Monthly Archives: September 2016

09-25-16 LEARNING FROM LUKE: HADES

LEARNING FROM LUKE: HADES
Luke 16: 19-31

If we were to look through an old hymnal for songs about Heaven, we could find them: “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” “In the Sweet By and By,” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” among others. But if we look for hymns that mention “Hades,” we’ll not find any that I know of. A few hymns use the word “Hell,” such as in “How Firm a Foundation.” God says: “The soul that all Hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.” Actually in the Old Testament, “Hell” is translated from the Hebrew, “Sheol” which meant “the place of the dead.” It was almost always considered to be a place of refuse (not refuge) and lifelessness. In the New Testament, people in the first century became familiar with the Greek culture that used the word “Hades.” Hades appeared in Greek mythology. In those stories, Hades was the god of the underworld and was the brother of Zeus and Poseidon. It also became the name of the place where Hades lived. One person put it this way: “Hades, as the underworld was called, was a dark and gloomy place. It was much feared by the living. To reach Hades, the dead were taken by ferry across the river Styx.”

The story Jesus tells in Luke’s gospel is not just about Hades; it’s about the disparity between those who have, and those who have not. Stories of the rich verses the poor were actually around long before Jesus used them. But this story, as I said, is also about money. In Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary, we find these words: “Of all the winds that blow on love, the demand for money is the coldest and the most destructive.” So today’s parable includes a story about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus, a beggar outside of the rich man’s gate. Lazarus was covered with sores because he had no money for medication and no one would treat him. Stray dogs would lick his sores. But this story is not original with Jesus. “Some scholars trace the story to Egypt where stories of the dead and messages being brought from the dead are in abundance. At least seven versions have been found in the writings of the rabbis.” [INTERPRETATION, Luke, p. 195] One even wonders if Charles Dickens drew upon this old story when he created the characters of Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” In Dickens’ tale, however, he allowed Marley, wrapped in chains and tormented in the afterlife because of his stinginess, to come back from the dead to warn his partner, Ebenezer. In the musical version of that story, called “The Stingiest Man in Town,” the prophetic choir sings these words to Scrooge in his nightmarish journey: “Repent your crime! Repent in time! Or you’ll repent in vain! For if you wait until too late, you’ll never break the chains!” Almost all of Dickens’ stories were about poor, sick, downtrodden people oppressed by wicked and wealthy people. That was his interpretation of Great Britain’s society at the time of his writing. Certainly in the wake of banking scandals from 2008 even until today, letting the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is a recipe for societal disaster. A small percent of America is very wealthy; and a rising number of people have dropped from being middle class to being homeless after either receiving a huge medical bill, of having a car break down, or being laid off. A society that has a struggling or shrinking middle class starts to fit the mold of Dickens’ novels and even this parable. The rich man lived an extravagant life in his day. But in the afterlife, not even Father Abraham could get across the great canyon between above and Hades. Lazarus was whisked away by the angels to “the bosom of Abraham” as it is described in the Bible. According to this story, Abraham was “far off” (perhaps in Heaven?) and Lazarus was comforted and protected there. The rich man, by contrast, who had treated the poor man as a slave, went to Hades. From there he could look up, way up, and see Abraham comforting Lazarus while he himself was in anguish! He called out: “Father Abraham! Dip your finger in the water and cool my tongue, for I’m tormented in the flame!!” As Clarence Jordan retold that story in the idiom of the Old South, he gave Abraham’s answer: “Lazarus ain’t gonna run no mo’ yo’ errands, rich man!” [NEW INTERPRETER’S BIBLE, Volume IX]

As the rich man pleaded with Abraham to warn his brothers, Abraham said they already had been warned. He said if they hadn’t listened to and heeded the warnings of the prophets, neither would they believe someone who rises from the dead.” All who have ears, let them hear. In the Old Testament, Moses himself said: “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted with your needy neighbor.” [Deuteronomy 15:7] And Isaiah said: “The fast that I choose for you is to share your bread with the hungry.” [Isaiah 58:7] In fact, in Jesus’ day, bread was sometimes used by a wealthy person as a napkin, to dry one’s greasy hands after a meal. Then the bread would be dropped on the floor for dogs to devour! Even that bread was not saved for the poor.

In our day, we have noted how Daytona Beach is working on a way to feed and house hungry people. It is not without debate and controversy. Feeding ministries have come to the park on Beach Street, and been told that such activity is a nuisance. So homeless people dig through dumpsters for discarded food or beg at the end of ramps. Two thousand years after Jesus’ parable, the poor man still needs help.
Thankfully the crisis in our community is making thoughtful people come up with helpful responses. There is hope on the horizon. Like with stone soup, which tastes like nothing with just water and stones, if people contribute what they can financially and the soup gets some carrots, and some onions, and celery, and garlic and some over-ripe tomatoes, and pretty soon there is food. Together we can come up with a good solution. Back to our parable: in our world of terrorist attacks, instead of being swooned by a thousand angels when they die, I suspect that terrorists are crying out from darkness: “Tell my brothers to repent! Do it now, for I’m tormented in the flames!!” All who have ears, let them hear. In the dot.com crash, rich people lost their portfolios; companies went bankrupt; and poor people are still with us. Some have recovered with great wealth. As the prophets of every age have done, they cry out today as well, saying there is a price to pay for lavishness and greed. There is still time to repent: to turn from the sin of greed. There is time to re-think what the Pharisees believed: that the wealthy have money because God is more pleased with them, and the poor have little because God is less pleased with them. No. Luke records Jesus’ words to the contrary. “Blessed are you poor, … and woe to you who are rich.” Those words are about greedy, not people with means who help others. There are generous wealthy people in our world and we need them. Just this week Mark Zukerberg and wife Dr. Pricilla Chan announced plans to make a three billion dollar investment to help significantly eradicate diseases over the next generation. Wow. Rethinking self-indulgence can bring great benefits to churches, communities, and to our nation.

Retired seminary professor, Dr. Walter Brueggeman, in his book The Prophetic Imagination says “The prophet’s task is to break through the denial in which so many religious communities live. The first part of the job is to give voice to our worst fears about how far we have fallen from God and what the consequences may be. The second part is to proclaim the good news that change is possible as long as we are willing and God is God.” That’s the message that John the Baptist brought! “Repent!” That’s the message Jesus brought in today’s parable: “Repent! Turn away from ways that serve yourself best; think of ways to serve and care for others.” Jesus illustrates the heart of God with his stories and sayings; like in Luke 15, one chapter earlier: “I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine persons who need no repentance.” And the father standing in the doorway of his house, looking longingly for a child who had asked for half of his father’s sizeable estate. Then the son left and squandered all of that money; he was so hungry he hoped that some would even give him pig food, but no one gave him anything. The father has a generous heart with his child. Those who seek to follow Jesus do so with glad and generous hearts.

Maybe the rich man is trying to warn us today. Could it be? Is he calling up from Hades, trying to tell us to live differently? Is Jesus hoping we will have ears to hear? Listen to this message that came from heaven: “If they have not listened to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.” Abraham’s answer sounds like he doesn’t believe people can change. Let’s prove him wrong, shall we?

Jeffrey A. Sumner September 25, 2016

09-18-16 LEARNING FROM LUKE: TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

09-18-16 LEARNING FROM LUKE: TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

LEARNING FROM LUKE: TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
Luke 16: 1-13
In 1973, Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan made up the folk/rock group “Stealer’s Wheel.” Their most famous words from their song “Stuck in the Middle” have gotten new life in the presidential campaign: “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you!” Sadly in our day, the press reports dishonest and corrupt people on the left, and dishonest and corrupt people on the right; there is blue collar crime and white collar crime; there is Wall Street corruption and Main Street corruption. Today Jesus really has a parable for us! If you are like me, when I watch movies I like to try to figure out who the redemptive character is, the hero, or the one with integrity so I can orient my moral compass in the story. In the old days of westerns, they would stereotype the hero with a “white hat,” and stereotype the villain with a “black hat.” These days, not just in movies but in life, it is often too hard to decide who the redemptive people are. Just when I think I’ve found someone is upstanding, there is a scandal that breaks about him or her. Today in our parable we have a cast of shady characters; don’t bother to look for a good guy except possibly the rich man, also called “the master” in some passages. Yes the Bible is the “Good Book,” but some stories like this one have corrupt characters. Today let’s look at the story from the first century, and see what similarities it has with the twenty-first century.

First, “Many commentators affirm that this parable is the most difficult in all the synoptic gospels.” [Ken Bailey, Poet and Peasant Through Peasant Eyes, Eerdmans’ Publishing, 1983, p. 86.] Further, scholars from Italy, from Germany, and elsewhere have declared: “the problem of unraveling what Jesus meant in this passage is almost insoluble.” But let’s take a crack at it.
Christian scholar and Middle East expert Dr. Ken Bailey says: “The parable of the Unjust Steward is an eschatological warning to sinners.” [Bailey, p. 86] (By that he means it’s about the time when Christ returns again to judge the world.) How might we understand this? “In the parable, a dishonest steward (manager) discovers that his master expects obedience, and judges those who fail him. The steward decides to risk everything on the unqualified mercy of his master. He knows that if he fails, he goes to jail; if he succeeds, he saves himself. Everything hinges on the master being good and upright.” Is the master wearing a “white hat?” He may be the only one who is. In the typical gift for British understatement, English New Testament scholar William Barclay calls all the characters in the parable besides the master, “rascals.” Rascals! We might call them mobsters, or crooks, or corrupt people. We should not look for redemptive people in this parable, other than the master. Jesus might have been pointing fingers at all the corrupt people in his first century world. Or Jesus might have been describing the disappointment and even the anger that the righteous God of the Universe has from watching corrupt people steal from others and hurt the poor. What might the Master say to those of us in the human race who are charged with “managing,” or being stewards, of all of God’s gifts? We are the stewards of creation, and of children, of youth, of old persons, of our water systems, or the continents, and of the seas. What if this story were superimposed on us? Who among us truly follows the instructions God gave to the prophet Micah: “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Where, if anywhere, are people doing the right things even behind closed doors, or when no one is looking; where are people counting their employer’s money honestly even no one auditing their books? Do we live in a world, like the first century world, where we are crawling with corruption; where people hardly know where to find one white hatted person?

Second, let’s take a breath for a minute. This story might have been told with a tone of sarcasm from Jesus. Could you imagine that? Liberal scholar Edward Beutner can. Through that lens he says:
The owner calls the manger to task and decides to dismiss him on
the basis of rumor alone, absent any evidence (“What is this
I hear about you?”) [Goodness; that is as current as our headlines!
Let’s go on.}
“Uh oh” says the audience, (who is not likely to identify with either
the manager or the owner since this kind of action takes place …among those who govern ruthlessly from afar …. [Again in the midst of our current campaigns, what goes on behind the scenes is kept from the voting public, unless a reporter discovers information or a campaign spreads rumors or innuendos. At this late stage, we are more aware of the “back stage” manipulations, as Jesus was in his day.]

The best thing we can do with this story is read it from the perspective of the the white hatted person; and the only one that can be is the Master; the one of great means called The Rich Man.” The Rich Man—I’ll call him the Master as other translations call him—gets incensed when he learns, (literally “hears”) that the manager is doing business dishonestly. A word of personal note: this is God’s house, but as one of the Pastor’s of this house, I would be incensed too if I found people who were lying, cheating, or stealing. I am only aware of that happening twice here in my 31 years as pastor: one when a man who was the Men’s group treasurer took just over 100 dollars from the group without permission; and the other man who took money to build our pipe organ and didn’t finish it. They are both gone. And people of honesty and integrity took their place. If you run a business, you want honest people working for you, not shady, self-serving, or greedy, or desperate ones. In your home, you don’t want to fear that a family member will take your money or valuables if you leave them out in your bedroom. It is unthinkable. But in the world of the first century, and our political year in the twenty-first century, what we thought would be unthinkable is happening: light—that is integrity, honesty, and dependability—is being snuffed out by darkness—that is lying, innuendo, name-calling And the people in our day—like the people in Jesus’ day—are falling prey to the murky morass that is in the wake of that darkness. People can’t find the north star of God to which Jesus was pointing in his parables. People in his day felt like he was pointing a finger toward the cheaters among them, and many people knew who they were. And Jesus’ parable does the same for us: In this parable there is no white hat person or group of persons besides the Master. That’s the morally confusing framework of two-dimensional stories, films, and editorial cartoons can create: “You’re either for me, or against me;” “It’s either my way, or the highway.” Or “If you’re not voting my way, you’re just wrong.” Wise people—like Jesus and some of his audience, and perhaps you—can rise above the wooden characters of innuendo and finger pointing. Wise persons—if they could float up to God with an angel for one day, could see the conflicts, the corruption, and the hateful rhetoric the way God sees them. After gaining that perspective, wise persons may tear up, with sorrow, or they may rise up with indignation and become prophetic, saying: “Enough! The Master has need of us! Let’s stop giving more weight to the voice of people than to the voice of God! Let’s remember who the Savior of the world is! Let’s listen to him!”

So et’s put on the gospel armor; let’s have the eyes, and heart, and ears of Christ. If we do that, we will hear the parable of the dishonest manager with new ears, knowing that if we serve money, or crave wealth, we will follow the money, and do whatever it takes to get and keep money. By contrast, if we are each truly serving God, we will care for the downtrodden, think about our neighbor as well as ourselves, and handle our accounts with honesty. It takes a big sacrifice for some to make the switch. But if this really is an eschatology story, if it is Jesus telling listeners how the great Judge of the world will react to our ugly, hateful, and vile natures, we have some changes to make, or the outcome will be darker than the darkest web of lies we have spun.

Third and finally, the message for today, again, is the message our mothers, our teachers, our principals, or our police officers who have taught those who’ve spent countless hours stealing answers, cheating in life, or shoplifting merchandise. That lesson: “If you spent the same energy on being a good student, or a good citizen, as you have spent on trying to cheat the system, you would be a success.” Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called Children of Darkness “those who see no universal law beyond themself, either individually or nationally.” Children of Light, by contrast, are “those who recognize that self-interest must be disciplined by a more universal law.” In many ways, the parable of the Dishonest Manager is about the children of light and the children of darkness. Jesus has his eyes on both the children of light and the children of darkness. May we be among those leading others into the Kingdom of Light, not the kingdom of darkness.

Jeffrey A. Sumner September 18, 2016

09-11-16 LEARNING FROM LUKE: LOST AND FOUND

LEARNING FROM LUKE: LOST AND FOUND
Luke 15: 1-11

In October of 2011, Journalist David Grann revisited the notebook of what he recorded the week after 9/11/2001. This is what he wrote:
On the fourth day, I went to get a sense of the devastation. The street outside my building in lower Manhattan was still cordoned off on either end by police, and you needed an escort and proof of ID to get in or out. The young officer who stood guard on the corner said that two of his colleagues from the police station next door were missing. “A man and a woman,” he said. “We’re still hoping.”
I headed uptown to the Pierre Hotel, where I heard that the families from Cantor Fitzgerald—a bond-trading firm that had lost some 700 of its 1,000 New York employees in the World Trade Center attack—had set up an emergency center. It was in the Grand Ballroom on the second floor, where weddings and executive banquets were normally held, a place that seemed utterly incongruous for a crisis room. It was opened, along with the hotel, in 1930 and, according to the hotel’s brochures, had “received royalty, world leaders and celebrities.”
Outside the main door, the company had set up tables with information packets, including hot lines for “investigative tips,” “hospitals,” and “police.” There was a place to fill out missing person reports, and a few people gathered around it. The forms were eight pages thick and asked for anything that might identify the missing, including dental records (“partial plate,” “braces,” “no teeth”) and objects in the body (“pacemaker,” “bullets,” “steel plate”). On page four there was a checklist for build, race, and hair color, as well as items like wigs, toupees, and transplants. “Facial Hair Style: __Fu Manchu __Whiskers Under Lower Lip __Mutton Chops __Pencil Thin Upper Lip __N/Applicable.
Inside the ballroom, tacked along the back walls, were sheaths of white paper, each with a picture and details of one of the missing. Some were written by hand, as if in haste, others typed in bold computer fonts. One said, “Adriane Scibetta, 5 feet w/brown hair/brown eyes,” and had a photo of her with three little girls. Another said, “Francis (also goes by Frank) 28 years old, 5’10”-170s lbs. Light brown hair cut very short. Underneath was a picture of him, his sleeve rolled up, so that you could see the word “Mom” etched on his right bicep. Next to him was a picture of Amy O’Doherty. It had been mimeographed and her face was faded.
Many of us have lost things for a while: keys, household items, and other non-living things. And to lose a dog or a cat: that can put some anxiety in the heart of the owner. Other people have lost their spouse; or a parent; that’s even more-anxiety producing. Perhaps the most dreadful stories over the years are of children being lost. Losing a child in a store or a shopping mall can make a parent’s heart beat faster. But finding your child alive after an abduction really puts exclamation points on the word “Found!!” Fifteen years ago today, planes crashed in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Family members assembled, or called, to see if their loved one had been found safe, or was lost, or declared dead. It was a devastating time for them. In the face of wars or disasters of any kind, people ask others questions through tears like, “Have you seen my son? Here is a picture of him.” Or, “Have you seen my wife? I’ll tell you what she looks like.” They are distraught. They are unglued. Having someone they love be lost is the worst news that they could imagine.
If there ever was someone who knew the heart of God, it was Jesus. His parables of the lost in Luke 15 take listeners on escalating levels of anxiety. Remember when I just mentioned things I have lost? A pet for instance. When I was a young boy my siblings and I were sad to learn that our dog had gotten out of his fence. We drove around our neighborhood, with the kids calling out from the car windows and Dad driving. Jesus talks about a shepherd losing a sheep. Such a loss could hit him emotionally, but certainly financially. He would be responsible to the rancher who owned the sheep. Other people might panic if they loss money. The woman in the parable lost a coin. A coin in those days could buy a loaf of bread, or even more. The woman lost a coin and, like some of us, she turned her house upside down looking for it. For us we might check the sofa cushions, or our pants’ pockets. And if we find it, most often we feel very relieved. Sometimes I tell Mary Ann something I’ve lost, but not all the time, because she might say what she has said before: “You are always losing things!” Who wants to feel sheepish when they are trying to celebrate? On the other hand, if you have lost a pet, you have perhaps spread the word on posters, through phone calls, or on Facebook. Then if he is found, you get that word out with relief, and others can celebrate with that find!
But there are some losses that set panic or sorrow deep into the soul: it is bad enough to lose a child in a store or a shopping mall: your heart goes into your throat and your senses go on full alert. And if that child is soon found, perhaps a minute, or an hour or so after being lost, likely the child, but certainly the parent, never forgets the relief of being found! But things get much worse concerning child abductions. They are the worst. Jaycee Dugard, author of the book A Stolen Life, wrote:
In the summer of 1991 I was a normal kid. I did normal things. I had friends and a mother who loved me. I was just like you until the day my life was stolen. For eighteen years I was a prisoner, and was an object for someone to use and abuse. For eighteen years I was not allowed to speak my own name. I became a mother, and was forced to be a sister. For eighteen years I survived an impossible situation. On August 26, 2009, [I was finally found. I got to take my name back and begin to put my life back together.] And she still is raising the child that her captor fathered.
She was lost from her mother for all of her formative years. No one was with her whom she could trust to talk to as she grew up and her body changed; no one to love her, just someone to trap and imprison her. She was truly lost to her mother, and then she was found after some people might have lost hope. Eighteen years.
Jesus talks about a lost son in this chapter. Such a missing young man weighed on the heart of the father. Christian Songwriter Mark Schultz captured the sentiment of a son, thought to be lost, who was found. The title of the song is “Letters from War”
The son goes off to fight for his country and to honor his dad. His mother writes to him every day saying: “You’re good, and you’re brave, what a father that you’ll be someday. Make it home, make it safe,” she wrote every night as she prayed.

One day she gets a letter back a letter from another soldier saying a bomb hit near her son and others. Her son dragged the letter writer to safety but the son was captured. And so the mother prayed; and she cried; and she prayed some more. Then she went back to writing letters. She wrote all the time, reaffirming what she said before: “You are good, and you’re brave. What a father that you’ll be someday! Make it home; make it safe,” she wrote every night as she prayed. Two years later a military car pulled in the driveway. She dropped to the ground expecting the worst but instead, “Out stepped a captain where her boy used to stand, and he dropped all his bags on the floor, holding all of her letters from war.”

Being lost is terrible; being found is joy. In Luke 15:20, Jesus said: “When [the son] was yet at a distance, his father saw him, had compassion on him, and ran to him, hugging and kissing his son who had been lost.”

Friends, there is no day in the heart of a parent, and no day in the heart of the Almighty, that is more special than having someone who was lost be found.

On September 11th, 2001, some family members and friends had a glad reunion when a person lost in one of the attacks was found. After hours or days of looking at posters or searching though rubble, first responders found many wounded and broken people to reunite with their families. What a grand reunion. But for hundreds of people, family members stayed lost, and some only got to recover bodies and to bury them.

Being found is the greatest joy to parents, to grandparents, or husbands or wives, and to others. And it is grand too for the one who was lost. In the Bible, Jesus told people exactly how the Almighty feels when someone gets lost; lost spiritually; lost to drug or drink; lost to gangs; lost to someone else who is a poor influence; or lost to a terrible peer group. Like the father in Luke 15, God looks at the horizon every day, seeing if the lost one …is coming over the summit’s rise. God longs … longs … for that person to find his way; or her way: hopes that there is a day of “realization,” as the son has in the parable; hopes that the beloved person is released or escapes from a captor. If someone you love is lost to death, that person need not be lost to God, for in Jesus Christ, “death is swallowed up in victory.” [1 Corinthians 15:54] Like a shepherd searching for sheep, your Savior will look for you, if you already know him as your shepherd, and he will lead you to your new home in Heaven.

Someone who is lost weighs on the heart of God like it weighs on the hearts of loved ones. But getting found is one of the greatest joys of heaven. May all those who can be found, get found. And may those who never get found, or who lose their life, find their way back to the open arms, and the searching eyes, of their Lord Jesus.

Jeffrey A. Sumner September 11, 2016

09-04-16 LEARNING FROM LUKE: COST-COUNTING

LEARNING FROM LUKE: COST-COUNTING
Luke 14: 25-33

The family had all come to church. This family had a mom, a dad, and a young son. No one was excited about being there. It was Labor Day weekend. Where else could they have chosen to do instead? The father shifted in his seat as the sermon was given. The mother said under her breath: “Why do we have to sing these new hymns?” The boy just listened and colored on the bulletin the pastor gave him during the Children’s Message. He liked to color and he didn’t mind doing it. At the offering time he watch his father open his wallet, look through the bills there, and drop a dollar in the plate. At the end of the service they were walking through the parking lot to their car. The mother said, “There was too much new music!” The father said, “The sermon didn’t inspire me.” But the little boy looked at the bulletin he colored and said, “Hmm. I thought it was a pretty good show for a dollar!”

Is there anybody who doesn’t count the cost of any activity or purchase?” Churches count the cost of making repairs or purchasing music or curriculum. Just this week we found the company from which we bought our children’s bulletins went out of business without notice! This week three of us in the office looked over the costs of buying Children’s Bulletins from a new supplier. And we got them. At home I’ve count the cost of repairing my older car compared to buying a new one. I’s been so reliable! I have chosen to keep it repaired for now rather than buying a new one. If I always had to pay for repairs, I would think differently. Last month, I heard how some parents are grateful to have school uniforms this year, keeping down the cost of buying a variety of outfits.
Some in our congregation I visited in August are having to count the cost of having an in home caregiver compared with going into a nursing home.

When our children were very young, a friend of mine chastised me for going to three supermarkets to get the best deals from each, rather than just buying everything from one store. I said to her, “You count your costs, I’ll count my costs.” With our children now grown, I shop at one supermarket; we don’t eat baskets of food a week like our whole family did before!

When you plan to buy a car, you should check not only the advertised price, but also other costs that must be paid as well, like taxes and registration. Wise persons who plan to buy a house consider what taxes they’ll incur, how much insurance will cost, and what homeowner’s association costs must be paid. And these days, people are wise to count the cost of homeowners, or renters, or flood insurance. So many people in California and Louisiana lost their home with no insurance to help them. Insurance seems expensive—until you need it. One of the best ads I ever saw (I say that because I’ve not forgotten it) was for a brand of oil filter; not the cheapest brand, but a high quality brand, one that tests showed would keep harmful contaminants from entering my engine. The tag line said: “You can pay us now” and they showed a new oil filter, “or pay them later” and they showed a smoking car with the hood up.

Jesus knew how people thought about costs when he invited them to follow him. “What will it cost me in lost income? What will it cost me in family relationships? Will I have to move and if so, how much will that cost? I used the Chair our Presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry, the Committee that guides, instructs, and mentors those who are interested in full time ministry. Those questions I just reported: “What will it cost me in lost income; What will it cost me in family relationships; and Will I have to move and if so, how much will it cost?” are real questions that Inquirers for ministry asked! Did you imagine, like the disciples Jesus called in the Bible, that people would just drop what they were doing and follow him? I thought that, naively, when I started on that committee. But no. They count the cost before they sign up. Perhaps we shouldn’t cast dispersions; that sounds like a wise way to make choices. In fact, it is the way that Jesus teaches. “For which of you,” he asked, “desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” When I first told my parents that I was feeling called to the ministry, I was met with a tepid response. With a somber face, my Dad said “Hmmm. You don’t get paid much in the ministry.” And then he said, “It’s not an easy life.” My Mother didn’t say anything as I recall. Were they counting the cost of my decision?

Over the years there have also been those, like the Apostle Paul, doing “tent-making ministry.” That means that use their trade—in Paul’s case as a tent maker—to support themselves in ministry. I think Jesus says, and I have concluded, that some people need to do ministry full time. Still, others have done it effectively as a part time employee or a volunteer. I am “all in” for this work, this lifestyle, this calling. This is what I do. This ministry gets my constant attention, my tithe, and my focus. I think that’s what Jesus asks for. Now that doesn’t mean you have to do what I do, but somebody, your pastors in our case, steer the ship with a lifetime of experiences. Then others can pour their hearts into being a teacher, a singer, an usher, or a repair person as their time allows. A church of Jesus Christ calls for our focus, our support, and our attention to details, needs, and people. This is our calling, yours and mine: to follow Him, and to invite others to follow him.

Let me finally make reference to the hymn we are about to sing. It was in the old maroon Presbyterian Hymnbook and it is a beloved song based on our first lesson today from Jeremiah 18. “The Lord said to Jeremiah: “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” Rabel Parson, a wonderful organist from Deland and a friend to me and to our church, gave me a book on December 2, 2001 called “The One Year Book of Hymns.” Adelaide Pollard wrote one of the hymns in that book, “Have Thine Own Way Lord,” which we will sing in a minute. And the tune is appropriately called Adelaide. In that devotional book William J. Peterson wrote:
At forty, Adelaide Pollard was trying unsuccessfully to raise support to go to Africa as a missionary. She wondered why the Lord would burden her with the needs of Africa, but not make it possible for her to go. During this time of discouragement, she attended a small prayer meeting where an elderly woman prayed, “Lord, it doesn’t matter what You bring into our lives, just have Your way with us.” That night Pollard went home and read the story of Jeremiah’s visit to the Potter’s House, and later that evening she wrote this hymn. She said she had always felt the Lord was molding her and preparing her for His service.

Whether it is through Jesus, or through Jeremiah, or through someone else, keep your heart open for the work God has in store for you. The potter’s lesson is that even in your brokenness, or weakness, (and God might say especially through you weakness, or your stress, or your issues, or your pain,) God can still use you; God needs you. And you and I need God … like a piece of clay needs a potter to give it purpose.
Jeffrey A. Sumner September 4, 2016