath, and ironically they said say it right after the waitress brought their dinner to the table and right before we all went home to wait football. Those were the days, right?

But maybe more importantly, Jesus challenged the leader to look at what happened in a different way. I want you to notice that Jesus never said that he cured her. Instead, this is what he said, “But this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound eighteen years, mustn’t she be released from these chains on the day of the Sabbath?” You see, in spite of what the guy thought, Jesus didn’t cure anybody that day, rather he released a woman from the power Satan himself. And then according to Luke, “as he said these things, many of those who opposed him were put to shame, and all the crowd began to rejoice at all the glorious things that were being done by him.”

And like I said, the same thing applies to us, and I’m talking about how we have to decide where we’re going to stand, whether we’re going to be with the synagogue ruler and those who opposed Jesus and what he did or with the crowd who listened to Christ, and ended up feeling great joy. And I’ll tell you, this is a decision we’ve got to make, because whether we acknowledge it or not, right now, we’re surrounded by the miraculous. Man, if we’ve got our eyes open, it’s hard to miss what God is doing all around us. And although this may be offensive to some of y’all here, each and every day on the internet I read personal stories about men and women who have been freed from all kinds of stuff, through the power of Jesus Christ, just like that woman in the passage.

And I wish I could share them with you. I wish I could tell you about how people have been freed from addictions, freed from loneliness, freed from pain, freed from despair, freed from hopelessness, freed from disease. And in response to freedom they received, I wish I could tell you about all the people who are so filled with joy that all they can do is glorify the almighty God, the one who gave them something they couldn’t have gotten on their own. Man, they are praising Jesus Christ, and often they’re doing it with words and in ways that are a lot different from our own. In fact, they’re doing something we don’t do very often ourselves, because often we spend a whole more time complaining about what we want than in praising the Lord for what we have. And so it’s a shame that I can’t share this stuff. But you know, whether I can share it or not, well, that’s really not relevant. God is moving all around us.

And it’s right here where we have a clear and simple choice. On one hand, we can sure listen to the ruler of the synagogue and stand with him and his buddies. I mean, just like him, we can try to ignore the stuff happening all around us as long as we can. And then when we can’t do that any longer, we can do what he did and define all that crazy love shown by God in a way that makes us feel comfortable, you know what I mean, in a way the conforms with how we see our God and our world. I mean, good night nurse, that drunk, that addict, that guy who has been strung out and brought down, he can’t be freed; he may be cured by medical science and modern psychotherapy, but not freed. And give me a break, my God couldn’t have touched her, because I know how God works and he sure wouldn’t do anything like that and certainly not with her, just listen to how she talks and look at where she lives. No sir, I know God, and he wouldn’t have done that. In fact, when you get right down to it, they’re all wrong, all of them; because this box holds what’s right, and this box holds what’s wrong; therefore, I know that I’m right and they’re wrong. And we’re not going to listen to anything that causes us to question this, amen. Ain’t the good news of Jesus Christ wonderful. I’ll tell you, it’s easy to define when you write the definitions. And once we’re done that, well, dismissing whatever doesn’t fit into our box over here is as easy as falling off a log, isn’t it? And that’s exactly what we going do, if we listen to the ruler of the synagogue.

But of course, that’s not our only choice, because we can also listen to Jesus, what a radical thought, to listen to Jesus Christ. I’m telling you, we can listen and when we do, we’re going to hear him say that one of the reasons he came was to free his brothers and sisters, from Satan who had them hogtied for years. You see, we may not know it, my gosh, we may not want to know it, but it’s Satan who’s chained them to alcohol and drugs, to loneliness and fear, to rules that limit good and laws that promote evil; you see, it’s Satan who did it. And that’s why Jesus came, to release people from those chains even on the day of the Sabbath.

If we listen, we’re going to hear him say that. And when we do, we’ll be able maybe for the first time, to open our eyes and to see it happening. We’ll be able to see the freedom that God has brought. In fact, we’ll become like junkies for the good news; we won’t be able to hear enough stories about the power of God, and we’ll be seeking out people who have been freed just like I seek out the oysters on a seafood buffet. And when we find them and when we listen, we’re going to accept what they have to say even if we can’t get it to fit into our boxes. Man, we might even have the courage to toss them away, the boxes, not the people, so that we can truly trust in the power and freedom of God. Whether we like it or not, he’s not limited by us. And when we get to that point, my goodness, we’ll be ready to celebrate, won’t we? We’ll be ready to party. No more ignoring, no more defining, no more dismissing for us. We’ll be ready to celebrate because the sheep and the coin and the son were lost but now are found.

You see, this is the other option we have. And I’ll tell you, how we decide, whether we choose to follow the synagogue ruler or the ruler of the universe, well, it just might determine whether we ultimately feel shame or joy.

Now, remember the dream I was telling y’all about? People were feeling joy like I’ve never seen in church as the listened to “Roll Out the Barrel.” And I just stood there, knowing that I had either to calm them down or join the conga line. And then I woke up. And so I don’t know what I did. But in light of this passage, I’ve got a gut feeling that I know what Jesus would have said and done. And for us, surrounded by God working through people we don’t know, in places we don’t want to go, and in ways that we don’t even understand, there are two voices that are loud and clear. We know what they’re both saying and we know what each offers, man, we even know what will happen to us after we make our choice, because if I stand up here and decide to turn away from Christ and the joy he brings, well, I have every reason to be ashamed of myself.

Friday, August 20, 2010

To the People of Cove

This will be short. Although I've seen the recent low worship attendance, in the last few days I've become aware of just how unhappy many people within the congregation are. I've been told that many members are seriously considering leaving their church family and that even current church officers feel it's necessary to attend other churches. Personally, I'm sorry for what I've done or left undone that's contributed to this atmosphere. I'm also sad that those who've gone didn't feel confortable coming to me before leaving. I assure you that I've tried to do what I believe God called me do. In other words, I think my intentions were good. But as Samuel Johnson wrote, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

 
In response to your concerns, the session has called a special meeting of the congregation for Sunday, September 19, at 12:30. Roger Criss will moderate. This will give you the opportunity to voice your concerns, and I promise you, they will be heard. In light of this meeting, I ask two things from you. First, if you're seriously considering leaving Cove, please wait until after the meeting. And second, please let's take a step back from the complaining for a month. And for me, I'll be praying and listening as much as I can so that I can best serve you and God.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reasons for Thanks from Sunday, August 15, 2010

The following were shared at our last worship service:

I pray for God to bless your Ministries in many ways, and for his will to be done always in you-all my dear friends. I shall always love and cherish all in Christ Jesus! Amen.

Lord, Heavenly Father, Praise You and thank You, You are worthy Lord, You are Holy, I praise You Adonai, I pray that You would lift Ed up, that You would fill him with Your Spirit, I pray that You would open doors for him Lord, that You would place him where You could use him the most, I pray that You would fill him Lord, and direct his steps. I pray that You would lift up his congregation, and bless them abundantly Lord give them a heart for the Lost, and a love that moves them. Praise You and thank You in Yeshua I pray amen.

AMEN, FATHER GOD, LOVES A CHEERFUL GIVER.

Thank God for this church and all the good things and all the Godly people!

The beautiful wedding ceremony of Eric Violet & Kayla Cline

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sermon: The Times, They Have Changed

Luke 12:49-56 - 49“I came to cast fire upon the earth and how I wish it was already kindled. 50But I have a baptism to be baptized, and how I’m under stress until it might be accomplished.


51“Do you assume that peace I arrived to bring to the earth? Absolutely not, I say to you, but division. 52For from now on, five in one house will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided: father against son, and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law.”

54And he also said to the crowd, “When you might see the cloud rising in the west, already you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and thus it happens. 55And when a south wind blows, you say, ‘It is severe heat,’ and it happens. 56You actors, the face of the earth and of heaven you know how to interpret, but this season, how do you not know how to interpret?”

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“Come gather ‘round people wherever you roam. And admit that the waters around you have grown. And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone. If your time to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone. For the times they are a-changin’. Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again. And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin, and there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’. For the loser now will be later to win. For the times they are a-changin’. Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call. Don’t stand in the doorway; don’t block up the hall. For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled. There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls. For the times they are a-changin’.”

Now, if you’re over fifty, and as I look around I think I’m safe in saying that applies to most of us here this morning, I’m sure you recognize what I just read. They’re lyrics to a song that was really popular in the ‘60s, Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changin.” Of course, I know this was kind of a protest song, but you know it’s interesting, as I was working on this particular passage, it kept on coming to mind. And so I went to YouTube and listened to, I think, about a half dozen versions, everything thing from Peter, Paul and Mary to Phil Collins, but I still the way Bob Dylan sang it, with his gravely voice, well, I think that’s the best.

And so I Iistened to it a couple of times, and then I looked up the words themselves. And I’ll tell you, when I got to the fourth stanza, it just kind of took me back a little. Now, this is what he wrote: “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land, and don’t criticize what you can’t understand. Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand. For the times they are a-changin’.” Now understand, this came right I read about how Jesus said, “Do you assume that peace I arrived to bring to the earth? Absolutely not, I say to you, but division. ...They will be divided: father against son, and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother....” Now, to me, this really sounded pretty close.

But you know, I think the similarity here is a lot deeper than just that one stanza, because I believe in this passage Jesus was also talking about how the time during which he lived, it was a-changing too. I mean, think about it. He’d just finished explaining about how folks needed to be ready (we talked about that last week), because “blessed are those slaves, who when the lord comes, he will find alert” and that “...if the master of the house had known what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed him to dig through the wall of his house. And you, become ready, because the hour which you don’t suppose the son of man is coming.” Now he’d just finished saying this stuff about being ready because the time when everything would change was coming, and then he came out with what we just read a little while ago, something that I think gives a pretty good idea about how Jesus saw this future. He said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth and how I wish it was already kindled.”

And although, at first glance, I know this sure sounds like he was talking about punishment, I don’t think that’s the case. I mean, this is what John the Baptist said, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” You see, right here John gave us Christ’s mission, you know, what he came to do. And then later, at the very beginning of Acts, Luke’s great story of the early church, this mission was fulfilled, wasn’t it: “...when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

In other words, when Jesus talked about coming to bring fire, I think he was talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit, something that occurred fifty days after the resurrection and ten days after the ascension, and from our perspective, almost two thousand years ago. You see, right here, in this passage, Jesus was looking forward to the time when the Spirit would change everything. I mean, he could envision the time when that Spirit would inspire people to do the very things he did when he was on earth. In other words, just like the Spirit descended and rested on him at his baptism, he knew that one day that same Spirit would descend and rest on others, and they’d receive power, real power: I’m talking about power to heal, power to cast out demons, power to stand up to the rulers of this world and to do it with courage and confidence, and power to face death itself without fear. As Jesus himself promised right before he was taken up into heaven, “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.” I’m telling you, this is the fire Jesus came to cast upon the earth and as he was heading to Jerusalem to face his baptism on the cross, that was the fire he wanted to see kindled, a fire that’s been burning since the middle of the first century. And he knew that when the Spirit came, the whole earth would change.

And I’ll tell you, I think he also knew that at that same time, through that same spirit, a new community would also be created and a new set of relationships established; in other words, a new family would be born, but not from flesh and blood. Absolutely not, these would be mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers born from the Holy Spirit. And I’ll tell you, this is something Jesus had already talked about. I mean, remember a little bit earlier in the gospel, Luke wrote that “...his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’”

Now, I recognize that’s not the kind of thing I want to see written on my next Father’s Day card, but contrary to what a lot of Christians seem to think Jesus didn’t come to offer cute and cuddly warm and fuzzy little sayings. I mean, he could see a new family being established, one that would supercede and maybe even disrupt the old: a family united by baptism and nourished by the bread and the cup and directed and sustained by the Word, a family in which the tie that binds is a whole lot stronger than all the garbage that we let divide us, a family of mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who share one vision and that’s Jesus Christ and who have one goal and that’s to “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.” And to do that, well, sometimes it may mean facing opposition from those tied to us by blood. It may mean putting God before every human relationship we have. In fact, it may even mean turning away from the comfortable and the cozey so that we can follow the one who challenges and confronts us, and I’m talking about Jesus Christ.

I mean, let’s get real, the truth of the gospel makes us question whether our bigger barns really do offer us security and whether those treasures that draw our hearts really are going to last. Jesus forces us to put aside that pious word and sanctimonious baloney so that we can look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we really are willing to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses and to follow him. And no matter how you cut it, that’s not easy. No wonder, he said, “Do you assume that peace I arrived to bring to the earth? Absolutely not, I say to you, but division.”

But before this sends us too far down, I think it’s important to remember that divisions aren’t always bad. I mean, at the first communion, the bread and cup were divided. And on Pentecost, the tongues of fire where divided. And in the early church, “they would sell their possessions and goods and divide the proceeds to all, as any had need.” In fact I think you could say, mission itself is impossible without these kinds of divisions, and that’s another change Jesus saw coming.

And finally, in this passage, Jesus knew it was coming soon. In fact, I think that’s why he kind of poked at the people, pointing out that they all understood that it would rain if a cloud was coming from the Mediterranean and that it would be dry if the wind was coming from the desert. This they got, but this season, this time he’d been talking about, this change that was just about to happen, man, they were clueless. I’m telling you, although the signs were there, they chose not to look. They chose to close their eyes and their minds. Man, they chose to be actors, pretending that they could ignore what was happening all around them, that in less than a year the fire would be kindled and that a new family would be born.

Of course, for them, it really hadn’t happened yet. I mean, Jesus hadn’t experienced his baptism on a cross; therefore, the Spirit had not yet come. And because the Spirit hadn’t come, his followers weren’t yet in the position to have to choose between the warm comfort of their families and homes or the eternal security of their God and his heaven. That was all coming in the near future.

But you know, that’s not the case with us, is it? The fire has been burning for almost two thousand years. And so have the divisions that came with the Spirit. You see, all these changes that Jesus saw coming, well, for us they’ve already come. Which leaves us with a decision, doesn’t it?

Like I said a little while ago, the more I listened to it, the more that Bob Dylan song seemed to be saying something very close to what Jesus was getting at in the passage. And I’ll tell you, this link between the gospel and the song, well, I think it’s pretty clear that Dylan must have been at least thinking about the Bible when he wrote the last stanza. Now you tell me this doesn’t sound like something Jesus might say. “The line it is drawn; the curse it is cast. The slow one now will later be fast. As the present now will later be past, the order is rapidly fadin’. And the first one now will later be last. For the times they are a-changin’.” Now to me this is pretty powerful stuff.

But of course, as all this relates to the coming of the Holy Spirit and the new family called the church, well, the times they aren’t a-changin’. Absolutely not, because for us, the times, they really have changed. Now, what are we going to do about it?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Remembering Marjorie Hendershot and Lonnie Shaffer

As the people of God, let's remember in our prayers the families of Marjorie Hendershot and Lonnie Shaffer in our prayers. The obituaries are below.



HENDERSHOT, Marjorie A., 86, formerly of Weirton, WV,passed away Monday, Aug. 9, 2010.

She graduated from Pittsburgh Musical Institute. She sang on the Wheeling Radio Hour and sang at the Capitol Theatre for Disney Studios, as Snow White. She joined Cove Presbyterian on April 10, 1949 and was listed in our 50 years plus membership list.

She was preceded in death by her husband Robert S. Hendershot; granddaughter, Lana; and great-grandson, Denzel.

Surviving are her three sons, James (Gail), William (LuAnn), and John (Cheryl) grandchildren, Tegan, Dylan, Bryan, Jenna, Ian, Stephanie (Rob), Andrew, Timothy and great-grandchildren, Nick, Gabby and Jet.

A memorial celebration of Marjorie's life is being planned.

Donations may be made to your local animal shelter.

Condolences can be made to the Hendershot family, 155 Green Meadow Dr., Newark, OH 43055.


SHAFFER, Lonnie E. "Gene",75, of Wintersville, died Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010, at home.

He was born in Clarksburg, WV on Oct. 7, 1934, a son of the late Willis and Christine Lamm Shaffer.

Gene was retired from Weirton Steel where he worked in the Tin Mill. He was also retired captain from Cross Creek Township Police Department.

He served four years in the U.S. Navy, four years in the U.S. Air Force and almost twelve years in the Army Reserves.

He was a member of First Baptist Church, Steubenville and he attended Open Door Baptist Church, Colliers, WV.

Gene served as chaplain with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 97, member of American Legion Post 557 and attended Wintersville High School.

Survived by his wife Patsy Retzer Shaffer whom he married in October of 1960; sons, Steven (Leslie) Shaffer of Steubenville, and Dan (Heather) Shaffer of Wintersville; daughter, Joy (Bill) Stephens of New Alexandria, Ohio; brothers, Robert (Cathy) Shaffer of New Alexandria, Ohio and James (Vickie) Shaffer of Toronto, Ohio; sister, Deborah (Paul) Walkup of Brilliant, Ohio; nine grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and his many friends at Cardiac Rehabilitation.

Friends may call at Dunlope-Shorac Funeral Home, 215 Fernwood Rd., Wintersville, OH on Friday 2-4 and 6-8 p.m., where funeral services will be held on Saturday 11 a.m., with the Rev. Larry Garrison and the Rev. Doug Nevin officiating.

Burial at Cross Creek Cemetery. Military honors will be conducted at cemetery.

Offer condolences at http://www.shorac.com/.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Little Homework

Welcome in the name of Jesus Christ. I hope everyone is enjoying the sunshine. Unfortunately, it looks as though we might get some rain tomorrow. I guess I can try to see the positive; that'll give me another excuse for not cutting the grass.

On Sunday (the Saturday Gathering won't meet this week), we'll consider Luke 12:49-56, the passage I've printed below:

49“I came to cast fire upon the earth and how I wish it was already kindled. 50But I have a baptism to be baptized, and how I’m under stress until it might be accomplished.

51“Do you assume that peace I arrived to bring to the earth? Absolutely not, I say to you, but division. 52For from now on, five in one house will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided:

father against son,
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law.”

54And he also said to the crowd, “When you might see the cloud rising in the west, already you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and thus it happens. 55And when a south wind blows, you say, ‘It is severe heat,’ and it happens. 56You actors, the face of the earth and of heaven you know how to interpret, but this season, how do you not know how to interpret?”

During the service, we'll look at how Jesus sawthe changes that were about to occur, and we'll discuss how those changes might impact our lives.

As I was working on this passage I was led to a song by Bob Dylan entitled, "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Although I don't want to suggest these words should be seen as anything other than lyrics to a song, I do find it interesting that what Dylan sings reflects, maybe unintentionally, some of Jesus's vision. And so, before attending the service, I'd like you to do two things. First, I'd like you to look at this video on You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FS2belEBXyM) And second, as it plays, follow these lyrics:

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sermon: Tomorrow May Be Too Late

Luke 12:32-40 - 32“Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your father was pleased to give to you the kingdom. 33Sell those things that belong to you and give alms. Make for yourselves a purse that won’t wear out, a treasure that is unfailing in the heavens, where thieves don’t come near nor moths destroy. 34For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be. 35Let your loins be girded and lamps burning.

36“And you be like people who are waiting for their lord when he might return from the wedding feast, so that when he comes and knocks, immediately they might open [it] to him. 37Blessed are those slaves, who when the lord comes, he will find alert. Amen, I say to you that he will gird himself and will make them recline and after he comes to them, will serve them. 38Even if it might be the second watch, even if it might be the third watch, he might come and might find this, blessed are those.

39“But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed him to dig through the wall of his house. 40And you, become ready, because the hour which you don’t suppose the son of man is coming.”

**********

Normally, I try to pick a cover for the bulletin that has something to do with the sermon and the general focus of the service. And although they’re usually pictures that I think are appropriate, they don’t really relate to me personally. But I’ve got to tell you, today is different. I mean, take a look at the cover. There’s a woman, standing in the front of a shop, maybe a restaurant, reading a sign that has the business hours. And based on the door being closed and her just standing there, I think it’s safe to assume that she’s either too late or too early.

And like I said, this kind of hits me personally, because that was one of my fears when we went back to Virginia a couple of weeks ago. You see, one of things I look forward to whenever I get back to the Chesapeake Bay is seafood, and in particular blue crabs. Now, if you’ve never had a blue crab, you have missed one of the great things in life. And although George Evans would probably disagree, being from Baltimore and all, the best crab cakes I’ve ever tasted come from a restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia called “The Surf Rider.” I’m telling you, they’re almost solid crab meat, hardly any breading at all. And so, every time I visit the folks, I want to have at least one dinner at my favorite seafood restaurant.

There’s just one problem. When we come, my dad likes to plan the visit. Just like he did when I was a kid and we’d go on a trip, dad likes to have a schedule to follow. And there have been trips when The Surf Rider wasn’t on the agenda. And although I could always insist on going, he really gets a kick out of taking us places that are important to him, and I’d never want to take that away from him. And anyway, we always have a lot of fun following his plan, even if it doesn’t involve crap cakes with very little breading. And if we haven’t gone, I face a real problem when it’s ten o’clock Saturday evening and we’re heading for home at around nine Sunday morning. At that moment, I know exactly how that girl on the cover feels. Because in terms of its business hours, the Mecca for crab cakes is closed and the possibility of going the next day, well, tomorrow’s just too late.

Of course, I understand that missing this meal isn’t going to alter my life. In fact, it might actually be good for my cholesterol, if I didn’t replace it with good old Smithfield ham or green beans, cooked with salt pork. No missing a certain dinner is really not a big deal; in fact, it’s no more important than missing a certain television show or party or even football game. But you know, there’s one part of our lives where missing something may be a big deal, and now I’m talking about our relationship with God. I mean, if we miss the opportunity to know the love of God or to follow the example of Jesus Christ or to respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit, well, that’s huge, but not only for ourselves but also for every single person we’ve been called to love and who may never know who God is because we didn’t share him with them. You see, if we don’t appreciate that our time to live the kind of lives we’ve been called to live is limited, we’re going to miss out on more than a dinner.

And I’ll tell you, that’s why I think it’s really important for us to accept the fact that when it comes to our relationship with God, we face three pretty important limitations, because accepting them just may change what we do. I mean, first, simply put, the time we have to live is just plain limited. And although I knew a woman who got one face lift after another because she seemed to think if she looked young, she might cheat the grim reaper, death is just a fact of life. Now I know that’s kind of a “da statement,” but often we really don’t live as though the end could be in sight. We seem to agree with the character in my absolute favorite poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T.S. Eliot: “And indeed there will be time for the yellow smoke that slides along the street, rubbing its back upon the window-panes; there will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; there will be time to murder and create, and time for all the works and days of hands that lift and drop a question on your plate; time for you and time for me, and time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions, before the taking of a toast and tea.”

I mean, that’s how we often live, isn’t it? There’ll be time to say those things that we’ve left unsaid and do those things we’ve left undone. There’ll be time to apologize or to forgive, to renew or to restore and of course to confess and to repent. And there’ll absolutely be time to teach our children about the love of God and to strengthen our relationships within this congregation and to share the gospel to folks in our community.

There’ll always be time...that is, until there’s not, something that I saw up close and personal when I visited by ninety-seven-year-old grandfather when I was in Virginia, who a month ago was up and moving around with his walker and now drifts in and out as he lays is a hospital bed he may never leave. Good night, in the poem I read a little while ago, even Prufrock comes to recognize that his time is limited. He says, “I grow old … I grow old … I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.” Like it or not, tomorrow’s too late to start living, because our lives here on earth are limited, and that’s the first thing we need to accept.

And I’ll tell you, because they are, the time we have to decide that we’re going to follow Christ is also limited. For me, that’s the second thing we’d better recognize. Of course, if we want to know about what that decision involves, in other words, what Jesus wants us to do, I can’t think of a better place to start than with all the commands he gave in the passage we just read. I mean, again just listen to what he said: “Don’t be afraid, little flock (command number one), because your father was pleased to give to you the kingdom. Sell those things that belong to you (two) and give alms (three). Make for yourselves a purse that won’t wear out (four), a treasure that is unfailing in the heavens, where thieves don’t come near nor moths destroy. For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be. Let your loins be girded and lamps burning (five). I think you could call that a grand slam plus one. Five things right here we’ve called to do; therefore, we have a decision to make, don’t we?

And I’ll tell you, I think it’s pretty clear in the two parables that follow the commands, that Jesus wants us to make that decision right now. I mean, think about it. The one about the lord who comes home from the wedding feast and finds that slaves are alert and ready, well, that certainly reminds us that if we want to be blessed, maybe we need to be alert and ready too. And then in the second one, well, if we knew the day and hour we were going to meet our maker, we’d be prepared, right? But when you get right down to it, that’s like trying to predict when a burglar is planning to come through your window. And if both of those stories are true, we’re left with having to be ready all the time. You see, tomorrow’s too late to get ourselves straight with God, because the time we have to decide is limited, and to me, that’s the second thing we need to accept.

And that leaves the third limitation we all face. You see, because the time we have to live and to decide is limited, so is the time we have to respond. In other words, right now is the time to start living our faith and to start putting our decision into action; to stop just talking the talk and to start walking the walk. And although this is whole lot tougher than just sitting around and doing nothing, it’s something we can starting doing right now, and we can do it as a congregation and as individual believers. You see, right now is the time to start putting aside our fears and worries and insecurities, to stop being afraid, and we can to it because our heavenly father has already included us in his kingdom. I mean, we can worry about our children and parents, our jobs and homes, our money and membership until the cows come home. And in fact, we can become obsessed by what people might be doing or what they could be saying, but when held beside the love God has for his children, which means for us, those things just don’t seem quite as important. That’s one way we can respond.

And I’ll tell you, right now is also the time to start getting rid of some that stuff we can’t take with us anyway and then using what we’ve got to make the lives of others better, but more than that, to start moving away from some of those things that may be meaningful only to us so that others might know the love and grace we know and maybe to start dumping some of the stuff we treasure so that we can experience a love and know a joy that’s eternal. I mean, so long as we’re hanging onto things that thieves can steal and moths can eat, how can we ever come to appreciate God’s ability and willingness to care for us? My gosh, if I can’t give up one thing that’s important to me and I mean really give it up for the sake of someone else, how dare I talk about my treasure in heaven and how I feel for those less fortunate than me? Now’s the time to change that.

And finally, right now is the time to start girding our loins, lighting our lamps and facing the opposition that’s going to come when we start doing what God wants us to do. And trust me, it’s going to come. I mean, when we start demonstrating that we can’t be intimidated from confrontation or pressured into compromising or distracted by threats, in other words, when we have the courage to love God with everything we’ve got and our neighbor as ourselves and it doesn’t matter whether that neighbor sits next to us in the pew or has a house across Main Street or lives on the other side of the world, Satan is going to bring up the big guns and the forces of darkness are going to try their best to knock us down. And that’s why we need to stand up and face the future together. And this is something we need to do right now because tomorrow just may be too late. Our time to respond is limited.

Now, when we were back in Norfolk, I got to have my meal at The Surfrider, and it was every bit as good as I expected. Of course I’m sure that my life would have gone on just fine if I hadn’t. But that may not be the case for us in our relationship with God. Although it’s not something we like to admit, I think we’d all agree that we face limitations. I mean, as we’ve been talking about, the time we have to live and to decide and to respond is just plain limited. And because that’s just the way it is, when it comes to strengthening our relationship with God and serving him in new and exciting ways, tomorrow may be too late.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Remembering Becky Shields

Rebecca (Becky Josai) Shields 63 formerly of Weirton, WV, passed away Friday, July 30, 2010; at her home in Thornton, Colorado.

Becky was born Sept. 21, 1946, the eldest daughter of the late John Josai and Edna (Josai) Harrison, who resides in Weirton. She was also preceded in death by her aunt, Anna Josai.

She is survived by her husband, Robert Shields and daughter Stephanie Shields; brother John Josai and his wife, Nikki, of Weirton; sister, Shirley (Josai) Semich and her husband, Robert of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania; nieces Emily and Holly Semich of Coraopolis; and a nephew, Bryan Josai, of Pacific Paradise, Queensland, Australia.

A private, family viewing will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010, at Olinger Highland Mortuary in Thornton, Colorado from 3-8 p.m. Burial will take place on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010, at 2:30 p.m.

The Time We Have

Well, here we are, about to tie up the first full week in August. Before we know it, both school and the football season will be in full swing. And as I look back on the last few months, I just wonder where the summer went. I mean, it seems like only yesterday that we were complaining about the heat for the very first time. And now, well, most of summer is in the rearview mirror.

And I think the same sort of thing happens in our lives. No matter how much I want to slow them down, the years just seem to fly by. And certain things get left behind. We can't do everything we should much less want to do. Our priorities become more narrow and focused as we try to use the time we have to do the best we can with what we've got.

But as we make those often difficult descisions about what we'll do or leave undone, let's not forget that our time is actually a gift from God. And although we may want more of it, our lives are limited; therefore, we may want to do what we can as soon as we can. In other words, we can treasure the lives we've been given and decide to use them to do what God has called us to do, namely to love him and to love our neighbor as ourselves. During the service on Saturday evening and Sunday morning we'll discuss how we might effectively use the time we have.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Reasons for Thanks

During yesterday's worship service, we share the following reasons for thanks:
  • PRAISE GOD OUR FATHER MY FRIEND HAD A BABY BOY FEW WEEKS AGO THEY HAD 2 MED FLIGHT HIM 2 LITTLE ROCK, ARK SHE SAID THEY GET 2 GO HOME 2DAY OR 2MORROW THANK U JESUS GOD IS AWESOME AMEN
  • Amen! Awesome GOD!!
  • Thanking Jesus for Saving my soul and bringing salvation into the world. Without Jesus, we would be doomed. I love my Lord and Savior.
  • I would like to give thanks for our Lord seeing me through all my trials.
  • For the happiness in our lives - which will increase as we enjoy and focus on it.
  • Special thanks to all who continue to have faith and want to enjoy and share it at Cove!

Sermon: Security in an Insecure World

Luke 12:13-21 - 13And someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, speak to my brother to divide with me the inheritance.” 14But [Jesus] said to him, “Man, who appointed me judge, the one who apportions with y’all?”


15And he said to them, “Watch and be on guard yourselves against all desires about having more, because not even when a person has a lot is a person’s life derived from what belongs to him.”

16And he said a parable to them saying, “The land of a wealthy person bore well. 17And he began to debate within himself saying, “What will I do, because I don’t have a place where I might collect my fruits?” 18And he said, “I’ll do this. I’ll pull down my silos and larger ones I’ll build. I’ll gather there all the grain and my good things. 19And I’ll say to my self, ‘Self, you have many good things which has been laid away for many years. Rest, eat, drink, enjoy yourself.” 20And God said to him, “Fool, this night your self will be demanded back from you. And what you prepared, whose will they be?” 21Thus it is for the one who saves up for himself and isn’t wealthy toward God.”

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About a year ago, I went to a bunch of presentations down at Mellon Arena. Now it was one of those motivational programs when they get some people together, and they each talk about how you can have more success in life. Of course, most of the not-so-famous speakers were either promoting a book or trying to get you to sign up for one of their seminars. Well, I remember there was this one presenter, I don’t remember his name, who talked about financial security. You see, he’d developed a program for average people to make a little extra money. And you know, as I listened, I got more and more interested in what he had to say.

In other words, he convinced me that I could secure my family financially through the stock market. And so when he said he was sponsoring a three-day seminar in Pittsburgh for, like, one hundred dollars, I signed-up. I mean, I figured, what did I have to lose; that is, beyond my one hundred bucks? And so I went, and it was pretty interesting. And even though I didn’t swallow it “hook, line and sinker,” I was motivated enough to buy the online service they offered to help evaluate stocks, and I starting dabbling in the market with a little more intensity and money than I had before. Now I could say that I did it all because I wanted to give more to the church, but I don’t think you’d buy it, and neither would I. You see, at it’s root, it all came down to my desire to find a little more security in a pretty insecure world.

And although I know that not everybody would do what I did, I think what I wanted to do is not unique. In fact, I think most people see our world as a less than secure place. My gosh, that’s why we’re willing to accept taking off our shoes and belts before boarding a plane and why I was willing to drop in a box a tiny, inch and a half pocket knife with a blade that couldn’t cut butter, I was willing to let that be confiscated before I entered a political rally a couple of years ago. And in this valley, with mills closing and jobs going sometimes to the other side of the world, well, I don’t need to tell y’all about living with insecurity. Now-a-days, it just seems to be a fact of life; insecurity is almost a given.

And I’ll tell you, so is the way we usually respond. I mean, I don’t care if your talking about money or marriage or even faith, I think we generally deal with insecurity by doing three things. First, we try to get as much as we can as soon as they can, right? And why shouldn’t we? When it comes to danger, you really can’t afford to put it off. And of course, if I just had a little more money or love or faith in the bank..., well, y’all know what I mean. I want more and I want it now, then I’ll be safe. That’s one thing we do.

And this really leads to a second thing, and I’m talking about the assumption that we’re really in control. And again, we believe it because it just makes sense. I mean, give me a break, it’s all about us, right? We need to make our country safer. And we need to make our relationships stronger. And we need to make our faith deeper. And if we don’t, we’re just out of luck, Chuck. Why; because it’s all up to us; it’s all up to me. That’s two.

And third, all this leads us to focus on what we have. Man, once we get it, we better fight to keep what we’ve got. We’ve got to store it. We’ve got to protect it. We’ve got to secure it. And when you get right down to it, isn’t that why we build physical and emotional, even spiritual walls? I mean, have you heard that fences make good neighbors? Well they sure do if you want to keep your neighbor out of your yard. We’re going to defend your stuff, because if we want to feel any kind of security, we’ve got to keep what we have, right?

Sure we do, or at least that’s how we act. And you know, when you think about it, that’s not a lot different from the two guys we ran across in the passage we just read, and I’m talking about the person who wanted Jesus to tell his brother to split the inheritance or the rich guy in the parable who assumed that building new and bigger silos was the ticket to a long and happy life. I mean, didn’t they do the same kind of things we often do? You know what I mean. Didn’t they take a pretty short-term view of the situation? And didn’t they assume that they had some control over what was going to happen? And didn’t they become focused on what they had or at least expected to get? Sure they did. And since right before and after this passage Jesus talked about worry and fear, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that some of that same kind of stuff was going on here. Yes sir, I think in a real way we can see ourselves pretty clear in this passage. As a matter of fact, if I didn’t have in front of me Jesus’s response, I’d say both the request of the brother and the plans of the rich farmer were not only appropriate but right.

But you know, we do have Jesus’s response; therefore, we know that there was something definitely wrong in what was going on here. I mean, according to Jesus, it’s pretty clear that keeping all your stuff can be a little like trying to hold onto a fist full of sand, especially when you consider that things can change in a minute. Like the guy who had a coronary right after the silos were completed or the couple who sank their entire savings into Enron stock, the world can change on a dime. You see, that’s why the man in the parable was a fool. And often that change is beyond our control, like when Jesus refused to straighten out the brother or God demanded back a life or maybe a little closer to home, when the steel mill closes or a son or daughter gets married in spite of our advice. Man, these are things out of our hands. But you know, even if this doesn’t happen, I mean, even if time doesn’t pull the rug out from under us or situations don’t spin out of control, even if everything goes according to plan, our efforts to secure ourselves invariably lead us to have and to hold more and more and more. And I think that’s exactly what Jesus saw in the unhappy brother and that’s why his request caused Jesus to say, “Watch and be on guard yourselves against all desires about having more, because not even when a person has a lot is a person’s life derived from what belongs to him.” And wasn’t that the case with the person in the parable, someone who already had more than enough but who, when he got more, could only think about storage problems? Sharing and giving never entered his mind. He had “saved up for himself and wasn’t wealthy toward God.” No wonder he never knew real security. And I’ll tell you, neither will we if we follow his example.

As a matter of fact, if we really want a little bit of security in this insecure world, we may just have to change three things that I think really get in the way of feeling any genuine safety. And fortunately, none of them involve rocket science or brain surgery. In fact, they all deal with the sort of stuff we’ve been talking about. I mean, if we really want to find real security, first, we probably need to change our perspective on time. Specifically, we need to move from the temporal to the eternal, from the finite to the infinite, in others words, from days and weeks, months and years to the timelessness God promises. Because I’ll tell you, that’s the only kind of life that matters. It’s not just about the here and now. It’s also about the sweet by and by. You see, so long as we limit our vision to the present, we fail to appreciate that, as Chet Powers sang his song “Get Together:” “Some will come and some will go, and we shall surely pass. When the one that left us here returns for us at last. We are but a moment’s sunlight fading in the grass.” Or as the Apostle Paul wrote, “When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” This is our future, and if we really want to feel secure, this is the perspective we need to claim. But that’s not all.

Second, we may also want to change our assumptions about control. And even though this seems to violate something that’s almost fundamental, we might have to give up the idea that we’re self-sufficient, that we’re captains of our fate, that we’re the boss; we might have to give that up so that we can recognize that God is in control, that he’s in control of the entire universe and a single flower in the field, and that he is the Lord of our lives whether we want him to be or not. And even though believing that we’re in charge may be a real boost to our egos, if we don’t give up this fantasy, there’s absolutely no way we’ll ever find comfort in the words that Christ spoke right after he finished the parable: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!” These words are meaningless, if we don’t change our assumptions about control.

And finally, if we ever want to know real security, we may just have to change our focus on stuff. And I’ll tell you, this is really where the rubber hits the road, because so long as we’re angling for our rightful inheritance and building bigger silos to hold all our good things, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to live in the eternal or accept God’s control. It’s like Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And maybe that’s why he said the fundamental problem with the rich man was that he’d “saved up for himself and wasn’t wealthy toward God.” Maybe changing is something we need to do and maybe it’s something we can do together, because before anyone thinks that I’m talking down to y’all, if autographed football helmets and books were like grain, I’d be building bigger silos all the time. And speaking for myself, the security I feel is going to be limited until that focus changes.

And I’ll tell you, that’s a lesson I really learned last fall, when I applied some of that stuff I picked up at the financial workshops I attended. You see, I started making some new investments, and I followed their rules to the letter, and you will never guess, most of those investment went...down. So much for financial security. But you know, before we feel that in other parts of our lives, let’s make a decision to move away from what the world says is right and begin to change our perspective on time and our assumptions about control and our focus on stuff. Because, if we do, we just might find some security in an insecure world.