The Spirit of Healing

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A few years ago, I was in Tampa for a church conference in a part of town that had a lot of homeless folks around. I have to be honest that when I saw the folks standing on the street looking for handouts, I didn’t stop to respond. I spent a lot of time diverting my eyes, or politely saying I’m sorry and moving on quickly.

Until a man on a bench asked me for some money for food.

I went through my usual explanation – I don’t have cash, I’m in a hurry, I’m sorry… and kept moving.

But I got about 25 feet from him and I stopped.

I knew that I could help him. I knew there was something I could do.

The Holy Spirit filled me up and turned me around and before I knew it, I was introducing myself to Fred and taking him across the street to Quiznos.

I really was in a hurry, but I stood in line there with him and he ordered a nice hot sandwich and we talked about his life. He had lost his job and had moved here looking for work. He hadn’t found any. He was waiting for his unemployment check to catch up with him and until it arrived he had nothing, so he was staying in a shelter.

He was hoping to be back on his feet in a week or two… but I had the feeling that this was only the beginning of a tough road for him.

I knew I couldn’t fix all of his problems… but I could get him a nice, hot dinner. As we parted ways outside the door, he gave me a huge smile and said, “God bless you.”

As we heard in our scripture this morning, a lame man was carried to the temple every single day to beg for the resources that would sustain his meager life.

He was begging for bread and water and shelter.

And when Peter and John encounter him – his life is turned upside down and would never be the same again.

It wasn’t a sandwich that stirred his blood – it was the power of the Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus Christ that strengthened his weak legs. This broken man stood up leaping and laughing.
He ran in through the temple gates and made a joyful exuberant scene – praising God for the chance at new life.

I want to invite us to look at this story from a couple of different angles this morning.

First, from the perspective of Peter and John.

After the ascension of Jesus, these two had found themselves leaders of a small movement – three to four thousand people were now following their guidance and were committing themselves to the way and the teachings of Christ.

Each person had given up everything they knew before in order to support and care for and nurture this precious new community. They had gone all in with their time, money, and talents.
One of the primary things they did together was to worship and pray. One of the customs of the Jewish faith is to pray three times a day – morning, afternoon, and evening – as a way of keeping your whole life focused on the Lord.

And so it is not surprising that these two are on their way to the temple for the 3:00 prayer.

They walk to the temple, passing through the same gate they may have entered hundreds of times before, passing the dozens of beggars who would often gather along the way.

I think to fully understand this story of healing, we need to understand the culture of begging that would have been present. It was present in downtown Tampa, some of our participants on the VIM Trip to Memphis experienced it, and it would have surrounded Peter and John at the temple.

Bob Deffinbaugh describes his experience with a begging culture in India this way:

There were so many beggars there was no way one could respond to all of them. The solution was often not to “see” any of them. But the beggars made this difficult. Those who were mobile would press themselves on you. They would approach your taxi at an intersection, tugging at your sleeve and pleading for help. Those not mobile would call our for charity. The beggar would be aggressive, something like the salesmen as you try to walk through the appliance section at Sears. You would concentrate on not seeing them as they converged on you, and you hurried to get through the section before you were trapped.

Living in the midst of this culture, you train yourself to ignore them, because you simply cannot respond to the needs of all.

Maybe you occasionally stop and help one person to make yourself feel better.

But you don’t make eye contact. You keep moving.

Peter and John are walking along the same road they do every day and they see countless beggars along the path.

What is different about today? Why do they stop? Why do they reach out to this particular man?

I think Peter and John felt that tug on their heartstrings that caused me to turn back in Tampa. It is the feeling we get when we encounter someone that God is inviting us to help – even if we might not have the confidence, or money, or resources to do so.

Peter and John felt that tug of the Holy Spirit and knew there was something they could do for this man.

They had not a dime in their pockets, no food to offer, nothing that could satisfy this man’s earthly needs, except for their faith in Jesus Christ.

These two disciples knew that was enough.

They had once been sent out to preach and heal and teaching with nothing but the clothes on their back. They had learned through practice that God truly can be depended on, that God is our very present help in times of trouble. They knew that faith could move mountains… and if it can move mountains than it can certainly help this lame man to walk.

They looked him in the eye, they reached out their hands in faith, and the lame man leaped for joy.

Every day, you and I pass countless people who are broken and hurting.

They may not be sitting on the street corners and their pain might not be visible to the naked eye, but if we look closely – we can see the strain of tension by the eyes, we can hear the waver in the voice, we feel the frustration and despair in the way they move and live in this world.

And because it is so common, we keep walking. The world we live in is begging and crying out for healing and we don’t have the heart to pay attention because it might overwhelm us.
Listen to those promptings of the Holy Spirit that stop you in your tracks.

God will give you everything you need to share with that person the hope and faith and love you have experienced through Jesus Christ.

You know, sometimes we have the opportunity to be Peters and Johns – going through our daily lives and coming across the opportunity to heal someone.

But we are also the lame beggars who sit by the gate.

Each of us has a whole host of problems – aching backs, sore knees, family disagreements, conflicts in our marriage, struggles with our children, sinful pasts and temptations in the present, stress around deadlines and finances, cancer, disease, death.

You name it, this community has experienced it or will experience it.

But unlike the lame beggar, we tend to hide our struggles. We don’t sit with them out in the open for all to see, but hold them close to our hearts and silently wait for an answer.

This lame man knew he couldn’t remain at home and do nothing. So every day, he convinced someone to carry him from where he slept to the Beautiful Gate.

For nearly forty years he had done this daily.

He went to the temple, to the place of God, and begged.

I wonder if sometime during the last year or two, he heard rumors of Jesus passing by.

I wonder if he had heard about the miracles taking place all around Jerusalem.

Maybe Jesus had walked through that very gate, but that man was too weak or too quiet, to catch his attention and to ask for a miracle for himself.

Maybe he didn’t feel worthy, like a lost cause, a hopeless mess.

It doesn’t matter how sick you are, how broken or how sinful; the grace of God has time for you.

The Holy Spirit has time for you.

And so even though our beggar could not even look them in the eyes, Peter and John stopped in front of him and healed him.

He leapt for joy.

Some of us have experienced miracles, healing, and forgiveness… and we know that when we have, we cannot go back to life as it was…. nothing will ever be the same.

I must admit, I always have a deeply engrained “BUT” on the tip of my tongue whenever I talk about the power of healing and the miracle of faith.

I know too many people who have prayed for miracles that have never come.

Earlier this week, I got word that Greg Leonard passed away. We have been praying with the Harvey and Leonard families without ceasing for healing in his life and yet no cure was to be found.

I have watched with agony as so many friends and so many of you have prayed for healing for loved ones that did not come in this lifetime.

One summer, I worked as a hospital chaplain and watched one young woman healed and watched another die within a week. Both had leukemia and both were clutching their faith.

Sometimes, I think we hide our problems, our disease, or our sins because we are afraid that we will be found wanting.

We are afraid that if we tell the truth, everyone will know we “didn’t have enough faith” for the answer we desire to come to pass.

Friends, prayer is not magic.

It is not an incantation we can repeat over and over in order to get what we want.

Prayer is a relationship with God. A two-way relationship.

And sometimes the answers we receive are not the ones we initially begin praying for.

Sometimes we receive the gifts of peace and comfort instead of cures.

Sometimes we hear a calling to be strong and to share our faith with others in spite of the pain we are experiencing.

Sometimes the answer to our prayers is that we ourselves have to change – that we need to forgive or give up a lifestyle that was harming us or move away from a difficult relationship.

But in the miracles of healing in the scripture and in my experience, Jesus or the disciples never told someone to go out and find more faith and THEN come back and be healed.

No, the words the Holy Spirit speaks into our hearts are: “be still and know that I am God… trust in me and my goodness… I am with you… Do not be afraid…”

Sometimes, as is the case with our lame beggar, the healing comes in the present moment.

Sometimes, complete healing and wholeness only comes after our time on this earth is over.

But still we pray, and still we have faith, and still we trust, because we have a relationship with the One who is able to bring some goodness and beauty out of the brokenness of our lives.

Today, we are both disciples and beggars.

We can both offer prayers of healing for others and we can ask for healing in our lives as well.

One of our primary gifts, one of our strengths, a huge piece of our vision is prayer… and this room is filled with people who believe in the power of miracles and that God truly can work for good in our lives.

I want to invite us to claim that gift today and before you leave the sanctuary this morning, I encourage you to take time to talk with someone, to listen to their prayers, and to pray with and for them.

The Spirit of Community

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This summer at Immanuel, we have been exploring how the Holy Spirit shows up in the lives of characters throughout the scriptures.

Today, we find two men who have very different attitudes towards the work of God: the sorcerer and the eunuch.

Philip is a deacon, a servant of the church, and he encounters lots of people who hear and believe the good news about Jesus Christ. So, what is it about the sorcerer and the eunuch that make their stories so special?

It is how they respond to the work of the Holy Spirit.

One is arrogant and brash, the other humble and full of questions.

For one, the power of the Holy Spirit is a commodity to be bought and sold, possessed and tamed.

For the other, that power is precious, mysterious, and a gift to be treated delicately.

First – there is a difference in how they each are introduced to the Holy Spirit.

The sorcerer was familiar with magic and illusion and he saw the Holy Spirit working from a far. When he heard the good news of God he joined the fellowship of believers. So, in many ways, he is a changed man, but he still desires to be the center of attention. He still wants to draw a crowd. And so when he sees the apostles laying hands on people so that they could receive the Holy Spirit, he suddenly wants their job.

So he runs over to them and throws down a bag of coins… “I want to do that, too!” he begs. “Give me that authority.”

The sorcerer believes the Holy Spirit is something to be possessed. The sorcerer wants a new bag of tricks for his show.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit was working behind the scenes to bring Philip and the eunuch into a relationship. She leads Philip to take a certain road. She tells him to walk alongside the cart. And, She has been present in the life of this eunuch – they are reading the scriptures, hoping to understand them. And so, when they hear the good news, and an oasis of water suddenly appears alongside their desert road, they ask – what would stop me from being baptized too?

It is not a demand, it is a humble question of faith.

In our journeys of faith, sometimes we get jealous of what other people have – faith that seems so strong, a prayer life that seems so powerful. We often struggle with what we don’t have.
Maybe you have uttered the phrase, “I wish I could pray like so and so” or “if only we had a choir or a praise band” or “I wish I could read the scriptures like that person.”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to grow in our faith. There is nothing wrong with seeing what other people are doing and seeking God’s guidance about the ways we can live out our faith.
But in the stories of the sorcerer and the eunuch, we are invited to see that it is not what we don’t have that matters…. what matters is what the Holy Spirit has already brought into our lives.

We can be so busy looking at what others have and what we desire that we can’t see the gifts right in front of us. We each have a voice that we can use, we each have a part to play in our time of worship. Just because we don’t have robes and lights and big voices does not mean that there isn’t a song to be sung.

Secondly, there is a difference between these two characters and what they hope to gain through the Holy Spirit.

While the sorcerer had once been the center of attention, he finds that notoriety fading as a new player, the deacon Philip, comes on the scene. Suddenly, it is someone else doing the healing… someone else drawing the crowds… and the sorcerer himself is astonished by the power that the followers of Christ possess.

But as soon as he perceives the source of this power, he wants it for himself. He wants to again be someone that others flock around. He wants to have the magical ability so that he can carry it to some far off place and again be on the stage with people at his feet.

Our sorcerer is a performer and faith is a tool, a prop, to get him what he wants.

Maybe I’m being cynical and faith IS a part of his life, but he hasn’t quite given up his old ways and he is trying to get the faith to fit into his life rather than allowing it to transform him.

Notice, nowhere did I talk about a community, or a group… faith for the sorcerer was all about himself and what he could use it for.

On the other hand, the eunuch wants to be included. They want to belong. They want to be a part of a community that understood.

Our text tells us that this African man was coming from Jerusalem. He had probably spent some time worshipping in the temple. Yet, as a eunuch, the fullness of worship would have been closed off to him. He would only have been allowed into the Court of the Gentiles.

Gary DeLashmutt writes that because of his social standing as a “sexually altered black man from a pagan country” doors were automatically closed for him. Time and time again, he had probably been turned away from opportunities.

In spite of his standing in the court of the queen of Ethiopia… in spite of his wealth… in spite of all the power he could and did possess, the eunuch knew that he could not buy a place in the family of God. He knew that there were countless barriers in his way, but all he wanted to do was to belong.

In spite of the threat of further rejection, the eunuch persists and when he and Philip come to that small oasis of water by the side of the road, he asks a heartbreaking question: “What would prevent me from being baptized?”

He wants to belong.

He wants to join in the fellowship.

And he found in Philip a person who, according to DeLashmutt, “understood that his standing with God was based not on his ethnic identity, moral record, religious heritage, etc.—but through Jesus’ death alone… He understood that Jesus loved this eunuch and was able to give him new life just as he did Philip.”

So Philip leads him down to the water and the eunuch is baptized.

Although our story says that he went on his way rejoicing, we do not know the end of his story. We don’t know where he goes or how his life and his faith continue in the story of God.
All we know is that he wanted to belong… and my experience is that when someone finds true welcome, they can’t help but pass it on.

In the stories of the sorcerer and the eunuch, we find a performer desiring a stage and a person seeking a home.

In their contrast, we are reminded that faith through the Holy Spirit is not about me or you, but about us.

Diedrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “It is not you that sings, it is the church that is singing, and you, as a member… may share in its song. Thus all singing together that is right must serve to widen our spiritual horizon, make us see our little company as a member of the great Christian church on earth, and help us willingly and gladly to join our singing, be it feeble or good, to the song of the church”

That is what we do when we gather to worship. We join our singing to the song of the church. We join our lives to the body of Christ. We become part of something far bigger than ourselves.

Many of you are here because you have already found a spiritual home in this community of faith. But at some point in your life, perhaps you, like the eunuch, were searching for a place to belong and a song to sing…

Others gathered here this morning might still be looking for that sense of community.

One of our hopes in gathering out here on the front lawn this morning was to simply be present with our neighbors and to remind one another that we are not alone.

The Spirit of God is moving through our midst, uniting us, binding us together, and helping us to create a place where all might know God’s love.

It is not about you.

It is not about me.

It is about us.

So, let us not be sorcerers who want to control and possess the power of God, singing by ourselves – or even worse, letting someone else sing for us while we sit back and watch…
Instead, like the eunuch, let us humbly join our faith and our voices with those of others.

Let us celebrate the welcome and the community we have found and like Philip, and like the eunuch, let us not be afraid to share it with others.

Amen.

A Different Kind of Proof

A man named Bob Ebeling thought he was a loser.

Mr. Ebeling was an engineer on the Challenger Space Shuttle and discovered that the O-ring seals in the rocket might not hold up in the cold temperatures of the 1986 launch.

He and fellow engineers pleaded with NASA to stop the launch, but they decided to go ahead anyways.

He went home, knowing the shuttle would explode. “And it did, 73 seconds after liftoff. Seven astronauts died.” (NPR 2/25/2016)

In an interview with National Public Radio, Mr. Ebeling shared that for thirty years has been carrying the guilt and the burden of the loss of life on that day.

Lots of people told him that it wasn’t his fault…

That he had done everything he could…

But he couldn’t forgive himself.

He believed one of the mistakes God made was picking him for the job.

And because NASA and the contractor in charge of the launch had never given him confirmation that he had done the right thing, he didn’t believe it.

 

What fascinates me about this story is that Mr. Ebeling did the right thing. He told the truth. He did everything he could to prevent the launch. And after his story first aired in January of this year, calls and letters poured in to his home. People who had been close to him. People who had worked with him. Complete strangers who had been moved to write and let him know that he wasn’t a loser, but a hero.

And yet, he wouldn’t believe… he couldn’t forgive himself…

Unless there was a specific act of proof – a call or a letter from NASA themselves.

 

I hear in his story the same kind of need to know and to find proof that I hear in our gospel lesson this morning.

Women trek to the tomb are the break of dawn. And they have no idea what to make of the stone rolled away. The body of their Lord is no longer there. What they are experiencing doesn’t make any sense until the angels appear and remind them what Jesus had told them: that on the third day, he would rise. And they remember.

Can you imagine their amazement?

They rush back to the disciples and tell everyone about what they have discovered. They tell them about the tomb. They tell the crowd: He Is Risen!!!!

And no one believes them.

They need proof.

They need something more concrete.

They need to see it to believe it.

 

And so Peter runs to the tomb himself, looks inside, and sees nothing but a cloth.

And the scripture says… he returned home, wondering at what had happened

But what I find amazing is that this account leaves out a key detail:  It never says he believes.

And I think if I had showed up there, I would have been surprised and amazed, but I’m not sure I would totally understand what had happened.

I think he was unsure.

Filled with doubt and questions.

He didn’t have enough proof to believe that what the ladies had told him was true.

Unless there was a specific act of proof…

 

Friends, it isn’t easy to believe the story that we share with you this morning.

Resurrection? Yeah, right.

We haven’t seen it or experienced it.

We can’t go back in time and run to the tomb ourselves.

Angels aren’t popping in to worship this morning to tell us how it is.

If even the disciples had a hard time believing, how are we supposed to understand this good news?

Where is the proof? Where is the concrete evidence?

 

Mr. Ebling wanted a word from specific people in order to forgive himself.

And he got it. He got a call on the phone from one of the vice presidents for the contractor, Thiokol who told Mr. Ebling – you did all that you could do. (NPR)

And George Hardy, a NASA official involved in the Challenger loss wrote to Mr. Ebeling – “You and your colleagues did everything that was expected of you.”

And it started to make a difference.

And then came a statement from NASA itself: “We honor [the Challenger astronauts] not through bearing the burden of their loss, but by constantly reminding each other to remain vigilant… and to listen to those like Mr. Ebeling who have the courage to speak up so that our astronauts can safely carry out their missions.”

That was it. That was the thing he wanted to see and hear. The proof he needed to let go of his burden of guilt.

 

The disciples wanted to see it with their own eyes… to touch their Rabbi with their own fingers.

And Jesus appeared to them.

He showed them his hands and feet. He ate a piece of fish with them. He personally reminded them of everything he had said – that he was supposed to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.

They got the proof they wanted.

 

But there is something that those disciples didn’t quite understand…

something that Mr. Ebeling didn’t quite understand…

something that we don’t quite understand whenever we are looking for a specific piece of proof or evidence… something concrete to demonstrate truth.

 

Yes, Jesus gives them the proof they wanted – he shows them his physical resurrected self – but the proof they needed was still to come.

Jesus isn’t there to show them his body. He is there to send them forth to live out his message.

“A change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Look, I’m sending you to what my Father promised.”

 

What if we have it all wrong?

We always say, “seeing is believing.”

But what if DOING is believing?

 

What if in the very act of living out the resurrection and the good news of Jesus Christ we find the proof we are looking for?

What if we are looking for proof instead of living out the proof with our very selves?

 

You see, Jesus, didn’t ask us to intellectually understand the resurrection.

He didn’t ask us to be able to explain it scientifically.

He doesn’t want us to have a philosophical debate with people about it.

Jesus wants us to live it.

To change our hearts and our lives.

To go out in the world and turn it upside down.

He started a resurrection insurrection and Jesus rebelled against the powers of evil, sin and death… and now he calls us to follow him in turning the forces of destruction on their heads.

It is in the process of living it, that we discover just how true and real the power of the resurrection is.

 

Over the last few weeks here at church we have been reading this book, Renegade Gospel. And it hasn’t been an easy book. The author has challenged us time and time again to get out there and live our faith!!!

That has been a hard message to swallow, because so many of us feel like we aren’t doing as much as Mike Slaughter asks of us. We feel guilty because we don’t go as far as he asks us to go. We aren’t sure we are ready to give it our all.

But what Slaughter reminds us in the very last chapter is “that an abundance of faith is not necessary.” Jesus told the disciples that faith as small as a mustard seed could change the world. “It’s not about how much faith you have, but how much of what you have that you commit to action.”

You don’t have to believe every single word of the gospel to live out the power of resurrection.

You can have all kinds of doubts and questions and you can still live out the power of the resurrection.

 

I’m begging you… don’t sit back, waiting for definitive concrete proof before you decide to become a Christian.

I’m not sure it’s there.

But what I do know is that when I live out my teeny tiny little mustard seed faith and trust in the power of resurrection, I find intangible, mysterious, holy truth everywhere.

I find it in this room when I hear the stories of healing in this life and in the celebration of a life that will continue in the next.

I find in in a letter I received from one of you this very morning that describes how you have awakened to a new understanding of faith and discipleship.

I find it at the food pantry in the hope that comes to life on the face of a mom who was desperate.

I find it in the pile of goods and sleeping bags and food that are outside the sanctuary, waiting to be delivered to homeless people through Joppa.

I find it in the discovery on a child’s face when they learn a new word.

 

Mike Slaughter writes that “the resurrected Jesus revealed himself to his followers in a very personal and real way. But he made clear its impossible to know him apart from the commitment to become intimately involved in his life and mission. Intentional participation in his life and mission is part and parcel of faith. Faith is a verb!!!”

So friends, don’t wait for proof.

Don’t spend thirty years of your life waiting for some kind of external validation.

Just follow Jesus.

Go where he sends us.

Join the incredible movement to transform this world!

Live it out by showing forgiveness and grace to every person you meet.

Live it out by praying for the sick.

Live it out by loving the unloveable.

Live it out by holding the hand of someone who is dying.

And you will find the proof you are looking for…

Because Christ is risen!

J&MES: Faith & Action

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This month in worship, we are going to be focusing on the book of James in the New Testament.

It is all the way in the back of our bibles… just after Hebrews and right before a couple of shorter letters that lead into Revelation.

This book is actually a letter written by James to many churches.

And while I encourage you to read the whole letter… it’s only five chapters… we are going to be focusing on a just a few of James’s main points.

Sometimes, we are asked to embrace the both/ands of life… like faith & action.

Sometimes, James will show us how the &’s in our life… like blessing & cursing… are keeping us from being faithful.

 

Will you pray with me:

Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts and minds be holy and pleasing to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

 

You must be doers of the word and not only hearers.

You must study the word and then put it into practice in your life.

 

Sometimes, James gets a bad rap. In fact, Martin Luther… the same guy that nailed up his demands on the door of the church and started the reformation… wanted to leave this letter out of his bible precisely because of this theme of faith & action.

We talk a lot about faith. We talk about how the only thing we have to do to receive God’s love is to believe. To trust. That faith alone matters. There is nothing we can DO to earn salvation.

The problem is not that James disagrees.

It is that James defines faith a little bit differently.

He doesn’t see it as an either/or. It’s not that we choose between faith and action to get to salvation.

It’s not even that it’s a two-step process. First, faith…. Then, works.

No, in James’s understanding they are the same thing. You simply can’t have one without the other.

Faith, when it is alive, can be seen in the works we do and in the ways we treat one another.

Put another way… actions are the fruit that grow on a healthy and living tree of faith.

 

I had a whole sermon in the works that basically took that point and ran with it…

But I realized yesterday that it was just me, saying a whole lot more than I needed to say on the topic.

 

James is pretty clear (and this is the Message translation):

Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

 

I was going to stand up here today and give you a whole lot of God-talk.

But we need some God-acts today.

We need to see where we have simply been looking on and praying and wishing people well without living out our faith.

 

And I’m thinking specifically about those who are naked and hungry and hurting today.

I’m thinking about the images of children being washed up on shore we saw this week.

I’m thinking about the millions of families who are fleeing from the violence in Syria.

According to Mercy Corps, more than 11 million people are displaced.

More than half of those who have been forced to flee their homes are under the age of 18.

4 million Syrians have registered or are awaiting registration with the United Nations High Commission of Refugees.

(Read more from Mercy Corps here)

And hundreds of thousands of them are risking a dangerous and costly trip across the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe. One man, Abu Jana, told the Guardian, “Right now Syrians consider themselves dead. Maybe not physically, but psychologically and socially [a Syrian] is a destroyed human being, he’s reached the point of death. So I don’t think that even if they decided to bomb migrant boats it would change people’s decision to go.”

 

We have seen how our own ancestors in faith, like Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were refugees themselves… fleeing from persecution, famine, violence, and war.

And because of their experiences, we have been told over and over again in our scriptures about our call to care for immigrants and refugees.

Exodus 22: You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Leviticus 19: You shall not strip your vineyards bare… leave them for the poor and the alien.

Leviticus 24: The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Psalm 146: The Lord watches over the strangers…

Isaiah 16: Be a refuge to the outcasts of Moab.

Malachi 3: The messenger will bear witness against those who thrust aside the alien.

Each of these passages uses the Hebrew word nokri (nok-ree’), which can be foreigner, alien, or stranger…

And when we get to the New testament, we hear over and over again the call to reach out to the strangers among us.

Matthew 25: I was a stranger and you welcomed me

Romans 12: The Mark of the true Christian…. Extend hospitality to strangers…

 

Will we simply hear the words? Or will we live out our faith?

 

Yesterday, I read a blog post from a woman named Ann Voskamp and I decided to rewrite most of this sermon.

Because she reminded me that this is not a new problem… and that I have been sitting back and not doing much for a while now.

And I felt after reading her words like the person James was talking about in his letter… who hears the word of God but doesn’t do it. Who listens and then forgets.

And what I love about her post is I felt like I have something I could do.

Like there are things WE can do.

Ways for the church to be the church and live out our faith.

 

The first thing we can do is simply understand the problem and let it move you. Maybe some of the facts I have shared today, or the stories you have seen and heard this week are part of that for you.

 

Second, while we may not be able to physically make a journey to Syria or the Mediterranean to make a difference, we can advocate for our government to open the doors to more refugees who are seeking a life for themselves and their families.

You can write a letter to one of our congressional leaders.

You can sign a petition at whitehouse.gov for our country to resettle Syrian refugees here.

And after worship today, you can take a picture of yourself with this sign (#refugeeswelcome), post it on social media, and encourage others to share the word with our government as well. In fact, I encourage everyone who wants to do so, to come back up to the front after worship so we can take some pictures together.

 

Third, you can support the organizations that are on the front lines making a difference.

Doctors without Borders.

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station, which is a family foundation that has launched a private ship to rescue people at sea.

World Vision.

Our very own United Methodist Committee on Relief.

The list goes on and on and a number of different organizations are included in Ann’s blog. If you are so moved, choose one that inspires you and give financially to support their efforts.

 

The last thing that we can think about doing…. is to consider sponsoring a refugee family yourself.

I was amazed last winter as we celebrated the life of Evie Surface to learn about her efforts to help settle refugees from Vietnam here in the United States.

She was just one person, but she believed that Jesus meant it when he said that we were to love the widow and orphan and stranger among us.

Here in Des Moines, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants helps to resettle refugees and they have a wide range of opportunities for you to give of your time and energy to help folks who have sought home here in our community.

 

Hearing and Doing.

Faith and Action.

 

“It is the seamless unity of believing and doing” the Message translation of James tells us. (2:25-26)

 

We have heard the word this morning. A word of calling to reach out in love to the last and the lost and the least in this world.

And as that seed is planted in our hearts, may it bear fruit in the world.

Amen.

Trust, not Unquestioning Belief

In 2012, I took my youth group on a mission trip to Minneapolis.  We worked in a number of different sites and one of them was the Emergency Foodshelf Network.  This organization helps distribute food items to 70 area food shelves by channeling donations for organizations and large corporations.

Most of these are bulk items.  Like 50# bags of rice that needed to be bundled into smaller portions.  Or bushels upon bushels of fresh produce that we sorted so each box had a little bit of everything.

unlabeled-canOne day, our job was to affix generic labels onto 18,000 cans of corn that were donated without labels. Yes. 18,000.

As we walked in that morning, there they sat, all shiny and shrink-wrapped on pallets, just waiting for our little paper labels that read “Corn.”  Our job was to cut the labels to size, add two pieces of tape, and bundle them onto trays of 30 for distribution.

But there was this nagging question in the back of our minds all day long as we cut and taped and stacked and moved these aluminum cans.

How did we know it was really corn?

 

The only way to tell was to open the can.  But that of course ruined the product.

You could shake the cans… and we did… and it sounded like corn… but it could have sounded like peas or beets for all we knew.

 

We had to trust that it was really corn in those cans.  We had to go about our work, tape those labels on and trust.

And to be honest, because we knew that people would be receiving these cans, we felt responsible for their contents.  Others would trust then when they got a can that said corn, a can that we had labeled, they would actually be opening a can of corn.

 

Trust.

 

Our two scripture readings for today seem to give us a portrait in contrasts… between Abraham, the one who trusted and Peter, the one who didn’t.

 

Abraham, was well past retirement age, yet chose to follow and trust the God would use him to birth a nation.  He is lifted up as the example.  The one who did it right.  The one who was trustworthy and true.

And Peter. Oh Peter.  In this season of Lent we see how so many times he gets it wrong. He questions Jesus.  He denies him. He is even called Satan in our reading for today.  Perhaps what we might imagine is the opposite of one who trusts.

 

Last week, we talked about three different types of atonement theories. Three different ways God is working in the world to bring us back into relationship, to restore us to shalom.

We had the forensic theory – the idea of a trial or a courtroom.

We had the moral example theory – where Jesus shows us how to live.

And we had the Christus Victor theory – where Christ is victorious and rescues us from sin and death.

 

Today, our scriptures lead us to those forensic theories.  They take us to the courtroom.

 

courtroom-drama-1It is the courtroom Paul has in mind as he writes to the Romans in this section of this letter.

It is courtroom language that Paul is using as he describes Abraham’s relationship with God.

 

Imagine that Abraham is sitting in the witness stand of a great courtroom.  And the question put to him is this:

Why do you deserve the promises of God?

It’s a different version of the question we often think of at the end of our days: why should you get into heaven?

Why do you deserve shalom?

And throughout chapter 4, Paul lays out an argument.  Like a lawyer, Paul claims it was not Abraham’s works that made him worthy of the promises.  It wasn’t that he followed the laws of God, the Torah.  It wasn’t that he did all the right religious things like be circumcised.

No, what puts Abraham in the right… what proves that he deserves the promises of God is that he “trusts him who justifies the ungodly (4.4).” He trusted the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (4:17).“ He believed, even though the odds were stacked against them.

And he was right.  He trusted that God would give him and Sarah a child and his claim was upheld. So using the courtroom language of the time, he was in the right. He was righteous. He deserves the promise because he trusted in the promise.

 

That seems too simple, doesn’t it?

 

Abraham’s faith was nothing more than a trust in the specific promises God made.

 

So what about Peter?  What if we put him in the same courtroom?  Where does he stack up?

 

If we focused strictly on this passage from Mark, he doesn’t get it.  He doesn’t trust.  He doesn’t understand.

Or maybe a better way of putting it is that he was operating on unquestioning belief.  Faith without any understanding. Peter was making assumptions about God.  Assumptions like: the journey was going to be easy.  An assumption that Jesus was going to march into Jerusalem and magically everything would be better.

And when faced with new evidence, new teaching, Peter chose to shut his mind.  He clung to that unquestioning belief.  He, in fact, challenged Jesus!  The word used here actually is the same word used for silencing demons – Peter thought Jesus was out of his mind!

Jesus has to correct Peter.  He has to tell him once again what God really promises.

 

That snapshot of Peter’s faith, however, doesn’t give us the full story.

 

In fact, if Peter and Abraham were really on trial, if their whole lives were spread before a court that was trying to determine if they deserved the promises of shalom, their stories wouldn’t be all that different.

 

If we go back to Genesis and really read Abraham’s story, his is one of fits and starts, too.

He and Sarah laugh out loud at God’s plan for their lives.

They try to do it their own way.  They always have a plan B in the works. (maybe talk about how Abraham tells the king Sarah is his sister not his wife… if his wife, Abraham will be killed… as his sister, the king will bargain with him…)

Yes, they go. They stick with it. They make it to the end of the long and complicated journey of faith.  But it isn’t an easy road.  When we pick their lives a part with a fine toothed comb, we find there are all sorts of things that are far from trustworthy and true. There are plenty of moments when they set their eyes on human and not divine things.

Peter, likewise, makes lots of mistakes.  He radically misunderstands what it means for Jesus to be the messiah.  Just like Abraham and Sarah, he has his moments of weakness where he looks out for his own interests above God’s plans.  He lies to protect himself.

But at the end of the day, Peter came to believe and trust in the specific promises God made. Peter came to believe in the giver of life. He came to trust that if God could raise Jesus from the dead, then God could raise him too.  And Peter shared that faith with others. He led others to trust in those promises, too.

 

What makes us worthy of shalom? What makes us children of Abraham?

We come to deserve the promise when we trust in the promise.

 

And that promise is that life can and will come from death. It is a promise that sin has nothing to do with our salvation, because Jesus has already wiped it away.

In the courtroom at the end of our lives, our mistakes are no longer on the table. They no longer count as evidence against us.

What matters is if we trust with our whole being that the God who created this world out of nothing and brings life from what was dead can justify the sinner, too.

If we trust in that promise, its ours!

 

And it isn’t unquestioning belief.  It isn’t faith without evidence or justification.  We trust in that promise because we have carry the story with us of how God works. And maybe we have even witnessed it with our own eyes.

 

So here’s a question…. What if I was pulled in front of a courtroom one day to testify about why I labeled those cans “corn”?

Our supervisor promised that those cans held corn and I believed her.  I trusted her.  Why?

To be honest… if we had showed up one day at a random building with an unknown organization and we were asked to label cans of corn, I’m not sure I would have trusted.  If we had done so, simply on unquestioning belief, without any relationship or evidence or understanding of who they were or what they were about, that trust would have been pretty unjustified.

 

But that isn’t what happened.

We learned about the organization and its history.  We spent some time working with them. We saw their attention to detail and how much they cared for their clients.  So on that final day, when we labeled those cans of corn… we believed in what they told us.  We trusted them.

 

Here in this church, we aren’t asking you for unquestioning belief, either.

We hope to build a relationship with you.

We want to learn together and wrestle with the promises of God that have been handed down for generations.

And just like Abraham and Peter and Paul passed down what they knew to be true… what they witnessed God doing in their lives… we are going to share our stories too.

Stories of how God has transformed us.

Stories of how God has brought life out of death.

Stories of how we have experienced grace and forgiveness and love.

And no matter how many fits and starts and mistakes any of us make along the way, my prayer is that someday, each of us will trust in the promises of shalom.  That we will trust in God and in this community of Christ in such a way that whenever difficulty and struggle come our way, we can hold fast and support each other, knowing, trusting, believing that in Christ, all will be well.

Expectations and Realities

Sermon based on Luke 1:39-55 and Matthew 11:2-6

About a year ago, I began working with Imagine No Malaria here in the Iowa Conference, and I have to tell you… since then, I can’t look at a pregnant woman the same way again. 

In our scripture this morning, we actually have two pregnant women – Elizabeth and her cousin Mary… both unlikely mothers… both full of hopes and expectations about what that pregnancy will bring.

Treatment6WEBOne of the first things I learned about malaria, however, is that it is a disease that overwhelmingly affects pregnant women and their new born babies.  Women who are expecting produce more carbon dioxide than a typical person, which attracts mosquitos and makes them more likely to be bitten.  Add that to the fact that they have a compromised immune system trying to protect and care for the new life growing inside of them and it’s a deadly combination.

Malaria is one of the leading causes of death in pregnant woman globally.  In fact, 85% of the deaths from malaria are children under five and women who are expecting. A woman who has malaria while pregnant is likely to have a miscarriage or a child with low birth weight and other medical problems.  And even if a baby is born healthy, children under five are not strong enough to fight the parasite that causes malaria if it attacks them. Eevery sixty seconds, we lose a life to malaria. Over half a million deaths every single year…

The joy… the hope… that comes with the promise of new life …

And the devastation of loss when a precious life is lost.

Expectations and reality…

They aren’t always the same thing, are they?

In our two gospel readings for today, as we encounter these pregnant women, we also experience the hopes of John the Baptist in relation to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Luke tells us that before they had even been born… while they were still in their mothers’ wombs… John was jumping for joy at the promise of what Jesus was bringing to the world.  His expectation poured out through the words of his mother, “God has blessed you and the babe in your womb… why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me?”

But by the time the two are grown up and have gone their separate ways, John the Baptist starts to question the reality of the promise.  In Matthew’s gospel, John finds himself in prison and sends word through his disciples… ‘ Are you the one to come?  Or should we look for another?”

This is not the little baby leaping for joy.  This is a man who is tired, who has worked long and hard for the Lord and right now is a little bit jaded.  He doesn’t want to waste the time he has left on unfulfilled hopes. And right now… what he has seen and heard about Jesus hasn’t lived up to the expectations.

Expectations and reality…

In 2006, the United Methodist Church launched an extraordinary effort to help end death and suffering from malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Speaking of expectations… we expected Nothing but Nets to be a six month long project… but the reality is it has continued to this day.  In fact, this past NBA season, Stephen Curry with the Golden State Warriors promised to donate nets for every three point shot he made… and then proceeded to set the NBA record for the most 3-pointers in a season!

But as United Methodists, we heard God asking us to do more.  And in response, we expanded our work to include not only preventative efforts, but also a focus on treatment, education, and communications around malaria.  There were such expectations built up around the beginning of this work and our dream to raise $75 million dollars to put our faith into action.

Bill Gates, Sr. was there as we kicked off our work at General Conference in 2008 and he claimed: “You are 12 million people armed with the conviction that all the world is your parish. That makes you the most powerful weapon there is against malaria.”

Five years later we are still engaged in this work. But here in Iowa, we are far away from where the real work is taking place.  It is hard for us to see the reality on the ground in Africa.  Like John the Baptist, we might be tired from our own ministry and struggles.  We get a bit jaded sometimes.  We wonder if maybe we shouldn’t have focused our time and energy and efforts somewhere else.  Is this the program that is going to save lives and transform our church?  Or are we still waiting?

Maybe the problem is that we just haven’t done a good enough job telling the story about what is really going on.

That’s what Jesus realizes as those disciples from John arrive.  They just haven’t heard the stories yet.  So Jesus responds by simply telling them what is really happening:

Healing abounds. Lives are being changed. Faith is poured out in action. I am bringing salvation in all of its forms – release from captivity, healing, new life.  Go back and tell the good news.  That the blind see, the deaf hear, and the wretched of the earth are learning God is on their side.  The Kingdom of God is here!  Go back and tell John the good news.  Go and tell what you have seen and heard.

That is what my job is… to be a witness… to share with you the good news of what is happening through Imagine No Malaria.  Because friends, God is doing amazing things out there.  God is using the ordinary gifts of people like you and me to heal the sick and to transform lives.  Our actions are a beacon of hope to those who struggle, our words a life-line to those who despair.

In just the past three years, we have distributed over 1.5 million bed nets.  We are working to empower communities by training over 5,800 community health workers who are the hands and feet of Christ in this battle against malaria.  And we have worked to improve the infrastructure for health in general by establishing health boards in 15 countries that will help provide treatment and accountability for the work we do.

I could probably share with you for hours about the lives that have been affected by this work… about Juliette in Zimbabwe who literally jumped on her bed for joy when the bed net was installed… or John, who carried his sick baby 15 miles to the rural health clinic and found life-saving medication for his little one.  But frankly, we don’t have that much time today. So I’m going to tell you just one story about a woman named Muriel from Sierra Leone.

D1411Muriel was already struggling to maintain her home and put food on the table for her family.  I don’t know where her husband was… perhaps he died in the conflict a few years ago in Sierra Leone or from malaria… or maybe he had just taken off not to be heard from again.  But Muriel was doing the best she could.  Until her children all became sick with malaria at the same time.  She had seen the symptoms… she knew what it was, but without the resources to afford a single dose of medication for herself or her children, she felt completely without hope. In desperation, she tried negotiating with a government health worker to purchase drugs on credit, but to no avail.

Can you imagine her situation?  Can you imagine sitting there, trying to comfort your sick children and not being able to do anything to help them?  She knew that without the medication they so desperately needed, it was simply a matter of time before they began to die in her arms. Her expectations were bleak.

It was then that one of our Community Health Volunteers, trained by the Saving Lives Sierra Leone/ Imagine No Malaria team at the UMC health center found Muriel.

Tiaima reached out to Muriel and took the family to the United Methodist Clinic.  There, the staff welcomed them with open arms and before Muriel knew it, the children had been tested and were already receiving their first dose of medication.  Tiaima sat down with Muriel at taught her about how to prevent malaria in the future, gave her a net and instructed her how to use it, and made sure that she knew the correct dosages and timing for the medications that needed to be taken at home.

All of this happened in a heartbeat, and as the family was being sent on their way, Muriel turned back and offered to come back with one of her goats in exchange for the care.   A goat that might have been the only thing providing income for that little family… the promise of security in the future…  The nurse assured her that the services for malaria were free. It was then that Muriel broke down in tears and asked again and again if it was true or if she were dreaming. She had been praying for someone to help her family.

Muriel’s family is now healthy because of the work of United Methodists in Sierra Leone.

But even more than that.

Surprised by the grace she found through our work, Muriel went back home to her community to tell the women there about how they can work to reduce malaria and she has signed up to become a Community Health Volunteer herself.

She has become a witness, inviting others to experience the reality of the joy of salvation she herself experienced.

No matter what our expectations, we have a God who can surpass them beyond our wildest dreams.

The very name, Imagine No Malaria, comes from Ephesians 3:20:  “Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us.”

Expectations… and reality.

John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb because of the promises of God.

Mary was so overcome and filled with hope and praise that she couldn’t help but sing out the words we know as the Magnificat… words of longing for healing, for justice, for salvation.

Later, John’s disciples would rush back to tell him the good news that the Kingdom of God was becoming a reality.

Muriel did not hesitate to shout with joy as she experienced the healing power of God in her family’s life.

Friends… the Kingdom of God is breaking in all around us.  What do you hope for?  What do you expect?  And are you ready to be surprised when God does far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams?

In my work with Imagine No Malaria, I have been blown away by what I have experienced.  We are not simply handing out medicine and nets.  Through the grace of God, we are welcoming people as our brothers and sisters, treating them with love, and building relationships with them. In the process, we empower them to be agents of change in their communities and the world. That is salvation in action. That is the kingdom of God springing forth!

I have to tell you, I have HUGE expectations about what the United Methodists here in Iowa are going to do to help in the fight against malaria.  We have set a goal to raise at least $2 million dollars here in our state to help provide the vital resources needed as we live out our faith.  And I have been wonderfully surprised and blessed by the generosity of my brothers and sisters.  God is doing far beyond what I could ask or imagine.

You can be a part of this Kingdom work.

Just $10 is all it takes to put up a bed net in a home and save a child’s life.  Just $10 can provide a full course of medical treatment for a pregnant woman who is ill.  Just $10 can make a difference…

But think about what $100 could do.  Or $1000.  A gift to Imagine No Malaria means that you are putting resources into the hands of doctors and nurses, community health volunteers, and educators who are going to bring healing and hope to a whole continent.

I don’t have children myself.  I have never been pregnant like Muriel, or Mary, or Elizabeth… but I do know about the joy of children.

I am the proud aunt of four nephews and a neice and they bring light to my life every single day.  And so when I thought about how just $10 could be the difference between life and death for a precious child half a world away, I knew I had to help.  I knew I could be the answer to a prayer of a mom or a dad or an aunt or a grandpa in Africa.

So I am giving $1/day for each of my nephews and my neice to help save lives in Africa.  100 lives for each of them. A gift of $5000 over three years.  I know you hear these appeals from the pet associations and from the hunger organizations… but with Imagine No Malaria, a $1/a/day really does save lives.  And EVERY dollar you give goes directly to those who need it.

You can answer that call, too, and commit to helping us save lives… whether it is $10 or $10,000 you can make a difference.

Donate NOW! 

We have talked a lot today about our expectations and about how God realizes them… but I want you to talk for just a minute as we close about God’s expectations for us.

God has given us a song to sing and a story to tell.  He has given us strong faith to live out and has blessed us with many, many things.  Like Mary, we could declare that we are the most fortunate people on earth.

But God also expects us to take those gifts and those blessings and to share them with the world… to participate in the coming Kingdom of god.  To witness to the good news when we see it. To feed to poor. To heal the sick. To bring hope to the hopeless.

Will we go and tell what we have seen today?  And will we actively join God’s kingdom work with our hands and our hearts and our whole selves?

Let’s pray:

God of justice and joy, hope and healing,

we give thanks for all the ways you work for wholeness and right relationship in our own lives and throughout the world.

When suffering arises, let our hearts find joy in you, and fill us with courage to bear witness to what we have seen and heard.

May our lives always testify to the good news of your love, and may we lift up those who are bowed down so that your joy may spread throughout the earth.

We pray in the name of Jesus, who opened the eyes of the blind and proclaimed good news to the poor. Amen.

Praying on an airplane

Friday I took an early morning flight home.  I had been in Nashville for a few days to train some new field coordinators for Imagine No Malaria and get refreshed myself on the latest info.

But that flight came early. My cab arrived at 4. I was done with socializing around 1. So… yeah, not enough sleep.

I got on my flight and crashed. I slept the whole way to Dallas and then shuffled my way through the airport.  I got to my gate and they started loading and I sat down and closed my eyes.

But behind me, this lady started talking to her seatmate. What the book/movie Fight Club calls a “single-serving friend”. In between dozes I heard them talking about work, and then family, and then struggles. As we started our descent into CR, she suddenly asked if she could pray with him. And they did, loud enough for others to hear, powerful enough that I was touched… as if the prayer were for me, too… and I had to whisper,  “amen.”

She shared her own stresses and they commiserated over lack of sleep… which was when the impact of her ministry really hit home for me.

This woman was just as tired as I was. But instead of cocooning herself on the side of the plane with only one seat (yeah, just one), like I did,  she saw every day, every plane ride, every conversation,  every single interaction as a place where God might use her. It is what we talk about often… and yet sometimes find it so hard to practice.  I found myself wondering how many opportunities for ministry I had missed, because I wasn’t looking.

I was so struck, that I found a way to walk off the plane and to baggage claim with her. And I told her I thought she was doing a really amazing thing. She was challenging me to think about how I live my faith everyday. I told her that what she just did is how we should all be living as disciples of Jesus Christ.

She shared her faith on a plane. Not by preaching, or apologizing, or through shouts or platitudes or tracts. But by listening and sharing… being in relationship with a “stranger” and then opening up the possibility of prayer. It was beautiful.

All Will Be Well

 
by ClearlyCassidy

Julian of Norwich, in a time of doubt and struggle, wrote:  All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

This is my last column in the Circuit Rider because on October 1, I will be beginning a new journey as the Coordinator for Imagine No Malaria with the Iowa Annual Conference.  It is a long job title but a very short and intense ministry that I am very excited about beginning.

My new position will take me across the state, working with clergy and laity, young and old, small churches and the biggest churches, as we together raise funds to end death and suffering from malaria by 2015.  While it might seem like only an outreach project, the truth is, I understand this campaign to be something bigger in the life of our Iowa Annual Conference of the UnitedMethodistChurch.  Working together on this effort will help us build bridges between conservative and liberal sides of our church.  Focusing outward on mission and partnering with our community to raise funds through health fairs and 5k runs and lemonAID stands will help us build relationships outside the walls and revitalize our churches.  That is something that YOU have experienced here in Marengo.  As we turned our hearts to both local and global mission, the Holy Spirit moved in and a spark of love and light ignited in this church.

When I came here to Marengo, neither you nor I knew what to expect.  There is a song that I played frequently in those days to myself called “All Will Be Well” by the Gabe Dixon Band.

The new day dawns, / and I’m practicing my purpose once again. / it is fresh and it is fruitful if I win but if I lose, / Ooooo I don’t know. / I will be tired but I will turn and I will go, / Only guessing til I get there then I’ll know, / Oh oh oh I will know.

I was fresh out of seminary and you were ready to become a fruitful church… but we didn’t know it was going to work between us.  It was a wild guess on our parts… but something amazing for God’s part.

All the children walking home past the factories / could see the light that’s shining in my window as I write this song to you. /  All the cars running fast along the interstate  / can feel the love that radiates /  illuminating what I know is true /  All will be well. / Even after all the promises you’ve broken to yourself, / All will be well. /  You can ask me how but only time will tell.

I don’t know what God has in store for this church… but I know that God will be with you and all shall be well.  I know that God has led you to embrace an amazing mission: to reflect the light of God in Marengo and Iowa County as you step out into the world and pass it on.  I know that the Holy Spirit has been moving strongly in your midst and that God will not leave you or forsake you.  I know that all will be well.  You can ask me how, but only time will tell.

Keep it up and don’t give up / and chase your dreams and you will find / all in time.

You are my first church… and I love you dearly and I will miss you terribly… but all shall be well.  Keep your hearts focused on what God has called you to do.  Give your lives to living out that vision. God bless you all.