Drop Kick Me, Jesus

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Yesterday after the Iowa – Iowa State game, Chad Leistikow wrote that it was a game “neither team deserved to lose.” [1] You all know I’m a huge Iowa Hawkeye football fan… but I am also the sort of fan who loves to cheer on Iowa State or UNI or any other Iowa team, as long as they aren’t playing the Hawkeyes. But the game yesterday was the sort of game where you were really happy that neither team beat themselves. Sure they both made mistakes, but none they couldn’t overcome. It was a great game.

There was another rivalry game this weekend. Creston/Orient-Macksburg were on the road verses their conference opponent Harlan. This week, five Creston players were kicked off the team after posing in a KKK style image with hoods and a burning cross. The community, including their African-American quarterback, Kylan Smallwood was stunned… he thought of those kids as teammates and friends. One of the families issued a statement – “We sincerely apologize for the hurt and strive we have caused this community. We do not condone the behavior… Our family strongly believes that all individuals are created equally in God’s eyes.” [2]

The community is only beginning to respond in a way that allows for conversation and healing in the midst of the tension they expereince, although it is yet to be seen how that will play out. In some ways, Friday night’s football game was a chance to return to “normalcy” for a moment, but the real work is just beginning. It will take that whole community, standing up against racism, demonstrating repentance and forgiveness for healing to truly take place. But even a football game can show a glimpse of hope. In an act of solidarity, the Harlan marching band turned towards the Creston fans and played their opponents fight song. It was a reminder that whatever happened on the field Friday night was just a game and really, we are all supposed to be on the same team.

My friend, Laura, is a pastor in Ohio and she is a huge Buckeyes fan. After a frustrating loss last night, she posted on her facebook wall that her faith has given her a different set of lenses to view such heartache. Football is only football. “It is not oppressions, hunger, disease, poverty, devastation, or in this moment hurricane force winds. Keep perspective Buckeye nation.” [3]

Keep perspective, Immanuel.

Because Laura is right. Football is fun and exciting and we all enjoy giving one another a hard time, but we are here to play a different sort of game.

As we heard in our scripture reading this morning, we are called to follow Jesus and to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. As the Message Bible updates this passage in every day language:
“Start running – and never quit!… Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever… When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long list of hostility he plowed through. THAT will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”

Here at Immanuel, we do believe that God has given us a race to run. For over five years now, that vision has been to “In Christ, live a life of love, service, and prayer.”
Like tackling, passing, and running in football are the basic skills that players must learn and practice, in many ways, love, service, and prayer are the basic moves we utilize in our faith. In everything we do, they help us to run the race of faith.

But one of the things that we have been talking about for more than a year now as the leadership here at Immanuel is that they don’t paint a picture of where we are going. They don’t tell us what the finish line looks like.
How will this church, how will this community, how will this world be different because we have been loving and serving and praying?
So last fall, our Administrative Council began praying and brainstorming with one another. We took the values and priorities that you as a church named in last year’s CAT Survey. We looked at our community demographics. We explored this history of Immanuel and the vast resources that the vision team had put together five years ago.
And today, we want to put some meat on the bones of this vision. If you look at the half sheet, you’ll notice that is still our vision, but we have fleshed it out a little bit.
We believe God is calling us to personally engage in and partner with our community as we live out this life of love, service, and prayer, so that broken people and places might be healed by God’s grace.
If love, service, and prayer are the basic skills that we each will employ, the goal… the endzone if you will, is that this community and this world will experience God’s healing and wholeness.

As my friend, Laura said, there is a lot in this world that is broken.
Broken relationships can be seen all around us: in the partisan division, in racial tension, and in family strife.
Lots of people in this world also experience the pain of broken bodies – we are surviving and thriving in the midst of chronic disease, broken bones, addictions, and poor health.
And there are places that experience brokenness, too. This morning, we look out on the devastation caused by hurricanes and wildfires, but closer to home, we can see the impact of poverty and how our economic choices impact the environment around us.

We believe God has called us to love and serve and pray in each of these places.
We can help people heal relationships, reconcile, and learn to talk to one another again – like we did with our Cookouts and Conversations this summer and will do with the “My Neighbor is Muslim” study this fall.
We can be present with one another in the midst of pain and loneliness and isolation – like we will when we train folks from Immanuel to go out and visit our homebound seniors next week and like we do when we go out with Joppa to the check on the homeless.
And we can pool our resources to make a difference all across this world – whether it is through disaster relief and health kits, through donations to the food pantry, or through the Season of Creation organized by our Green Team.
God is calling you and me to love, serve, and pray… to practice those basic skills… so that God’s goals might be reached.
But basic skills alone will not help us get to the end zone.
In football, you put those things together in strategic plays. Those are the ministries of our church. Whether it is choir or children’s church, Ratatouille or Under the Bridge Casseroles, Re:Ignite or Men’s group… every activity we do, is aiming for that end zone and helping us to live out God’s mission in this church.

The other thing that I have learned after many disappointing seasons watching my favorite team is that in order to be successful and reach that end zone, every single player has to play every single quarter. And the coach needs a game plan that will help those players be successful.
If you flip to the back side of this sheet, you will find our game plan for ministry here at Immanuel. We can each practice our basic skills… but part of being on this journey together is that we should all be moving the same direction.
And as your pastors and your staff and your leadership, we think there are four different areas, four quarters of this game that we all have to play in if we are going to be successful.

  1. We need to worship together. If we don’t show up in this place to hear the story of God’s love and grace and to renew and strengthen each other, we will not reach the end zone.
  2. We need to connect with one another. We need to reach out in love and help one another out. We need to build relationship both inside and outside of this church.
  3. We all need to grow. Each one of us should be a part of a group that is helping us to grow in our faith and use our gifts and as we mature, we should be helping other people to grow in their faith as well.
  4. We need to go out into the world and serve. Through financial gifts, through hands-on mission, we can only help this world experience God’s grace if we get out of this building.

Friends, this is our game plan. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will live lives of love, service, and prayer and this world will experience God’s healing and wholeness.

And the best news is that we don’t have to do this alone.

There is this country gospel song called “Drop Kick Me, Jesus” by Bobby Bare and Paul Craft and it reminds me that God has our back in this work:

 

Make me, oh, make me, Lord, more than I am
Make me a piece in your master game plan
Free from the earthly temptations below
I’ve got the will, Lord, if you got the toe.

Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life
End over end, neither left nor the right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life

 

[1] http://www.hawkcentral.com/story/sports/college/iowa/football/2017/09/09/leistikows-first-word-hawkeyes-win-cy-hawk-classic-neither-team-deserved-lose/649140001/

[2] http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/sports/high-school/2017/09/09/creston-game-frayed-nerves-calls-unity-after-photo-students-white-hoods-confederate-flag-rocks-town/647639001/

[3] https://www.facebook.com/laurakennedyjaissle/posts/10154632317611986

Spirit of Embodiment

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Last week I talked a little bit about how I am trying to be more healthy and strong and one of the ways I am doing that is by going to the gym.
I’m there four-five days a week and each time, while the majority of the exercises we all share together, there are a few movements where you can choose which equipment you use based on your level of experience and comfort.
This past week at the gym I moved from the beginner to the more advanced movements in our exercises. And, whew, I can feel it.
My back is still a bit stiff, my shoulders ache… My dad keeps telling me that I shouldn’t get old because this kind of soreness will just keep coming, but unfortunately that’s just a natural process I’m pretty sure I don’t have the power to stop.

Many of you have joined in prayers for my dad in the past couple of weeks. He is someone who works incredibly hard… always has… but who hasn’t always taken the time to stop and take care of his body. He gets so focused on the work that is before him and us Ziskovskys also have been known to have a bit of stubbornness when it comes to our diets.
He developed a sore on his big toe, which became a deeper infection, which eventually led to an amputation of that digit. He is recovering very well – body, mind, and spirit.

You know, sometimes we think of our bodies as just the physical container that holds the real “us.” We imagine that our lives will continue without the burden of flesh someday – either through technology or computers or floating around in heavenly places.

But the scripture constantly reminds us that our bodies are incredibly important.
They are an integral part of who God created us to be.
Our flesh and blood are not earthly things that we have to shed before we get to heaven… according to scripture – these bodies go with us – in one form or another.

Some of our sloppy thinking around bodies comes from a misunderstanding of the writings of Paul. In Romans 8:5-6, we read:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Our modern ears known what flesh is… our skin and bones… those things that ache and touch and feel and move around.
We know what our spirit is… our souls, minds, that of God which dwells within us.
So, bodies must be bad and spirit must be good.

Except, the word that gets translated “flesh”… sarx… has more than one meaning. It can mean our skin and bones – but it is also used to describe the lesser parts of ourselves – the animal nature, the cravings, the wretched parts of ourselves that keep holding on to sin no matter how hard we try to do what is right.
That is what Paul is talking about… not these good, old, sometimes worn-out bodies of ours.
In fact, this passage from Romans is a reminder that God’s abundant life, that God’s very Spirit dwells within these bodies. Far from being an argument against our earthly life – this is a challenge to live up to the potential of what we can in fact DO with God’s spirit living within us.

So this morning, we go all the way back to the beginning, to that time when God made the heavens and the earth.
As Mel shared with us, Genesis tells us that God formed humanity from the dust of the earth. We were made out of the same stuff as all of the rest of creation.
But then God did something amazing.
God breathed into us.
The breath of life filled us.
The Spirit of the Lord entered our lives and these bodies became God’s body. You and I became the hands and the feet of God in the world.

That doesn’t mean that we have responded perfectly. After all, one of the first things that Adam and Eve did with the Spirit of God dwelling inside of them was to focus more on their own desires than what God wanted them to do. They lived according to the flesh, the sarx, and allowed temptation to distract them.
They sought their own comfort and pleasure before the well-being of the world or God’s creation. Their sin had consequences for not only themselves, but all of creation.

But, our scriptures tell us, God found another way to empower our bodies with the divine spirit…
God came and took on our flesh.
In that tiny child in Bethlehem, in the incarnation of Jesus, the very Word of God took on our human life.
Every aspect of our bodily existence was experienced by God.
Love and loss.
Stubbed toes and broken promises.
Laughter and tears.
Fear and grief.
Jesus experienced the fullness of our lives – and the ultimate depths of suffering and death.
And then, Jesus gave the Spirit to all who would be his disciples.

All summer long, we have been talking about the blessings of that gift and what it looks like when the Spirit dwells within us. Our lives begin to bear the fruit of love and joy, peace and kindness, goodness and gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, community, surrender, and patience.
But none of it happens without our bodies.
The Spirit cannot move without these hands and feet, eyes and ears.
When we let the Spirit of God become incarnate in OUR lives, and to fill up OUR bodies, then we are empowered to live very differently in this world.
We are set free from sin and death.
We are set free to love God more than we love ourselves.
We are set free to participate in God’s saving work in this world.

I’ve been thinking a lot this past week about what difference it has made that we spent this whole summer talking about the Holy Spirit. I’ve been wondering what it might look like to really add flesh and blood to these words that we have been saying all year long.
And I realized as I have watched not only the devastation of Harvey, but also the outpouring of human kindness just how important and precious our bodies really are.
Perhaps you were as heartbroken as I when you saw the nursing home residents under water…
and then wept for relief when I knew they had been rescued.
All across the region, people pushed
and carried
and turned to one another for support.
and now countless folks whose homes have been destroyed turn to one another and to us.
What does it mean to be the church in the wake of something like Harvey? Or the landslides earlier this year in Sierra Leone? Or the flooding in India?
PUT ON UMCOR HAT –
It means that we roll up our sleeves and we get to work.
We send flood buckets to help clean up.
We turn our sanctuaries into shelters
We build up trained helpers who have the knowledge and skills to truly make a difference.
and through a simple thing like toothbrushes and soap, we help take care of people’s bodies.

Today – you’ll have the opportunity to give a little bit extra towards disaster response by writing in the memo of your check or putting in one of the envelopes in the pew, or giving online towards disaster relief.

But, I also want you to hear two specific invitations… ways you can use YOUR bodies to make a difference.
First… if you feel called to go and help and put to use your hands and feet there is an opportunity to join one of the Early Response Teams. There are a few fliers on the back table about a training that is happening THIS coming Saturday right here in Des Moines.
Second… as a church, I want to challenge us to help take care of some of those bodies by putting together health kits. Beginning NEXT Sunday, we will have a bulletin board right outside of the sanctuary where you can indicate which specific items you will commit to bringing as we first gather and then assemble these kits.
Then, for our Fifth Sunday Service Project in October we’ll put all of these kits together and send them out with the Thanksgiving Ingathering.

Whenever we let the Spirit of God live within us, the transformation of the world begins.
Thanks be to God. Amen!

Spirit of Self-Control

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Many of you know that I spent some time this spring focusing on my health. I joined a gym, worked out five times a week, and kept to a limited food plan focused on building lean muscle and burning fat. For the six weeks of the challenge, I practiced incredible self-control.

And the week after, I gave myself a break. I stopped worrying about what I ate.

If I’m honest, I haven’t ever found my focus again.

About two months ago, I started back up at the gym. I missed the workouts and the community. My goal is not to fit into some unrealistic ideal of how society thinks I should look, but to be strong and healthy and have the energy I need to do this work.

One thing I didn’t change however, is that I haven’t turned my attention to how I was eating again.

So this past week, while thinking about this sermon on self-control, I thought that perhaps I should at least look at how I was doing in that department.

And I planned really healthy breakfasts, with veggies fresh from my garden.

I packed lunches each day, instead of running out to buy something.

But by dinner time, I lost all semblance of self-control.

Wednesday night, we got Chinese takeout. I ate all my food, PLUS two crab rangoons and potstickers.

Thursday night, we ordered pizza. I had four pieces of taco pizza, a couple of breadsticks, AND a cookie!

And in each case, we were having a lazy night, eating in front of the television, and I didn’t even realize how much I had consumed until I started counting it all up the next morning.

If you aren’t focusing on the task at hand, you will lose sight of your goal. Self-control is all about not allowing yourself to be distracted away from your purpose.

This morning we heard the familiar story of Samson and Delilah – of a man who was tempted into giving up his secret strength.

But to understand this story we need a little bit of background.

There was a man named Manoah whose wife was barren. Try as they might, they could not have a child.

But one day, an angel appeared to the woman and promised her that a child would be born to them – a child that would be holy – a child that would save Israel from their enemies. But in order for this to come to pass, the child must be set apart as holy and must live a certain way.

This vow – this promise was called the Nazarite vow.

And so even before this child was born, the mother lived according to the Nazarite vow and then when the child Samson came into the world, he was declared a nazarite.

Now, being an infant – he couldn’t choose this himself – but according to the tradition – a father can declare his son a nazirite. Samson had the right to refuse this status and to end his promises, but nowhere in the scriptures does it say that he does this.

To be a nazarite meant that he had to follow three rules.

First, he had to abstain from any fruit of the vine. He couldn’t eat grapes or drink wine or even use wine vinegar with his food.

Second, he had to refrain from cutting his hair. As time went on, the long hair on his head would have been a sign of his vow.

Third, he couldn’t touch dead bodies.

So Samson took on these vows for himself and God blessed him with strength as a result of his faithfulness.

However, Samson had a weakness.
He had a distraction in his life.
And that distraction was women.

It’s not so much that his love for women was a bad thing. But time and time again, his weakness for the members of the opposite sex put him in terrible situations.

And eventually, as we heard this morning, Samson was tempted away from his Nazarite pledge because he lost sight of what was most important.

He put this woman, Delilah, before the pledge that he and his parents had made to God.

As soon as he let Delilah cut his hair, his strength vanished, he lost his control over the situation, and was captured.

So, Samson because our poster child for what NOT to do in practicing self-control.

Where do we turn to understand what it means to allow God’s spirit to fill us with self-control? What is this fruit of the spirit that Paul commends us to embrace?

When we look to the gospels of Jesus Christ, one of the places I think we can see this fruit is in the command to stop worrying.

As the gospel of Luke tells us – “don’t worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing.”

I could personally take that as a license to never diet again! To just take a deep breath and not focus on how much food I eat at all.

But when we look at the full context of this passage, Jesus is really trying to tell us not to be distracted.

This command to stop worrying is not about trying to save us from anxieties and troubles by promising everything will be okay.

No, Jesus is trying to tell us to stay focused on what is most important.

This advice not to worry about food and clothing and tomorrow end with the powerful statement:

Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness…. And everything else will take care of itself.

In other words, focus on God and what God asks of you.

That really is all that Samson had to do. Focus on God and what God asks of you.

The key to self-control is to let God to have the central place in your life.

The key to self-control is to allow the purpose God has given you guide your actions.

In my scripture study around the sermon today, I learned that the word for demons in the New Testament – daemonia – means “to be controlled by another.”

And in a real sense, every time we let food or worry, power or desire, or anything else to become the focus of our lives instead of God, those things begin to control us.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “the devil made me do it.”

In his sermon on “Self-Control and Freedom,” Charles Rush reminds us that people used to assume that there were spirits that caused us to indulge in pleasure, so anytime someone succumbed to a temptation – they saw it as a demonic possession.

“We no longer believe that,” he says, “but their insight was right about the [spiritual fact that] cravings… become compulsions. At some point… they begin to control us. At some point, our character becomes misshaped and misaligned in order [to] adjust itself to increasing demands our compulsions put on us. We are no longer free, but are driven by our compulsions.” (http://archive.christchurchsummit.org/Sermons-2006/060716-SelfControlAndFreedom.html)

It’s not that things like eating and drinking and sex are evil… but they can spiral out of control if we allow them to be the central objects of our lives.

Self-control is a barrier that prevents other things from distracting us from God’s purpose in our lives: to seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.

And discipline or a rule of life allow us to set boundaries that will help us to keep focused on what actually matters the most.

For the Nazarite, discipline and self-control was found in three simple rules – avoiding grapes and wine, not cutting their hair, and avoiding the dead. The purpose of the rules was to constantly remind them that they had been set apart by God for a purpose.

Many disciples of Jesus Christ today also have a discipline that helps them to focus first on God.

Some of you set aside time every morning to pray.
Some of you use the Upper Room daily devotional.
Some of you have made intentional choices about what you will eat or wear or drink because it is a witness to your faith in Jesus Christ.

Whatever it is, it is part of how you are creating space for God’s purpose to be prioritized in your life.

One of the things that I hope for this morning is that this might be a moment to reflect on whether or not self-control is a part of your spiritual life.

What are the temptations that try to sneak their way before God in your life?

Do you have… or do you need… a discipline or a practice that helps you to focus first on God?

As J. Hampton Keathley writes that Samson was a raised up by God to be a judge, a ruler, and was meant to lead Israel. “Samson strangled a lion; yet he could not strangle his own love. He burst the fetters of his foes; but not the cords of his own lusts. He burned the crops of others, and lost the fruit of his own virtue when burning with the flame kindled by a single woman.” (https://bible.org/series/1-2-3-john-comfort-and-counsel-church-crisis/bible.org/ttpstudents.com/sessions/node/5399?page=42)

We should be honest about the things that threaten to distract us from our faith and keep us from being in control of our actions. And then we should pray about how we can turn them back over to God.

I want to invite you to a simple prayer practice right now that helps us to do so.

Close your eyes and clench your hands up tight.
Picture the distractions and worries you have in your life that you have brought with you… even into this very place of worship.
Then in your own time turn your hands, still gripping, over so that they are facing down.
Imagine God’s hands underneath yours and slowly open your hands so that the things you are carrying fall into God’s hands.
If you do this at home or in your own time, you can repeat this several times.
Then turn your hands face up, but this time with the palms open and ask God’s Spirit to fill you afresh.
Let go of your desires.
Turn your heart over to God.
And seek first the Kingdom.
Amen.

The Spirit of Surrender

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A little bit later in the service today, we will be receiving a new member of this Body of Christ.
And we will ask Tom some questions… questions that all of us were asked when we joined this church, questions that our parents and sponsors were asked when we were baptized.
Do we accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do we put our whole trust in God’s grace and promise to serve him as our Lord in union with the church Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

In light of those promises, I want to invite Pastor Todd to read a statement that Bishop Laurie has invited all churches in Iowa to share this morning:

Many of you have heard about the violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier today. White nationalist and other right-wing groups had scheduled a “Unite the Right” rally to protest the removal of Confederate symbols in the city, including a statue of Robert E. Lee. This afternoon a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring nineteen others. Two others have died. Self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi and hate groups were very open in their intentions to provoke violence, and Virginia’s Governor declared a state of emergency.

The United Methodist Church condemns the evil, hatred, and bigotry that led to this violence, and we ask you to pray for those who have been injured and the families of those who have been killed. We also ask you to pray for the restoration of order and peace for the community of Charlottesville.

At this tragic time, may each one of us renew our commitment by our words and actions to create a world where all people live out the words in this prayer of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.

In today’s scripture from the book of Acts, we find a scene from the early Christian community.
In many ways, those early followers of Christ were trying to create that world in which their whole lives exemplified the teachings of Jesus. In the chapters before this, twice we hear tales of how the believers sold everything they had and made sure there were no needs in their community.
Twice, we have been told of their love and faithfulness and how everyone who joined this community of Christ was full of prayer and devotion and the church was growing exponentially every day.
They were standing up for what was right, willing to die for their beliefs, and always sought to share the love, grace, and mercy of God with one another.

But, living in community is not easy… in fact, to truly commit to living with one another is dangerous.
A community that truly cares for the needs of others is a community where people can share their needs without being embarrassed with them.
A community that heals the sick is a community where people are not afraid to speak the truth about their own disease.
A community that cares for the widows and the orphans and the oppressed is a community where people sacrificially put their own lives on the line for the lives of others.
A community that offers grace and mercy is also a community that speaks the truth and names evil and sin in the world when they see it.

And I imagine that many of us in this room today would hesitate and pull back from that type of life, because there are great risks involved in being vulnerable, open, honest, and accountable to a community.
We might have to take off our fake plastered on smiles and tell the truth about the problems in our lives.
We are afraid of our own tears, afraid of our own weakness, afraid that the community around us will turn their backs if they really knew what was going on.
We are afraid of what those outside the church might think if we took a stand for something that we truly believed in.

In Acts chapter 5, we find the story of this couple who just couldn’t surrender it all to God.
They had seen the acts of sacrificial love and were on the fringes of this community who shared everything in common without worrying about what belonged to whom. And perhaps they were inspired by a man named Barnabas who sold a plot of land and laid the proceeds at the feet of the disciples.
Immediately following his sacrificial act, Ananias and Sapphira decide to do the same… sort of.
They, too, sell a plot of land and bring the proceeds from the sale to the disciples… except they lie about how much they sold it for and keep some of it back for themselves.

In the midst of a community where all are of one heart and mind…
in the midst of a community where everyone cares for everyone else and no one has need…
in the midst of a community – united by the Holy Spirit – where no one says “that’s mine, you can’t have it…”
… Ananias and Sapphira are looking out for themselves.
They essentially embezzle money from the sale and hide it for themselves. In doing so, they reject the community, reject the Holy Spirit, and seek to provide for their own welfare.
Ananias and Sapphira were telling the church – it’s nice what ya’ll are doing, and we want to help, but we’re not going to become beholden to you.
We’re going to stand over here on the sidelines and get praise for our giving but we sure as hell are not going to let you take care of us.
We can take care of ourselves just fine, thank you very much.

What they fail to understand is that the Body of Christ asks every person, every member, to fully participate.
No one is more important than another.
An eye can’t see without a brain to process the information.
A hand can’t reach out to help without an arm to support and extend.
A stomach is pretty worthless without a mouth to bring it food.
For this Body of Christ to work, for it to witness to the world, it asks us each to play our part and to do so with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We can’t hold back.
And we have to allow others to do their part.

In the last question we will ask Tom as he professes his faith, we invite him to confess Jesus Christ as his Savior, to put his WHOLE trust in his grace, and to serve him as his Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

The reason that we, as Christians, as baptized members of the United Methodist Church, have to look out on the actions of white nationalists and Christian hate groups and denounce their words and actions as sinful is precisely because they go against everything we proclaim in that profession of faith.
As Bishop Trimble wrote, “naming hate, injustice, and the sin of “-ism” is the only way for us to tackle the forces that would divide us and that would have any of us believe that there is less opportunity to reach our highest God-given potential because of one group of people or another.”

I used to think that the greatest sin of Ananias and Sapphira was the fact that they lied to God and the community about how much money they had sold their land for.
But the more I put this story into the context of this community of believers who relied upon a spirit of trust and vulnerability and risk in order to be united, I realized that their sin wasn’t so much that they lied, or stole the money, but that they believed they could follow God without relying upon the rest of the community.
They thought they were better than everyone else.
They thought they had the right to stand apart.
They were not just clinging to their money… they were clinging to their ideology and trying to carve out a space in their life where God and God’s people couldn’t exist.
And in the process, they were denying others the opportunity to reach their “God-given potential.”

We are asked to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
We are to become “living sacrifices.”
Jesus Christ died for us and he wants our whole selves in return.

And here come two people who want to be a part of the community and want to walk with Jesus, but who don’t want to dive all the way in.
They pretend that they do – they want the prestige, they want to be a part of this awesome new movement, but they just are not ready to commit ALL THE WAY.
And you know what is really sad – they didn’t have to. They could simply have said that. They could have been up front with Peter and said “Hey, we want to support the church and see what you guys are doing and maybe someday we’ll be at the point where we can do what Barnabas has done and really place ourselves in community.”
Peter even reminds Ananias that the land was his to do with as he pleased and he didn’t have to sell it and he didn’t have to give it to the church…
but when they did so, and when they lied and pretended to really surrender themselves, when they hid who they were, they were actually putting the whole community in danger.
They were acting directly against the Holy Spirit and the unity it brought to the church.
In their act of holding back their resources, of refusing to fully give in to the power of God, in their lack of surrender of their ideologies and power, Ananias and Sapphira let a Spirit of Discord into the body of Christ.
They said with their actions, “it’s okay God, I’ll take care of myself.”
And God’s response… well – this is the difficult part of the story.
First, Ananias and the Sapphira fall dead.
I find this so troubling because I sometimes hold back, too.
We don’t always let God have our hearts and minds and soul.
We are timid with our faith.
We surrender some… but not all.
This passage makes me uncomfortable, because I realize that I’m really no different than Ananias and Sapphira… what on earth prevents God for striking me dead, right here and right now for holding back, myself?
What we learn in the story of Ananias and Sapphira is that we still worship a holy, awesome, and fearful Lord.
In a world full of grace, we do not simply have a free pass to act however we want.
God is still righteous and just and has every right to punish sinners by death or other means.

We are tempted to simply believe that grace covers all and to run through this life as if our actions do not matter.
We are tempted to rest in the love of God and not consider what the consequences of our sin might be.
And, we are tempted to sit back and not speak out when we see the words and actions and beliefs of others in our community or neighborhood or world… we are tempted to not hold one another accountable for the sin and evil that is perpetuated out of fear.
And yet the consequences of sin in the world is real.
Three people died yesterday… communities and families can be destroyed… when we allow sin to run rampant in this world than we have essentially turned our back on God.
Christ demands all and we give some.
We hold back and don’t fully let the Holy Spirit build up this Body of Christ.
We refuse to surrender and therefore we deny the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts, this church, and the world around us.
We might not be struck dead here in this place at this moment, but what do we stop from growing and living and thriving by our blatant denial of the Holy Spirit?
This path of Christian faith is not easy.
While the book of Acts has begun with all sorts of joyous accounts of healing and transformation and triumph over the powers of evil, these passages remind us that discipleship is hard.
It is a warning to those who are considering this faith: think twice.
Think about the price you are being called to pay.
Think about what is being demanded of you.
But also think about the joy and the possibility and the abundant life that awaits if you are willing to let go of what you think and what you believe you deserve in order to embrace what God knows you need.
Are you willing to let go?
Are you willing to dive in?
Are you willing to let the Holy Spirit transform us into the body of Christ?

The Spirit of Gentleness

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Yesterday morning, Brandon and I were walking through the farmer’s market downtown when suddenly before us was a man holding a gigantic sign. As people passed by, averting their gaze, he shouted out condemnations and warnings.

“Don’t return to church,” he said as I crossed his path, “Return to the Lord!”

Most of you haven’t met my husband because he is not a churchy person. He had some bad experiences with the church as a younger man and they have forever left an impression upon him. In many ways, he left the church because of people like the man who stood shouting in the middle of the street.

I don’t doubt for one second the sincerity or faithfulness of that man.

I don’t doubt that he is standing there in the street out of an honest desire to bring people to Jesus Christ and to share the message with salvation with them.

But today we are going to talk about not only the message, but the method for how we share God’s saving power with others, and how we should respond when that message falls on hostile ears.

For most of this summer, we have used various biblical characters to exemplify the fruits of the spirit that God has given for ministry. From the healing powers of Peter to the patience of Esau, these ancestors of our faith have been witnesses of how God equips us for ministry.

Today, we are going to learn from example what NOT to do.

As Andrea and Noah just shared with us, the prophet Elisha is a man of God, but he is also a very human being.

In a moment of frustration and embarrassment he lashes out at a group of young boys.

Every time I hear this story, I am reminded that this kind of conflict and tension between grumpy old men and rude young boys is timeless.

From Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Menace to the character of Walt Kowalski, played by Clint Eastwood, in Gran Torino we catch a glimpse of Elisha’s mindset in this story. Like Eastwood’s character, Elisha is overcome by recent grief, which only complicates his violent response.

But we also have seen the impertinence of those who jeer the elderly, mock the disabled or anyone different from them. Sometimes we try to excuse the behaviors, thinking that boys will be boys, but bullying in any form, at any age, is inexcusable and it hurts.
As I shared with the children, sometimes our first instinct to bullying or frustration is to push back – through words or actions.

And so many of us has let a curse slip out of our mouths in a moment of anger or pain.

Elisha is only human and that kind of response is understandable.

Yet, Elisha is also filled with the Spirit of God and he is new to the whole business of being a prophet. Just days before, his mentor Elijah had been carried away up into the heavens and the mantle of God had been left to HIM.

And Elisha doesn’t quite have this power of God figured out yet. He doesn’t understand, like the prophet Nathan did last week, that his ability has tremendous power to harm as well as help.

Aristotle once said that a person who displayed gentleness would be angry, “only on the right grounds, and against the right persons, and in the right manner, and at the right moment, and for the right length of time.”

Elisha let his anger get the better of him.

He might have been hurt because he had been teased, but these were children and rather than an “eye for an eye” – his curce called out bears from the woods and killed those children on the spot.

We can look firmly at his actions and state without a doubt they were anything BUT gentle.

The same Spirit of God filled the first disciples when they were sent out on their first steps of ministry. Jesus called them and gave them this charge in Matthew 10 and Luke 9:

“Go to the lost, confused people right here in this neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons…”

Along the way, they were sure to encounter their share of hostile glances and threats. He tells them to not be naïve, because “some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation – just because you believe in me.”

So Jesus also added these instructions. Knowing that they were still new to this work of God, he told them:

“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”

We imagine they might have followed his advice and performed much better than Elisha had with this power of God within them… yet by the end of the chapter in Luke’s gospel the disciples have already forgotten that Spirit of Gentleness.

When a town will not welcome them, James and John turn and ask Jesus if they can call down fire from heaven to destroy the people.

Again, we discover rash, arrogant, and excessive behavior, which Jesus quietly rebukes and they move on.

So, what is gentleness and how are we supposed to live it out in our lives.

The The Full Life Study Bible defines gentleness as “restraint coupled with strength and courage.”

Aristotle says that it is halfway between excessive anger and indifference.

It is the kind of restraint that Nathan showed when he confronted David in our text from last week, the same that Paul tries to emulate as he writes to the Corinthians. He asks them: “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit.” (1 Cor 4:21).

He could be angry. He could be harsh. As a teacher, he probably knew something about discipline… but he wanted them to repent and transform their lives not out of fear… but out of the love and gentleness that was shown to them.

Maybe that is why I am so troubled by the good and faithful folks who stand in the middle of the street at places like the farmer’s market, shouting out dire warnings at all who might walk by. Because I believe that change comes when we approach one another with a spirit of gentleness and not fear.

In John Wesley’s writing, we see that gentleness in his command to “do no harm.” As our former, Bishop Reuben Job reflected on that command, he writes: “I have found that when this first simple rule was remembered, it often saved me from uttering a wrong word or considering a wrong response.”

He adds, “this simple step, when practiced, can provide a safe place to stand while the hard and faithful work of discernment is done.”

Maybe that is the key. Gentleness invites us to take a step back and to determine proper response.

And I think that if we are faithful to the scriptures we will find that gentleness should be our response to the world.

In Luke, chapter 9, the disciples remember times when the power of God was unleashed on the people and on communities unwilling to repent or upon people who don’t appear to be on their team. They think that they might be justified in doing the same.

Maybe, they are even thinking back to the horrific mauling of those children by the prophet Elisha.

But “vengeance is mine” says the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35).

And as Paul encourages us,
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 19-21)

Jesus responds to the anger and pain of the disciples and gently rebukes them and in doing so, he shows us how we should respond when threatened or encountering injustice.

He is aware of the power of the Spirit that lives within him and he uses it to be gentle to those in need of transformation.

As Stanley Horton writes, “The broken reed He would not crush but would fully restore. The flickering wick of a lamp He would not put out but would cause it to burn brightly again… [Jesus] gently takes the sinner and makes him whole.” (http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/top/fruit8_gentleness.cfm)

That man who stood there in the farmer’s market is correct in naming that there will be a time of judgment. After all, our God is great. God is strong and mighty and I truly hope that there will come a day when all things are made right and justice comes to those who have harmed and destroyed on this planet.

But I also know that only God knows how to unleash that power “on the right grounds, and against the right persons, and in the right manner, and at the right moment, and for the right length of time.”

And so the spirit of gentleness we are called to embody is to take a step back and allow that work to be God’s.

Elisha tried to be the judge, jury, and executioner when he encountered wrong in this world.

Instead, God’s spirit calls us to embody gentleness by remembering that we are all sinners.

We are all broken.

We are all filled with the power to lash out or shut out.

And way the message of God’s good news of saving grace is shared is just as important as the message itself.

For my husband, the words shouted out in the street did not open up new possibilities for God’s grace to enter, but probably closed him off even more.

As we live out a spirit of gentleness in this world, let us instead do no harm and in gentleness and love give God time to transform the lives we encounter.

The Spirit of Goodness

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We’ve heard of goody-two-shoes…
Good riddance…
Goodness gracious great balls of fire…
Goodbye…
Things can taste good, we like to read good books and tell good stories.
We tell our children to be good and to get good grades.

But what does it really mean to be good?

The Random House dictionary has 41 different definitions for the word… and that’s just the adjectives.
But in general, I think we usually say that something is good if it fulfills our expectations – if it does what it is supposed to – and if we get some kind of benefit from it.

Take the cookies we just gave the children, for example. If they had taken a bite of the cookie and it was old or dried out… they wouldn’t be so good. They wouldn’t have been all that they were made up to be.
In the same way, we are good when we fulfill the expectations of ourselves and others and if we benefit others as we do so.

I keep using the word benefit, and that is because there are lots of things that fulfill their purpose that we would never call good.
An example – those cookies might taste good – but for all of you adults who didn’t get to eat them, since we didn’t have enough to share, they are only good for our children.
Or, think about what makes a good chef’s knife.
It is sharp, it cuts the way it is designed to, and we can use it to prepare food and eventually be fed. We benefit from the design and use of a good chef’s knife.
But, in the hands of someone unskilled, like a child, the knife becomes dangerous and what we thought was good could harm them.
In the hands of someone who is angry or revengeful – the very thing that we called good only a moment ago, can turn into a weapon.
It still has the same qualities that fulfilled its purpose… only it is being used to harm instead of help.

So… to be good, something or someone must fulfill the expectations and be a benefit.

Throughout the scriptures – we hear stories of men and women who were good:
Noah was a good man and so his family was saved from the flood.
Lot was a good man and so his family was rescued from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Even Rahab the prostitute was good. She fulfilled the expectations God had of her by taking in the spies from Israel, benefitting the people of God, and because she did so, her family was saved in the battle of Jericho.

Culturally, morally, we might wonder how could such a person be considered “good.”
Well, God has a tendency to upend our assumptions about a person’s worth or value. All throughout the scriptures, God chooses unlikely people to accomplish God’s will.

Throughout the scriptures, there are also people that are not good.
They didn’t do what was expected of them.
They lived not to benefit others, but only themselves.
And It is to such people as these that the prophets were sent.
Prophets like Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Hosea… and our prophet for this morning: Nathan.
Today’s story is one of paradox.

You see, David was a man after God’s own heart.
We always think back on all of the good things that he did – his trust in God, his loyalty to Saul, his music, and his love…
But in some ways, David was a kind of bad dude.
As we heard this morning in our scripture, David breaks two commandments all in a week’s time.

First, he sleeps with another man’s wife. Bathsheba was married to one of his soldier’s Uriah and David saw her from afar and decided that he wanted her. Her husband was away at war, and so David took what he wanted.

Then, to cover up the fact this terrible thing he has done, David breaks another commandment. He has Uriah killed out on the battlefield.

Neither of these are good things. His actions go against God’s expectations for David and they harm both Uriah and Bathsheba and they mar his moral leadership, harming the entire nation.

Nathan’s job here is simple. He is called, he is expected, to bring God’s judgment upon David for these acts.
So this morning, we are going to look at how the goodness of Nathan shines through and how WE might be called to be good in the fact of another person’s wrongdoing.

First, Nathan helped the truth to come to light.

In Ephesians 5 we hear that God’s children should live as children of light and that “the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.”
With the Holy Spirit living inside of us, we are expected to allow the truth to be seen in the world.

Grace and mercy, forgiveness and love are all good and holy things, but they only have meaning in relation to the truth of what has gone wrong.

When I attended the General Conference in Tampa, Florida five years ago, we spent one evening participating in a service of truth-telling about how United Methodists and our predecessors had harmed Indigenous Peoples across the world. As people of faith and in the name of Jesus Christ, we perpetuated crimes against our brothers and sisters. We took land, forced our values upon others, and destroyed cultures. We actively resisted peace processes and in some cases were the instigators of violence and bloodshed. That night, we heard stories about the role that Methodists had played in the Trail of Tears, and in the slaughter of peoples in Philippines, Africa, and Norway.

The act of betrayal that hit closes to home was that of the Sand Creek Massacre. A Methodist preacher, U.S. Army Col. John Chivington, ordered the attack on an encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho. These native peoples had come to that site to fulfill their side of a recent peace treaty that had been made with the U.S. Government. While their men were away hunting, Chivington attacked the camp, killing mostly women and children.
It was hard to hear. It was hard to re-live. It was hard to dream that the damage could ever be reversed and that wounds could ever be healed.

And that night, one of the things our leadership focused on was that this night was not the full act of reconciliation. That night was only the first step. Repentance has to begin with understanding what we have done.
Nathan did not ignore or shy away from the wrongs and the harm that David had perpetrated. Rather, he made sure that the truth came to light and that David knew that he had done wrong.

Second, Nathan provided a way for David to turn away from his harm towards good.

The prophet was fully aware of David’s sin.
Had he followed the letter of the law, the right thing to do as soon as David confessed would be to have him stoned. The law was clear that the punishment for adultery and murder were death.
But Nathan shows us that goodness goes beyond simple righteousness. It is far more simply pointing out the wrongs in others.
Nathan spoke the truth about David’s sin, but his first instinct is not to carry out a sentence, but to wait for a response from David.
As people of faith, too often we are quick to bring judgment and condemnation upon others. We are good at bringing unrighteousness to light. We demand that justice be carried out swiftly through every possible means available.

What we aren’t good at is leading people into repentance.
When righteousness is only about the letter of the law, judgment can become a weapon, leading us to harm people or communities.
But by telling David a story, Nathan creates an opportunity for David to confess, to repent, and to choose to live a different life.
In the years that have followed that night at General Conference, United Methodists in various parts of the world have been working to listen and to repent of the various ways we have harmed indigenous peoples. One group in particular was formed to learn more about the tragedy at Sand Creek and to explore whether or not healing could be possible.
Four years later in Portland, a member of the Northern Cheyenne, William Walks Along, shared that although that date “can never be erased from the memory of our people… together let us discover the treasurers we can learn from hardships and from the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow human beings.”

He was extending a hand of friendship to the United Methodist Church and the willingness of fellow descendents of those victims to reconcile and move forward together.

Third, Nathan blessed David because of his repentance.

Not only did the prophet bring the truth to the light, not only did he invite David into a spirit of repentance, but Nathan also gave him the encouragement he needed to faithfully follow God in the future.

Nathan did what was needed to set David back on the right path… what was needed to build him up so that he could once again fulfill God’s expectations for him and live to benefit the children of Israel.
That does not mean that there were no consequences of his actions…. But Nathan reminded David that there was also room for God’s grace and mercy to flow back into his life.

That is a reminder that we all need.
As Christians, we have all have fallen short of the glory of God.
That is the plain and simple truth.
Every single one of us have places in our lives where we need to repent, where we need to turn around and seek God’s forgiveness.
On our own, we are unrighteous and our hearts seek our own benefit and expectations instead of God’s.
And yet, through the grace of Jesus Christ, we are made righteous.
I believe the basis of righteousness is fact that God sets us right.
God forgives us.
God leads us on the right paths.
It has nothing to do with how many answers we get right or how many good deeds we do.
It has everything to do with God and the divine goodness that exceeds every expectation and whose great love seeks only our benefit.
And when we are made righteous, when we are made good, we are meant to let that goodness become contagious. God’s grace and mercy is not ours alone… it is meant to be shared.

Friends, you are armed with a powerful tool that can be used for good or for harm in this world.
The truth of God, the reality of God’s expectations in our lives is now in your hands. And you are invited to let that truth to be know, but you are also invited to share it in a way that brings blessing and benefit to all.

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 Patience

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Patience is not a virtue that comes easily to us.

Some of us are built with fairly short fuses.

I think it is because we get personally invested in our work and our play and we want to see the results of our efforts.

But when things start to fall apart, instead of taking the long view – we begin to lose hope, we begin to get angry, and sometimes we behave in ways that are far from Christian.

So, this morning we are going to talk about patience through the story of two brothers… Jacob and Esau.

Esau is the older of the two – a rough and tumble sort of guy who thinks with his gut.

Jacob on the other hand, is quietly clever… a mamma’s boy who uses his wit to trick his older brother and gain the upper hand.

And Jacob uses these skills to steal the birthright and deathbed blessing from his brother, Esau.

Esau is furious at the outcome of these events. Everything has just been taken from him.

This isn’t the kind of frustration that comes from some sore muscles – this is the kind of existential angst that comes from having your very identity called into question.

As we heard in the scriptures from this morning – Esau seethed in anger against Jacob… he brooded, “The time for mourning my father’s death is close. And then I’ll kill my brother Jacob.”

It was the last straw. Esau just couldn’t take it anymore and he snapped. And Jacob had to flee for his life, far off to the land of his uncle, Laban.

Usually when we visit these stories, our attention stays with Jacob. We follow him to Paddan Aram where he works for seven years for the hand of his beloved Rachel… and then for seven more years when he is tricked into marrying Leah instead. We follow his story as he spends time increasing the flocks and in turning tricking his uncle Laban and ends up with the best of the flocks and the herds and a huge family of wealth and power.

We could point to Jacob and talk about his patience. About how in spite of being cheated by his uncle, he stuck to his promises and waited for God’s blessings. We could talk about how his persistence and trust led to his success.

But today, I want us to look back to the land of Canaan to the son who was left behind.

The fruit of the spirit we know as patience, is often translated as longsuffering.

It is the gift of being able to endure in spite of the circumstances that have come against you.

It is a hopeful fortitude that reminds us that there is light at the end of the tunnel… that if we trust and wait, the outcome we are praying for will come to pass.

Barclay’s commentary writes that patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.

Patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.

Patience is seeking an opening, waiting for the anger to pass, breathing deeply, and finding a way forward.

Patience is remembering that this inconvenience, this obstacle, will not last forever.

If patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t… then I think the person who actually exemplifies the spirit of patience is not Jacob, but his older brother, Esau.

The first way that Esau is patient is that he doesn’t strike out immediately in anger when his brother cheats him.

If we followed their story from the time they were just children, I’m sure that there was more than just these two instances of trickery. And yet, up until this point, up until the moment that Jacob steals away his blessing, Esau has managed to not let it get to him.

The straw that broke the camel’s back is this moment where everything is taken from him and Esau is pissed off.
But, even in the midst of his anger… we might even say righteous anger… he has enough control to wait.

I haven’t played a lot of disc golf this summer, but there was an afternoon a few seasons ago when I hit four trees, in a row, on four consecutive shots, before I ever got to the basket. I hadn’t been playing well all afternoon, and my frustration was building. My temper was getting the best of me.

If we truly think about patience as having the grace to not revenge a wrong, then patience would have been taking a deep breath, not picking up my disk and chucking it at the nearest tree out of frustration for it being in the way.

Many people in today’s world who had something done to them like Esau experienced would immediately grab the nearest weapon and seek out their brother. But Esau waits. He thinks. He knows that there are some things that are more important at the moment… namely, the fact that his father is dying.

Patience means being slow to anger and while Esau became angry, he didn’t allow that anger to consume him in an instant. He thought about others. He put his anger on the back burner.

In moments when you find yourself on the brink of acting out of frustration or anger, patience is taking a moment to breathe and to pray.

It is asking for God to come into the situation and remind you of what is really important… and if necessary to let go of the anger.

Esau also helps us to understand patience in how he lives his life after Jacob flees.

He acts not out of spite, but in all things tries to follow his father’s wishes.

When his brother is sent away, Jacob is commanded not to marry a Canaanite woman. Esau is not given this expectation, but he also chooses such a bride, always looking to please his father. He seeks out his half-uncle Ishmael… and marries one of his daughters.

And that is all we hear about his life for the next 14 years.

Not once does Esau plot and plan and come looking for his brother.

Not once does he try to make good on his promise that his brother should die.

No, he moves on with his own life.

He carves out the best possible future for himself.

In spite of the situation that he finds himself in, he endures.

That is longsuffering. That is patience.

Making the most of our given situations is a very hard thing to do. We like to sit and stew and wish that things were different. We breed anger and resentment in our hearts. And we spend too much time looking into the past, instead of living into our new futures.

Yesterday, I had the honor of helping to celebrate the life of a woman named Renee. When our church began its work with the Women at the Well Re-entry Teams, Renee was the first person that we had the honor of walking with.

As I sat talking with her dad, Paul, he mentioned to me how you always think that someone else’s child would be homeless, or addicted, or abused. You never imagine that it could ever happen to your child. But it did.

From the ages of 4-14, Renee was sexually abused by a family member who also gave her alcohol. Her addiction began before most children even know what a drink is. That terrible injustice had a profound impact on her formation. In some ways, it led her to be scared of being successful – often getting in her own way. But in other ways, it provided the source of her ability to connect with people who were struggling, homeless, down and out. Her experience helped her to share her life story and God’s word with people who desperately needed to hear it.

In the midst of the hurt and pain of her life, she knew that God was with her and that her journey was not something to be ashamed of or to run away from, but it was an opportunity to share with others. As the Message translation of Isaiah chapter 50 reads, “The Master, God, has given me a well-taught tongue, so I know how to encourage tired people.” And in spite of her addiction, Renee used her humor and writing to bring encouragement to people who needed it the most. She didn’t allow herself to be overcome with bitterness and despair.

That is God’s longsuffering patience.

Finally, Esau teaches us about patience through his ability to forgive.

We sometimes think of patience as simply the ability to wait… to hold out.

But the kind of patience that God invites us to embody is that grace of a person who could revenge a wrong, but doesn’t.

Had Esau simply been waiting for the opportunity to strike back then his moment would have come when Jacob returned to the land of his father.

And Jacob knows it.

Jacob trembles with fear at the thought of the anger of his brother. He sends messengers ahead to let Esau know they are coming… it’s almost as if he is saying – I’m here… let’s get this over with.

Jacob divides up his great wealth and sends it over the river in waves as a gift to soothe his brother’s anger. He sends his wives and children over – in essence saying – all that I have is yours if you want it.

If Esau had been “patiently” harboring revenge all of those years, he would have destroyed those gifts. Those four hundred men standing with him on the other side of the river would have taken the flocks, killed his wives and children and come rushing over the river to kill the trickster brother.

But Esau was a man of godly patience.

He put his anger on the backburner of his soul, and allowed God to let forgiveness replace the hatred.

When Esau was given the chance to revenge the wrong that was made upon his life, he instead ran to his brother, fell into his arms and wept.

He looked upon all of those gifts, the wealth his brother had humbly offered, and Esau could have taken them all out of righteous indignation. He could have said, “it’s about time that I got my birthright and my power and wealth back.”

Instead, he looked his brother square in the eye and he said, “I have enough, brother… keep what you have for yourself.”

The past was forgiven. All that mattered now was their futures. The future of two brothers reunited at long last.

My family has experienced the kind of conflict and betrayal of family members that Jacob and Esau struggled with and I have to be honest that they have not yet reached the point of reconciliation.

It is difficult to forgive.

It will take time to forgive.

But I also know that when we fail to do so, we carry around with us a burden that is often too heavy to bear.

My prayer for my family and for all of us who have experienced the frustration of relationships or illness or pain is that instead of holding onto revenge, bitterness, or despair, that we would instead seek God’s patience.

It is the kind of patience that our Master has with us.

In 2 Peter, we are reminded that God is patient towards us, not wanting any to perish but for all of us to be able to change our hearts and lives (3:9).

God’s gracious spirit chooses not to revenge the wrongs we have committed.

God’s gracious spirit waits until we finally turn back towards love, grace, mercy and peace.

God’s gracious spirit shows us true patience, waiting with open arms for us to come back home, no matter how many wrongs we have done in this world.

Amen and Amen.