Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - How To Follow a Star

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, June 4, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

Now I understand that the sermon title could be taken in more than one direction, because what it means to follow a star can refer to different things. And I know that to be a fact, because on Thursday, I googled the title, you know, to find something for the cover, and I found stuff that was totally unrelated to what I had in mind. I mean, I got a whole bunch of pictures of the wise men going to Bethlehem. And then I got some photographs of different stars up in the sky. And then I got a few drawings that must have gone with books about how important it is to follow your dreams; I mean, that’s sort of like following your star. Well, anyway, that’s the kind of stuff I found. And even though it was all nice, none of those had anything to do with the kind of star following I had in mind.

You see, what I was thinking about was how sometimes we’re in the position to follow in the footsteps of someone who did what we need to do really well, you know, a star. Let me give you a few examples. In football, somebody has to follow the star quarterback, you know, like when Steve Young followed Joe Montana or Andrew Luck followed Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger followed Tommy Maddox. And just last week, I was talking to a member of the choir whom I don’t want to embarrass by mentioning her name, we were talking about how she felt really lucky to follow her sister, Dottie Jones, in school. And I can tell you, this kind of thing nearly happened to me, when I interviewed with a church in Mandan, North Dakota back in 1991. The chair of the nominating committee sat under a portrait of Ben Dove, the minister who was retiring after working with the congregation for thirty-five years and the guy in whose shadow I would have been. I’ll tell you, I think most people have been stuck following a star at some point in their lives. 

And even though there are times when it works out really well, you know, like when Debbie Siefert followed her sister in school, often that’s not the case. I mean, give me a break, sometimes it’s down-right difficult to follow someone who’s been really good at something we’re now expected to do. And because of that, I think it’s natural to wonder if we’ll ever measure up much less meet expectations. In other words, when faced with this kind of situation, I believe it’s easy to compare ourselves to them and to start wondering if maybe the job is too big for us to handle or maybe we’re too small to get it done right. Let’s face it, as both Andrew Luck and Big Ben learned from personal experience, following a star ain’t easy.

And yet, in a very real way, that’s what Christians have been expected to do for almost two thousand years. You see, we’ve been asked to follow the brightest star of all, the big kahuna himself, Jesus Christ. And it’s been like that from the very beginning of church. And frankly I think it was as difficult for them as it is for us. I mean, give me a break, it was one thing to follow him around when he was living, you know, soaking in his parables and watching him perform miracles and of course, eating some of the free fish sandwiches he made for the crowds. My gosh, that was easy. And even after the arrest and the crucifixion, remember Jesus was raised. And according to Luke, he was with his followers forty days. They were following, but Elvis was still in the building.

But it was during this time they got a glimpse of the future, because it was during those forty days that Jesus told his disciples, and through them, he tells us, exactly what they were suppose to do when he’d gone. He said, “...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.” [Acts 1:8] You see, they were told to be his witnesses, to be his μάρτυρες, eventually to the ends of the world. In other words, soon they would be expected to represent him everywhere. Now that’s a pretty big job, right? But to make this situation even worst, again according to Luke, the author of Acts, “When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  [Acts 1:9-11] Now this changes everything; not only were they expected to present Jesus to a world who’d never heard his name, Jesus wasn’t going to be around to help them. Now that’s what they faced. You see, they were going to have to follow a star.

And I’ll tell you, if you’re hearing this all relaxed and not feeling any of the urgency and pressure they felt, let me tell you, right now we are called to do the same job, to be Jesus’s witnesses in our world, and because he hasn’t come back, we’re following the same star they had to follow themselves. 

And even though I believe there’s still a lot pressure that goes with this call, let me tell you, God didn’t leave us out there hanging. I mean, even though Jesus hasn’t return, we’re not exactly on our own. You see, we’re able to continue the work of Christ, you know, to be his witnesses to the world, because God has given us three things that will make this job a lot easier. And you know, they’re the exact same things he gave those disciples way back in the day.

You see, first, God has given us a whole bunch of examples we can follow. And I’ll tell you, if you don’t know where to find them, just thumb through your Bible some time. I mean, you tell me that Abraham isn’t an example of faith or Esther isn’t an example of strength or Job isn’t an example of courage. And of course in the New Testament, we’ve got the example of Jesus himself, and even though I wouldn’t suggest trying to walk on water or expecting to feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, we sure can accept the weak and the lowly just like he did. And we can sure stand up to the high and the mighty when they’re wrong just like he did. And we can sure trust that God is always with us, even when things couldn’t be worst, just like he did. Man, we have Jesus. And along with Jesus, we can also follow the examples of his disciples, and I’m talking about those whom we see described in the Book of Acts, people who actually did what Jesus told them to do before he was taken into the clouds. You see, right now, we can decide that we’re going to follow this cloud of witnesses, these wonderful examples of faith and action. It’s like that old hymn: 
“Faith of our fathers, living still 
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword, 
O how our hearts beat high with joy
 Whene’er we hear that glorious word! 
Faith of our fathers! holy faith! 
We will be true to thee till death!” 
I’ll tell you, we have some wonderful examples that we can follow, examples that will help us continue to do the work we have to do. And that’s the first thing God’s given to us.

And second, he’s also given us some magnificent lessons that we can learn. And right now, I’m thinking about all the stuff Jesus taught his disciples after, according to Luke, “[Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem.” [Luke 9:51b] For example, as they traveled to the heart of Judaism and the hinge on which the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts turns, Jesus taught his disciples what they could expect, even from their own flesh and blood, you know, that they’d encounter opposition from those who would hate them but also see amazing results in fields that are ready to be harvested. And he taught them what they might say when confronted with difficult questions, like “who is my neighbor”, and how they could be honest with crowds who were looking for a messiah to meet all their needs and even what they might pray when they approached God. My gosh, he even taught them the kind of temptations they’d face, you know, like how they might become distracted by wealth or by fear or by assumptions. And I’ve just mentioned a few things Jesus taught. If we’re serious about learning his lessons, you know, taking Discipleship 101; then at the very least, we’re going to have to open our Bibles and read Luke, chapters 10 through 19. I’m telling you, if we want to know what to expect and what to say and what’s going to get us off track, man, it’s all right here. But of course, reading it is just the start, because how you apply it is where the rubber hits the road. I mean, knowing all the words may be nice, but that’s not worth a bucket of spit if there’s no application. It doesn’t really mean a thing if it doesn’t move us our beyond our little comfortable community into a world that desperately needs the message that he have to share. I’m telling you, it’s just a lot of spiritual sounding stuff but little else, if we’re still unwilling to take it and live it right here and right now. And wouldn’t it be a shame if we made the decision to do nothing constructive and positive with all this, especially since these wonderful lessons from Jesus, man, they’re the second thing God has given us so that we can continue Christ’s work.

And third, right along with the examples God has given us to follow and the lessons he’s given us to learn, our Father has also given us the Spirit, the Holy Spirit both to inspire and to empower us. And I’ll tell y’all, that’s what Pentecost is all about and ultimately that’s how we can be Christ’s witnesses and how we can continue his work. You see, according to Luke, “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.” [Acts 2:1-4] You see, when the Spirit came, and I’m talking about the same Holy Spirit that “...descended upon [Jesus] in the bodily form like a dove” at his baptism, the disciples started to share the story. They started to communicate the gospel in ways that the people around them could understand. They started to become “...[Christ’s] witnesses [first] in Jerusalem.” And because of that, we shouldn’t be surprised that, after receiving the Spirit, Peter preached the first sermon offered in Acts. And later, again with the Spirit, he and John would both heal the sick and cast out demons. You see, the Spirit is what inspires and empowers the work. And believe me, brothers and sisters, believe me, that same Spirit is right here this morning. Right now it’s flowing around and through us. Like a great wind, it’s filling this place. Like tongues of fire, it’s resting on us. And just like Paul wrote to the Corinthians, it’s inspiring and empowering us to do the very things we’ve been called to do. He wrote, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” [1 Corinthians 12:4-7] Now that’s happening right here and right now. And all we need to do to is recognize it and claim it. Because it’s the Holy Spirit, this wonderful Pentecostal gift, that will enable us to continue the work of Christ. 

And that’s a good thing, because what we’re here to do doesn’t involve learning about the Wise Men or looking in the heavens or pursuing our dreams. In fact, we’ve actually been called to do more than just follow a star. We’re expected to be his witnesses, through both our words and work, to folks who live across the street and those who live on the other side of the world. I think you could say, we’ve been elected by God to proclaim good news to the citizens of both Pittsburgh and Paris. And even though we might feel as though the job is too big or that we’re too small, we really have a lot of help. You see, God has give us examples to follow and he’s given us lessons to learn and he’s given us the Holy Spirit to inspire and empower. All this has been given to us by God. And when we claim these gifts, I’m telling you, that’s how we can follow Jesus Christ, ultimate star. 

No comments: