Monthly Archives: March 2018



John 12: 20-32


I have left the sermon topic in the King James translation because that’s the way I once read it.  Under the pulpit in the Columbia Theological Seminary Chapel is a plaque that can only be seen by the preacher who is sitting down before preaching. It says: “We would see Jesus.” John 20:21.  In other words, it imagines that every worshipper, or at least some of them, have come to the chapel service that day to receive a new or a modified picture of Jesus and who he is. John, in his gospel, was always about telling who Jesus was; others gospels by contrast, told a lot about what Jesus did.  The question from John’s gospel today is asked by what we would call “seekers;” people interested in learning more about Jesus. And after the request made to Philip, Philip told Andrew, and they both went to tell Jesus! This was evangelism without work! There was no knocking on doors, or holding a tent revival, or inviting your neighbor to church. These non-believers, called Greeks, wanted to see Jesus. And the disciples complied.  There. That’s all we have to do, right? All we have to do is lead people to Jesus. Yes, but as I showed the children, we’re actually not sure what he looks like. And we don’t know if we’d recognize him if we bumped into him!  If someone came up to me and asked “Sir, we’d like to see Jesus,” I might say, “So would I! And one day I believe I will see him. But until that time, I want to invite you to see what Jesus did, by observing people doing what Jesus would do were he here in the flesh today.”  Christians let others see Jesus through them when they are doing what Jesus would do, or at least what they think he would do. How do we make a list of what Jesus did? We go to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And then we can see if we can see Jesus in others, or if, perhaps, they can see Jesus in us.


In 1887 a Congregational pastor from Topeka Kansas had a book published that told a story of a congregational experiment. The book was called “In His Steps,” and the pastor was Charles M. Sheldon. In 1985 the book was reprinted as a tool for evangelism. In the forward, pastor and motivational speaker Tony Campolo wrote this:

Seldom has a book so influenced Christian thinking. Its profound message set forth in a simple style makes an impact on each and every reader…. The author, Charles Sheldon, describes an ordinary church congregation which is challenged by its pastor to ask, in [the] face of every decision and situation in life, the simple question, “What would Jesus do if he were in my place?” {Barbour & Co. 1985, Intro.]


Yes, it was that book being read and reclaimed in the 1980s that started the WWJD movement and the bracelets that could be worn with those letters on them as a reminder to the wearers, always asking, “What would Jesus do?” As you walk down our breezeway this year and every year during Lent, you will find our purple WWJD banner, reminding you of that as you depart.


If we can’t actually see Jesus, how can we as Christians show Jesus to the world? Part of the answer is to do what Jesus would do. No, Jesus did not have technology in his day as we have, but knowing very well what Jesus did can guide us. We can’t easily figure that out if the last time we went to Sunday School was when we were young. Christians committed to showing Jesus to the world would do well to know what Jesus did! That leads us to study Scripture as youth; and as adults. How can we do what Jesus would do if we don’t know what Jesus did?  Turning to the gospels today, let’s see what Jesus did.  First, Jesus refused to condemn.  In John chapter 8 Scribes and Pharisees brought Jesus a woman caught in adultery (by the way, the woman was caught in adultery because men could not be accused of adultery in that day!) They asked Jesus to rule on any sentence they may dole out. He seemed lost in thought and bent and wrote something on the ground. Feminist theologians have suggested he might have written “Where is the man?” but we don’t know what he wrote. What we do know is that after approaching Jesus, they all went away, one by one, leaving Jesus with the woman. “Where did they go?” he asked the woman. “Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she replied. And Jesus said: “Neither do I condemn you.” [John 8: 1-11] Over the years, Christians have been known to condemn those with long hair, with loud music, with tattoos, those of different skin colors, or different nationalities; or different denominations. Such actions create communities of “us and them.”  Jesus saw all others as children of God, whether they had disabilities, or leprosy; whether they were poor or rich. To let people see Jesus through us, we can cease condemning and seek to listen, ponder, to pray for, and to not call for a judge or jury regarding someone who is different from you. The job of judge is already taken.


Second, Jesus fed the hungry and loved the little children.  In all four gospels Jesus feeds 5000 hungry people. Enough said! And in Matthew, Mark, and Luke they record that Jesus famously said: “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” He said in Matthew’s gospel, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  What do we do with these passages? Do we dismiss them as time locked? No; we do what Jesus would do.  Our church has created intergenerational dinners and studies like “The Epic Story” that deliberately placed people of different ages at each table.  When I participated I was so proud to have my three year old friend (she’s older now) Lauren Camp, sitting at my table and working on our projects with me! I was equally proud to have others older than I was sharing the table.  In addition, to the consternation of some parents, my Christian Educator, Mary Ann and I, believe that children belong in worship and not shuttled off to a children’s program. They may have papers on which to draw, or the arm of a grandparent around them, but they are part of our church family. Every time I offer them a message, I think I am doing what Jesus would do! We even have a partnership with Longtreet Elementary School to be an emergency shelter if needed; we have helped purchased backpacks for students, and offered funds to see that children are well fed. We are now approaching that school and others to see what classes need a volunteer adult who, with the guidance of a teacher, can become a mentor or tutor to students who are struggling, or ones who need another good adult role model. We are seeking to do what Jesus would do! This year in Sunday School children put hygiene bags together to help homeless people get clean. We bring canned and dry goods to the food pantry at Grace Episcopal Church each week, and members of our church join members of other churches in staffing it. In addition, a team of men and women go monthly to the Star Center of Halifax Urban Ministries to feed more than 200 people a lunch time meal. We too seek to do what Jesus did.


Third, Jesus asked his Heavenly Father to forgive.  The example is to forgive, and to get out of the way so God can offer forgiveness. In our study of the Apostles’ Creed this week, a man named Darrell gave this testimony that was both powerful and moving. He served twenty-four years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and the evidence that would have set him free was suppressed.

For all that time I was in prison, one step from death row and could have been executed. And I was full of hate; prison is a hateful place. I hated the system; I hated the entire criminal justice system. And I was not a believer for at least 15 of those years. Some Christians used to come and they [were] really representing Christ. And I asked myself “What is it about these people and other convicts who believed in Christ?” They were just loving inmates. And they said they were mandated to love inmates regardless of how you got there. And they never knew my story, but I knew I hated the system and I couldn’t forgive, and they spoke of forgiveness. But as I began to read the Scriptures, and began to read about Christ, that verse, Luke 23:34, spoke to me, and that one verse began to transform my heart. When Jesus said on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they don’t know what they’re doing.”  And I decided that was divine. And I said “How could he do that, because I’m ripped in this anger and this hate toward the system, and I began to pray; and I began to pray through clenched teeth literally saying ‘I’m going to pray for these people Jesus, but you know what they did to me,’ but this is what I heard the Holy Spirit say to my spirit when I said ‘God I can’t forgive these people; its too hard.’ That’s when the Spirit spoke to my spirit and said ‘Darrell; no, you can’t forgive them; but I can forgive them through you if only you would let me.’ And that’s how forgiveness began to work for me; and I looked closely at that verse that Jesus quoted, and I saw, in his humanness, the he couldn’t forgive them either! He said ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ So I realized that forgiveness can only come from God, and that’s what Jesus said; forgiveness can come from God through us. And if I wanted to be a vessel for God, I had to forgive, and I began to pray that I wanted what was best for those people, just like I wanted what was best for me and my family. Then I realized that forgiveness wasn’t for them, it was for me! It set me free spiritually! 8 to 10 years before I left that place, I was at peace whether they let me go or not. They were forgiven, and I knew it because God forgave them through me; I had nothing to do with it.

Jesus asked his Father to forgive others; we are called to do the same.


Finally, Jesus loved his neighbor as himself, and he told us to do likewise. Jesus chose to speak to a Samaritan woman one day, and to a Syrophonicean woman another.  He met with men who had the perceived contagious disease of leprosy, and he healed a gentile man who was possessed by demons. These are four ways that the world can see Jesus through us: Refuse to condemn others; let the judge of the world decide who needs to be condemned and who needs to be saved. Feed hungry people. You can choose to do that from your car window at the end of an exit ramp, but I don’t recommend that. Feed hungry people by bringing your canned goods, or dry goods, to church as often as weekly; offer to help at our food pantry or to feed hundreds at the local Hot Meal program. Some of you are physically able to roll up their sleeves; others can reach into their pockets or their pantry to help us feed hungry people. Jesus also loved the children.  He delighted that they joined him for his Palm Sunday entrance. You too can help us help children as we reach many in our Vacation Bible School program, and as we have intergenerational dinners and weekly classes.  Welcome children as they come to worship; Jesus would do the same. The next is a big one: forgive.  Seek to forgive others so that God can also release forgiveness for you.  We cannot expect forgiveness from God if we personally will not forgive. And finally, Jesus loved; we are to love one another. Sometimes we may not like one another, but we are always called to love one another! Those are ways we can change the world and show people Jesus through our actions. Ask daily: “What would Jesus do?” In so doing, you will—paraphrasing Stephen Schwartz who wrote the musical Godspell—let others “see Him more clearly; love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly, day by day.”

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                           March 18, 2018



John 3:14-21


Many of you who grew up with King James Gift Bibles often had part of the print in red.  In opening your Bible when it was new, you found that an editor and a printer had painstakingly, and at significant cost, put just the words of Jesus in RED! Goodness! Jesus’ words must be very special! They are. What are some of those words? They include blessings like:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.


Those are just three blessings from the mouth of Jesus recorded in Matthew chapter five. Here is one more recorded in Matthew:

“Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

Also, hear these words of blessing that Jesus offered in John’s gospel:

“Peace be with you.”


“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe.”


Now: according to the red-letter Bible, Jesus said these blessing words too:

“God so loved the world the he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever

believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”


Even though we have found words that are intended to bless us, are there actions too, that we receive from above, or from others, or from unexplainable events that could also be blessings from Jesus?


The gifted theologian Henri Nouwen wrote these words in his book Our Greatest Gift:

The younger we are, the more people we need so that we may live; the older we become, the more people we again need to live. Life is lived from dependence to dependence. That’s the mystery that God has revealed to us through Jesus, whose life was a journey from the manger to the cross. Born in complete dependence on those who surrounded him, Jesus died as a passive victim of other people’s actions and decisions….[He goes on to say] I have been blessed by an experience that has made all of this clear to me. A few years ago, I was hit by a car while walking along a roadside and brought to the hospital with a ruptured spleen. The doctor told me she wasn’t sure that I would make it through surgery. I did, but the hours lived before and after the operation allowed me to get in touch with my childhood as never before. Bound with straps on a table that looked like a cross, surrounded by masked figures, I experienced my complete dependence…. All at once, I knew that all human dependencies are embedded in a divine dependence and that divine dependence makes dying part of a greater and much vaster way of living. This experience was so real, so basic, and so all-pervasive that it changed radically my sense of self and affected profoundly my state of consciousness.


Could it be that our states of dependence are supposed to bless us rather than burden us? If Jesus continues to want to bless us, in what form does it happen? Isn’t the burden of a young child being dependent on parents actually the blessing of having a newborn? Could it be that our dependence as people grow older is intended to bless the family too?  Here’s my example: my mother and father were healthy and independent people through June of 2016. My dad did regular email communications with me and my brother and two sisters. Then my Dad died, and my mother started to grow more dependent: dependent on friends, repairmen, Women’s Circles, and her family. After a stroke she became even more dependent so she moved from our home of 52 years into a so called “independent living” Community, which in fact, includes very little truly independent living. I have been witnessing dependence and acknowledging what Henri Nouwen described. My brother and two sisters and I have communicated more with each other now than when my father was alive. We have each, independently, gone to visit and assist my mother. My two sisters will go again this week. Perhaps it is a strangely divine gift that my mother’s need for us and for others is drawing us more together.


Are any of you, like me, old enough to remember Roy Rogers and Dale Evans?

Dale Evans wrote this in her book called Life is a Blessing:

On August 26, 1950, my husband, Roy Rogers and I became the parents of a baby girl, Robin Elizabeth, who was called our “little angel” by her Daddy. Had we not been committed Christians when we were told that she was [a Down’s Syndrome child] the news would have totally destroyed us, since we are quite vulnerable to the needs of children. When advised to put our Robin in a foster home, one that understood the plight of the Down’s syndrome child, Roy said, “We are taking our baby home. God has a purpose for allowing this, and if we put her away, we will never know it.” As for myself [Dale Evans Rogers continued] I could not imagine putting away any child of mine. Romans 8:28 declares: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” How I thank God for the two years He let us minister to our little angel, for she really was the “cementer” of our Christian commitment.


“God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” Jesus is saying that about himself, not out of pain, but out of love! “I and the Father are one” Jesus once said. This was a team decision. Could the Father/Son team have considered: “How can we show the human race how much we care? How can we show them that purpose can be pulled from the jaws of tragedy, or what appears to be a tragedy at the time?” How many ways does Jesus bless us, not only with words shared in dreams or during our day, but also through events that pull us out of life’s routines and schedules?

Here’s another true story:

A woman in our congregation has a grown son Frank. He was driving to his home in St. Augustine this week. The traffic was very heavy. He was crossing a bridge and stopped because of traffic. It was frustrating. Suddenly he witnessed an accident: one vehicle in front of him ran into the back of another. The front car occupants actually drove away! The man behind them appeared to be very hurt. Frank pulled off the road and ran to help. The driver of that vehicle was unconscious and looked to be dead. He was very large. Another man and Frank pulled him out and laid him on the side of the road. He had stopped breathing and there appeared to be no pulse. So Frank got on top of him and started doing CPR on his chest, pushing hard to perhaps make him breathe again. It was tiring and seemed useless.  He paused for a moment when suddenly a firefighter ran up and said “Please move aside sir.” They looked at each other; the firefighter happened to be Frank’s son, Zach, a firefighter, responding to the call! Running up, Zach hadn’t realized it was his father. His team took the unconscious man to the hospital. Later that evening, Zach called his Dad, “Dad, you gave CPR to that man, didn’t you? “Yep,” his father said, “but I’m not sure it did any good.” “Dad, you did it!” Zach exclaimed. The man started breathing and it looks like he will make it!” His Dad said, “I was just at the right place at the right time.” He later spoke to his Mom and told her the story. She replied: “This was part of God’s plan, Frank, for you to get stuck in that slow traffic and be there for that man. And then for Zach to be the first responder on the scene!”  Frank said, “If I had gone through the drive-through at McDonalds instead of walking in, or if I hadn’t been in such traffic, I would not have been there at the right time! But Mom, the beginning of God’s plan was when you adopted me.”

Could it be that your burdens turn out to be blessings? Could it be that your rainy days of pessimism could instead be turned into rainbows of optimism? It has been said that attitude is everything. But there is more than attitude; we also have a Savior who loves us and has a marvelous plan for our lives! “ The apostle Paul said: “When I was a child I thought like a child, but when I grew up I gave up childish things.” Today I want to take you back to the lesson I learned as a child before crossing a street: “Stop, look, and listen.” Imagine that you are at a crossroad now. How can you stop, look, and listen for the blessings of Jesus?

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                                     March 11, 2018



John 2: 13-22


There is one time—one time!—that Jesus got angry in the Bible, and people often quote it to me as justification for anger! They say: “Well, you know, Jesus got mad! It’s in the Bible.”  Do not let this one instance justify your constant anger! Even Mother Teresa got angry, just not on a regular basis. Let’s try to get into Jesus’ head. He grew up knowing the importance of the Temple; it’s holiness; the place revered as God’s house. John had an interesting perspective on Jesus. He knew Jesus in Jerusalem; Matthew, Mark, and Luke knew most of what Jesus did in Galilee. So John says Jesus came to the Temple as many as three times. Why? “Scottish Scholar William Barclay gives us the story, saying:

The Passover was the greatest of all Jewish feasts [like Easter is to Christians.] ….The law laid down that every adult male Jew who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem was bound to attend.  [But Jews actually came from everywhere.] Astonishing as it may sound, it is likely that as many a two and a quarter million Jews assembled in the Holy City to keep the Passover.   [The Gospel of John, Volume 1, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975, p.p. 108-109.]

Two and a quarter million people! Think of Easter Sunday and Bike Week crowds, double the numbers, and then you get an idea of how many people poured in—out of obligation or out of love for God—but also how many merchants and vendors were there to make a buck, like we see at our huge events in Daytona Beach. Jesus had just finished his first miracle—turning water into wine as he attended the wedding at Cana clear across the country. He was there with his disciples, his mother, and his friends. But the next thing on his agenda was this religious obligation in Jerusalem. Jesus already knew that decades later people would find God in the Temple of their hearts because the physical Temple would be destroyed.  He was right. In 70 A.D., 50 years after his Passover visit, the Temple was destroyed. After all these centuries, it has never been rebuilt. But the Western Wall of the Temple is still there, in Jerusalem today.  It is a most Holy site for Jews; they believe it is the closest they can get to God.  So they come, and bow, and pray, and wail at the wall, as if it were the Temple.  That’s how important the Temple was to Jews. On top of Jesus being a Jew, he was also standing up for his Father’s house. In fact, in Mark’s gospel he says, “Is it not written that my Father’s house shall be a house of prayer for all nations?”  I’m focusing on these details so you can compare their way of getting close to God, and our ways. The Temple had a number of courts—areas where people could gather. The Holy of Holies was a place only a High Priest could enter by lot once a year. Next to it was the Court of the Priests, and priests could get that close to God. Outside of it was the Court of the Israelites, and all Jewish men could get that close to God but no closer. Outside of that was the Court of the Women, and all Jewish women could get that close to God but no closer. And then there was the outer court: the Court of the Gentiles was created for non-Jews.  It was reserved for any seekers after God who were curious and wanted to try to get close to God—an admirable cause! Jesus thought so too, perhaps knowing what a task he would have spreading the gospel into all the world. So he came to the Temple and guess what? All the vendors were hawking their wares, changing money, and selling animals in the Court of the Gentiles, not outside the Temple where selling properly took place. It was a loud and raucous time: men bargained with one another, animals bleating or squawking, and cue lines stretching around the Temple. How could anyone hear the still small voice of God with noise like that in God’s house? So that’s why Jesus had to make a statement, and a strong one. People always have the need—and the right—to be in prayer with God! But Jesus was just one man among many merchants; he had to be quick and decisive.  If he had just asked them to move their tables, how might the merchants have ganged up on him? So he was startling and decisive in an act called the “Cleansing of the Temple.” He reclaimed the Temple, including the Court of the Gentiles, for God and not for merchants.


Today how fortunate we are as Christians! Jesus said “Tear down this Temple and in three days I will raise it up!” I tell all my Bible students to take the Bible seriously but not always literally and this is a perfect example. Jesus was not talking about rebuilding the temple made of stone. He was talking about what would happen three days after his death; he would rise, and his body would be the Temple.


Now two thousand years later, people have heard Jesus knocking on the door of their hearts, and they have let him in. As our Apostle’s Creed study points out, if we let Jesus in, we have let God in. Into where? Into “the temple of our heart,” as the hymn puts it that we will soon sing.  What a privilege we have! God is not up there past Alpha Centauri! God is not two thousand years in the past! God is here; available. And if you have already invited God (or Jesus—same power) into your heart, then God’s mighty power and mighty Spirit are there for you. But: are they under-used, just sitting on the bench of your heart? Are they like a racecar with the clutch pushed in? Let out the clutch, so God can work with you and through you! Otherwise, life is like trying to push a long screw into a piece of wood with a battery operated drill …without the battery! Put in the battery to live a God-honoring life!


Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                           March 4, 2018