Monthly Archives: March 2008

03-30-08 THE BODY OF CHRIST IN THE WORLD

THE BODY OF CHRIST IN THE WORLD

Psalm 122; Ephesians 1: 20-23; 2:17-22

 

Pirates at sea—real pirates—can be menacing, defiant, and ruthless. Thankfully for those who go to the movies that are Disney productions, pirates can be cut from the cloth of crankiness and craziness.  My father e-mailed me this joke last week:  A pirate ran into a buddy he hadn’t seen in over a year. “Hey!” his friend exclaimed, “I haven’t seen you in ages! You look all beat up! What happened?”  “What do you mean?” the pirate asked. “You have a wooden leg!” his friend noticed. “Oh that,” said the pirate, “A cannon ball took off me first leg.” “And what about your hand; you have a hook!” his friend noticed. “Argh,” said the pirate, (because all pirates say that) I got into a sword fight and me hand was cut off; I was fitted with this hook instead. “And what about the eye patch?” his friend said. The pirate let out a big sigh. “One day we were at sea and a flock of birds flew overhead and one of them dropped something in me eye.” “You’re kidding!” his friend cried out. “You lost your eye from that?” To which the pirate said “No, I went to wipe me eye and it was me first day with the hook.”

 

A man without a leg, without an arm, without an eye; how many people do you know with less than all their body parts?  Some would assume that people are weaker as they become blind or deaf or lame; some are. But there are others who, with human will and God-given grit, do more than they did with all their limbs and senses!  Fanny Crosby, the writer of many hymns of faith such as “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!” “Rescue the Perishing!” and “To God Be the Glory,” was totally blind; her words have inspired generations. Marlee Matlin is one actress who has brought attention to signing and deafness by winning performances on film, and recently she got accolades for dancing without being able to hear the music. Beethoven also was profoundly deaf and wrote and conducted almost all of his symphonies, especially his 9th, without being able to hear. What greatness.  And one man I admire greatly, Fred Gard in our own church, has been in a wheelchair since the 50s. He ran his own construction company, lives on his own, and drives himself to church, gets into his own wheel chair, wheels himself in from the parking lot, and then he wheels himself out, attending as faithfully as some and more faithfully than some mobile people!  None of this is to say that a person needs a physical disability in order to be great; there are other great hymn writers such as Charles Wesley; there are other great composers like Bach; and there are other fine elders and members in this church and others. But when it comes to the church being described as the “Body of Christ,” in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and in other New Testament letters, it is brings to our minds a rich analogy to our human bodies, with many parts, each part with a different function. We are blessed with a double meaning connected with Christ’s body, now resurrected from the dead, and the analogy of the church being the spiritual body of Christ. If, for example, you notice the cornerstone plaque on the north corner of the front porch as you leave, you will see the words from our text today: “With Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” Jesus is no more buried under the corner of the building than you are or I am of course. But for those hearing it in the first century, they were used to hearing analogies about their trades (Builders understood the importance of Jesus if he was called “the cornerstone;” it helped them understand his importance.  In a farming community, there might have been a grower of grapes to whom Jesus said “I am the vine, you are the branches: cut off from me you can do nothing.” Of course that was not literal; but the farmer certainly got the meaning. So it is with us; if Jesus is the Head and Cornerstone, then we honor that, as gruesome as it may sound if we get stuck in the physical realm. A body without a head cannot function spiritually or intelligently.  Yet how many people try to live their lives without having the mind of Christ in them? I’ve seen plenty, haven’t you?  So the Body of Christ, which is the church, is not the building, it is the people who, like a good rowing team, pull in synchronous motion together. 

 

What does the body of Christ look like, you may ask?  It looks like the beehive of activity that was here Friday and Saturday for the Attic Sale, with men, women, youth, and children, according to their abilities, sorting or cleaning jewelry, clothing, appliances, books, and other donated items. On Sundays some preach, some sing, some usher, some pray, and later some offer Sunday School lessons or show hospitality by preparing food to share. On mission trips the body of Christ includes drivers, cooks, carpenters, roofers, naturalists, and generalists. You see, the body of Christ goes with us where ever we go as the church, and the way it goes with us is just this: From one of Paul’s other famous letters: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of mortals; and being found in the fashion of a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” The body of Christ, which is YOU and Me in the world, and any of us in ministry wherever we are, are persons praying to and honoring our Lord and Savior, and humbly living like he did.  The Body of Christ can be healthy and capable, like on our best days of human health. On those days the church (that is, you and I, both collectively or individually,) tells others how much our congregation means to you- that is part of witnessing; we take food to those who cannot prepare it for themselves- that is hospitality; we rejoice with a newborn child or with other milestones- that is celebration; and we physically help those who cannot help themselves- that is compassion. Like the pirate, on our worst days, the church seems like a half blind cranky individual who cannot see injustice, pain, or outsiders; on our worst days we have spiritual arms missing from foolishly fighting with other Christians or other faiths; and on our worst days our work is hobbled by injuries brought on by accident, sin, or situation.  In so many ways, the church is human; but on our best days, the church is the divinely chosen bride of Christ, instrument through which God works holy purposes out; on our best days God uses us to carry out plans to change and reach the world. On our best days we do what Jesus would do. Jesus’ physical body was bruised and striped for our transgressions, but his spiritual body is united with his bride- the church- in the work and blessings God intended for that union to produce. You get the picture. No matter where you are, will you go with the mind of Christ? On our sharpest days, our blindness to justice can be transformed into vision; our deafness to cries of anguish can hear a voice; and our paralysis in fulfilling the Great Commission can grow into reasons to walk … or roll, for the sake of our Savior. The Church’s one foundation, not the bricks and mortar foundation, but the Spiritual and Salvation foundation, is Jesus Christ her Lord. Thanks be to God!

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                           March 30, 2008

03-23-08 BELONGING: GOD’S CALLED OUT PEOPLE

BELONGING: GOD’S CALLED OUT PEOPLE

Isaiah 42: 5-9; Matthew 16: 13-20

 

“Two roads diverged into the wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference,” wrote beloved American poet Robert Frost. Life is not always about taking the easy road or the lazy way, but sometimes making tougher but richer choices.  It was Yankee catcher Yogi Berra who confused the issue when he cryptically was quoted as saying, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it!”  Baby Boomers and those older will remember the yearly broadcast of “The Wizard of Oz” on television, on again this week. Did anyone here see it in a theatre?  As Dorothy joyfully is told by the munchkins to “follow the yellow brick road,” she had no portable navigation device that many have today; there was a fork in the road where she could go left or right, and magically the only one who gave her directions was a scarecrow who believed he didn’t have a brain. But today’s lessons are about choices on the road of life; if you choose one road and then regret it, usually you can backtrack and take the other one, but not without the cost of time, money, or irritation.  Poor decisions about faith, friends, and family can make life droning, dreadful, or disastrous. Life lived with purpose often includes some tough and irreversible choices. Many think there is always a chance to start over, and they are shaken by the things that do not get a do over in life.  An object dropped over the rail of a cruise ship is almost always lost for good; a girl’s first pregnancy, whether welcome or not, does not get a do over; a foolish or inattentive driving mistake that takes a life does not to be lived over. But when it comes to your choices for faith, there is good news: there are do-overs for those today who chose other gods and who now want to follow Jesus!  We don’t get a do-over after we die, but we have one this very day. Is your life in shambles, or are you searching for a purpose driven life? Are you a member of a church but haven’t let belonging to a church change you into a true follower of Jesus? Today you can go back to the fork in the road and choose the path of Christ. Some of the most important pledges we make have to do with declarations that change our lives: citizenship vows; marriage vows, ordination vows, promises backed by a handshake. Those words are supposed to mean something. What about the words most of you said when you became a Christian? Words like, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior,” or the prayer, “Jesus, I need you; enter my heart and rule my unruly life”? The Lord Jesus had three short years to convince followers, not to follow a yellow brick road, but to choose a road on which no one had yet traveled. He showed them what it meant to live out the laws of God interpreted by love, and to live gracious lives. Poor Christian examples have too much law and no grace, or so much grace that there is no adherence to commandments. When Jesus said “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly,” he wasn’t throwing out the commandments; he was following them using an additional interpretation: love God; and love your neighbor. Jesus called follower to think of the needs of the one, when most put greater weight on the needs of the many. The agony of that decision was described by Jesus in the parable of the lost sheep; on film it occurred, for example, in “Saving Private Ryan.”  Jesus also called people to regard women as people instead of property, and to value children as living examples of the kingdom. Yet after people signed on to follow him, he did a few things that startle them: for one thing he talked to prostitutes, something, as we know, that has gotten others in to hot water; for another, he overturned merchant’s tables at the Temple on the biggest selling day of the year; and for another he said a worker who clocked in for one hour should get the same pay as the one who worked for eight.  He told a man that to get in to Heaven he needed to sell all he had and add himself to the welfare roles.  These counter-cultural comments made some who took the road of discipleship turn back to the fork in the road and choose the well traveled road instead. But turning back is not without its costs. First, God said “Thou Shalt Have no Other God’s Before Me.” We have to leave our favorite gods on the road we left in order to honor the God we will seek to serve on the Christian road. One cannot have the gods of another religion, or even become the ringleader of your own life, and still hope to honor God’s Ten Commandments. This is one of those times you cannot have both/and; it must be a choice. No one truly worships God who lives a godless life. The fork in the road is deliberate; one way will lead to those gods made by mortals; the other worships the Creator of angels in Heaven and mortals on Earth. The second cost for turning back and changing courses is this: you cannot follow Christ and; true Christians follow Christ only. He came down to earth as the Son born in Bethlehem, who grew up in Nazareth, who lived in Galilee, and who took a stand and died in Jerusalem. But after three days, his tomb became eternally empty. He rose from the dead!  In whom will you trust between a true and a counterfeit god? You cannot trust a catcher or a scarecrow or even a navigational system to pick the right path; picking the right path comes from the navigational system that we call the New Testament and an encounter with the Lord who is the one who is the way and the truth and the life.  No one can straddle the two paths, no one follow Jesus and the leader of some other faith system. Only those who join Peter in his confession are truly Christian; a Christian is one who may study other paths of faith but who is always grounded in the Matthew 16:16 declaration. A Christian does not find the  grass to be greener in the pastures of other faiths. A Christian steps into the open as Peter did, in the midst of many false gods, and takes his or her stand as he did:  “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked. They went through a list of worthy candidates, but Jesus could not be equated with any of them. Only one person can be called Messiah, there is no room for two.  So Peter steps up to the plate and blurted out: “You are the Christ (the Messiah,) the Son of God.”  That gold-standard answer earned him the gold standard blessing:  “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, and upon this rock (the person Simon Peter to some, but the confession of faith to us) I will build my church.” Here in Matthew we get the first mention of the word Church in the New Testament.  Christians who join in Peter’s confession stand before others and say “Jesus is the Christ, and is my Lord and Savior.” Christians who say those words cannot put other gods or religious leaders on the same level as He. People who try it negate their connection with Christ. Did you realize that? And Christians have to choose whether they will do what Jesus would do and make choices that Jesus would make in life, or else not claim the name. There is life beyond this life when you claim Christ as Lord and leave the other faiths in which you may have dabbled or may be dabbling behind. There is no fence-sitting or both/and with Christ! There is no permanent parking on the shoulder of life’s road deciding which direction to take!  All the celebrations about the resurrection of Jesus mean nothing to non-believers; only those who believe in him and follow him, live changed lives now and get a glorious pass to foreverland! Christians belong to him through their baptisms and are connected through Communion. “Who do you say that I am?”  Jesus asked Peter. If he asked you, your answer would be what?  Let your life and lips show forth your choice. May God bless your decisions today and ahead in the Easter season.

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                  March 23, 2008

03-16-08 HOSANNAS FOR TODAY

HOSANNAS FOR TODAY

 

Last week in Sunday School, our Christian Educator was giving our boys and girls a way to begin to understand Palm Sunday.  “If the President were to come to Daytona Beach,” she said, “How would he arrive?” “By airplane!” one boy said. “I think so too!” she answered. “By donkey!” one girl said, anticipating where the lesson was going.” No,” Miss Mary Ann answered, “I don’t think the President would ride over to church on a donkey for many reasons,” she said with a smile. “A limo,” another girl suggested.  “Yes,” said Miss Mary Ann,” probably the Presidential limousine would bring him and the people who protect him (called the Secret Service), and many others would follow his car like in a parade. Probably police from our city would escort him here with lights on their patrol cars and motorcycles. And if people knew about it, they would line the streets and shout or cheer or wave or maybe do all three! That’s how a famous and important person would be greeted today.”  Of course, those of us who watch television know there are other ways that famous people are honored or cheered. It might be in the Rose Garden at the White House or on stage in the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. It might be in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown or with a Super Bowl Ring on a football player’s hand, or with the winning car from the Daytona 500 left here in town all year for thousands to see. It might be in Hollywood outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with handprints, or in Buckingham Palace in London as a new knight’s shoulders are touched of a sword. Or it also was, without prior planning, with a photograph of the American flag being jammed into the sands of Iwo Jima. In Jesus’ day, the long time capital of the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the location of the Holy Temple was a city of much ceremony: Jerusalem; named “City of Peace” which it has almost never been but may someday be. Especially during the Passover, the city was jammed with people coming to pay their respects and give their offering to God in His Holy Temple. It would have been bristling with Roman guards in armor that to us might appear overdone, but in Jesus’ day they displayed the colors of Rome, body armor for protection, s sword for defense, and a horse for speed. Like police gathering at antiwar demonstrations in the 60s, or officers gathered in great numbers for crowd control at sporting events, many soldiers were gathered for Passover for crowd control. But the Caesar’s of that day considered the Jews of Judah and Galilee to be mongrels to be taxed and controlled; Herod Archelaus was the brutal Jewish King who presided over Judea; he was very much in the pocket of Rome. His brother, Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, is the one who asked for and got the head of John the Baptist on a plate and who examined Jesus in Jerusalem since Jesus was from his jurisdiction. There are lots of Herods in the New Testament, the paranoid father Herod the Great (alive when Jesus was born) and his three sons, (Herod Archaelaus who ruled Jerusalem, Herod, Antipas who ruled Galilee, and Herod Philip who ruled the region around Caesaria Phillipi. But the one you’ll hear about in Holy Week services is Herod Antipas. From the Christian point of view, he is a key person in this Passion Week drama; so is Caiaphas the High Priest, and Pilate,the Roman governor.

 

As with all heroes, saviors, idols, and stars, there can be a bit of drama in deciding who is truly worthy of the attention they are getting. In our day, starlets sometimes entice, and sometimes reject paparazzi that surround them and the fans who are enamored with them. This year political candidates will go to almost any length to endear themselves to constituents who may cast a vote for them. Yet the news media continues to take on adversarial roles in the lives of those in the spotlight. This month we have watched political figures, sports figures, American Idol contestants, and Hollywood stars with spotlights shining light on some of their own dark actions.  For those who sit at home and watch 24 hour news channels, feelings of panic about finances or despair about the moral nature of humanity can bring on measurable emotional impairment. We see that many heroes of our today have feet of clay, and the heroes get jaded by the public that sometimes fights for autographs just to sell them on E-Bay. Would there be a chance that crowds would gather for Jesus today? Certainly there are crowds today in sanctuaries and worship centers across the globe, but aren’t we looking back on Jesus and that historic entry? Instead I am asking; today, could we actually greet the Savior if he came to town, or would we be too jaded by heroes and leaders who have fallen from pedestals one too many times?

 

Heroes may let us down, but if we are looking for a Savior, there is just one place to look:  “Hosanna!” is Hebrew for “Save us!”  We cannot address it to our president, or to a sports figure, or to a singer or a model, or even to a boyfriend or girlfriend.  There is only one who has a history of saving and whose name means “salvation.” Jesus; Jeshua; Joshua; no matter the form of the name, it is the same person who is Savior.  But it’s one thing to think of a Savior within the walls of stained glass with a cross and a big Bible. It’s another to carry that belief into the world. In our jaded world, can we shout Hosannas for today to Jesus?  Can we shake off the shaking heads of doubters, or the rolling eyes of skeptics, to be among those who put their trust in him; in the one who stilled the waters, healed young girls from grave illnesses and raised a man from the dead? Even amidst tragedies, he is with us; we are not alone. For 2000 years there have been scoffers and yet, to paraphrase a famous saying: “All the armies that ever marched and all the Congresses that ever sat, put together, have not influenced the world and the life of human beings in this world, as much as that one solitary life.” Are you depressed? There is help. Are you hurt? There is healing. Are you confused? There is guidance. Are you angry? There are alternatives. But if you are looking for a Savior, look no further. There is only one; his name is Jesus, the one who, if he were here in the flesh, might enter on foot, sit in the back, give his seat to the person who needed one, be in modest clothes, and perhaps be beyond our recognition. Hmmm; the world, we have noted, has offered adoration to all the wrong people! Can a jaded world begin to trust Jesus to save them? Prisoners have; hospitalized persons have; broken people have; and forgotten people have.

 

One day on a Long Island Beach over a hundred years ago, a woman named Louisa Stead and her husband were relaxing with their four-year-old daughter when they heard cries for help. A young boy was drowning, and with no one else nearby, Louisa’s husband jumped in the surf to save the boy who was desperate not to drown. It didn’t work; the frantic boy was big enough and panicked enough to pull Mr. Stead under the water as his wife and daughter watched. He had needed a savior, but this valiant man could not fill the bill. His widow was left in utter poverty to raise a child on her own, done often now, but rarely then. She was a woman of great faith and prayed to Jesus constantly for help. On the day after her last money was spent and her last food eaten, she opened her front door to walk outside for a moment, and there on her doorstep was a basket of food and an envelope of money: no note, just help.  She welled up with tears. After bringing the food and money in her house, she paused to write the hymn we sang this month in one of our evening prayer services: “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” The refrain she wrote is her testimony to you and to me, as one who leaned on her faith and trusted in Jesus as her Savior, even in her darkest hour. The words?  “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er! Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to love him more!” May any sense of helplessness, be transferred into hopefulness, and we will then raise loud hosannas, and finally sing Hallelujah’s to a risen and triumphant Savior. Thanks be to God! Praise the Lord!  Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                  March 16, 2008

03-09-08 THE TRINITY: ITS MYSTERY AND MEANING

THE TRINITY: ITS MYSTERY AND MEANING

Genesis 1: 26-31; 1 John 5: 1-12

 

Perhaps you’ve heard of the widow who outlived three husbands and was about to wed her fourth. When asked about her many husbands and their occupations, she answered that her first husband was a banker who took care of her, and she loved him very much. Her second husband, oddly enough, was a magician, and he delighted her; she loved him very much as well. Her third husband, it turned out, was a pastor, and he taught her much about Jesus. She also loved him very much. “And now,” the person who was just meeting her commented, “You’re marrying a funeral director! What do you think attracted you to men with such different professions?” To which the lady replied, “Well,” she said, “As I look back, I married one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go.”

 

Some people in our world move from false god to false god like serial marriages, trying to get one thing out of one, and another thing out of another. God, even our God in three persons, is still one God, but ever present, something very different from the dispenser gods people want, when they put their money in a plate, or a slot, or on a convenience store counter, or on a high rollers green felt table top, and pray that they get a desired result. Today we will look not at many gods, not even at three, but at one. How would one begin to describe the Trinity: our God in three persons?

Let’s begin with a concept with which many of you are familiar: when I was a teenager visiting my grandmother’s house in Georgia with my parents, I watched the three of them, plus my aunt, play Bridge at long sittings, not taking their focus off of their cards.  I learned about the order of cards: clubs are considered the lowest suit, then next highest is diamonds, then hearts, then spades are the highest. I learned that any of them could be made into trump cards in Bridge, and that to be able to trump was a good and winning thing.  Now take that concept and move it to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Long ago, in the first century to be exact, John (in his gospel and also in his letters) made the idea of “the Trinity” the trump card of all belief systems.  “Do you have a powerful God?” some one could ask. All religions could answer, “Yes, we have a powerful god;” some actually had many gods.  “Do you have someone who is both god and man?” another could ask. “Yes” said some in the Roman Empire “Caesar claims to be that!” In Greek mythology experts described beings that were half man and half beast. But when they were asked, “Do you have one God in three persons?” that was Christianity’s trump card; no one had a God quite like ours: one go-to God who deserved all glory and praise. So God the Lord trumped, in a matter of speaking, all the other talk of gods.

 

“Trinity” is a major Christian Doctrine, though, curiously, the word never appears in the Bible.  But the idea does appear and it is clearly found in John’s writings. John 1 connects with Genesis 1 most readily when we hear John pronounce: “In the Beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” And the Spirit mention in John 14 is the same breath, (as Cara said last week) that breathed life into creation in Genesis 1.  There is a three-in-one God in Christian theology and in the Bible. Today, however, we get another form of trinity that some scholars call “metonymy,” which words terms that stand for something else.  When John, who describes Jesus as the master of speaking of spiritual things while listeners are thinking on human terms (as when Nicodemus asks how a man can go back into his mother’s womb when Jesus says “you must be born again” and is talking about spiritual rebirth), John says “There are three that testify, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree.” (1 John 5: 8)  Some have said that water is a reference to our baptism, blood to communion, and Spirit as the day you were, in colloquial terms, “born again.” But others have suggested that the three testify to the God whose mighty breath made waves across the earth’s oceans in Genesis 1; the God who was truly present in Christ with nails and spear-pierced flesh, who bled and died to take away our sin; and the Spirit who remains on earth when the other person’s of God are elsewhere.  To some this sounds like one of those shell games performed by con artists, making us try to follow which shell the ball is under. Is the Trinity like a shell game? Is it a slippery slope that uses theological language to describe a manufactured doctrine? Is it an idea that has fantasy taking the place of faith? No this is no shell game, nor is it a fantasy; nor is it a game of saying that God is 1/3 present in the Father, 1/3 in the Son, and 1/3 in the Holy Spirit. Nor do we have a case of serial gods, where the Father had power in one dispensation, the Son in another, and the Spirit in the last. Presbyterians call such thinking “Heresy,” or “wrong belief. So why did God reveal Godself in so many forms to John for him to record in his Gospel and his Letters? This is less of a puzzle and more of a blessing as we untie the bow on the Trinity. What will we find if we accept this precious gift from God?

 

Looking in the Old Testament, God refused to be tied to a certain location, or to a certain look (other than the words in Genesis 1 that humans were made in God’s image,) God’s will in times of tragedy was also hard to pin down. It still is for many. Also, even today, don’t you wonder what God looks like? A teacher once was confronted with that thought as she was going around her Sunday School class looking at the colored pictures that her children drew. “Who is that?” she asked of one little boy, pointing to a drawing of what looked like a person.  “That’s God,” the boy replied. The teacher, trying to be helpful said, “Oh Johnny, no one knows what God looks like,” to which the boy, without hesitation said, “They will now.”  And so for people like that teacher, and perhaps for you and me, God came down to earth in the person of Jesus, grew up, and told Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Be careful here! Remember, John always records Jesus talking in spiritual terms, while people tend to think in physical terms. So even now, we cannot claim to know where God is or what God looks like. The Lord Jesus ascended into Heaven and left God in a frustratingly intangible, invisible, and omnipresent form on earth.  A child in Guam is taught that God is with him, just as a dying woman in Halifax Hospital is taught that God is with her.  A youth at a Pentecostal church that lifts up the Holy Ghost is taught that God is powerfully there, healing and speaking. A Baptist Church that is praising Jesus in Mississippi with his name repeated over and over today feels Jesus as close as the one standing next to them today. A Presbyterian Church in Korea that lifts up the Sovereignty and mystery of God sings “Holy, Holy, Holy though the darkness hides thee” in Korean, affirming the very same mystery of God that we have affirmed in our praise today.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who “treads on the high places of the earth” according to the prophet Amos, is the same God who walks in the darkest valleys with David in the most beloved of Psalms.  As it is recorded in 2 Chronicles, in a verse that even personifies God’s all-seeing nature, “The eyes of the Lord run two and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself to be strong, to those whose hearts are true to him.” 

 

So dear friends, the good news of the Trinity is that God sees all, knows, all and is present in all places. The troubling news is that God doesn’t miss a thing! Sounds rather daunting to have God seeing you in the darkest nights of vice, as well as being on the brightest days of virtue! If you trust in the Lord Jesus and seek to follow his example, then these words may reassure you.  But if you are trying to get away with something or hide your shadowed side from God, it is a foolish waste of effort. Even human beings have found ways to have cameras record our actions at stop lights, in discount stores, on nanny cams, and even at car washes.  Can you imagine all the ways that God can see, and be present, with Heaven’s resources? Find comfort … and a call to righteous living, with the holy surveillance described by the doctrine of the Trinity. God is with us; we are not alone. How will you live differently knowing that?

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                  March 9, 2008                                                       

03-02-08 EMPOWERMENT: TO LIVE AND TO SERVE

Listen.

Can you hear the Spirit?

Some people say that they can. I had a classmate in seminary who swore that when he was quiet, he could hear the Spirit He was always convinced he knew what to do, because he had the voice of the Spirit talking directly to him.

That amazed me – still does in fact. The Spirit has never been so clear in talking to me. No, for me the Spirit likes hints, nudges – a prod in the right direction occasionally, but nothing so clear as a voice. Yet, when I think about it, it’s strange that I have so much trouble hearing the Holy Spirit. After all, even before I was born, the Spirit was with me.

Psalm 139 has always been a favorite of mine. “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” This is a God who cares. This is a God who loved me before I even knew what love was. God took the time to make me – Me. Fearfully and Wonderfully, God made me. God made you – each of you – fearfully and wonderfully.

How comforting! To have a God who loves you that much. To have a God that takes a personal interest in you. How reassuring! Or is it…

You see, because God formed you, knows you, loves you – God also calls you. Each and every one of you. You may not hear it the first time, or the second time, or even the hundredth time, but God keeps calling.

The call of God we talk about is usually through the Holy Spirit. Spirit is a strange word. There’s not really a very clear definition of spirit, is there? Websters says that it is: an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organism or a supernatural being or essence.

yes, but what is it?

In all of the original languages – Greek, Hebrew, Latin – what we now call spirit translates closer to breath or wind. This passage in Acts calls to a sense of breath and through that living. For breath is what you have when you are alive. Breath is how we know someone still lives. When at deathbed vigils we watch the rise and fall of a chest and we know they are okay. As long as he is breathing, there is still hope. To breathe is to be alive. To have spirit is to be alive. To speak of the spirit is to speak of the power of life that is in you.

There are those in the world who are so strong, so alive, that their spirit will affect others. I’m sure you all know those wonderful individuals whose mood is infective. When they are smiling and laughing, it is almost impossible not to be caught up in their joy. When they are sad it puts a pall over the entire room. This is spirit so strong it can breathe itself out into other lives, becoming inspiring.  Their spirit touches ours.

With God’s spirit we are dealing with the breath of God, the very life of our God. God is the power of life itself, and has breathed and continues to breathe life into his creation. Inspiring it. When the Spirit of God comes upon us, as God breathes it upon us, we cannot help but be caught up in that spirit. God’s spirit will move us, whether we wished to be moved or not.

In today’s passage the Spirit calls a group of people in the middle of a noisy busy city. Numbers of nonbelievers are striding past. People are going about their normal daily business. Its early morning, and with breakfast in their stomachs, people are starting out their day. A crowd of people has gathered together to celebrate the holy days, something they do every year. Life is normal.

And then… out of nowhere the Lord breathes upon them. All of them. Every last one of the disciples there. These are people who just came to worship and who got more than they ever bargained for.

Imagine those poor people. Going along, minding their own business. They were attending the Holy Days like good faithful people do. Life is simple when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, bam. The Spirit falls upon them in tongues of fire, uncalled for and unwanted. They are overwhelmed with the infectiousness of God’s Spirit. God’s breath. They are touched by the life of God, and are wrenched out of their normal pattern. No more will this one weave his cloth. No more will that one sell his wares the way he did. He is called into God’s spirit and the very air he breathes has changed.

          True. You can ignore the call. Many do. I tried to!

Growing up, I never thought I would be in the pulpit. This wasn’t in my plans. I had very careful plans. I was going to go study wolves in the wilderness. I’d live in a tent most of the time and get into arguments with people about funding. Whenever I wasn’t camping out on the tundra, I’d be in church of course. I was raised in the church. I believed strongly in God – but that was about it. 

As the years went by, I began to have an inkling that God was prodding me in another direction. I hated my biology courses and was drawn to theology,  but at most, I thought I would maybe teach theology or ethics in some academic setting. Work in a displaced, far off scholastic realm.

Not in the pulpit. Faced with real problems from real people who were hurting every day.

Not me. You couldn’t mean me God.

Me?  Really?

God calls us all no matter to gender or race, economic class or education. There are no entrance exams, no interviews. It makes no difference if you’ve traveled the world or if you have never been out of your hometown. God doesn’t care whether you are well spoken. The Spirit has chosen you. You.

I see what you’re thinking. Sure, its one thing for me to say that. I’m a pastor. I went to school for years, went before committee after committee to be here. It only makes sense that I would think God has chosen me to do something. But God couldn’t want anything from you, right?

But don’t you see? You are precious. God has chosen you to hear his word. To live in the Spirit’s calling. You are called to do more than you ever planned on.

Make no mistake; the Holy Spirit is calling you personally. No matter what you own plan is. You have been given the Word. The Spirit has called you to serve and your life will never be the same again

          What does this mean? Well you start by listening. The Spirit not always a noisy or clear in its calling. Usually the Spirit is subtle, calling you through the needs of others. So listen. If someone asks you to volunteer for something, listen for the Spirit in that question.

Even easier to miss is when you aren’t asked directly, but instead hear of a need that you are suited to fulfill. Maybe there is a committee that could really use your help. Or you read an article on the growing plight of the homeless in our community. It’s easy to keep on reading there. Easy to see the problem as too big for you to help with. Easy to ignore the Spirit.

We even have good excuses! “I’m too busy.” “I couldn’t do something like that.” “Its too big for me to make a difference.” All are reasonable arguments about the enormity of problems facing us today.

But remember – God knows you. God formed you. God knows exactly what you are being asked to do and is asking you anyway. Because God knows you. God knows what you are capable of.

More importantly, God knows what you are capable of with the Holy Spirit’s help. Even tasks that seem so much bigger than us – so much more than we could possibly do are possible. Through the same Spirit that calls us, we are gifted with what we need to follow the Spirit’s call. So excuses will never fly with the Holy Spirit.

I didn’t think I’d end up in the pulpit. I thought ministry would be a terrible place for me. I was terrified at speaking in public and chronically shy. Given my own way I could have never ended up here. But it wasn’t my way, it was God’s way. The Spirit breathed upon me and gave me the courage to stand in a pulpit and speak the Word. The Spirit gave me the strength to introduce myself to people.

And I’ll tell you a secret, now that I have been breathed upon by the breath of God, I couldn’t possibly imagine being anywhere else – doing anything else. I love my call – even if it didn’t come to me in a bolt of inspiration but in several subtle nudges in new directions – I am still convinced it is the call of the Holy Spirit I am serving.

Listen… The Spirit calls you. Loudly, quietly, insistently, joyously, somberly, urgently the Spirit calls.

The Spirit calls you to serve and if you only accept that call, the Spirit strengthens you to fulfill it. How joyous it is that you are called! It may not turn out how you plan – it rarely does. But you have been breathed upon by God, infected by God’s spirit. And that will forever shape who you are.