10-27-19 KNOWING YOU NEED A PRAYER OF CONFESSION


Luke 18: 9-14

One thing that can trip up a person in life is having little or no self-awareness. What are your strengths; what are your weaknesses? Good leaders may surround themselves with people who have strengths they don’t have. If you are not a good organizer, have an organizer at your side. If you don’t have a strong voice, have someone with a strong voice, or a microphone near you. If you don’t seem to be able to stop yourself from overspending, have a financially minded person monitor you. If you can’t stop drinking, find a sponsor to hold yourself accountable. If you can’t stop getting angry, a counselor can train you to make better choices than acting out in anger. Self -awareness is a plus in life. Do we acknowledge there are things that we have said or done to hurt others, things that rise to the level of sin? Years ago, Carl Jung described some of our sinful actions as our “shadow side.” Jung said we could integrate our shadow side by exposing our darkness to light…. We all have shadow sides. When we recognize that, we can acknowledge sins and lead our sin-sick souls to wholeness.

Today a parable Jesus tells invites us to give ourselves a “rugged self-examination,” which is generally understood to be a spiritual examination. Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner, as I do? How do we agree that we are both children of light and children of darkness? Have you told Jesus that you need him as your Savior, or are you just intrigued enough about the Bible to come and learn about it? And are you open to making changes in your life to truly lean on and count on Jesus?

Before we go through that list, let’s get familiar with the situation in Jesus’ parable. Remember that a parable is often an exaggeration or amplification of reality. Jesus taught with parables so those listening to him would remember “their need to pray and to not lose heart.” [Luke 18:1] That’s why he shared the story of the unjust judge that we studied last week, and why he continued with this story about two men who went up to the temple to pray. He has caricatures here, one is the Pharisee—who in Jesus’ stories always seems to be the bad guy: self-assured, confident, judgmental; and the other a tax collector—one loathed by the community because he took their money, and lots of it. The tax collector was even allowed to keep a hefty portion for himself. The Pharisee said things that were over the top; today we might call them sensationalized statements. The Pharisee said, with a loud voice, “O God, I thank you that I am not like other people, thieves, rogues, adulterers—and then he stops and points to the other man—or even this tax collector.” He is clearly grandstanding, and he’s decided his own position before God, not because God declared it, but because he declared it! He became his own judge and jury. He believed that he had earned God’s favor by what he had done. He even listed what he had done: I “fast twice a week and gives a tenth of all my income.” He has decided that God approves of him.

I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating today. I once visited with a couple who were in our congregation. They have since moved away. At one point the husband said to me: “Why do we have a prayer of confession every week? It’s seems like such a negative and unnecessary prayer.” I replied, “It’s a reminder that we all sin and are always in need of the forgiveness of God.” He then said, “I don’t sin.” “And I said, “Of course you do!” He paused for a moment as if surveying the last months or years of his life. “No” he said slowly, “No I don’t think I do.” “I said “you can go down all of the commandments and answer that you have always honored the sabbath, honored your parents, never stolen anything, never told a lie? You are one remarkable man! I as your pastor know that I have done things wrong. That’s why I need a Savior! And that’s why I regularly pray a prayer of confession.” “Well I don’t think I need one,” the man replied. “I can see why,” I said. Except for that one man who thought he was without sin, and perhaps the Pharisee in Jesus’s story, and Jesus himself, we all have our relationship with God restored when we sincerely offer our prayer of confession. To do so, starts the process of reconnecting with God, something that your sins and my sins have broken. Then the process continues when we also decide to confess wrongs we have done to our family members, or friends, or strangers. Jesus, and later the Apostle Paul, said that we are saved by grace through faith, not by one’s own attempts at righteous living. In Matthew chapter 23, for example, he said:
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup,[a] so that the outside also may become clean.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Jesus never held back his loathing for those who believed they were self-made non-sinners! And he gave this guidance for the rest of us, in Matthew 5: 23:
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister[a] has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,[b] and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser.

Our task is to avoid the delusion that we are sinlessness. Jesus’ most powerful stories of salvation were about those who were lost, knew it, and were saved. People like Zacchaeus in Luke chapter 18> Jesus came to his house after entering Jericho. As Zacchaeus has a change of heart about the money he took as a tax collector, he squared accounts with the people in his village, and gave them extra. Then Jesus declared, “Salvation has come to this house today!” Also in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, it’s not the loyal, pharisaical son who gets found, it’s the son who hated his choice and returned to the love and grace of his father.

. Today:
1) Have you established your need for the Savior? I have. I don’t know where I’d be without my Savior. I don’t know how much my soul would be riddled with guilt without the blessing of confession, both to God and even to another human like a priest, a pastor, a chaplain, a counselor, and to the person I have wronged. Confession is good for the soul.
2) Do you join me in acknowledging that we are sinners? Our weekly prayer on Sundays does not seek to cover all the sins you or I might have committed. That’s the job for your own personal prayers. Sundays are reserved for a “General Confession of Sin” that reminds us that we are, as the old song puts it, “Standing in the need of prayer.” We need forgiveness from others and from God. In the words, “not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord,” We are not pointing fingers to those around us, “throwing them under the bus.” Instead we are taking responsibility for our actions and throwing ourselves on the mercy of the court. And who shows up as our defense attorney before the court of judgement? Its Jesus! He defends us if we are sorry; he pays the price if we are repent; and he has the role of both Counselor and Savior for those who say, “I need thee every hour, most precious Lord!”
And finally: 3) Are you open to making changes in your lives to truly lean on and count on Jesus? (if you are already leaning on and counting on God, you can ignore this one! :☺) Remember, the tax collector said as he approached God in prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Those prayers have saved people in AA meetings; they have saved men or women who have admitted adultery; but they also can save those who acknowledge the need for a Savior, instead of others who look at Jesus’s outstretched hand and say, “Naw; I’m good.” Today the prayer of confession reminded me of how much I’ve needed Jesus. I hope it reminded you too. Please join me in prayer:
Jesus, many here have decided that they need you; sometimes people don’t act like it, but if they make a rugged self-examination, they may decide that they need you. Enter, or remain in our souls, making it your home so together, you can help us make right choices in our lives. Thank you always. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner October 27, 2019

on text not available at this time —-

10-20-19 A MESSAGE FROM THE WAILING WALL


Luke 18: 1-8

At the end of the southbound I-95 exit ramp in Port Orange, there is a man holding a cardboard sign, asking for help. He stands under a city-posted sign that says: “Please do not help panhandlers.” Yet since July, in most daylight hours, he is there. I have to hand it to him: he is persistent. But what motivates his persistence? Is it hope, hope that one day soon someone will help him? Or is it results—that—in spite of the sign, people are still helping him enough to make it worth his time to beg, out in the sun, or out in the rain?

Over in Jerusalem, one of the most visited places is often called the “Wailing Wall.” It is, in fact, the remaining part of the Western Wall of the Temple of God. I don’t know if the same people who were there in July praying were also there when we visited a few years earlier. Their backs are always toward people who are watching; and it seems rude to get close to the wall and try to see their faces. But I suspect some have been coming to the wall to pray to God for a very long time; perhaps years. I have to hand it to them: they are persistent. But what motivates their persistence? Is it hope, hope that one day God will help them? Or is it results, that is, that God has already answered earlier prayers and they have come back to ask for more?

In Luke 18, we just read about Jesus telling a parable describing why people “need to pray, and to not lose heart.” He said that “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people.” Why did he say that? Because he’s reminding us that this is a parable: an exaggerated story that is not perfectly grounded in reality. And because he wants no one to think this judge is God; he is not! This was a judge who made arbitrary decisions, not often based on justice or love, or a sense of write or wrong. He was the kind of judge we hope not to face in court. Knowing that, Jesus said a widow kept coming to the judge with a request. A widow; by saying that, he was not pulling on our compassion. He was telling us this woman had absolutely no leverage over this judge: she had no money of her own, no husband who could make trouble for the judge, and nowhere else to turn. She had nothing to lose. But, she was persistent. What motivated her persistence? Was it hope, hope that one day the judge would give in and give her a favorable decision? Or was it results, that perhaps the judge had given a favorable ruling before, and after wearing the judge down, was she asking for another good ruling? We don’t know. But in Jesus’ story, limited as it is, the judge says to himself, “I have no fear of God, and no respect for anyone else. But because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice so she will not wear me out with her continual requests.” Jesus then explains, and I’m paraphrasing: If an unjust judge—one who does not fear God or others—grants the request of a powerless widow, how much more will your loving Father want to grant the requests of his loving children?

That’s the point of Jesus’ story. We are to be persistent in prayer, because others get requests granted when they have much less going for them than we do. We are loved children of a loving God. We are reminded of how persistently Jesus prayed. A number of times, the disciples looked for Jesus when he had slipped away to pray. Then as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he wept and prayed again. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed again; he prayed with profound passion: that the plan his Father had for him might be set aside. Did you hear that? Jesus prayed to his Father that the plan that had already been revealed to Jesus might be changed and set aside. But even in that situation:
Jesus believed in and prayed to God his Father; he didn’t say: “I don’t believe in you!”
Jesus never gave an indication that his Father was heartless or uncaring.
Jesus never said, “Since you aren’t answering my prayers, I will stop praying to you!”

In spite of the fact that Jesus, the Father’s beloved Son, was about to die under the watchful eye of his Father, he went along with the plan. Even on the cross, he constantly prayed to his Father, rather than going it alone.

Today we are not in our parable world. We are in the 21st century in the real world. In this real world, where some say they are spiritual and not religious; where some are atheists, or Jews, or Muslims, or Buddhists or other groups, we have a choice to make as Christians:
Do we pray to God, and keep praying to God, even when we don’t hear an answer? Or
Do we stop praying to God after a time or two, or a month, or a year, deciding that God is nowhere near, or deaf, or heartless or dead?
This parable urges us to keep praying. When Jesus did not give up, God engaged his plan to save the world! What a blessing, when the Father communicating with the Son, said in essence, “trust me.”
There are many examples of so-called “unanswered prayer,” and also of “answered prayer.” In his book, Daring Prayer, author and professor David Willis gave two examples he had heard from others. Here’s one:
I was driving down the freeway with my daughter in the front seat with me, when I saw a car suddenly swerve over the divider and head straight for us. Instinctively I prayed that we be spared. Though we were hit on the side and overturned, neither of us was even seriously injured. You can say what you want, but I know prayer works.

Here’s another, nor connected with the first story. This was spoken to a pastor:
I want to thank you for your visits while [my daughter] was in the hospital. Your prayers especially meant a lot to both of us, but, frankly, more to her than me. I guess at the time I sort of resented [the prayers]: dishonest, raised false hopes. And I was mad as h* when she died after all we’d been through and tried. I still can’t believe how a “loving God” can tolerate such pain, such d*** stupid suffering. Well, let’s not go into that again. The funny thing is that I’m now able to articulate my anger with God. Not really praying, I suppose, but more like arguing. Right or wrong, that’s the way it is.
[John Knox Press, 1977, p. 24]

It is said that even those long prayers at the Wailing Wall are from people who don’t just gently pray to God. They rail; they cry out; they curse; and they move the tops of their bodies, back and forth, in anguish or rage. Jesus wept too and cried out to his Father, but never said, “I don’t believe in you!” “Or I’m done!” All of those things God can take and can understand. But to cut out prayer because you conclude there is no God, well, then you’ll feel adrift on the sea of chaos. Here’s a final story from a chaplain. Hold on; this is a tough one.
Lindsay (name changed) was a patient in a hospital expecting her fifth child. She was Roman Catholic. Her four other children ranged from age 3-12. She developed an internal tear, and her life was at risk. Physicians encouraged her to terminate the pregnancy. Her priest strongly declined that as an option. Lindsay was stuck with how to proceed and argued with God about it. A week went by and the family decided to concur with the priest to not terminate her pregnancy. She asked the chaplain to plan to baptize her baby in her womb so the child would go to heaven if the baby died. Another week went by. Lindsey was feeling her own mortality. She was anxious and said so in prayers to God. She requested that the chaplain pray with her, with her rosary, and to bring her communion. In so doing, she believed she was taking Christ into her to strengthen her body and heart. After another week, the baby was in serious trouble. Doctors believes the baby would not live another week. Lindsey was then in a spiritual crisis with God. Her doubt was escalating, fearing now for both her baby’s life and her own. She prayed and read Scripture with the chaplain. By the next week, she had been away from her family several weeks and it was getting close to Christmas. Her own parents didn’t support her decision to try to keep her pregnancy at that point. Lindsay was moved to a new room where, providentially, the earlier patient left a small Christmas tree in the window. There was an ornament on the tree that said “hope.” Lindsay takes this as a sign from God. She had learned the child she was carrying was a girl, so she decided to name the baby “Hope.” Conversations with Lindsay and prayers with God became all about what it meant to hold onto hope and hold onto Hope. Then Lindsay started having so much pain that she could barely move. With every movement from baby Hope, Lindsay felt grief instead of joy. Lindsay continued to be in spiritual crisis – why would God give her this baby that could potentially cause her to die? Finally, the baby was delivered by C-section; both Mom and daughter needed blood transfusions. Soon the chaplain witnessed Lindsay’s theology (God will be faithful) and experience (Will God be faithful?) bumping up against each other. Lindsay had to walk the entirety of her journey largely independent of her family. Much like a soldier out at war, Lindsay’s story was known and experienced by the chaplain and a few others. Sadly, the story ended in the death of Hope, that is, the child. Her brain developed a bleed, a very common side effect of babies born so early. Lindsay, in her sadness, was discharged back home to her husband and four young children, who had been apart from their mama for a month. She had even been apart from them over Christmas-the time the world celebrates the birth of the Christ child, who brought hope (small h) into a suffering world. The chaplain’s concluding observation was this: I can say for sure that Hope (the daughter) died, but I’m not sure that hope had died.
When people come to the end of their rope; or wear out their prayer book or their rosary beads; when men or women visit the Wailing Wall for the hundredth time, do they, in their pain, cut their losses and turn away from God? Or are they persistent? Are you persistent? Only you can finish the story of your prayer life with God.
Jeffrey A. Sumner October 20, 2019
(Hear now this Jewish confessional prayer to God- Avinu Malkenu)

THE OTHER SAMARITAN


Luke 17: 11-19

When I was young and lived in Richmond, Virginia, there was a time when my grandparents took me back with them to their home in Pennsylvania for a visit, not on a plane, for my grandmother was afraid to fly; not in a car for that particular trip, but on a train! I was perhaps 2 or 3 years old, and they said that while we were on the train, I saw a little African American girl, and headed up the aisle to her seat, and started hugging her! I must have thought she was delightful. “No prejudice there!” people on the train exclaimed. Innocence is a wonderful characteristic that can sometimes be worn away by our changing society. Two years ago, one of my grandsons hugged a girl in his school who he considered to be a friend, but her parents to offense to his hug and asked him to be charged with sexual harassment. He and the girl were both five. Later the school talked the parents to agree to a charge of “adoration” instead of harassment. Sometimes adults get alarmed by childhood delight and innocence. Two years ago in a different grandson’s neighborhood, there was a group of 3 and 4 year olds who loved to play with each other every day after pre-school. Almost every day, the parents sat on the front lawn of a home on a dead-end street, watching their children delight in each other’s company, playing together, and riding each other’s tricycles and battery powered cars. They might still be playing with each other except some of the adults had some issues with some of the other adults that tore apart the adult friendships. “You cannot play with those children anymore,” some parents told their children. The children, with great puzzlement, still see their friends at preschool, but only half of them gather now on the dead-end street. The others are told to stay indoors. Sometimes adult issues can change innocence to suspicion and confusion very quickly. Are there ones from whom you keep a distance for some reason or another? Have you created some distance been created between you and a co-worker, or you and a relative, because you learned they are gay? Or because have you created distance with someone who has what might be called a “mixed marriage?” I know students in some high schools who have very accepting connections with Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Jewish students, but those friendships make some of their parents uncomfortable. I know many college students have both straight friends and gay friends, but they don’t label them anything but “friends.” I know some birds of a feather that flock together because of their political party, particularly in this day and age. We end up with imaginary or real walls dividing human beings in the same school, on the same continent, or in the same community. Jesus would ask us to look to the children, and what how they treat others as friends. I was proud when another of my grandsons—Calvin—introduced himself to every other person at the All Children’s Park in Port Orange, when he visited with us this summer. He asked, no matter the color of their skin, boy or girl, “Hey, I’m Calvin! You want to play with me?” It was heartwarming as we departed that he sincerely said goodbye to each one of them.

Today in Israel there is open suspicion and hostility between Israeli and Palestinian adults. But here is one true testimony I share with you today: in 1998 on my first trip to the Holy Land, we watched some boys playing some kind of kickball on a vacant lot. “Look” our guide said. “Those are Palestinian and Israeli boys, all playing together.” Just then, a camera crew from a United States network pulled up to the field. They pulled out their big camera and a microphone, and one man said “Hey boys! This is going back to the States! DO something!” And they began picking up rocks and pelting each other with them. When the cameras stopped, they went back to playing kickball. Even having the media–or being surrounded by cellphone cameras—can change the way people act, often not for the better. There is more than one reason for Jesus to say, “And a little child shall lead them.”

In Jesus’ day, Jews shunned Samaritans, yet in the story Jesus tells today, one man was a Samaritan, the others were likely Jews. Here was a group of people who all had one thing in common—leprosy—that kept them from letting any usual issues get in the way of that bond. Today we too can have a tie that binds us together, like “We’re Christians!” or “We’re band members” or more specifically “We’re the drumline.” Or “we’re Gators,” or “we’re Noles!” Those who have a tie that binds them pull for each other and for their common cause! Sadly, sometimes people are bonded together by disease or illness, like “We are cancer survivors!” That’s the bond, even if group members are very different. In our lesson today, it seems important to Jesus that he share a story about 10 people with leprosy who approached him asking for mercy. There was very little hope of being healed from leprosy. Those who had the dreaded skin disease were shunned by everyone else, so much so that they often supported one another in what were called leper colonies- they had each other, but they had no one else. So we might rightly assume that they identified with one another as men in the same boat-all with almost no hope for healing. They heard about the man named Jesus. The men seemed to be both Jew and Samaritan, living somewhere near the border of the two territories. As Jesus heading toward Jerusalem, this time he deliberately passed through Samaria, something few other Jews would do.

In the typical colony of lepers, no one was put off by the differences between those in the colony. In their request for healing, Jesus replies “Go and show yourself to the priests.” Plural. Perhaps he meant a Samaritan priest and a Jewish priest, for the Jewish priest would never declare a Samaritan man clean. Again the world divides, but some illnesses or groups can set differences aside to be bound together for each other. At least one, but perhaps only one with leprosy, was a Samaritan. But Jesus (a Jew, remember!) honored him because he gave thanks for being healed! He praised God.

Today there are some lessons from Jesus’s story. Their identity as lepers was the tie that bound them, making other differences between them less important. But, only one praised God for the healing. One of the lost arts of our day is how to offer a proper thank you, not to just to another person, but also to God. We pray and pray to God, but some—not everybody—but some, when I asked ,“Did you thank God for your healing?” they hang their head and say, “No.” Others—who got Christmas or birthday gifts, or had a nice thing done for them, or had been invited over for dinner—also have sometimes failed to really thank the giver. Now that may not be you, but it is an issue with many! A shouted “Thanks!” as you are getting into your car does not cut it. A written note of gratitude makes a difference. I am proud that when Mary Ann and I send gifts to my nieces and nephews, we have always get handwritten thank you notes back. I hold them and look at them for several days, or even longer. It gives me a greater connection with each one of them. Gratitude matters to the giver. “Never forget that” Jesus seems to say.

One-time years ago, I spent several weeks meeting with a boy in our church who was working on a God and Me badge for Cub Scouts. He mother brought him faithfully each week, and we enjoyed each other’s company. I got to show him my badges and my work in Scouting, and he got to show me his. At the end of our time together, he told me “thanks.” But it didn’t stop there. He and his mother (I think) framed his thank you note he handwrote to me, and added a photograph of the two of us, then framed it. That was really big thank you! It hangs on my wall and I never forget it, even as one of my own grandsons has started down the Scouting trail. Giving thanks to others or giving praise to God was so important that Jesus highlighted it. One final note: our communion liturgy every month has the minister saying: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!” And the people are invited to reply: “It is right to give our thanks and praise!” And so it is. Give thanks.

Let us pray: God of outstretched arms and abundant mercy: thank you for creating us, for redeeming us, and for sustaining us. Thank you for being just a prayer away. And let this prayer just prime the pump of those who are listening so that they too may give you thanks and praise! We lift up our hearts to you. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner October 13, 2019

10-06-19 MUSTARD SEED FAITH

MUSTARD SEED FAITH
Luke 17: 5-10

Back in 1986, our church offered a production of a children’s musical called,
“The Greatest Gift of All.” Our daughter Jenny was 3 and she was placed on a stage, in a row with other boys and girls, wearing a Christmas package as a costume! In their neat line they attempted to sing the song “Good Things Come in Little Packages.” Charming! We have it on videotape. Sometimes that saying is true: good things can come in little packages. A woman might be dreaming of getting a new car from her boyfriend, but if the small box she receives has an engagement ring in it, could it be “the greatest gift of all” for her? Conversely, when our son Chris was hoping for a car at Christmas, I had arranged to get him a sporty older car. He looked outside Christmas day. No car. I gave him a small box. In it was a key; one that opened the door of a car we had parked down the street! I also know men whose lives were changed by Jesus, who were so thrilled to receive a little pocket cross when they claimed Christ as Savior. They carry it wherever they go. Today we are asked to consider if having a little bit of faith—the size of a mustard seed—is enough to start a fire of faith. On one of my first cold campouts in Missouri when I was a Tenderfoot Boy Scout, other boys and I were challenged to start a fire with flint, steel, and bits of dried brush called tinder. The goal was to get a substantial, hot fire on which to cook, starting with just a spark. With hungry Patrol members standing around, we began to take flint to steel. Three Tenderfoot Scouts were given the task. I can’t say which of us actually produced the spark, but I saw it land on the dried brush; we gently blew on it, and a small flame appeared. Later we cooked on that fire, started by a tiny spark.

I once heard a woman say to another as her husband faced a cancer diagnosis: “I’m not worried. I have faith that God will heal him.” To that, her friend replied: “I wish I had faith like yours!” This week, the Apostles (the 12) hear Jesus give a lesson on when and how to forgive another person. And then he says, in essence, “When you have even the faith of a mustard seed, you can forgive.” Jesus just told them that if a person who had wronged them over and over, turned back and said “I’m sorry and I’ll not do it again,” then they must forgive them each time. It’s a tough action to take without faith. If you have ever been betrayed by or hurt by another person, you may know how difficult it is for you to come to a point when you can say, “I forgive you.” Perhaps you never have been able to forgive another who has hurt you badly. The Apostles must have sighed and said, “Lord, increase my faith” meaning, “I need lots more trust to give my desire for revenge over to God, and then be able to forgive the one who hurt me.” And Jesus says, in so many words: “You don’t need mountain-sized faith to believe God will give you a bridge over troubled waters, you just need a drop of faith (or as a cook might say, a ‘pinch’ of faith to make it happen.” Do you know how much is in a “pinch?” I don’t either, but I’m told it’s a very small amount!

Now, let’s remind ourselves that Bible stories and parables are best taken seriously but not literally. For example, only in Matthew’s gospel does Jesus say the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds; in our gospel of Luke today, there is no mention of size. But don’t we read that when we hear this story? I know I do, so I created a children’s sermon about small things. In fact, botanists tell us that orchid seeds and cypress seeds were actually smaller than mustard seeds in Jesus’ day. So we say to ourselves, “Don’t argue the facts with Jesus! Just listen.” For example, if you read a recipe that says add, “a pinch of salt,” do you know how much to add? How much is in a pinch? That much I’m told (showing pointer and thumb pushed together. How much faith do we need to forgive another? Just (picks up mustard seed) that much.

Did you hear the result of the trial this week when the white female police officer opened an unlocked apartment door that she thought was her own and shot twice, straight into the chest of a black male who was standing in the apartment, only to discover it was actually his apartment and she had shot the man dead? After the jury reached a verdict of 10 years for Amber Guyger, some felt outrage and expressed it. Others were stunned by what happened next. The brother of the man who was killed asked to be heard. The judge permitted it. He took the stand. The man said to the woman who killed his brother, “I forgive you,” and “Your honor, may I have permission to give her a hug?” The judge paused, then permitted it. They embraced with heavy tears as the brother of the slain man said softly to one who had shot his brother, ‘I forgive you.” “Lord, increase our faith!” And Jesus looks into your soul, and he looks into mine, and says to us: “Hmmm. There’s enough faith in you already! Use it!” And then do we step out in the faith we are told we have, or do we pull back? We are reminded of the faith the Amish community in Pennsylvania had when they immediately forgave the man who walked into one of their schools and shot 10 girls. “Oh Lord, increase our faith!” we cry. “Do we have enough faith to forgive like that?” Sikhs in Wisconsin also forgave a white supremacist who entered their temple, killing six and wounding four. Oh Lord, would we have the faith to do that? And when young white man appeared at predominately African American Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, he pulled out a gun and shot 9 people who welcomed him to their Bible Study. Later they announced that they forgave the man. “Oh Lord, do we have that much faith to forgive like that? Do we have the faith of a mustard seed?”

Let me close with a prayer from Francis of Assisi. Let us pray:
Lord make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sew love.
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master:
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.”

Jeffrey A. Sumner October 6, 2019

At the end of this service, ushers or the pastors will hold a bowl containing mustard seeds at each of the Narthex doors, and at the double doors of fellowship hall. You are welcome to look at them, touch them, or take one with you as a reminder of today’s lesson about faith.