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Sixth Sunday of Easter Cycle C (2)
There is an old “Peanuts” cartoon strip that I suspect we all can relate to. In the first panel Charlie Brown says, “I learned something in school today, I signed up for folk guitar, computer programming, stained glass art, shoemaking and a natural foods workshop.”
In the second panel he says, “[Instead] I got spelling, history, arithmetic, and two study periods.”
In the third panel Charlie’s friend asks, “So, what did you learn?”
Charlie says, “I learned that what you sign up for and what you get are two different things.” (1)
Welcome to life, Charlie Brown! What you sign up for and what you get are often two different things. So how do you respond to unexpected disappointments? To a sudden change in your plans? How you respond will, in large part, depend on your trust in God and your commitment to place your life in God’s hands, to let God use you for His work.
You remember from the military whatever you asked for you rarely got it.
So many days, I have our filled. As I was driving from one meeting to the next, i felt the strong urge to stop by the Samartan Hospital. I couldn’t remember who was in there, but I was sure there was someone there.
Understand, God couldn’t have picked a less convenient time to lay this burden on my heart! I was in a hurry! I had a full schedule. Why would God interrupt my day with such a vague calling while I had calls to make? However, in spite of my questions and misgivings, I felt God’s tug. I pulled into the hospital parking lot and went inside. I asked the woman at the reception desk if any soldiers from Ft Drum had asked for him to visit. A man sitting nearby in the lobby heard my voice and approached me. The man was a janitor at the hospital. That morning, he had cleaned the room of a woman with a terminal illness. The woman had been watching a religious broadcast on TV, a broadcast of this same Army Chaplain praying and speaking at the change of command. As she watched my program, she had prayed aloud, “God, if You really exist and You are really a God who cares about me, I want You to send that chaplain to my room today to pray with me.” It might seem like an absurd request to many of us, but that was her prayer.
The janitor’s shift was ending soon, but he prayed that if God would send the “TV preacher” to the hospital, he would stick around and make sure to take him to the dying woman. Imagine the look of joy on that woman’s face when I walked through the door. In that instant, she said, in her heart she knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that God loved her and had answered her prayer.
God changed this woman’s plans for the afternoon, but what about when God changes your plans for the rest of your life? If you’ve ever questioned God’s will for your life, if you’ve ever thought that your life just took an unexpected detour, then you can appreciate this story from Acts 16. Paul and Silas and Timothy discovered that sometimes God’s will looks like an unexpected detour or a closed door. As Pastor David Guzik writes in his Enduring Word Commentary, “The Holy Spirit often guides as much by the closing of doors as He does by the opening of doors.” (3) And how we respond to these unexpected moments, those closed or opened doors, says a lot about our belief in God, and it says a lot about how God can use us to accomplish His will.
Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, once wrote that when she faces a difficult situation or a closed door, she doesn’t ask God, “Why?” It doesn’t do any good to ask why, she says. Instead, she asks, “What are you trying to teach me through this, Lord?” Certain things we have to trust to faith. We have to leave them in God’s hands and trust God’s goodness.
God’s ways are higher than our ways, and God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts. If you are waiting around for God to answer that question, “Why?” you can end up bitter and find yourself withdrawing from God. But if you change the question to “What are you trying to teach me through this, Lord?” you remain open to God’s will and to God working in and through you. So, this is the question Anne Graham Lotz has learned to ask, “What are you trying to teach me through this, Lord?” because she knows that God is still working in every circumstance, no matter how strange or painful it may seem at the moment.
So many times in my life, I have asked myself what is my purpose, what does God want me to accomplish. So many time I have been in a bad situation and I asked why. Then I asked what could I get out of this. I didn’t choose to be a priest first off. I wanted to join the Navy right out of high school and have a Navy career. Not only did I fail the navy physical, I failed the Army one as well. My draft board came close but not close enough. So I worked in a movie theater and became a manager and customer service advisor. I just wondered if I was made to work nights, especially weekends. There was just no social life for a single male. So I went to college and majored in religious education because I figured I would be a good teacher and you didn’t have to be certified to teach religion. To pay my way I worked in a warehouse. It was a job I did to have money, I didn’t like the job. By the way why did I have to work 40 hours a week in a warehouse to pay for 15 credits a semester at the same time. Why because I couldn’t get a student loan. Well I’ll stop here but through each of these experiences I learned something that I still use today. Oh I left out my job of cleaning bathrooms which is where I started in the theaters. I know what the EMS workers do and have to deal with because I was one of them.
And that brings me to the central question of this scripture lesson today: Do you expect God to do something important with your life? Do you believe God has a purpose for you? There is a little booklet titled Letters on the Healing Ministry by Dr. Albert Day. In this book Dr. Day says that most Christians suffer from a “poverty of expectation.” Think about that phrase for a moment: “a poverty of expectation.”
We don’t expect God to do anything important in and through our lives. We think that God uses other people—smarter people, holier people, more talented people—to do His work. But not us. God isn’t going to work in and through us to change lives and bring people to salvation in Jesus Christ. One quote from the book that really challenges me reads like this, “Our chronic weakness is not that we expect too much from God, but that we trust Him for too little.” (5)
Paul and his companions did not suffer from a poverty of expectation. They trusted that God would act through them wherever they were. So when Paul dreamed of a man from Macedonia begging for help, he and his companions headed straight in that direction. They ended up in the city of Philippi. And they set out to find a group of Jewish men to share Jesus’ message with. And once again, God changed their plans. Paul and his men, instead, came across a small group of women gathered by a river, praying. Was this really God’s big mission opportunity for them? After all women ranked low in power and standing in the society of that day. However, that’s no problem for God as we have often seen. God works through all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances.
The story of Pastor Chuck Smith, who led a small church in Costa Mesa, California, back in the 1960s. This church was located very near a local beach. Pastor Smith noticed that a number of young people began attending the church, some of whom hadn’t attended church before. One thing stood out. They most certainly didn’t know anything about dressing in your “Sunday best.” In fact, many of them came directly from the beach to the church on Sunday morning; some even walked in without shirts or shoes. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that the beach had oil deposits in the sand, and oil clung to their bare feet. A few long-time members of the church got upset when these young people tracked oil on the church’s brand-new carpet.
One Sunday, Pastor Smith got to church and found a sign on the door that said, “Shirts and shoes please.” And he realized that some young people would feel excluded from the church because of that sign, and they might never come back. I heard the story from my CA cousins. When I became a pastor Sunday best was not what I demanded but open hearts.
Think about that for a moment. What barriers do we place between God and the people around us? What limits do we place on God’s work? Paul and his companions were committed to preaching the good news of Jesus Christ—to Jewish men. Did God really divert them from their grand missionary journey so that they could preach to a group of women? At least one of the women, a woman named Lydia, was even a Gentile. Was this unexpected—and maybe uncomfortable—situation really an opportunity from God? Evidently, Paul and Silas and Timothy thought so. They sat down and began to speak to the women. And the Lord opened the heart of Lydia; she and her entire household were baptized that day. But that’s not the end of the story.
But let’s get back to Pastor Smith and his church’s oily carpets for a moment. Smith called a meeting of the church leaders that day. And those leaders caught a vision of what God could do in and through them if they threw away their barriers and limitations and welcomed these young people without reservation to their church. They decided that if they had to tear out the pews and rip up the carpets to make those young people feel welcome, they would do it.
And Pastor Smith reports that God brought revival on that little church. They attracted more and more young people, and their congregation grew in vitality and spiritual maturity. All because they committed to removing any barriers that might keep people from hearing and receiving the word of God. (6)
And that brings me to the final question for this morning, will you obey God’s calling whether you understand it or not? Remember that you are God’s partner in the healing and salvation of the world. You are God’s partner in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is 2 Corinthians 5:19-20, “. . . God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation . . .” [Listen carefully:] “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
You see, God can’t do much with a life that isn’t committed to Him. God can’t do much with believers who don’t see every moment of their lives as an opportunity to do the work of Jesus in all circumstances. There’s a thought-provoking quote you may have seen circulating on social media. It says, “Those who put everything in God’s hands eventually see God’s hand in everything.” (7)
That’s what Paul and his companions did—they put everything in God’s hands and they saw God’s hand in everything. So, let’s finish our scripture lesson for today. Lydia and her entire household were baptized that day, and they invited the men to stay at her house. Lydia started a small Christian church in her home, the first Christian church in the Western world. And it was from this small outpost in Philippi that the message of Jesus spread throughout Europe, and eventually to the U.S., and, eventually, to us today. It’s amazing what God can do with just a few committed men and women.
Let me close with a story of what can happen when we follow God’s leading to an unexpected place and an unexpected opportunity. Many years ago, I was assigned to a parish where I tried to talk the bishop out of it because I wouldn’t fit in. At that time, the community around this church had much poverty and many needs. But resolved that, with God’s help, I would give my very best to this challenging situation. The church began an afterschool dance program for children to keep them off the streets. They began ministries to men in factories and men battling addictions. I even opened a food and drug dispensary for people in need.
In an interview with Magazine, I recalled how unsure and unprepared I felt in my early years at that church. I said, “In the beginning, there were so many times I wanted to quit. I would pray, ‘Lord, you’ve made a mistake.’” But I stayed where God had sent me and waited for some kind of answer. And one day that answer walked through my office door in the person of a man in his late seventies and I was in my thirties. He was angry with God because of his daughter’s death. He was angry with the Church because they mistreated him because of that suicide. He was angry with my predecessor because he gave things to the Church to remember her. He asked me why after all these years why I used the things in services. I said simply I saw the last name and thought she must have been related to you. You are helpful to me so I used them . He said but you didn’t have to announce it. True, but he didn’t notice that I did it for others as well. It was important for him and for me and for the parish to remember former members.
aGod does His greatest work through ordinary people like you and me. If we really believe that, we will live in constant hope and expectation and joy. God places His greatest opportunities right in front of us, in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives. What about you? Do you expect God to act through you?
- “In Today, Already Walks Tomorrow” by Joseph N. Hankins, Vital Speeches of the Day, October 15, 1997, p. 24.
- “Acts 16 – Second Missionary Journey Begins” by David Guzik, Enduring Word Bible Commentary, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/acts-16/.
- “Called from the Badge to The Book,” June 26, 2012, Templeton Editor, originally published in the book Make Your Job Your Calling, https://makeyourjobacalling.com/category/stories-of-calling/.
- Letters on the Healing Ministry by Dr. Albert E. Day (Methodist Evangelistic Materials: 1964).
- David McLemore, https://www.thingsofthesort.com/sermons-2/2019/10/28/mark-1112-25-the-lesson-of-the-fig-tree.
- Guideposts Editors. Mornings with Jesus 2020 (p. 28). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
- “Taking it to the Streets,” Jane Ellen Robinet. Pittsburgh, Feb 2006. p. 45. The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr., Emanuel’s Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, PA, http://obroskyds.webs.innerhost.com/eman/sermons/Mark%201%20 %20Epiphany%205B.htm.
Sixth Sunday of Easter Cycle C (1)
I am always astonished when a famous person dies, especially an entertainer. I am amazed at the tributes that people are pouring forth for Prince, the singer who suddenly died at the relatively young age of 57. Everywhere I look I see the color purple, discussion about what was his greatest song, and what his long-lasting influence will be. People flock to his house and studio outside Minneapolis and, as they frequently do, leave flowers and candles and dolls. We see this happen again and again when a famous person dies. It’s so strange that, when trying to preserve the memory of someone, we use things that vanish so quickly: notes, flowers, and candles.
Because we are humans, we have to deal with absence; because we are human, we are in this world only so long. We know the cost of absence: a father deserting his family, a mother dying at a young age, a child who dies at three, a president shot in his prime. So we try to hold on: some item, some prayer card, some picture that keeps the person in our lives. Yet is not one of the major themes of the Easter season this: we cannot hold on the same way. We have to grow to something else. This is why Jesus tells Mary on Easter morning: do not cling to me! I must ascend to my Father.
And why does Jesus ascend? This is an imaginative way to talk about what Jesus does in his resurrection. He rises in the power of the Father so that he can give that power to his followers through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the way Jesus continues to live among us, bringing us his life in many ways, and empowering us with his actions. Remember Jesus’ words: As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
The Spirit brings about Jesus Easter life in us; and it has both the form of continuity and the form of innovation. We see the continuity in the Gospel when Jesus tells his followers that they will share his eternal life, his Spirit, when they love each other just as he has loved them. It is by the very authentic love we have for each other in Christ Jesus that the Father dwells in us, and we abide in God. Our life, in the Risen Christ, can never vanish because we are made one with Christ, and his love, through the Spirit.
But the Spirit also brings innovation, something new, because the Spirit helps us to see the implications of God’s love in Jesus as we grow. In the early Church, it was not clear that Christ’s life was meant for all the world. People thought it was basically a Jewish thing, and mainly Jews would be saved in Jesus. But the Spirit teaches the early Church something revolutionary: God’s love cannot be limited or restricted. It always expands. See, non-Jews are experiencing the risen Jesus just like us! So we see the disciples deciding to accept Gentiles, pagans, into the community of Christ.
What a lesson to learn in our own lives, because we always feel comfortable among our own and want to limit our lives to our own groups. So we see through history this group against that group, the Western Church against the Eastern Church, Protestants against Catholics, rich against poor, this race against that race. The Spirit of God says: tear down those walls! You cannot put borders around the love of God.
Because we are all headed to the same place: the heavenly Jerusalem, the city built on the apostles’ message of God’s unlimited love, a city where God is our temple, our sun, our moon, our life, a city where we have finally come to see that the love that we have now is only a shadow of the fullness of love that God is bringing to us and to everyone who accepts it. There is no absence in that heavenly city: only the presence of God’s love, now realized in all of us through Jesus and his Spirit.
One of the most bizarre true stories to hit the news media in the 1990s was that of Tracy Lippard, a contestant destined for the Miss Virginia beauty pageant after winning the title of Miss Williamsburg, VA. Unfortunately, Tracy never made it to the Miss Virginia pageant. Instead, after crowning her successor as Miss Williamsburg, Tracy got in her car and drove 275 miles to Lewisburg, W.Va. Her goal was to seek revenge against her boy friend who had jilted her for another woman. Reportedly she carried with her a 9-mm semiautomatic pistol, a butcher knife, a pair of rubber gloves, a bottle of lighter fluid and a claw hammer.
When she arrived at the home of her rival, she rang the doorbell. Her rival’s father answered the door. Tracy told him that her car had broken down and she asked to use the phone. It was a ruse of course. Once inside the house, she struck her rival’s father with the hammer. It stunned him, but didn’t knock him out. She then pulled the gun and attempted to shoot him. Little did she know that he was an ex-secret service agent. At this point his wife, her rival’s mother, joined the skirmish and the parents held the distraught Tracy until the police arrived.
After being arrested, the police questioned her as to why she would do such a terrible thing? Tracy Lippard said that she was motivated to seek revenge because she needed “inner peace.” (1)
I suspect that most of us long for some form of inner peace, but we don’t go to such desperate lengths to gain it. Still, we long for it. That’s why John 14:27 is a favorite verse for so many people. Jesus says to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Let me begin by asking an important question: do you have a peaceful mind? Well, of course, you say. Really? Let me ask a second question: Is there anyone in this room who is a worrier? Is anyone in this room married to a worrier?
One woman wrote to a national magazine to say that every year, it seemed, her family would get on a highway a few miles out of the city, and her mom would wail, “Oh my goodness! I think left the iron on.” And almost every year they would turn around and go back. But as far as she could recall, not once was the iron ever plugged in. It seems her mom was dominated by the fear that all their earthly possessions would disappear in a fire caused by her forgetfulness.
That was a family ritual, she says, until she was about 14 years old. On that occasion they were headed out of Chicago for Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and, sure enough, her mom gasped, “I just know I left the iron on.”
She says this time her father didn’t say a word. He just pulled over onto the shoulder of the road, got out, opened the trunk and handed his wife her iron. (2)
Can anyone relate to that? Worriers are amazing. Has anyone here ever worried about removing a tag from a mattress? Somewhere along the way, most of us have heard that we aren’t supposed to remove the tags from our mattresses because it violates some kind of law. In fact, many mattresses still have tags that say something like, “It is unlawful to remove this tag!”
Maybe you actually removed a tag from a mattress at some time in your life, and you live in fear that someday there will be a knock at your door. A stranger will flash a badge with a warrant to search your house, and he will be looking for missing mattress tags.
Let me set your mind at ease. First of all, how would anyone ever know you removed that tag? I mean anyone beside the NSA, and supposedly they’re only interested in terrorists, not missing mattress tags. And, secondly, those tags are on those mattresses for your benefit. It shows that you’re buying a new, never?been?used product and to inform you about the contents of the mattress. According to law, it is only unlawful to remove the tag prior to the sale and delivery of a mattress to the consumer. Once you have purchased the mattress, it is your right to remove the tag. (3)
I hope I’ve set your mind at ease at least about one thing-We among all people need to hear these words from our Lord, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Jesus was preparing his disciples for living in the world without his physical presence.. This was the night before Jesus went to the cross. In a matter of hours the disciples would have their world flipped upside down.. And he’s trying to prepare them for the kind of challenges they will have to face.
After all, these are men who are preparing to go into battle. It wouldn’t be a matter of simply remembering to unplug the iron or removing a tag from a mattress. It would be gladiator pits, lions, swords, and crosses. And thus Christ says to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
You and I may not be facing the challenges that the disciples of Jesus faced. But we walk around burdened by many issues of life: unsure about how we’re going to pay the house payment and still save for our child’s education; concerned about the possible loss of our job or whether our children or grandchildren will even be able to find a job; anxious about how we are going to make it without a loved one. And Let us not forget our health.
Do not sink into the mire of despair. Jesus has your well-being at heart. Hope, therefore, in the Lord and trust in him. His word says that everything is working out for your wellbeing (Romans 8:28). We may not see it now but we believe that things will get better. The thing about hopelessness is that is makes us helpless because we see no way out. Abiding in Christ’s peace reminds us that there is hope, and so we can keep moving forward and refuse to give up.
In Meridan CT, one of our parishes had a furnace explosion that brought the whole Church down. But standing with destruction all around it was a statue of Jesus.with arms outstretched and a loving demeanor. There the statue stood–all that was left of a 100-year old church. “I didn’t notice the damage, it was just so remarkable, so moving and so fitting to look up from the chaos around us and see Jesus, arms outstretched, welcoming, and loving his people.”
That is our purpose today as his church–to raise up Jesus where a fearful world can see him.
Before he left them, Jesus gave his disciples what they needed most–peace, a peace that passes understanding. It was the peace that comes from knowing that no matter how serious the situation that they found themselves in, Christ was still there with outstretched arms. not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Christ’s peace will always be with us. That is the greatest good news that we will ever hear. No matter what our circumstances, Christ will be with us.
I know that some of you are concerned about your future. With life spans being dramatically extended, will you have enough financial resources to last to the end? Will your health hold up? Some of you are concerned about your children’s future. A few of you are concerned about your parents’ future welfare. Someone has said the best thing about tomorrow is that tomorrow only comes one day at a time.
A scholar once surveyed the Scriptures to discover the most significant words in all the Bible. He wanted to find the saddest word, the happiest word, the most emotional word and so on. When he came around to the Bible’s most dangerous word, he identified it as tomorrow. The word tomorrow is a thief, he said, that robs dreamers of their dreams and the talented of their greatest achievements. It keeps men and women from coming to Christ and discovering the kind of life God longs for them to have. The secret of abundant life is to entrust the future to God and to live only for today.
Have you read the fable of the philosophical clock which one day meditated about its future? It had just been bought and placed on a shelf in a large farmhouse room. As soon as it was wound up for the first time it began to worry about all the work it had to do. It had to tick twice every second. That meant 120 ticks every minute, or 7,200 ticks every hour, or 172,800 every day. Each year it would have to tick 63,072,000 times, and in ten years it would have to tick 630,720,000 times. Those kinds of numbers were just too much for the clock’s nervous system, and it “passed out.”
But when it came to again, it had a flashing insight: it realized that it only had to tick one tick at a time. Not 630 million, or even 63 times. Just once! And anyone can tick once. This insight gave the clock a powerful injection of courage, and it went about its duty of ticking, which it has been doing for twenty-five years now. (7)
Just one tick at a time. Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Someone else put it this way:
By the yard, life is hard;
By the inch, it’s a cinch.
All too often we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by our problems, and we lose our perspective. We think to ourselves that it is the end of the world. But I can assure you that it is not. Tomorrow the sun is going to rise again. Somewhere birds will be singing and flowers will be blooming. You will still have food to eat and clothes to wear, and you will be able continue with your life.
I know that some of you will allow this message to go in one ear and out the other. I sometimes wonder if it is in the genes–the need to worry.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
1. Adapted from http://thepreachersword.com/2013/07/29/word-of-the-week-peace/#more-4361.
2. Doc’s Daily Chuckles, http://family-safe-mail.com/.
3. How Stuff Works.com, What If . . .? 75 Fascinating Questions and Answers, (New York: Gramercy Books, 2002), pp. 122-123.
4. Mark Adams, http://www.redlandbaptist.org/sermons/sermon20010224.htm.
6. Tom Carter, ed., 2,200 Quotations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon: Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988), p. 67. Cited by David Jeremiah, Slaying The Giants In Your Life (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001), pp. 153-154.
7. Walter L. Cook, Meeting the Test (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960).