Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mission Field of Dreams

You can listen to the full sermon here.

YouTube video link coming soon...

Or read the rough draft of the manuscript here...

Coming back from mission trip is often when I am most on fire for my faith.  And I've had a week to recover from the trip, but not yet come down from that high.  Y'all are in for it.  ;-) The trip was incredible and gave all 19 of the youth and 7 of us adults the opportunity to serve an immigrant community in Costa Rica known as Pavas.  As you've heard from our TWAMers this morning, it was a transformative experience... for the people in our neighborhood, and for us.

For the families, it was a lifelong dream realized, giving them a future and a hope.  And for our kids, it inspired a few dreams of what their lives can be, and we pray as leaders, alters their future and gives them hope.  And we, as adults, are inspired once more to dedicate our lives to serving the Lord every day, not giving up on dreaming what God may be calling us to do.

One of my favorite films centers on one man following his dreams with his family and the people put in his path along the way, the dreams of everyone he encounters.  Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, among others, is one I've seen countless times.  As Kostner's character Ray lies awake one night with his wife, having already plowed his cornfield for a baseball field, he muses that his father must have had dreams, but he never did anything about them. 

He never did anything about them.

On Ray's journey, he encounters some wild and colorful characters and feels driven to help people reach their dreams.  He learns of a man named Moonlight Graham.  He goes searching for him and discovers that DOCTOR Graham passed away some years before.  A retired journalist reads them his obituary, detailing a life of quiet service and love.  Not just a doctor, but a hero who provided children in need with the necessities and the occasional ticket to the ballpark, a real hometown hero.  In interviewing the townspeople who knew him, they learned how this saint had changed the lives of everyone who lived there, famous only for caring for the needy and loving his wife in equal measures of devotion.

What on earth does any of this have to do with baseball? wonders our hero, Ray, he muses as he goes for moonlight stroll.  In his stroll, he wanders back in time and meets Doc Graham.  They share a cup of coffee and the elderly doctor tells him his story.  He played in the minor leagues and finally got called up.  He rode the bench and finally got called out of the dugout to outfield for a game.  The ball never made it out of the infield and he never got to bat.  Knowing he was going back to the minors was crushing, and he went home and became a doctor.

Ray asks him if he could fulfill any dream, have just one wish, what would it be?

Doc Graham says he never got to bat in the majors.  He says he'd like to face down a major league pitcher, let him go into his windup, and just before the pitch, wink.  Make him think he knew something he didn't.  Connect with the ball, run the bases, stretch a double into a triple, and flop face first into third, wrap his arms around the bag.  That is his wish.

Ray excitedly tells him that his baseball field is where dreams come true, that players long gone come back to play and live their dreams and begs him to go with him.  He politely declines.

On Ray's drive home with the author played by James Earl Jones, he sees a young kid hitchhiking.  They give him a lift and he introduces himself as Archie Graham.  They take the kid to his Iowa farm where he gets to play with the legends, they greats, and even fulfill his dream, arms around the bag and all.

Ray has done it, fulfilled his dreams.

And then in the climax of the film, Ray's extended family come to ruin things.  They don't believe in the magic and can't see the ballplayers.  A confrontation occurs and Ray's daughter falls from the bleachers, laying motionless on the ground not breathing.  As the mother runs for the house to call the paramedics, Moonlight Graham jogs in from the outfield.  He stops at the edge of the field, a boundary the players have never crossed in the film.  He drops his glove and slowly steps across, instantly becoming an old man in his wool suit and overcoat, carrying his medical bag.  He sits the young girl up and sees she's choking.  He gives her a few hard thumps on the back, she coughs up a hotdog, and is just fine.  Ray and his wife begin thanking him profusely, and he says, "No.  Thank YOU."

Oh my God, you can't go back, Ray says, realizing the profound sacrifice he's made.  He begins to apologize and he's interrupted.  Doc Graham tells him it's worth it.  He gives him a look, and Ray remembers his words in the diner several nights before when he tried to persuade him to come with him.  The doc had told him to have his dream come so close was devastating, like having your dreams brush by you like a stranger in a crowd. Ray says, it would kill most men to come so close, to only have 5 minutes to live their dream, that they'd consider it a tragedy! Doc Graham shakes his head and says, no.  If I had only gotten to be a doctor for 5 minutes, that would be a tragedy.  And the doc leaves, making his way through the legends who had razzed him as a rookie for days, patting him on the back and giving him accolades, he was their hero.

Ray spent the movie trying to help people fulfill their dreams, their one wish, only to discover that many of those dreams were a passing fantasy, and while exciting and momentarily fulfilling, it was not the dream to which they were called by God to be who they were called to be.  James Earl Jones helps him to see that his true calling is not to run around as an errand boy to a voice, but to love and appreciate his family, his father, and all he'd been given with the same passion he'd gone he distance for.  He had to learn to pursue not what was fleeting and personal, but eternal and godly (that which God dreams for God’s people and creation)…

How many of us doggedly pursue dreams of ambition, personal fulfillment, and good intentions for ourselves and others without pausing for a moment to consider if it is the dream God is calling us to pursue?  In the busyness and whirlwind of our lives in this country and this day and time, are we truly pausing to ask ourselves what plans God has, how God calls us to use our gifts to serve all those in need.  The master in our Gospel story gives gifts to his servants.  The good servants don't use those gifts for self-improvement, but rather to show their thankfulness to the master for his trust and generosity.  Have we done the same?  Do we pursue what is fleeting and personal, or eternal and godly?

Have we used our vocations, our skills, our resources to acquire and maintain at our worst, accolades and a lifestyle, and at our best, security and safety?  Have we challenged our kids to give selflessly, to risk their popularity, their future, and themselves to follow God's call on their lives?  The Bible challenges boldly with these questions!  The psalmist does not speak of the mother sparrow who builds a safe nest far from danger and risk, but one who builds her nest close to the altar, the mother who offers herself and her young before the Lord to go and be and do what the Lord calls her to go and be and do.

But, Brian!  Your story was about a doctor!  I am working hard to put my kid in the right private school or AP class or get them a sports scholarship!  They have talent!  Yes, they do!  Yes YOU do!  So are you pursuing a life of service or a life of security and self satisfaction and comfort?  This is a question we ask of ourselves every single mission trip.  That is one of the most valuable parts of these trips.  I was reminded of a talented young man at a Florida university who had the opportunity to play starting quarterback and told the offensive coordinator he was thrilled for the opportunity, but would need a week off during camp to go on his church mission trip.  The coordinator told him he was nuts to jeopardize this chance and possibly his career to miss out and go do this.  The brave young man said he understood that was a risk, but that was a priority to him and his family.  The head coach heard about this dedication to this calling God had placed on his heart and Tim Tebow was able to go on his mission trip AND start as quarterback, retaining his chance for a career in the NFL, but that was not promised to him for the risk he took.  He pursued not what was fleeting and personal, but eternal and godly.

Are the dreams you are chasing or building your life around, or preparing for your children the lives of safety, security, and acclaim, or lifelong service and pursuit of God's ongoing call?  Have you carved out time for your family to be dedicated disciples present in worship, active in faith community, and prioritized your time and resources, and dedicated your entire family to serving others above the fleeting dreams we all have?  If I'd only gotten to be a doctor for 5 minutes, that would be a tragedy.  The kind of doctor that Doc Graham was.

The youth on our trip don't just give a week of time and energy.  You don't just give money to build houses or send kids out of the country.  Our youth bring love and hope to the hopeless and downtrodden.  Your resources provide HOMES for families who have dreamed of nothing greater.  Our youth come to appreciate who greatly and richly they are blessed AND how they should respond in gratitude for the rest of their lives.  We help them grow their roots down deep into the lord so they respond in thankfulness, so they respond as good and faithful servants who seek every opportunity to serve the Lord because God expects them to use what he has given them! 

It's risky!  I don't usually recruit for mission trip by telling kids and parents how risky it is.  It's not the neighborhood, or the travel, or the governments, or the poverty, or the people we encounter, or the groups we work alongside, or dangerous heretical ideas with which they could come into contact.  Those are not the risks and the dangers.  The risk is that they will begin to dream dreams of God's call on their life, to seek and save the lost, to put service and love above safety, security, career, or the American dream.  They will dream big and pursue what is eternal and godly.

Our YWAM liaison, Mark, is a Kiwi, a New Zealander with a heart for the world and for mission, who shares his dream with his wife and 3, soon to be 4, kids to serve others in love and with all his gifts of leadership and music and hard work.  His father, he told me, once asked him what he would do about money and retirement.  Had God provided for those things?  What would Mark do when he was old?  Mark bravely, and with no naivety at all, told his father that then perhaps he would go to Asia and die in poverty like most of the world does.  I was floored.  Mark trusted God to provide for his needs so completely that he was going to give his all and follow the Lord wherever he called, whatever is eternal and godly.

I've told some of you that I spoke at length with Pedro, the father of the family that my work team built a house with and for.  His arm around me, he told me in Spanish that GOD had built this house, that we were his family now, that we were always welcome, as all of you are, and that one day when he saw God, he would tell him about us.

God dreams for us, brothers and sisters, and God dreams BIG.  We are the wicked servant whenever we dream small or dream for ourselves and our children in small ways.  But when we step aside, when we pray, when we seek, when we find need and meet it with great love, giving all of our heart in thankfulness with our roots deep in the Lord, we are the good and faithful servant.  When you pour out your resources to send young people to change lives and be transformed, when you join us and travel to those in need, when you step aside from micromanaging your life and the life of your children to set them on a road measured by success and security and prestige and allow them to seek God's call, we dream big, we love deeply, and discover the hopes and future God calls us to be a part of.

I challenge you this week... yes, more homework... sit down.  Sit down alone or with your spouse, your children, your parents.  Sit down and dream together.  Ask yourselves about your own gifts.  What do you have in small portion or abundance?  Then ask yourself what dreams God may have for each of you.  How will you serve, how will you make use of what the master has given you?  Will you be serving this year here, in our community, on mission trip?  Will you be volunteering or giving of your time and resources in some new way?  Make a list of the biggest dreams you can dream for how you are maybe being called to serve and use those many "talents" the master has given you.  Put that list on your fridge and keep looking at it, adding to it, changing it, and keep dreaming big. 

There's a big old mission field of dreams in this world.  And when you have dreamed and done and become, you will stand before the Lord, and a little man named Pedro will be there to introduce you, and the Lord will say, "well done, good and faithful servant."  Amen.


Isn't it strange, that princes and kings, 

and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
and common-folk like you and me, 
are builders for eternity?

To each is given a bag of tools,

a shapeless mass and a Book of Rules;
and each must make 'ere time has flown,
a stumbling block or a stepping stone.

Who & WHOSE We Are

Appologies, but this sermon didn't even have a rough draft manuscript, just an outline, so for the sermon, the text is included in the recording with the sermon.  Listen to the audio here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Easter Said... Then Done

Acts 3:12-19 - Main Text
Ps 4 - Call to Worship
I John 3:1-7 - Yes

Call to Worship:
Answer me when I call, oh God of my righteousness!
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.
Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself.
The Lord hears when I call to him!
There are many who say, 'Who will show us some good?'
'Lift up your face upon us, Oh Lord!'

Easter Said... Then Done

[note:  this is a very rough manuscript and I do not use it when I preach.  I preach without notes, so the link to the audio very likely will not match up with the following.]

Imagine you're sitting at home one evening.  You're flipping channels, waiting for your favorite program to come on and you catch the last few minutes of the evening news.  You hear mentioned an outbreak of some unknown virus in a country you'd have trouble placing on the map, even though someone you know visited their recently.

The next day, you see it mentioned on your newsfeed on Facebook by a few people and within a few days you hear on the radio that it's spread to several other countries and it's causing some panic there.  By the next week, you're seeing news on Facebook and the local news that people are really worried because a few cases have shown up in the US and health workers are being diagnosed with it.  Several fatalities have been reported and people are worried.  It's spreading like wildfire in other parts of the world and it becomes the leading concern in conversations at work.

Someone shared this story with me years ago, and not so long ago it seemed all the more real with the Ebola virus.  Continue to imagine with me that it continues to spread.  Here in the US, entire cities are cordoned off by the National Guard.  Quarantine zones become a reality.  Looting and riots break out.  Fear and panic rise, violence and disorder erupt across the globe, millions are infected, millions die.  It seems no one is immune and it is highly contagious.

In earnest, the CDC and World Health Organization plead for people to come in and be tested in hopes of finding anyone with immunity to the virus.  People live in fear of contracting the disease and will not comply.  Soldiers move from house to house with medical teams testing everyone.

You and your family, your wife and your son head to the nearest testing site.  None of you has yet contracted the disease, but you're being told the virus is lethal in 100% of the people who become infected.  You wait in a ward with hundreds of other people who look completely hopeless and doctors and nurses who look afraid to even touch anyone.  A doctor hurries around asking for someone, you catch your last name.  Your eyes meet.  He doesn't look afraid like everyone else.  For the first time, you see hope.  He actually looks happy, excited.  He confirms you are the family he's seeking, and asks you to follow him to an office.  Your spouse stays with your son.

He begins by saying how extraordinary this is, how finally there's hope.  He says they have been looking for an immunity, something that they can use to create a cure, to halt the rising tide of casualties.  That's when he tells you that it's your son.  The cure is in his blood.  He carries a rare trait, an immunity.  Your relief comes in waves.  Not only is your son not infected, he's immune.  And his immunity can save your life and the lives of countless others.  His blood can save the world.

The doctor explains that they will need to take samples immediately and begin to study his blood and synthesize a cure immediately.  He uses a lot of medical jargon you don't understand about virology and immunology.  A lawyer from the government and representatives from the CDC and WHO come in and are just as excited as you are starting to feel.  They hand you a stack of documents to read and places for you to sign for consent to examine your son and take blood.  On the blood donation page, there is a blank above the signature line.  It says, blood in the amount of ______.  You pause.  It doesn't say how much.

The doctors and government reps all stop bustling and look to the doctor with whom you've been speaking.  No one will make eye contact with you.  Time is of the essence, he begins.  I mean, if we had more time... If we had more resources or any other subjects... If there was any way...  He can't finish a sentence.

Someone else lays a hand on his shoulder and looks at you with a pained expression.  All of it.  I'm afraid we need all of it.  Perhaps you break down, perhaps you scream in protest.  Perhaps you do both.  No one can console you, but no one tries to contradict you.  They know the weight of what they've asked.  And you know that without your son, everyone you have every known and loved, everyone... will die.

In the coming days, it is announced a cure has been found.  Doctors are applauded, teams of researchers are awarded.  The military is thanked for their heroism in a time of crisis.  Politicians vie for credit.  The world celebrates.  Dancing in the streets.  Parades.  Everywhere you turn, people are full of joy.  The pain you feel as the world moves on with little to no mention of your son does not compare, however, to the weeks that follow, the months after that.  Once things return to normal and the fear subsides, TV shows return, work resumes, vacations are planned, travel bans are lifted... no one follows the news of the recovery as closely as the descent into chaos.  Few people talk about the miracle of the cure or your son and the sacrifice of your family.  You find it hard to talk about and share that news because it seems no one wants to hear it.  Every day, this news so precious to you, this miracle you witnessed, you want to share it.  And so you do, with anyone and everyone who will listen.  And those who do are incredibly moved by the bravery of your son, the sacrifice of your family, and they want to tell everyone they meet.

What if... WHAT IF... we lived our lives as Easter people EVERY day, people touched by a miracle.  The passage today says that we are WITNESSES to this story.  But Brian, Easter was two weeks ago!  Easter was 2,000 years ago!  We weren't there!

The Disciples were there.  They witnessed his life, his miracles, his ministry, his teaching.  They experienced his love firsthand, he was their friend.  They watched their friend mocked, tortured, and killed.  They experienced the sacrifice and the resurrection.  They could not remain silent.  And because they could not keep it to themselves, we know the story today, and we continue to be an Easter people.  It's why we worship on Sunday, why Sunday became the Sabbath for early believers... the day our Lord was raised!

Sunday becomes an opportunity to share the Gospel.  I don't know how many times people have told me they just don't have opportunities to share their faith.  Every person in this room has an opportunity because they were here today.  Hear me out.

In the story I told you, imagine the opportunities created.  Every single time anyone would mention their health or a hospital or a doctor or the cure, travel or the government or military or anything that happened during that crisis, that's a window of opportunity to mention your son and what he did.

Just to be a church on Sunday weekly opens a door.  You go to lunch after this, nicely dressed.  No one has to ask where you've been.  They know.  You're incredibly kind and gracious to your waiter. You ask to pray for your waiter.  You are encouraging and patient of slow service, understanding it's a busy day and perhaps they are new or they have a family member facing crisis and didn't get to be in church today to share their concern with those who would pray and love them.  You're complimentary and appreciate of a job well done.  You tip well.

You have Saturday evening plans and as you head out, you tell them you'd love to stay longer, but you have church tomorrow and you want to be well-rested so you can teach a good lesson or pay attention to the sermon or prepare your children for worship.

Your son or daughter has a soccer match rescheduled for Sunday morning because of rain.  You tell them you won't be able to make it because your faith and family are a priority and a commitment you take seriously.  Another parent hears you and finally has the confidence to say, yes, us too.  I didn't want to be the only one.  Hey, us too, actually.

Your employer asks you to work Sunday morning and you say, ok, that's tricky with church, but my church has three services and I'll go to an earlier one this week.  I definitely can't miss my Bible study Tuesday night if I take this shift.

You're visiting family or friends out of town who rarely go to church.  Can we go to your church this Sunday with you?  We'd love to worship with y'all and meet your family of faith.

You have countless opportunities to open a door and invite someone in.  But, Brian, then what do I say?  Someone ask me... Brian, what do we say???

I'm glad you asked.  Because as believers who gather together to learn, to grow, and to encourage, we are here to help each other tell the story... our story!

I have been asked countless times in my journey how I came to be a pastor.  Perhaps you've been asked how you ended up in your calling or at this church, or a believer...

I've learned how to boil it down, to get at the marrow of it.  As our custodian here at church, Archie says, "to make a long story short..."

My first summer of college, I worked for a few weeks in the District Attorney's office of Cabarrus County, where I grew up.  In that time, I saw people I knew, friends of mine, marched into court in orange jumpsuits and shackles.  I spent the rest of the summer at Camp Grier in Old Fort, NC.  I worked as a camp counselor with kids from the boondocks, kids from the burbs, and kids from the inner city.  They had one thing in common that my friends in jumpsuits did not.  They were given the opportunity to hear the Easter story, to hear that they were loved, by God and a community of believers, part of a tradition of a people of faith.  That was something I knew my friends had not had.  I decided then that I wanted to be on the preventative rather than prosecutorial end of that process.  

When I told that to an older gentleman shortly after that became my story, he said, "So basically you were tired of pulling them out of the water and you wanted to go upstream and keep from jumping in in the first place?"  That's exactly it.

You see, that's my story of my encounter with God in my life.  It's not a conversion experience or a miracle.  God showed up and it was so profound that it could not be ignored.  And he does that for each of us.  Sometimes it's a moment or an experience.  Sometimes it's a summer or a relationship with someone who nudges us in a new direction.  Maybe it's years of growing up in Sunday school classes or youth groups or away from the church completely that has shaped you and opened your heart to the Easter story, the life-changing existence of a God who loves you and changes your life for  the better.  What is that for you?  What is your elevator speech?  What is your commercial spot?  What is your movie teaser trailer that hooks someone so much they want to... need to know more?

Because once you have opened that door, with your commitment, your life, the way you clearly prioritize the places you go, the things you do, where you give your time and money and the talents you take pride in... people will want to know.... THEN share that story, that bite-size sample of God in your life.

But Brian, I don't know how to condense my story or to choose a moment or experience like you shared... YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  There is a faith hero in your life.  A teacher or a relative or a pastor ;-) who can help you find the story that is yours, the words that will tell it.  And in each retelling, it will deepen, it will inspire.

You have homework this week.  Turn to the person beside you... if you don't know them, introduce yourself after this service right away.  If you know them, this will help even more...  Tell them... YOU HAVE HOMEWORK THIS WEEK...  If you have your story, your elevator speech, your teaser trailer... you find the moment to share it, the door that opens because someone wants to know about this priority in your life, this thing you call faith.  You find it, you make it, and you share.

If you are one of those people who just said, but I don't have one!  YOUR homework this week is to learn to tell yours.  Think now, write it on your bulletin, who is your person, your faith person, your go-to spiritual advisor, accountability partner, your small group, or your mentor.  Write it down now.  Go to them.  Ask them for help.  Write down, "my Easter experience."  I will be asking you when I see you this or at church or at Go Burrito or Mean Mug or Harris Teeter what your story is and I really want to know.  Your experience of Easter is what makes you a follower of Christ.  It's what makes US an Easter people, children of God, descendants of the resurrection!

Do not be a people who have Easter for just one day, Easter preached, Easter experienced, Easter said... and then DONE.  This is our story.  We have to find ways to share it every day.

Monday, December 29, 2014

I Know What I Hope...

Luke 2:1-20
Revelation 21:1-4

I Know What I Hope...

Emily Dickinson said that…
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.

Recently, the Pope has come out and spoken on something for which many of us hold out hope... that our furry and feathered friends, our pets, will be in heaven.  I have always believed this might be true, and despite centuries of good priests and pastors and shattering the worlds of little kids, many of us hold to it.  You've probably seen the church signs.  On this side of the street, "All dogs go to heaven."  On that side of the street, "Animals don't have souls, read your Bible."  Back on this side, "Presbyterian dogs have souls, Baptists, ask your minister."  "Being Presbyterian does not grant you a soul, this is not up for debate!"  "Free souls with every conversion and baptism!"  Now don't you wish we had a scrolling marquee?

I tend to believe that all that language about God's Kingdom and new heavens and new earths that includes words about animals lying down together, ox and lamb and calf with predators of all kind... it's so prevalent that I believe a new heaven and earth without animals makes very little sense.  But I don't know.  I know what I hope.

At this time of year, even with the rush, there are times of challenge and reflection and memory that crash together… the interplay of time, eternity, loss, and hope…  We think of the memories we have with all the loved ones gathered here with us at worship, those under the tree tomorrow morning, or around tables all Advent season.  We think back on the memories we've collected, the moments we've shared.  We think of all those who are not here because of time or distance or new circumstances, those who we've lost, and those who we feel with us in a special way this time of year.  We settle in to hear the words in scripture and song that are so familiar, and yet so wildly fantastical.  A king born in a manger, God's son born to a lowly family in a barn, shepherds and kings, a virgin birth, angels and dreams and stars in the sky!

We are challenged in our reason and for our "reasons" in a season that has nothing to do with reason at all. God loved us and came and dwelt with us, Emmanuel.  Hope was born this day.  Explain that.  Explain your traditions.  Explain your gatherings, your gifts, your greetings.  As our Jewish brethren say of God showing up, a miracle happened here.  Maybe hope is enough.  Maybe what we can prove or explain or verify or defend in the midst of our rituals, our celebrations, our joy and our grief is not nearly so important as what we hope.  Do you believe in miracles?  Do you believe in the virgin birth?  Do you believe Mary was 14 or 24?  How about Joseph?  Was the star a supernova?  Did God really come to earth?  Do you believe in angels?  Santa?  Dreams and prophecies?  What do you believe?!?  More importantly... what do you hope?

When I was in seminary, I had a professor by the name of Dr. Carson Brison.  He was a wise man and an excellent story teller and writer.  He wrote a story I'd like to share with you about a student he had in his time at small private university some years ago.

He had a class that met Tuesdays and Thursdays, and his student by the name of Jessie usually came to one or the other.  At the midterms, he sent home progress reports to parents.  When her mother called, he shared some study tips and suggested that coming to class a lot more would help.  Her mom agreed.  As the conversation wrapped up, she asked if he was the "same Carson" who signed the VA benefits forms for dependents of veterans who had died in the line of duty and he confirmed he was.

No one had been able to tell her what happened, but she took comfort in being told it happened suddenly.  Her last memory was a day in the park when he had carried Jessie high on his shoulders.  Some memories never fade.

Jessie's attendance did improve for a short time, but reverted to her former pattern.  When she came, she took notes for a while and then would put her head down.  She seemed constantly to be exhausted.  Her classmates clearly did not admire her.

During the final class period, they studied the passage we read tonight from Revelation 21 and how it related to other apocalyptic literature.  Just before dismissing the class, Jessie raised her hand, and without waiting to be called on, she asked, "That verse..." She glanced around the classroom at impatient classmates.  "That verse about God drying every tear.  Does that mean every tear from that time on... or that God will go back into all time and find every tear and dry all of them too?"

A smart popular student on the front row rolled her eyes, checked her watch, crossed her arms and hunkered impatiently into her seat.  A murmur and several chuckles came from around the room as they began packing their bags. 

My professor had not expected a question from Jessie.  Ever.  Especially not about the interplay of time, eternity, loss, and hope.  He did his very best recover from the surprise, his mind reeling with considerations of interpretation of historical texts, literary and historical and theological contexts.  How hard it is to interpret a text of this kind in a linear way.  And he thought about his conversation with Jessie's mom.  And of course, the bright annoyed student right in front of him.  He felt an answer come out of him and was sure it was no good immediately.  Jessie's disappointment was clear.

The next week, following that abrupt inquiry, my professor put Jessie's question on the exam as purely extra credit, dressed up with lots of academic language, but at its heart, clearly the same question. Only two students attempted to answer the question... Jessie... and the bright popular student who had been so annoyed that day.

In part, Jessie's response was this... The day I asked this question, not quite how you put it here, you didn’t really answer it.  I called my mom and told her my religion professor didn't answer my only question all semester.  I told her it was more like you talked about what you hoped the answer would be.  She said that for some questions in life, it might count more what you hope the answer is than that you have it all figured out.  Do you think she's right?

You don't know this, but my father died when I was very young.  I don't really remember him except one day he rode me on his shoulders so high I felt like I was flying.  I don't know the answer to this question professor.  I really don't.  But I know what I hope the answer is.  I know what I hope.  Is that worth any points?

I think I really need this extra credit to pass this course.  I am transferring home next semester and I need as many classes as possible to transfer.

The answer from the bright popular girl on the front row dealt with the structure of the passage, literary and historical context, grammar and syntax.  She wrote rather poetically, that such texts seem to be dipped in a special coating that makes them resistant to simple answers to tough questions like the one the girl asked.  These writings deal not in the currency of verifiable fact, but in the currency of hope.  She then added a personal note and request to her answer...

I know my answer is a good one.  You know I don't need any extra credit.  Please consider giving my credit to the girl on the back row, the one who slept all the time and kept us late that day and whose question seemed to shake you so badly.  I bet she needs it.  I want her to have it.  I think maybe so do you.  I think I saw what you thought when a lot of us laughed.

My professor shared that he didn't know what happened to the girl or if she transferred.  He doesn't know what moved that bright popular girl from indifference to compassion.  He doesn't know if he made the right decision about her extra credit and final grade.  He still doesn't know a perfect answer to any question about time, eternity, loss, and hope. 

And neither do I.  But I know what I hope.  And my prayer as you leave here is that no matter what you face in the holiday season or your year ahead, challenges and celebrations, joy and loss, when you are asked what you know and you have nothing, I pray you know what you hope.  What do I know?  I really don't know.  But I know what I hope.  Amen.

Monday, December 1, 2014

I do Not Think That Word Means What You Think it Means…

Author's Note:  Most of my recent sermons have not been preached from manuscripts, but from a loose outline of notecards and storytelling.  What follows is very close to what I preached at the Thanksgiving Eve service after our soup supper, but may be somewhat different.

Call to Worship:

Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!
Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 
I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.
Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.

Gospel Lesson:  Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-34a, 38-45a


21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.


27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 


33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all


38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Love Your Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

I do Not Think That Word Means What You Think it Means…

You have heard it said… you have heard it said… you have heard it said… but I say…

Jesus loved to swoop in and challenge a good tradition and make people think about why they held onto it and whether or not it drew them closer to God and his people or away.

A parish got a new priest. During his first service, when a certain prayer was said, half the congregation stood up and half remained sitting. The half that was seated started yelling at those standing to sit down, and the ones standing yelled at the ones sitting to stand up. The new priest did not know what to do. His congregation suggested to consult a 98-year-old man, who was the oldest inhabitant of the village. The priest hoped the elderly man would be able to tell him what the actual tradition was, so he went to the old people's home with a representative of each fraction of the congregation.

The one whose followers stood during the prayer said to the old man, "It is the tradition to stand during this prayer!"

The old man answered, "No, that is not the tradition."

The one whose followers sat said gladly, "Then the tradition is to sit during this prayer!"

The old man answered, "No, that is not the tradition."

Then the priest said to the old man, "But the congregation fight all the time, yelling at each other about whether they should sit or stand!"

The old man interrupted, exclaiming, "That is the tradition!"

In my family, the joke was always that if we did something once, now it was a tradition.  And my sister would be sure we followed it, especially at holidays.

We have traditions of thanksgiving, like our soup supper that supports the youth in mission and this evening worship services, advent traditions, and Christmas Eve worship services. We even have a weekly “TRADITIONAL” service.

If you’ve ever seen the movie or read the book, The Princess Bride, you know there’s a character who spends much of the film greatly frustrated.  Whenever he vents about his frustrations, he cries out, “This is inconceivable!”  After a few dozen times, one character turns to him and says, “I do not think this word means what you think it means.”

And so it goes with “tradition,” with “traditional.”  What do they mean?

What makes thanksgiving traditional? Meals? Shopping? Not shopping? Food? Family?

What makes values traditional? Old values? How old? Pre-civil rights? Pre-women's suffrage? Pre-revolutionary? Traditional ideas about owning property and people and the superior intellect of a given race or gender are not ideas most of us now accept. And aren’t we glad?

What makes marriage traditional? For most of history, across many cultures, it was marked by mutually beneficial family arrangements, transactions of goods. For thousands of years, it was not just tradition, but custom and law to marry your in-law if the spouse died. Look it up… Deuteronomy 25.

The notion of picking a spouse based on personal affection or attraction or some concept of romantic love is radically new and modern as a cultural norm. 

How many of you would be married to your spouse if your parents had done the choosing? How many of you would have additional wives or be married to an in-law, if those old customs of traditional marriage still held?

So many of our biblical heroes had multiple wives, concubines, and even stranger arrangements. 

What about traditional worship? What makes the traditional service traditional?  Is it what came first? The music? The style? The instruments? The space?

The Organ was conceived of 300 years before the birth of Christ, but its modern design, which is electric, wasn’t created until 1934.  The piano we used tonight?  That wasn’t around until the 1700s.  In our call to worship from Psalms written 600 years before Christ, it mentions stringed instruments, drums, tambourines, flutes, trumpets… All instruments we are very likely to see in our “contemporary” services more often than the “traditional” one.

What about the use of a pulpit? Jesus and the prophets weren’t often to be found on one so much as a hillside.  Sunday worship? Are you kidding?  The Jews worshipped, and still do, on Saturday.

Now, I'm not saying we should rename the Sunday services or even suggesting that one service is more traditional than the other.  It might be.  ;-)  Rename a service?  We’d have an uproar like that young priest.

Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, to challenge us.  When we get comfortable with the way we use the word tradition, we lose our actual traditions. Traditions like faith, belief, one true God, a savior who loves us.  Our best traditions are hope, peace, love, and joy.  Our best traditions aren't turkey/tofurkey… they're thankfulness.  Our best traditions aren't shopping or even capitalism, they're generosity.  Not worship style, but who is worshipped, and where we go when we leave, and what we do.

I challenge each of you to consider your own traditions and the meaning they help you create, if they draw you closer to God and your brothers and sisters of this world.

I want you to consider two things when you look at each of your traditions.  One – does it create meaning?  Do you gain greater understanding, appreciation, memory, some sort of meaning from it?  Two – does it encourage love?  The kind of love that Christ first showed us.  If the meaning is lost or twisted.  Or if your tradition doesn’t look like love to someone else looking in… that tradition no longer holds value.  Throw it away.  Create a new one.

I challenge yourself as you gather around table tomorrow on Thanksgiving, as you make the journey through advent and plan for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, examine every tradition and ask yourself… Does your tradition create meaning?  Does your tradition encourage love?  Does it create meaning?  And encourage love?  Amen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bet you didn't see THAT coming...

One of the earliest jokes I remember from my childhood was one my dad told, and then I heard again years later in scouts from Mr. Blackmon.  Both thought it was hilarious.  Now, of course, I do too.  There was a man building a house.  When he was finished, he had just one brick left over.  Guess what he did with it, they said.
  …He threw it away! 

They laughed and laughed.  I didn't get it.  Like the parable we heard today, I tried hard to capture the meaning or a lesson, or anything.  Nothing.  Not being amused by this joke, my dad sensed my frustration.  So he told me another.

A man riding on a train was eating a ginormous pickle.  A woman next to him with her small toy poodle said, "Sir, your chomping that pickle is disturbing my poodle.  Will you please throw it out?"  "No," he said.  "I paid a nickel for this pickle, and I'm going to eat it."  This repeated several more times.  His chomping, her request, his refusal, her indignation.  Finally, she lost it, grabbed the pickle and tossed it out the window of the train.  In his fury, he grabbed her poodle and tossed IT out the window of the train.

When they got to the next train station, however, the poodle came running up.  In his mouth was...  The brick.

We never saw it coming.  That was the point.  How often does God do that in scripture?  Thought you were a fugitive in the desert?  You will save your whole nation.  Thought you were going to drown in a storm?  Here's a giant fish to give you a ride to Ninevah.  Think the whole city will burn for their wickedness, Jonah? Even the animals are gonna put on sackcloth and everyone will repent.  Thought your messiah was going to be born in a palace and come into Jerusalem on a white horse, leading an army?  Here's a humble carpenter, born in a feedbox, riding on a donkey, leading a band of misfits.  Every time... a story with a surprise ending... of LOVE.

How often does Jesus do this with his parables?  His audience is hunkered in.  They're in the know.  They get it.  Everyone else better catch up.  They are the flock, the chosen, the found, the insiders, the workers of the vineyard from day one.  Then he tells them the story of the lost coin... aka... the story of the searching persistent widow... and the story of the lost sheep... aka... the story of the good Shepherd... and the story of the prodigal son... aka... the story of the loving father... and the story of the workers in the vineyard... aka.. the story of the caring master of the house.  You see, these stories aren't about being lost.  They're about being found.  They aren't about the people or the sheep or the coin.  They're about God.  They're about who God is.

The endings are a surprise because it's not how the world works.  Wayward son needs to come back and earn back the trust.  Workers get paid for the work.  We Presbyterians believe in work ethic, the American dream!

Every time we are surprised by the grace of God, in scripture, in a story, in the world we live, when someone offers forgiveness or hope or an unexpected act of undeserved, unearned mercy... that surprise is a product of us believing the lies of this world.  God's kingdom is not built on the rules of this world.

If you’ve ever read Les Miserables or seen one of its many film adaptations, you know the story of Jean Valjean, a criminal who is sentenced to years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread while starving.  When he is released, he makes his way through the countryside in driving rain, finding nowhere to sleep, until the priest at a small abbey lets him in.  He feeds him a warm meal and gives him a place to stay for the night.  Not having ever known kindness, Valjean doesn’t know how to respond.  He steals the silverware and makes off into the night.  He’s caught by soldiers who bring him back to the priest.  “He claims to be your friend, Father,” they scoff.  “He claims you gave him the silverware.” 

“Of course, I did,” says the priest.  He turns to Valjean, the only one more surprised than the soldiers, and says, “But I’m very disappointed in you, Valjean.  You forgot to take… the candlesticks.”  Drawing him in close, he whispers fiercely, “Valjean, with these candlesticks, I have purchased your soul.  You no longer belong to this world.  You belong to God.”  A surprise ending… of love.  Unearned, undeserved.  And it changes his entire life.  And the lives of all those he encounters.

In last week’s parable, the older son begrudges the prodigal son.  He didn't stay!  He didn't work!  He wasn't faithful to the father!  He squandered!  He partied!  He strayed!  He doesn't deserve the fatted calf, the ring, the robe, the love of the father!  And he's right!  ........ And neither do... we.  ..... Those workers in the vineyard, those latecomers!  Those lazy hangers-on!  They didn't work as long and hard.  They don't deserve the full pay!  And neither do we.  Our parable today isn't God's business plan.  It's a terrible way to run a business or country even.  But it's how the Kingdom works.  It's who God is.

It goes against everything the world has taught us and pounded into our heads and hearts.  But that's why God has sent us his prophets, his teachers, his one and only son.  God doesn't surprise us because he gets a kick out of it.  Though I am sure he does.  God surprises us because we expect fairness.

We expect God to hand out the paychecks on Friday and we all get what we put in, that we earned God's love, God's grace.  We earned all we have in our lives, rather than all we have and are is a gift from God.  We expect the father to be waiting in his study to hear his son's words of how he screwed up and how he will make it up to him.  But no.  We have a God who sees on the road, headed home to him, and goes RUNNING out to us.  Interrupting our carefully rehearsed speech, our best laid plans.  God is the one who seeks us out and finds us, no matter how far we've wandered, no matter how little we have labored, and loves us because we are his.  Nothing more.

Ad God yearns for all to be found.  The son of man came to seek and to save the lost.  His recruitment didn't end with his Disciples.  His message didn't end with, aren't you glad God loves you?  Now go and be happy.  His message ended with, "therefore, as you go, make disciples."  So when you leave this place, find the people in your life that you know need to be surprised by that un-earned, un-deserved love of God.  Show them that Good News in the love you share.  Because no one ever sees that coming.  Amen.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Love 'em Like Jesus

John 13:35 - By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

At a high school in the 1960s, one student was a self-proclaimed Civil War enthusiast.  Though he grew up in the Northeast, he was fascinated by the rebel soldiers and generals.  Someone gifted him a coat that resembled General Lee's and he wore it every single day.  When his class voted on senior superlatives, his classmates voted him mostly likely to secede.

Our identities matter.  And those identities are formed by many things.  It matters how we build ours and what that resulting identity is.  If I asked most of you right this minute to identify yourselves, most of you would reach for your wallet and show me your... driver’s license.

In our country, we begin to identify as adults and independent by our society's greatest measure of skill... driving ability. Our teens are very concerned with this passage into adulthood and aging adults often name the loss of license as the biggest feeling of loss in independence. 

Our accomplishments define us, the best... and the worst... of our ACTIONS.  Christ tells us in this passage that his hope, his one and only command to them in the book of John is to LOVE one another.  And that loving each other as HE loved them would be so profound and so evident, that they would be identified by it.

The emperor Julian of Rome was quoted once as saying that, “The Godless Galileans,” (meaning us, as we Christian have one God and the Romans had many), “The Godless Galileans feed our poor in addition to their own.”

The early church was identified by their love for one another and the stranger, the widow and orphan, no matter who they were. 

Is the Church identified that way now?  Is OUR church?  You... and your family?  In your neighborhood, your sports and rec leagues, your social circles?  Is your family known as that family that loves?  “They must be Christians!  They love everyone!  That’s who they are!”

When I went to my grandfather's wake, dozens of people stopped me to tell me what my grandfather meant to them.  Golfing buddies, bowling buddies, members of my grandmother's Catholic Church, his Presbyterian church, his neighbors.  They all said the same thing over and over... "He always had time for me."

Time and again, whether to listen, or to organize, to fix, or to build.  No matter the project or time or purpose, he made time.  My grandfather was not known for being cuddly, fuzzy, and sweet.  But he was known for his love.  Are we?

The youth you just sent to Costa Rica did you proud.  They accomplished a lot, they built a lot, but that's not what you should be most proud of them for.  And it's not what I hope they bring back and make a part of their lives and identities.  What should make your hearts burst with joy and pride is that they LOVED on one another and on the families, the neighbors, the children of the places we worked.  Yes, they built two houses, yes, they helped two extended families, orphans, and missionaries.  They raised over $200 for the local YWAM staff!  But they loved everyone we brought and everyone we met, and they loved them as he loved us.  They loved 'em like Jesus.

It is that love, that identity they took on as individuals and as a group… that represents my greatest hope for them.  And for us.  IN a few short weeks, 6 seniors from that trip will head to college and face an array of challenges, opportunities, and temptations.  They will form new relationships and begin new endeavors, explore new callings and experiences.  I hope and pray they say and do as they did on this trip, forging an identity based on love.  That they will love 'em like Jesus and they will be known as disciples by that love.  The other 16 kids will head to their high schools and face similar challenges with the support of their families and us. 

I challenge you to be a community that challenges them to keep at it, to keep loving others as they have been loved.  To love 'em like Jesus.  To be a community that encourages them and sets the example of kind words, merciful actions, daily kindness, acts of service to those in need.  Be the families they need to be identified by their love.

In recent weeks, we have had a multitude of people come to the church looking for assistance because our church is known to those in need as a place of love.  I challenge each of you as families and individuals to be the same in the places you live and work.  Be known to others as people who love.  Glorify God in the powerfully obvious and tangible way you love everyone who comes into your life, and by the way you enter into the lives of others. 

These youth have been an inspiring example to me this week of Mission trip.  I challenge you to be an example to them, to partner with them, to walk beside them into a world in need here in Salisbury.  And love 'em like Jesus.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Light Up the Darkness

Old Testament Reading:  Isaiah 58:8-9
Gospel Readings:  John 8:12-16; Matthew 5:14-16

(Note:  I preached this sermon from memory, so it may be different than what you see below)

A favorite film of mine depicts our world in the very near future. It's based on science that is actually being done right now.  Scientists, in this story, discover how to take a virus and retrain it to attack cancer cells.  The analogy they use is a very fast car driven by a criminal can do tremendous damage, while one driven by a police officer can be safe and do good.  A virus is the same.  They CURE cancer.  But the resulting virus mutates, gets entirely out of hand and takes the lives of most of the world's population, ravaging the minds and bodies of everyone left so badly that they are no longer recognizable as human.

The main protagonist is immune, and he's a physician, a virologist.  Now, stop me if you've heard this story before.  Evil comes into the world and creeps inside of everyone, leaving them just shadows of the people they were meant to be.  A healer, a hero, a physician, comes to save them.

In the midst of the story, he's joined by a woman and a little boy from South America.  They become his adopted family for a short time, since his own family was lost.  He plays his favorite music for them, a song by Bob Marley, a musician they've never heard of.  He explains that Marley had a theory, a theory that was much like that of a virologist.  He believed you could cure evil and hatred by injecting music and love.  This physician says Marley was scheduled one day to play music for a peace rally and the day before, gunmen came to his house and shot him down in his home.

The next day, he walked out on stage at the peace rally.  People asked him why he felt the need to risk that. He said that the people trying to make this world WORSE are not taking a day off... so how can I?  LIGHT UP THE DARKNESS.

The physician does discover a cure, but it's almost too late.  The creatures who used to be human have invaded his home.  And again, for us as believers, the story gets familiar again.  He has realized the cure is in his blood.  "I can save you!" he yells at them.  To no avail.  They can't understand him.  They're too far gone to comprehend.  The physician gives the cure to the boy and his adopted mother.  And like the scene on Calvary, he entrusts the woman and her boy to carry on the mission and tell the world.  And he gives his own life to save them all those in need of a cure.  He LIGHTS UP THE DARKNESS.

The physician believed against all odds that one person could LIGHT UP THE DARKNESS.  He followed the example of his hero who would not take a day off from a world full of people trying to make it worse.  He believed love could cure evil and hatred.  And as believers, SO DO WE.  Christ came as THE LIGHT.  And his final mission to his disciples and to us is to take that light into a world that can be very dark.  LIGHT UP THE DARKNESS.  And Christ came to show us that an individual, a person can do that.  We can do that.  He did it.  He got others to help him.  And we can too.  People do it every day,

Shane Claiborne, a popular young writer and activist went to college in Philadelphia.  As a student, he became involved in outreach and ministry to the homeless in that city.  Like the members of First Pres who helped make Rowan Helping Ministries a reality, he was not content to merely see the homeless, but desired to know them, know their story, and join their struggle.

Many homeless in Philadelphia were living in an abandoned Catholic cathedral.  The local Catholic archdiocese was not happy with this.  It was a huge liability.  Presbyterians never think like this, do we?  Riiiiight.  They warned the homeless to leave on many occasions, but they had nowhere to go.  Finally, the bishop took action and had the building condemned, ready to be demolished.  The homeless were given short notice to be out by 8am the following day.  Shane Claiborne and dozens of his friends heard about this and flocked to the cathedral to stay the night with the homeless and be arrested with those who remained as a protest of solidarity for their plight.

At 5am, a knock came at the door.  The fire chief and his men were there in uniform.  The students said, "We have until 8am! you can't kick us out!"  "You misunderstand," said the fire chief. "This building is being condemned because it doesn't meet fire code.  And we're sure we can get it up to code by 8am."  LIGHT UP THE DARKNESS.  You see, it just took a few students to see the plight and make it known that their homeless brothers and sisters were in need.  It just took a few firemen to notice them and to solve the problem, to bring light to the darkness, to the hopelessness of those living in fear and need.

The plight of these homeless is not rare.  People in need have never been rare.  People in need of hope, or food, or housing, or jobs, or love, or mental or physical healthcare, or companionship or family.  There has never been a shortage of children who need families or elderly who need visitors, or people who need a church home.  It's not even hard to find them.  They aren't hiding.  WE ARE.  LIGHT UP THE DARKNESS.  You have a light.  You have THE light.

Our VBS kids and youth spent the week learning, hearing, experiencing, and living the stories of Christ and learning how he lit up the darkness.  They are now prepared to share that with others.  And you can get in their way.  Or you can get out of their way.  Or you can go with them and show them who needs it!

Take a moment RIGHT NOW to think of someone who needs that light, who needs hope, who needs something you have or something you and your family or your friends can provide.  Leave this place, go find them, and bring them that light.  Someone once said... "The world is FULL of kind people.  If you can't find one... BE one."  Say it with me…  LIGHT UP THE DARKNESS.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Green Day - Solar Roadways

Not just a concept.  The idea is currently being implemented.  This news is extremely exciting for all kinds of people.  For an environmentalist, the benefits are obvious.  But when you begin to think of long term cost savings as a nation and as states and municipalities for things like energy, pollution, millions of vehicle accidents caused by snow, ice, downed power lines, wildlife, trees, rocks, and road debris, snow plowing and salting, repaving, painting, signage, and more, it's a no-brainer...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Go Ask Your Mother

Go Ask Your Mother

Luke 19:41-42

Matthew 23:37

As a boy, I was always getting into something. I know, you're shocked.  I would often go to my dad and run things by him or ask for permission to go somewhere or try something.  He was great at that.  He had good advice.  And usually, that advice was... "Go ask your mother."

I see the dads and moms out there nodding their heads.  And I've known many a mom to send a kid to dad for a no or a reason or backup.  It was that REASON that dad was sending me to mom for.  Mom knew the schedule, my friends (who was most likely to get me in trouble)... she knew what was best for me and my sister... and she loved me and my sister enough to tell us no, set boundaries, to make rules, and to teach us right and wrong.  And probably, most importantly, as it is for most of you moms and dads, teachers, and mentors... she longed to instill a love for each other.  Yes, she wanted me and my sister to love and to love her. But she wanted us to love each other.

It's abundantly clear when we read the end of Matthew what God wants from us.  Jesus tells us the only difference between the sheep and the goats on judgment day is who fed, and clothed, and housed, and visited, and loved the least of these.  That's it!  Did we love one another as he loved us?  Jesus came from the Father to show us HOW to be brothers and sisters.  God loves us as a father.  God loves us a mother.

If you doubt for a moment that relationship, that depth of love, you needn't look far in scripture to find it.  I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to visit the Holy Land.  And standing on the hill where it is believed that Jesus looked down on Jerusalem before Holy Week, I read the familiar words in a little chapel built there in the shape of a tear drop.  That passage says that Jesus wept over the city and their treatment of prophets and failures to make peace with one another.  He said he longed to gather them as a mother hen gathers her brood.  A mosaic of that hen and brood adorn the table in that little chapel.  God loves us like that.

When Job flees his God-given call to shepherd Nineveh back to the fold, and then finally gives in begrudgingly, he tells God he shirked this task because he knew our God is "compassionate."  A word that in the Hebrew is a compound word for WOMB LOVE.  God loves us as a mother who carries a child in the WOMB and cares for her and raises her.  God loves us like THAT.

And God wants us to love each other... LIKE THAT.

On this Mother's Day, perhaps we can reflect on the God who is to us as our fathers and our MOTHERS are to us, how we have been loved.  For many of us, our mothers and fathers have similar, but different expectations and hopes and dreams for us.  We make them proud in different ways.  Maybe as a child, you made dad proud doing well at sports and scouts and being a good little entrepreneur.  Maybe mom was most proud when you made friends and sent thank you cards and showed care for your elders.  Have I been a good big brother?  Have I taken care of and cultivated my relationship there?  Does she know I love her?  We age and these measures change.  Is dad proud of our career and job and financial independence?  Is mom proud of the family we've found and the family we've stayed in touch with?  Have you called your sister?  Have you written to her? 

And as I think about my God, my creator, sustainer, and redeemer, do I measure myself by the pride of a father or mother or both?  I find myself thinking about my call and career, my reputation and my home, and decisions.  It is then I have to challenge myself and think about that advice of my father years ago... Go ask your mother.  And if God loves us our mothers do, then have I made God proud?

Have I loved my brothers and sisters?  Have I Been a good brother?  Do my brothers and sisters KNOW I love them?  Have I seen them?  Have I been there for them?  Would they see me as their brother?  Go ask your mother.

I found this clip to be powerful.  Are your brothers or sisters invisible to you?  The world, at its best will challenge you... that homeless person you pass COULD BE YOUR BROTHER OR SISTER.  Jesus says, "that homeless person... IS... YOUR BROTHER OR SISTER."

My challenge to you today, for this week:  SEE everyone.  See your coworker, your client, your problem customer, your deliveryman, your mail woman, your cashier, the obnoxious driver in traffic, that homeless person next to you on the street, that person you haven't met next to you in church today... SEE them... Open your eyes and SEE them as your brother, as your sister.  Love them, hug them, find a way to show it.  Because God loves us LIKE THAT.  Start here today in this place.  Do - not - leave this place not having met a brother or sister you didn't know before you walked in here today.  If you don't do it here, you won't out there.  Linger after this service.  Don't let me catching you headed for the door.  Head for a person before you leave.  And when you do leave... go find your brothers and sisters.  And next week, when you have stories to share with me.  Ask me how you did.  And I'll tell you... go ask _____.  Amen.

Special thanks to Mindy, my pastor friend who first posted this on FB & to my congregation who responded to this video and sermon tremendously with love to really make the effort this week to see new people in their midst.