Happy Birthday Church 5-20-2018

May 20th, 2018

At a testimonial dinner that I attended many people said some wonderful things about this special human being. This human being that we were talking about definitely has a dark side and a lot of rough edges. But for one night those things were put aside and we focused on what was right and good about him. For a few minutes today, on the birthday of the Church, Pentecost Sunday, I would like to focus on what is right and good about our Church. One of those right things is its ability to endure. Many of our Scripture lessons carry us back to the beginning of Church. The people who wrote and originally read those documents were first-generation Christians. They stood on the ground floor of a brand new institution. Like all newborn things, the Church was small and seemed so fragile. There was serious doubt among the membership whether the Church would survive. Its key leadership cowered behind closed door, thinking their cause was surely lost. However, many cultures and civilizations have come and gone, but the Church lives on. There is something reassuring about that. Personally, I find it comforting to belong to something that has stood the test of time. The Church is so solid that, for nearly two thousand years, it has outlasted the hostility of its foes and the stupidity at times of his friends and leadership. The church was here when we arrived on the scene and will remain long after we are gone no matter what ABC and CNN have to say. Another thing right with the Church is its record of ministry to human need. Without that, the ability to endure would be meaningless. Jesus measured the worth of all institutions not by their age, not by their size, but by their usefulness to people. He must surely apply the same test to his own Church. And though its score has been far from perfect, it does have an impressive record of service. You and I are so familiar with this that we often take it for granted. We seldom pause to appreciate what the church has accomplished throughout the centuries. It has provided the inspiration, the leadership, and in some cases, the money for much of the world’s charitable endeavor. For all its faults and failures, the Church has stood by the conviction that every person is sacred in the sight of God. That conviction has proven to be a revolutionary incentive. It has produced, and continues to produce, pressure for change, both in the world and in the Church. A final thought about what is right with the Church and I believe, most important of all. In the world, the Church stands as a constant reminder of God. It points the way to Christ, it calls us to be a community of faith, it offers forgiveness and healing. This is not one of the businesses of the Church, it is the main business of the Church. The Church’s primary purpose is bringing people into a redeeming relationship with God. On Pentecost 2018 we need to be reminded that the early Church was not a group of men and women naturally equipped to turn the world upside down. Most of them had little education, very little money and no political power. They were plain people in partnership with God, but that relationship changed their lives and enabled them to change their world. The Church is made up of people. That means it always has been and continues to be imperfect. But there is a life here that is more than mortal and a spirit that is more than human. God does not belong to the Church – the Church belongs to God. And when joined in partnership with God, powerful and unbelievable things can happen. I close: We have all criticized the Church and we will criticize it again. To love the Church is to have that responsibility, but today let us make a commitment to do our part, to be part of the solutions instead of just pointing a critical finger of judgment at the problems. Today, let us remember and celebrate what is good and right with the Church. Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday Church.

No Back-Up Plan 5-13-2018

May 13th, 2018

There is an ancient legend about the ascension of Jesus into heaven. According to the legend, when Jesus reached heaven, his body still showed the wounds of his crucifixion.
His hands and feet still bore the prints from the nails. His side bore the mark from the spear. His back bore the stripes from the whip, and his head bore the wounds from the thorns.
When the people in heaven saw these marks, they were astounded to see how much he had suffered. Then the angel Gabriel rose up and said to Jesus;
“Lord, how greatly you suffered on earth! Do all the people on Earth know and appreciate how much you went through for them and how much you love them?”
Jesus replied; “Oh, no! Only a handful of people in Palestine know that, the rest haven’t even heard of me.” They don’t know who I am. They don’t know how much I suffered, and how much I love them.”
Gabriel was shocked to hear this. Then he said to Jesus:
“How will the rest of the people on earth ever learn about your suffering and your love?” Jesus said; “Just before I left, I told Peter, James, and John, and a few of their friends to tell the rest of the world for me. They will tell as many people as they can. Those people in turn, will tell other people. In that way, the whole world will eventually learn about my love for them.”
Gabriel looked even more confused now. He knew how fickle people are. He knew how forgetful they are. He knew how prone to doubt they are. So he turned to Jesus and said:
“But Lord, what if Peter, James and John grow tired and frustrated? What if they forget about you? What if they begin to have doubts about you? Didn’t you take these things into account? Don’t you have a back-up plan just in case?”
Jesus answered: “I did take all these things into account, but I decided against a back-up plan. This is the only plan I have. I’m counting on Peter, James, and John not to let me down.”
Many centuries later, Jesus still has no other plan. He counted on Peter, James and John and they didn’t let him down. He counted on the people they told, and they didn’t let him down. And now Jesus counts on us.
In his book “The Song of the Bird”, Anthony de Mello tells this story. He puts it in the first person to give it added impact. He says:
On the street I saw a small girl cold and shivering in a dress,
with little hope for a decent meal. I became angry and said to
God, ‘Why did you permit this?’
For a while God said nothing. That night he replied quite
suddenly, “I certainly did something about it. I made you, I made
you!”
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord Jesus, on this feast of your ascension into heaven,
give us new eyes to see your face
in the faces of those who are in need.

Give us new ears to hear your voice
in the voices of those who cry out in pain.
Give us new tongue to tell your story
to those who have never heard it.
Give us new hearts to share your love
with those who have not yet experienced it.
And Lord thank you for counting on us.
We will try our best!

Scars 5-6-2018

May 6th, 2018

Some years ago, on a hot summer day in south Florida, a little boy decided to go for a swim in the old swimming hole behind his house. In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks, and shirt as he went.
He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore.
His father, working in the yard, saw the two as they got closer and closer together. In utter fear, he ran toward the water, yelling to his son as loudly as he could.
Hearing his voice, the little boy became alarmed and made a U-turn to swim to his father. It was too late. Just as he reached his father, the alligator reached him. From the dock, the father grabbed his little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs. That began an incredible tug-of-war between the two. The alligator was much stronger than the father, but the father was much too passionate to let go. A farmer happened to drive by, heard his screams, raced from his truck, took aim and shot the alligator.
Remarkably, after weeks and weeks in the hospital, the little boy survived. His legs were extremely scarred by the vicious attack of the animal. And, on his arms, were deep scratches where his father’s fingernails dug into his flesh in his effort to hang on to the son he loved.
The newspaper reporter, who interviewed the boy after the trauma, asked if he would show him his scars. The little boy lifted his pant legs. And then, with obvious pride, he said to the reporter, “But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms, too. I have them because my Dad wouldn’t let go.”
You and I can identify with that little boy. We all have scars too. No, not from an alligator, but the scars of a painful past. Some of those scars are unsightly and have caused us deep regret. But some wounds, my friend, are because God has refused to let go. In the midst of our struggles, God’s been there holding on to us.
The scripture teaches that God loves us. We are children of God. God wants to protect us and provide for us in every way. But sometimes, we foolishly wade into dangerous situations, not knowing what lies ahead. The swimming hole of life is filled with peril—and we forget that the enemy is waiting to attack. That’s when the tug-of-war begins—and if we have the scars of God’s love on our arms, be very, very grateful. God did not and will not ever let us go.
Please pass this story on to those you love. God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others. You just never know where a person is in his/her life and what they are going through.
I close, never judge another persons scars, because you don’t know how they got them.