Monthly Archives: August 2017

08-27-17 A DECLARATION FOR THE AGES

A DECLARATION FOR THE AGES

Matthew 16: 13-20

 

As the church staff is making plans for the fall, one thing we will offer is a series of Wednesday evening sessions on leaders of the Protestant Reformation. What is the impetus for such a study? Well October 31st this year will be the 500th year since it all began; the 500th year since Professor Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg Germany. His message, meant for discussion, started a revolution in 1517.  Several years later, Luther was called before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the V. His interrogation was officially called a “Diet,” and it was held in the Germany city of Worms. So the challenge for Luther happened at the “Diet of Worms.” What a name! The Diet insisted that Luther recant—take back—the things that he had said about the Church of Rome, and all would be forgiven.  Luther did not speak in an accusative, defiant way, but in a calm and measured protest. It is known as his “Here I Stand” speech. History records him as saying this:

Unless I am convince by testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason—for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves—I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. This I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.

 

We will learn more about Martin Luther over the next two months. But he made a declaration for the ages. What declarations have you made, if any?  Each time you say the “Pledge of Allegiance,” you are making a promise in front of God and others: “I pledge allegiance to the flag, and to the United States of America.” What a declaration that is! How do you live it out? Do you vote your conscience to keep making our nation into more perfect union? Do you agree to uphold the laws of the land; do you agree to pay your taxes? Now I know I’m meddlin’! But a declaration should be taken seriously. As a Boy Scout, when I was in uniform, I would raise my right hand and declare that “On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law. To help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” I still keep my Scout pledge. I still keep the Pledge of Allegiance to my country. But among all the pledges, the one that is the rock on which I hope to stand now and when I meet Peter at the gates, is “Jesus is the Christ; he is my Savior, and Son of the Living God.” Maybe Peter will high five me when I get there, or he’ll say “well done” or he’ll walk me over to Jesus! I don’t know. What I do know is that life here and in the hereafter seems most in tune with God when my life is based on that solid rock.

 

The way Jesus asked Simon Peter “Who do you say that I am?” and the place where he asked him matter as I read the text. Just before this declaration, Jesus was on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. To travel into the area called Caesarea Philippi took time and intention. It was 35 miles in one direction, not on the way to any other place Jesus went in the New Testament. So what Jesus planned was a deliberate and special place for his words to be offered. We can surmise two things:

One, Jesus went there to be outside of the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, who was almost as maniacal as his father, the self named Herod the Great. When Herod the Great died, his territory was divided among his three sons: Herod Archelaus who inherited the territory from Jerusalem to Caesarea (by the sea), and Herod Antipas who inherited Galilee and Perea. Herod Phillip inherited the northeast territory that was the most multicultural of them all. Herod Philip had no interest in chasing Jesus. But in his territory was a special cave formation to which Jesus likely traveled for his special question. Picture this: it was, and still is, a series of cave-like rocks with all the sulfur smells of Yellowstone National Park. How many have been to Yellowstone National Park? Do you remember the odor from the sulfur pits?

That’s what emitted from this cave. And guess what those who lived in that region called it? They called it “The Gates of Hades.” They believed that “down there” was the place of the underworld. Can you imagine the build up as Jesus led the Twelve 35 miles out of their way to that cave? Then he stopped, (I imagine,) looked at the odorous, hissing caves, and then asked, “Who do others say that the Son of Man is?” Notice his term; he is deliberately owning the term: Son of Man; he is not claiming a Son of God status yet. “Son of Man” he calls himself eighty-eight times in the New Testament. Some believe that is a reference to the prophet Daniel, recorded in Daniel 7: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples and nations of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” What a way to paint a picture, especially to the disciples who knew their Scriptures. There were also superstitions in their day like there are in ours. People in their day wondered if souls could transfer from one body to another! And so they answered Jesus: “Some say John the Baptist (who was just killed), others say Elijah (the great prophet), and still others say Jeremiah (another major prophet of God.) I wonder if Jesus paused, to let those ideas dissipate. He was coming to the main point of his trip. Standing by that cave known as the Gates of Hades, he then asked: “But who do you say that I am? Anyone could have answered; I hope you each are answering that in your heart. But on that day, Simon, called Peter by Jesus, answered him with this declaration: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. That’s what Jesus hoped to hear! That’s what he hopes to hear from all who encounter him: that he is the Christ, (the anointed one; the one that has the ear and heart of God) and that also, that he is Son of God. So Jesus, clearly relieved or jubilant, said in a voice not afraid to let others hear it, “ Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah! (This is not the Old Testament Jonah; this is the name of his father!) Then Jesus continues, “Now I will call you Peter (which means the rock) and on this rock I will build my church. “ Then I imagine he motions to the cave when he says, “And the Gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” So on the rock—either Peter himself, or on the declaration that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God—Jesus decided to build his church!  Peter is important! What he said was even more important! And to him were given the keys to the kingdom of Heaven! In case you haven’t figured it out, that’s why Peter is always said to be at the gates of heaven in so many jokes: it’s because of this promise from Jesus! What is the warning about the Gates of Hades, or Hell, about? One thing it’s about is what we learned last week: the works of the devil are the works of the flesh:  including fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and the like. Paul, in Galatians chapter 5 says when those happen in your life, you are giving in to your human nature. But there is a better way; it is giving your support to your higher nature; the fruit of the Spirit includes, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Possessing those qualities and seeking to keep them is the “Upward way; the “Christ-like way.” It makes relationships better between family members, friends, neighbors, and strangers.  To declare Christ as your Lord is to decide to live as he would live.

 

Our word is our bond. Declarations are important. And what you believe matters. Do you stand with Simon Peter? Author Paul E. Little worked for years with Intervarsity Press. He wrote two books that have been combined into one: Know What and Why You Believe. To know that and to do that is so important; know what and why you believe! Otherwise you will be a willow, blowing wherever the wind blows, or believing the last thing that you read. Anchor your beliefs! I choose to anchor mine on Jesus Christ, like many through the ages did, including, as I said in the beginning, Martin Luther.

He believed this: 1) Scripture alone is his highest authority. 2) He said we are saved through faith alone; 3) by the grace of God alone and on the merits of Christ; 4) He said Christ alone is Lord and Savior. 5) And he said we live for the glory of God alone.

What a list of beliefs! What do you believe? On whom can you depend? Consider grounding yourself in Peter’s confession of faith as a starting point! Pray about it, and if appropriate, announce it to others. Then go do what Jesus would do.

 

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                 August 27, 2017

08-20-17 THERE’S A WIDENESS IN GOD’S MERCY

THERE’S A WIDENESS IN GOD’S MERCY

 

 

 

The events in our nation over the last week have changed the way I show biblical examples today. Let me begin with this:

An old Cherokee grandfather is teaching his grandson about life.  “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, feelings of superiority, and ego. The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.” The grandfather continued to his grandson: “The same fight is going on inside of you—and inside every other person too.” The grandson thought about what his grandfather had just told him.  “Which wolf will win?” he asked his grandfather. To which he replied, “The one you feed.”

 

The Apostle Paul in Galatians chapter 5 echoes those traits, but each of Paul’s characteristics are given an animal form—a wolf—in the Cherokee story.  One set of values is described as  “The work of the flesh” and the other the “fruit of the Spirit.”  In his letter to the Romans, Paul said “I do not understand my own actions, For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….  I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.”

Author and minister Robert Short got permission from Charles Schulz to use his “Peanuts” comic strip to help point people to the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ. In his book “The Gospel According to Peanuts,” Short depicts Lucy holding up a large heart made out of paper and colored on one side.  “She says to her brother, “This, Linus, is a picture of the human heart. One side is filled with hate, and the other side is filled with love. These are the two forces which are constantly at war with each other.” Linus, with his tongue out and his hair disheveled, says, “I think I know what you mean … I can feel them fighting!”

 

Our nation, like all nations, has had an underbelly of darkness, rear its head like a snake over the decades. In the 1930s and 1940s for example, the world went to war in part over a power-hungry, totalitarian German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, who later claimed the power of a dictator. He believed that non-white human beings were inferior, and therefore, needed to be annihilated to advance the human race. So specifically Jews, and Jewish sympathizers, were rounded up and taken to German work camps “for the common good.”  They were actually death camps; and humans were transported there in stifling hot rail cars. When they arrived they were humiliated by being forced to remove all their clothes and “be examined” by soldiers. They were worked to death, or gassed in chambers, and when they died, some bodies were burned while other emaciated bodies were shoveled into mass graves. This is what Hitler did and convinced his followers to do. His party was called the “Nazi” Party.” I have been to the Dachau Concentration Camp. It was a haunting places that will tear your heart out. When I left I promised myself that I would speak out if I saw the world sliding into such godless hate again. Nazis took the cross of my Savior, twisted it, and turned it into a swastika, an ensign that men gathered under for killing and brutalizing Jews. Perhaps they never learned that Jesus was a Jew. True followers of Christ through the ages changed the cross of Calvary from an instrument of death into a reminder of God’s eternal love. Yet in the 20th century the KKK and other hate groups took the cross of Jesus, set it on fire, and used it to threaten death and torture to people of color, to Jews, and to Roman Catholics. I have friends who are Jews, and who are black and who are Catholic. I stand with them and resent men of my race who twist and annihilate the gospel of our Lord with their hate. The so-called Alt-Right and other extreme hate groups believe that people of color—that they crudely call the red man, the brown man, the yellow man or the black man—are inferior.  Jesus would weep over such distortions of his love. It is a crime against heaven to take such non-biblical stands. You may have heard of George Takei, Lieutenant Sulu of Star Trek fame. Although his family roots were in Japan, he was born in Los Angeles; his father was from San Francisco and his mother born in Sacramento: full citizens of the United States. Yet at the start of World War II, they were “rounded up” and kept in a fenced isolated area in one of ten government sanctioned interment camps. They were assigned to one in the southeast corner of Arkansas. They imprisoned there for three years. In Takei’s words “We had nothing to do with the war. We simply happened to look like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor.” Sentry towers and guards saw that no one left.

 

Followers of Jesus, we cannot stand by when the cross of Christ burned with hatred or is twisted into a sign of death for others. We must say “No! That is not what Jesus, or God, are about! They are love!” Still the internet creates places for unhappy, paranoid, or mentally ill persons to feed off of each other’s hateful plans. And the dark web is a cesspool of depravity. If you see something, say something! These days from Charlottesville to the Pulse Nightclub, hate is being bred. The old adage attributed to Edmund Burke, is extra true today: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph if for good men [sic] to do nothing.”  Today I want you to be armed with what Jesus did as we stand against those who carry out their ugly hateful actions twisting the name and the cross of Christ.  Those people have succumbed to the one wolf, that Paul called the “works of the flesh.” Paul invites true disciples of Jesus to make different choices, to feed the other wolf and display the fruit of the Spirit.

 

Let’s take a journey around Jesus’ world today. In his world, the Romans had no use for the Jews, but God did. It has been said “how odd of God to choose the Jews” but God did! And Jesus was sent first to those chosen  people. Just like with other children, God anguished over, listened to, directed, and cared about them! The first century world was as separate as parts of our nation are today. Jews had nothing good to say about Samaritans; Romans had nothing good to say about Jews; and Jews certainly had nothing good to say about Gentiles. Then along came Jesus, who spoke well of each of them, and named evil when he saw it. He had the mind and heart of God. God’s mercy is wide the way it was shown by Jesus. Jesus, in John chapter 4, deliberately went into Samaria, a place where Jews never traveled. There he met and changed a woman who was isolated by her neighbors. She went and told others about Jesus! In Luke’s gospel Jesus told a story about a “Good Samaritan” to his fellow Jews, who believed there was no such thing as a good Samaritan! Jesus sowed love where there was hate and isolation. God’s mercy is wide when lived through Jesus. At another time Jesus spoke up for a woman who was charged with adultery. (In those days men could not be charged with adultery!) Even though women were considered to be property by people in that day, Jesus considered women as a human, and worthy of the mercy of God. He changed that woman’s life. Another time he went up north and spoke with a Syrophoenician woman, one who believed in many gods but not in Israel’s God. Instead of condemning her as an unbeliever, their conversation led him to declare to her, “O woman, your faith is great.” Through Jesus’ words and actions, there was, and there is, a wideness in God’s mercy. Certainly in the Gospel of John (written late in the first century,) there are many sentences that some through the ages have said were condemning Jews as a race. They were not; there was no blame on all Jews; John’s gospel describes the mob that called for Jesus death that was led by Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin. They made up charges about Jesus and incited a mob of people to call for his crucifixion.  Neither John nor Jesus condemn Jews as a race. But racist people have read John’s Gospel that way before. Perhaps Jesus showed the nature of God best in Luke 15. He tells a story of two sons, one faithful, and one not faithful. The faithful son was by his father’s side, but sadly he exhibited some of the qualities of the flesh: jealousy, envy, lying, speaking in innuendo as if they were facts, quarreling, and strife. The other son started with the works of the flesh—greed, narcissism, lacking in love—but he changed. He hit his personal bottom and returned to his father. The fruit of the spirit started to bloom in him. By the end of the story, that son was not only accepted back into the family, he was the guest of honor at a party! His brother: out in the fields, turning his mind into a dark web of hate and resentment.

 

Jesus knew hate; and he knew the evil one; he had tangled with the devil. But we his followers will not just be asked to love; we are asked to stand with those who are hated or hurt; to go to their side or go to their aid. Some might write letters; some may blog to sway thinking. Some may march and some may pray. But we cannot just read our newspapers, our phones, or watch our TVs, shaking our heads in dismay. “Some will say, “What is our world coming too?” But only those who don’t study history believe that. Our world has had just such darkness and evil since time began. It just wasn’t as widely reported as it is now. There were some very hateful times in American history. The part that saddens me, and motivates me, is that it keeps happening! And it has raised its ugly head again. What will you do; what will we do, to stand firm against it? God sees humans as precious, asking us to get marching orders from the prophet Micah: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Let’s go.

 

Let us pray: Merciful God: how many centuries have you watched your children draw lines in the sign, or lines down the edge of a town, separating where people can live or eat or travel? We are challenged to be the heart, the eyes, and the ears of Christ. Give us the courage to change the things we can change, especially in this day and time. Jesus needs our actions to bring light into darkness.  In Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          August 20, 2017

 

08-13-17 JESUS’ PRAYER PLAN

JESUS’ PRAYER PLAN

Matthew 6: 7-15

 

In the 1940s in St. Louis,

“Civic leader Luther Ely Smith conceived the idea of building a memorial to help revive the riverfront and memorialize the story of the nation’s westward expansion. Through a nationwide design competition conducted 1947–1948, Eero Saarinen’s stainless steel Arch was chosen as the memorial that would celebrate the accomplishments of early pioneers. St. Louis celebrated with a groundbreaking on June 23, 1959.

Over the next few years, Saarinen perfected his design and workers began excavating the grounds in 1961.

Meanwhile, it took steadfast coordination to put every piece of the Arch into place until the final section at the top of the Arch was secured on October 28, 1965.”

The arch is 630 feet high, and 630 feet wide from the outside of the feet! It is made of 142 stainless steel sections. The structure was precisely laid out so that, building first the south base, then the north base, the two towers of stainless steel would meet in the middle at the top, and not miss each other, costing embarrassment and rebuilding costs! It was amazing planning.

 

Likewise the successful plan for the Panama Canal only worked after taking into account, soil, water tables, heat, insects, and diseases that the workers faced.  Planning worked. When eccentric Howard Hughes built his gigantic seaplane out of wood. It was nicknamed “the Spruce Goose” as he became a super salesman talking the United States government into a contract to buy his Hughes Aircraft H-4 “Hercules,” billed as a “strategic airlift flying boat.” It was constructed almost entirely of birch wood because during the war, aluminum was in short supply. The fuselage was 5 stories tall and the wingspan the length of a football field! He was under contract from our government in 1942 to build such a plane that could lift tanks, weapons, or personnel up to 150,000 pounds, allowing precious supplies to be carried to Britain. In the end, he faced huge cost overruns and critical words from the public and from a Senate Committee. The agreement was the he would be paid only if the plane could actually fly! It did, in Long Beach Harbor, for a grand total of 70 feet! Hughes got paid for his contract, though the plane never flew again. Planning was complicated by cost overruns.

When you decide to pray, what is your plan? Is it, like a three year old, to get what you want, as if your desires are the most important in the world? Is it, like a panicked family member, to get healing for a very sick or injured family member? Is it hoping for a miracle, events that since time began are few and far between? What is your purpose in prayer? Better yet, what does the Bible teach as the purpose for prayer? And what does Jesus teach as the way and reason to do it?

First, in the Old Testament there are many cases of people trying to plead with, argue with, and persuade God. The purpose of prayer, according to one man, P. L. Hickling, “is communication with the Almighty, and perhaps the only satisfactory criterion of the effectiveness of a prayer is the degree to which that end is achieved. … Some prayers of the most pious of [people], even the Lord Jesus himself, have been answered with God’s refusal of their petition.” So the first purpose is communication.  Have you ever been speaking to your husband or wife, during a ballgame or during a special show, when you get no response to anything you ask? Is that communicating? Or have you tried to talk with your young child who is concentrating on a video game, or to your teenager who is staring at an all-important cell-phone phone? Communication is not just jabbering to someone who is not listening; nor is it asking for something, ending it with a phrase like, “oh please, oh please oh please!!!!” In our house Mary Ann and I generally have to call each other’s names and wait for an acknowledgment before continuing with a thought or a question. Doing that makes all the difference!

In Psalm 25 David comes before the Lord for prayer and appropriately gets God’s attention first: “O Lord, I come before you in prayer.” That is a good way to start. In church we announce that we are about to pray with words like, “Let us pray.” Prayer includes words addressed to God, not to our neighbor or family. It bends the use of prayer to act like you are talking to God when really you are talking to your son. Like the mother, who heard her son creeping down the stairs, who folded her hands and said, “Dear God, I love you, but please remind Paul that there are consequences if he breaks his curfew.” Who was that prayer for? God? Or for the eavesdropping Paul? Don’t say to God what needs to be said to your children. One thing you can learn from children is to start on the right foot. Twice last weekend one of my two grandchildren turned and said to me, “I love you!” before continuing with their request of what they wanted from me. If we can see through that, surely the Creator of the Universe can to!  Make your words genuine, and not conditional. It is “I love you,” not I’ll love you if ….” That is called Adoration, offered praise just because that’s the way you feel. Do that with God! If genuine loving words make us feel good, and we are made in God’s image, I’d imagine they’ll please God too. That’s a good start for a communication. That’s so different from the boy who, before the days of texting, wrote home from college. His father was surprised to see a letter from his son! Then he opened it and read: Dear Dad, College sure is wonderful! But everything is so expensive! Thank you for sending me here. I’d love to hear back from you! Love, Bill.  Dad got the message when every letter “s” in the note was written as a dollar sign! Communicate appreciation and adoration, not just needs! That’s a good start with a mom, or dad, or a grandparent. And it’s a great start with God.

Second, petitions. Petitions are when we put one, or two, or three, begs in one ask-it!  Yes, the Bible says,  “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective.” David prayed. Isaiah prayed. Many people prayed in the Old Testament. Eljiah, a chief prophet of God, indeed prayed that it not rain in one time in 1 Kings 17. Then in chapter 18, God had already communicated with Elijah (see how good communication is a two-way street?) that he was going to send rain; when Elijah announced rain, he knew it ahead of time. The state of being a beloved child of God because of constant prayer, rather than coming to God as an estranged prodigal son or daughter, is the best way to learn God’s will for you.

Finally, here are Jesus’ own words. In Matthew chapter six we get his best teachings on prayer. “When you are praying,” he told his listeners, “do not heap up empty phrases.” Empty phrases in prayer may sound like the repetitive words of a praise song, or sometimes they are inflated words without actions to back them up. Jesus says in so many words, “Do not pray like that!” He goes on: those people  “think they will be heard because of their many words.” He then reminds his listeners, “your Father knows what you need before you ask.” Asking comforts God by indicating that you have discovered what page the Almighty is on for your life.  It’s as if you went to your earthly father and said, “I’m not going to ask you for a car, you’ve already done so much for me. But with the money I’ve saved, I’ve bought myself a bicycle to get me to and from work.” Do you think the father will be proud? Do you think that, later on, he might help his son or daughter with the purchase of a car because of the good choice already made? Remember: life on earth is practice for life in Heaven! Jesus says, “pray like this.”  Here is the lesson.

“Father.” It is addressing God the way Jesus did it. Last week I suggested beginning your prayer, “God, for whom all things are possible.” Whatever you say, address God in a loving and respectful manner. “Our” is added because you are not living in a vacuum. God hears the prayers from all who offer them. It is often good to remember your need is not the only or the greatest one on the planet. “Heaven” is a description of the Holy Place that could be light years away, or just another dimension with God right beside you. It indicates God’s holy presence. And the next line “Hallowed”—holy—says to your soul, “I am entering holy ground when I am in God’s presence. Some say they pray at stoplights, or on golf courses, or before tests. I believe them. But to prepare yourself for the most fruitful communication possible takes more time and more preparation than that. Every week in Peninsula Hall, faithful people who have been helped by our yoga classes, gather. The room is darkened, soothing words are said, and a gentle bell is rung, all to prepare for yoga. Imagine how much more it may take to open prayer channels with the Heavenly Father of our Lord Jesus? Prepare carefully and thoughtfully.

“Thy,” or “your” Kingdom come. This is a prayer not for God’s action, but for your engagement with God’s will. You will be an active participant in bringing God’s Kingdom to earth when justice rolls down like waters. You will do your part when peace, like a river, accompanies you until we gather at the river that flows by the throne of God. God’s kingdom will come when you will seek not so much to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand. In this part of the Lord’s Prayer; it is not saying, “We have a God who needs to get moving.” It’s saying, “I get it Lord; and I need to get moving in the world for you!” That is what you are praying. “Help me see that others and I don’t go hungry.” The daily bread petition is for “enough,” not for abundance. Then the forgiveness petition is the big one.  I dare say forgiveness is truly offered and accepted, could change the world. Instead many live in passive-aggressive anger, or in partitioned sections of our global ghettos, where we choose not to speak to or encounter family, or friends, or neighbors we want to avoid; all because we are withholding forgiveness.  But this prayer says something startling: “I am saying dear Heavenly Father, to forgive me to the same degree that I forgive others.” Wow. God hasn’t forgiven millions of people on this earth yet because their petition in prayer has been to not do so until they forgive those who have wronged them. Our prayer, and our pride, has withheld the life-giving forgiveness of God. Even Jesus showed the way. On the cross, in the midst of executioners, he said not privately, but out loud: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Although we know we will be constantly tested, we pray that God will not refine the fire of our souls more than it takes to separate the dross from the gold. Who wants to be tested like Job all their living days? So we pray that we might be protected from the demons and darkness of the earth. The ending line is not in some Bibles, but it is usually in the footnote. It comes back to why you are praying in the first place; it is the main reason for prayer: not so you get what you want; it is so God hears our words of love and praise! From the bottom of our toes, sometimes with our faces on the ground in contrition, we pray “for the Kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever.”  That shows you are very tuned in. That will connect with the Almighty. And that is the ultimate purpose of prayer: to keep saying, and believing that last line. And if you do that, your will lines up with God’s will faster than any other way.

In the name of the one who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                           August 13, 2017

08-06-17 FEEDING A MULTITUDE

FEEDING A MULTITUDE

Matthew 14: 13-21

 

 

A visiting Pastor was attending a men’s prayer breakfast in farm country.  He

asked one of the impressive older farmers in attendance to say grace that

morning.  After all were seated, the old farmer began—

“Lord, I hate buttermilk.”

The Pastor opened one eye and wondered to himself where this was going. Then the farmer loudly proclaimed “And Lord, I hate lard.”

 

Now the Pastor was really worried.  However without missing a beat, the

farmer prayed on.

“And Lord, you know I don’t care much for raw white flour.”

Just as the Pastor was ready to stand and stop everything, the farmer

continued.

“But Lord, when you mix’em all together and bake’em up, I sure do love those fresh biscuits.  So Lord, when things come up we don’t like, when we just don’t understand what you are sayin’ to us, we just need to relax and wait ’till You are done mixin’, and probably it will be somethin’ even better than fresh biscuits. Amen.”

 

What a prayer! And what a reminder that when it seems like God is asking us to do something that does not make sense, or you don’t see how you, in your condition, could be of any use to God, maybe God is taking your ingredients, and my ingredients (not great on their own) and makin’ bisquits!

 

Jesus took twelve often confused disciples and after adding the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, sent his gospel into all the world! Jesus could see what others could hardly have imagined: that a Jewish Carpenter, with the power of God could change the world! Today I want to suggest that Jesus was one of the first and best possibility thinkers; and that he hopes that we also learn how to be possibility thinkers too! Yes the United States has had it’s share of other possibility thinkers: like Norman Vincent Peale, of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City; like motivational Speaker Zig Ziglar, like Robert Schuller broadcasting from Garden Grove California and his Crystal Cathedral; or even Joel Osteen broadcasting from his Lakewood Church in Houston Texas. But before all of them, Jesus was a possibility thinker. Take our gospel text today.  The disciples seemed to be “inside the box” thinkers; maybe you are an inside the box thinker too. Such thinkers often don’t try to think creatively to solve problems. But with God, “all things are possible.” In Matthew 14, the disciples were tired; Jesus was tired, many here today may be tired! Jesus was also grieving over the death of John the Baptist. But the disciples went with an old, unimaginative answer to their dilemma- “Send the crowd away, Jesus!” Jesus, tired too, had tried to move away for some alone time, but the people were clamoring after him, hoping he would continue healing family members. So our Lord reached deep into his energy reserve and continued healing those who where brought to him.  The disciples, who had done none of the healing, were ready to call it a day. They said to Jesus, “This is a deserted place and it is late. Send the crowds away so they can go buy food for themselves.” Have you ever had guests at your house, who just stopped by, and who looked like they weren’t going to leave by suppertime? I know the conversations that can go on between the hosts. “Should we say we have dinner plans? Should we invite them to stay? She we just hope that they leave?” So the disciples were thinking the way many of us think when faced with great cost or great work, or unexpected company. Jesus certainly understood hospitality and appreciated it when it was offered. But today, he thought the way a possibility thinker thinks. “Give them something to eat.” He didn’t say, “Make them a feast.” But he did say, “Give them something to eat; show them hospitality.” Like some of us who have rooted through our pantry or dug deep into our freezer for food when guests were still around at suppertime, the disciples checked to see what they had. They gave Jesus their report: “We have just five loaves and two fish.”  Jesus at that point might have said to himself: “Must I do everything around here?” But he said out loud, “Bring them to me.” Then Jesus prays over the fish and the bread in the presence of the whole crowd. He’s asking the blessing of the Almighty that this meal might be filled with possibilities. Then he told the crowd to sit down. He broke up the fish and bread and handed the pieces to his disciples. And all had something to eat.  It doesn’t say people were stuffed like turkeys, but they all had a chance to have something. Yes we usually think of the food multiplying by prayer, but in addition to that, is it not possible that each family had a few food items with them but not enough to go around? And is it possible that Jesus’ act of great faith inspired others to offer a piece of bread to their neighbor, and those neighbors, grateful, paid it forward for other neighbors?  Perhaps the possibility thinking was one ingredient, paying it forward was another, and God’s good grace another. Voila! Biscuits! Great ingredients—like faith, grace, and hope—can work miracles.  We had a long time charter member in this church who seemed to have nine lives, coming back from the brink of illness after illness to live into her nineties. She had unwavering faith in God. She so believes that she would recover from each dreadful condition that it seemed God never wanted to disappoint her! She kept recovering! Great faith can be another demonstration of possibility thinking.

 

In 1994, our summer Vacation Bible School almost didn’t get held.  Our Christian Educator came to me and said, “I can’t get enough adults to agree to staff Vacation Bible School. I’m not sure that we can hold it.” “How many youth staff do we have?” I asked. “Plenty,” was the answer. “Great” I said. Let’s put the youth in as leaders and the adults in as helpers. You have enough adults who will help, they just don’t want to lead, right?”  “Right” she said. Thus, possibility thinking began a new age of youth lead Vacation Bible Schools with adult assistance. God wants us to think outside the box.

 

Our minds can be powerful persuaders that we can’t do certain things. “I can’t run any more. I’m old!” But with faith, and with possibility, we can turn the voices off in our minds and do what we thought we couldn’t. Two years ago when I started working with my personal trainer, he had me go through a regimen of dead lifts: lifting weighted barbells off the ground. My mind told me in my 59 year old condition that I hoped I could lift 100 pounds. He had me working up to that goal. But after a few weeks he said “let’s see if you can get to your goal.” So he added weights; then he took those off and added more. I kept saying “I can do more” but I was focused on lifting, not on the numbers he was adding. Finally, I faltered and I said “That’s as heavy as I can lift today.” And he said, “Do you know what you just lifted? 225 pounds!”  My mind was holding me back from the possibilities my body could produce.

 

Friends, you may have fenced yourself into a pen, or a box, by not thinking outside of it! You may also have forgotten to bathe each new vision in prayer.  Perhaps instead of praying “Dear God” or “Dear Heavenly Father,” pray, “Dear God, for whom all things are possible!” Who could imagine that with the right prayer and the right sense of gratitude that 5000 people could be fed with five loaves and two fish?

Let me close with another powerful possibility story.

 

This is the true story of how a little girl who gave 57 cents to a neighborhood church to help build a Sunday School building big enough that had room for all. Can you believe it? In the nineteenth century Sunday Schools in Philadelphia were packed with children! One new girl came one Sunday and the pastor met her saying the class was so crowded that he couldn’t fit her in.  She was sad. In a sermon delivered December 1, 1912 by Russell H. Conwell, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Rev. Conwell said the little girl’s name was Hattie May Wiatt.  She lived near a church where the Sunday School was very crowded and he told her that one day they would have buildings big enough to allow every one who wanted to attend to attend to do so.  Later, Hattie May Wiatt became sick and died.  Rev. Conwell was asked to do the funeral and the girl’s mother told him that Hattie May had been saving money to help build a bigger church. She gave him the little purse in which she had saved 57 cents.  Rev. Conwell took the 57 cents and told the congregation the story of little Hattie May. Because of her gift, others gave. First they gained $250.  Then more money came in. Everyone who heard the story, that a girl gave her entire savings—57 cents—to build new Sunday School space, was moved and gave too. Some of the members of the church formed what they called the Wiatt Mite Society which was dedicated to making Hattie May’s 57 cents grow as much as possible and to buy the property for the Primary Department of the Sunday school.  A house nearby was purchased with the $250 that Hattie May’s 57 cents had produced and the rest is history.  The first classes of Temple College, later Temple University, were held in that house.  It was later sold to allow Temple College to be founded along with a Good Samaritan Hospital.

 

Who knew a little girl’s 57 cents would grow into Temple University? Possibility thinking; 57 cents was seed money for a huge building program that grew a church and a university through the faith and innocence of a little girl. Five loaves and two fish once fed 5000 in Galilee. What can you do, or change, about the box in which you are living, through possibility thinking? Like Jesus, try thinking, and praying, outside the box.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          August 6, 2107