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You Are Called…

Ephesians 4:15-16 say2012-09-10_18-42-47_556s; “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

This passage is talking about each and every one of us. We are the body of Christ. We are his hands and feet, eyes and ears, mouth and heart. If one piece is missing, the whole body suffers. But when we stand together, using our individual God given gifts, we are stronger than anything and able to do the will of God in this world.

I am reminded of the giant Sequoia trees in California. These are some of the largest, most majestic trees found in the world. They can grow over 300 feet tall! What I didn’t know is that they have some of the shallowest root systems of trees. With a height of 300 feet, I would have thought they would have a much deeper root system, keeping them from falling over in the strong winds. What helps them, is that the root system they have is intertwined with all of the other trees. This strengthens their base and keeps them from being effected by the wind. But they need each other in order for this to happen. If they are left alone, they would topple over in the slightest breeze.

We too, need each other in order to accomplish God’s plan for this world. We are all part of that plan and we help in bringing the Kingdom here on earth. But we need everyone to stick together and work together, otherwise we would be like a big Sequoia getting blown over. We each have God given gifts that we can use and those are not the same as our family or neighbors. So how will you use your gifts? Do you know what they are?

There was a couple who didn’t have a lot of money, but they wanted to get in the Christmas spirit one year and thought they could afford a Christmas tree. They walked down to the town tree lot and proceeded to shop for a tree, but they quickly realized that they couldn’t afford one. All of the trees were way out of their budget. But then they notice a tree sitting off to the side that no one was interested in. When they stood it up, they saw that it really was only a half a tree. There were no branches or needles on one side. The salesman told them they could have it for a couple of dollars because “no one else was going to want it.”

They caught a glimpse of another tree close by and asked about that one too. It also had needles on only one side. The salesman said “sure, you can them both for five dollars.” The tree lot owner was walking in town a little later that night and passed by the couple’s house. He saw in the window, this beautiful tree, round, full, and lit up with lights. He had to know, did they go to another tree lot and find a different tree? So, he went to the door and knocked. The couple answered the door and told him that they didn’t get another tree. They assured him that this tree was in fact, the two trees they bought from him earlier. They brought them home and wired the trunks together. When put as one, you could only see one trunk, one tree, even though it was two.

We are like those trees. We are the body of Christ, woven together, complete with all of us using the gifts that we have been given. But if we try to go it alone, people will not see the full picture. They will not experience the risen Christ. We need to show this world what it means to live as Jesus did. We are called to use our gifts so that we can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the poor, and free the oppressed.

God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. You are called, and God is equipping you. Will you answer the call and participate in God’s kingdom?

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Get Off My Mountain!

emmaus2This past weekend, I was blessed to be able to serve on a 72-hour retreat called a “Walk to Emmaus.” This has been called a crash course on Christianity as well as other images of learning about God and God’s unconditional love for each one of us. It is experienced through words and actions. This experience has had a major impact on my life, both my original retreat and those that have followed. Now, I must say that not everyone has the same reaction to this, but this is my response.

For those who have experienced this retreat, you will know what I am talking about when I say that it was a mountaintop experience in an encounter with God’s love and grace. Maybe you’ve had one of those yourself. It might be a worship service, a concert, a family gathering, or maybe just some time alone with God. Either way, you are on the top of the mountain and everything is great. It is so good, that you don’t want to leave.

Jesus and some of the disciples had a similar experience during the Transfiguration, when Jesus was transformed before their eyes and they saw Elijah and Moses, only for a moment. They were on their own mountaintop, literally. It was so good that they didn’t want to come down, they wanted to stay up there where everything is good. Luke 9:33 tells us that Peter said, “Master, it is good for us to stay here. Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” They wanted to live on the mountaintop. Wouldn’t we all want to stay there too?

But we need to come down, because it is not good for us to stay there. We can still have the feelings of being on top of the world, but we need to come back to our communities. We need to share with them our experiences. Whatever has been your experience on mountains, however you have been moved in your relationship with Jesus Christ, you need to come down and share it with others. Your testimony and witness is incredibly important to the building up of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Chances are, you have heard testimony from others about certain experiences, and that has helped you make decisions to go to different retreats, conference, or worship services. And those experiences have formed you into who you are today. And this doesn’t have to be a 72-hour long retreat. It can be just telling people about a Sunday or Saturday worship service. Lives are changed when people share what God has done in their lives. This happens every day, many times outside of a normal church service.

One of my mountaintops was this past weekend, and although I know how Peter felt and wanted to stay there, I also knew that this experience has refueled me for ministry within my community. I needed to get home to my family and my church family to share all that had happened and how I was renewed by this experience. I needed to witness to this experience so that it doesn’t just stop with me. Others need to experience this for themselves.

God’s Agape love is for all of us. His unconditional love covers us all in grace. That is good news, and it is news that needs to be shared. And what better time to share it than coming down the mountain as we are as excited as we have ever been. Messages and testimonies are always more easily accepted when they are coming from a grateful and excited heart. So, while it is good to be on the mountain, and it’s good to go back whenever you can, it is also good to be right where God has placed you to be able to share this unconditional love with everyone.

Have you opened the gift?

gold_wrapped_giftI am reminded of a story once told about a carpenter’s shop. On this particular day, the tools decided to hold a meeting and of course the hammer was in control. He called the meeting to order with a couple of raps on the work bench. It didn’t take long for the animosity to begin as some of the tools decided that the hammer should leave the shop. They felt like the hammer was too forceful and hard on many of the other tools.

The hammer spoke up and said that if he was asked to go, then the screwdriver needed to go as well because it has to go around and around to accomplish anything. But then the screwdriver said that if it had to go, then the planer needed to go as well because the work completed by the planer was ever only surface level. There was never any depth to that work.

Of course, the planer then spoke up and claimed that the ruler also had to go because it always needed to be right and also measured everything and judging. Then the sandpaper’s work was brought into question and it was agreed that he had to go because it was always rubbing people the wrong way.

Just then, the carpenter walked in and began to pull wood out and then tool after tool was used to build this beautiful piece of furniture. After a long day of working, the carpenter left and the tools then gathered to admire the work accomplished. The saw spoke up and said that this piece of furniture was actually a pulpit from which the gospel message would be preached. The saw then said that all of the tools were used in the creation of this piece, that they all worked together, and that this could not have been completed if any tool was missing. They were all needed.

We spoke this past Sunday about spiritual gifts. 1st Corinthians chapter 12 tells us; “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”

We have all been gifted with these spiritual gifts and we are all needed in this great plan of God’s to reach a world that needs to hear about Jesus Christ, but maybe even more, just needs to witness the people of God showing grace and mercy.

Too often, we think some gifts are more important than others and maybe that some are not even needed. But we hear over and over again in scripture that we are all needed and that we all have sacred worth in God’s eyes.

As the baseball playoffs begin, I can’t help but think about the team concept when reflecting on the church as the body of Christ. We probably think that a team can never win if they do not have a pitcher on the team, but what about a second basemen, or catcher, or even a third base coach? They are all needed to win and if any one part of the team is not playing the way they should, a loss is quick to follow. It also is obvious when position players play where they are not gifted. It is very rare to see someone who plays first base, to pitch. They know their gifts and talents and they use them in the right places.

So, no matter what position you play, or whatever gifts you have been given, use them to the glory of God. That is what is required of you. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. God has called you and gifted you in certain areas and that’s where God intends you to be. We are all a part of the body of Christ. Some are called to be a hand, some a foot, some and ear, and some yet an eye. Be the best part of the body that you can.

Selective Hearing?

MicrophoneMark chapter 9, verses 30-32 says: “From there Jesus and his followers went through Galilee, but he didn’t want anyone to know it. This was because he was teaching his disciples, “The Son of Man will be delivered into human hands. They will kill him. Three days after he is killed he will rise up.” But they didn’t understand this kind of talk, and they were afraid to ask him.”

Let me say this, men have a certain disease, and since I am a man, I can speak with authority, conviction, truth, and honesty about this disease. It is a terrible thing to have, but it seems to affect most men, equally. So, let me say this, I have selective hearing.

I think most men have this, some women, and most kids, especially if you are a parent of a teenager you understand this. Certainly, the disciples had selective hearing; we see evidence of this throughout the New Testament. We see it here in our passage for today, although it is disguised in verse 32. “But they didn’t understand this kind of talk, and they were afraid to ask him.”

This is how selective hearing works. We hear what is said, but for whatever reason we don’t want to respond. Whether it is something we don’t want to do or don’t understand, we just keep quiet, giving the impression that we have not heard what was said.

However, do you hear the underlying thought of the disciples? Do you get why they don’t understand? I mean, it’s pretty obvious to us what Jesus is saying here. Someone, Judas, will betray the “Son of Man,” Jesus, and he will be killed. Then, three days later, he will rise again. Very few words, easily understood, but incredibly hard to hear for someone looking at Jesus through a different lens.

The disciples didn’t want this, they wanted the almighty, powerful, Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, speaking authority and dominance over the Romans. They wanted a king and ruler to lead them away from the oppression they were experiencing. And the key to understanding this thought is the idea of what the disciples were talking about as they were walking down the road.

Following this passage, we find the disciples walking to Capernaum, somewhat listening to Jesus’ warning them of the events that were coming. But they weren’t talking about Jesus’ teachings. They weren’t even contemplating the transfiguration which was just spoken of at the beginning of this chapter, and that was a big deal. They were thinking something completely different, maybe it was because of the Transfiguration, but they were discussing, even arguing about who was the greatest. Was Peter claiming that he was the best, or maybe it was James, John was the beloved, maybe it was him? Thomas might have been trying to devise a plan to be the underdog and slip into the greatest role when no one was paying attention.

We do this so often in our lives. We want to be the best; I mean who wants to lose. We are trained from such an early age that it’s not fun to lose, to be last. I remember playing playground games in elementary school. I dreaded them. The teacher would line us all up, letting us know that we were going to play kickball. Shouts of joy went up, from most of the kids. And then, you might all remember what happens next. Two people were chosen, and it didn’t matter which ones got to become the “team captain,” the following process was almost the same every time. Anxiety sets in and I begin to repeat over and over to myself, almost as if saying a prayer that God would hear and intervene. “Please don’t pick me last, please don’t pick me last, please, don’t pick me last.” I didn’t want to be last, I wanted to be first.

We’ve been trained by our culture and society that if we are not first, if we are not climbing the ladder of success, then we’re not playing the game right. We aren’t worth anything, or maybe that we are a failure. Success is the only option, nothing else matters. But Jesus teaches role reversal, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

The first will be last, the last will be first, but that’s not all. In order to be first in God’s view, we must not only be last in the world’s view, but we also must be a servant of all. It’s not enough just to not be in the front of the line, we must also serve those who are in line with us.

Who Do You Say I Am?

Lake with DockThere are many questions that Jesus asks in scripture, but not many carry this kind of weight with them. “Who do you say I am?” Have you ever spent some time just thinking about this question? Who do say that Jesus is? Who is he to you? I guess if we really think about it for a while, we could say that Jesus could be a few things to us. But some of them might be a bit off base. We all have views of Jesus, some aren’t quite the Jesus of scripture, the Lord and Savior of our lives. So, who do you say that Jesus is this morning?

In Mark 8:27-30 we find a two-part question. Jesus first asks who the other people say he is. He wants to know what the people outside of his disciple’s circle think of him. And then he asks Peter. He makes it entirely personal. So, why the two-fold question? Why the two-fold message? Could this be a question that looks to the effectiveness of Jesus’ ministry? Jesus asks Peter who he thinks Jesus is. He wants to know; what have you been learning? What part of my teaching has stuck? Do you really understand who I am?

Peter could have answered as the crowds, saying that Jesus was a prophet, or John the Baptist, or even Elijah, but he knows who Jesus is. The messages, teachings, healing, and actions of Jesus have taught Peter that this was truly the son of God, he is the Messiah. Peter is paying attention, and his life is being transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ. He knows Jesus.

So, then the question comes to all of us. Who do we say he is? Is this just another man who seems to be wise, wants to teach us some things about peaceful living and loving our neighbors? Is this a man who is a great servant leader, one that we should try to live our lives to be like him? Or, is this man truly the son of God, the Messiah who has come to save God’s people? Is Jesus Lord and Savior over your life? Who do you say he is?

The other side of this question, actually came first. Jesus asked what the people around him thought of him. He asks his disciples who the people said he was. Why does Jesus care what others think of him? Again, I think he might be wanting to know about the effectiveness of his ministry so far. Do people think he is just a good teacher and moral example for life, or do they truly believe that he is the Messiah sent by God to redeem the world?

I wonder if the news coming back from the disciples discouraged him? I wonder if this gave him the message to step up his game. Or was it to point out to the disciples just how far they would need to go to get the gospel message across?

I guess we could look at this within the ministry of this congregation by asking the same questions. When speaking about those outside these four walls, who do they say that Jesus is? Do they know him? Have they heard the stories, the message of hope, grace, and love? Do they know who Jesus is?

We could look at this question to show us the effectiveness of our ministry. Are we doing all we can so that others hear about Jesus? Or is there more we could be doing? Who do we need to reach out to? What groups of people in our community need to hear and feel the message of love in their lives?

How do we reach them?

If the answer to the question of who Jesus is, is met with responses of just a man from history who tried to live a good life and was killed for it; or a good prophet; or a good speaker; then we’ve missed the mark. We haven’t shown people the real Jesus, and so, we need to do better at reaching out on love and kindness, taking care of the poor, the lost, the broken. We need to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world that desperately needs him.

The question to you today is; who do you say Jesus is? Once we’ve answered that question for ourselves, we can then ask the second question. Who does this community say Jesus is?

You Belong Here!

BTCS_Meme_7In 1996, a 38 year old security guard at a Pennsylvania middle school convinced Tanya Kach, 14, to leave her father and live with him. For the next 10 years, the security guard kept Tanya captive in the home that he shared with his elderly parents. To keep Tanya from running away, her captor convinced the girl that no cared that she was gone and that her parents weren’t even looking for her. He told her, “You’re stupid. You’re immature. Nobody cares about you except me.” Eventually the security guard became so confident in Tanya’s loyalty to him that he allowed her to leave the house for short periods of time while he was at work. Through these daily trips, Tanya became friends with Joe Sparico, the owner of a local deli.

In March 2006, Tanya finally confessed her true identity to Joe, who then shared the information with his son, a retired police officer. Before long, Tanya was rescued and reunited with her father. When asked about the situation, Joe said that “she wanted to be wanted, that’s all.” She wanted to belong.

Tanya’s father, Jerry, who had desperately tried to find his daughter through the years, posting her picture several thousand times on flyers and milk cartons, was overjoyed to see her. “There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think of her.” He said. “I just say thank you, there is a God – and he brought my little girl back home.” Tanya, too, was delighted to learn that her father never gave up looking for her.

This true story gives us a little insight into a couple of things. First, the reason she doesn’t immediately run away from her captor, is that she wanted to be wanted. She wanted to belong somewhere. Maybe she didn’t feel that belonging in her family. Maybe she didn’t feel that belonging at school with her friends. Who knows, but it seems as though the guard’s words made her feel like she was wanted and belonged in his family. We all want to belong. We all have that basic desire to feel loved, wanted, and that we belong to a certain group; whether it is a family, group of friends, or a social gathering.

This is how Starbucks began. They created a culture within the coffee industry. They created an image of coffee shops and how people were made to feel welcome within those circles. The branding was so strong, that people couldn’t wait to spend money to gain access to this group which they could belong. Other products do the same thing. McDonalds, Applebees, and Olive Garden are just a few of the restaurants that try to create a sense of belonging. What is Olive Garden’s catch phrase? “When you’re here, you’re family.”

Even products we buy and clothes we wear can give us a feeling of belonging. You have the Apple people, the Samsung clan. What about those old ‘member’s only’ jackets? Who had one of those? I know I did. Pepsi…or…Coke? I could talk about Nike, but that might take us in a whole different direction. We all have a deep desire to belong to something greater than ourselves. It is one of the basic needs instilled in us at a very young age.

Another thing we pick up from this story is that her father never gave up hope that his little girl would return to him. He never stopped looking. Every day, he would search, and search, hoping that this would be the day. This would be the day that she would return. And when she was reunited with her father, can you imagine the celebration? Can you see the party the father would have thrown for her?

We see this in the story of the prodigal son. He returns, and the father runs out to meet him, and then throws a huge party. God is that father. He wants to celebrate with us when we return. And he never stops reaching out to us, loving us, calling us back into a relationship with him.

I’m sure the prodigal son in our passage from Luke this morning came up with some excuses why he should go back to his father’s house. I’ve lost all the inheritance. My father doesn’t love me. I’m not worthy. His basic need for food, shelter, and belonging finally got the best of him and he returned home. And that’s when we see the amazing grace of God. First, the father sees him far off. That tells me that he is constantly out looking, searching for his son. Every day, this father stands out on the front porch, looking for a recognizable figure to appear on the horizon. And then one day, he appears.

The father doesn’t wait for the son to come close to the house, he runs out to him. No excuses are needed, no reasons are required, the son is welcomed home to the place where he belongs. He receives the family ring, recognizing his place within the family. He is home.

When you are found within your church community, you are home, in the place where you belong! Is it perfect? Is it all that it is supposed to be? No, but that’s ok. We strive to live as God calls us, but we all have faults. But that doesn’t mean we don’t forgive and welcome people back.

Hope, Grace, & Love

Hope-is-Found-Here-Sermon-SlidePaul and Silas were bound, shackled, and thrown into prison. Their crime was proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ and healing those they came across. The one for this scene was a young slave girl who had a spirit of divining within her. She would make her owners a lot of money by telling fortunes. Paul commanded the spirit to come out of her, and when it did, her owners became angry because they just lost a source of income.

Paul and Silas were then stripped of their clothes and beaten, finally, thrown into jail. Talk about a bad day. I think I’ve had bad days, but this one tops just about all of them. Here they are, thinking they have just lost everything, that they might even die in prison. The damp mustiness of the jails in ancient times might have been too much to bear. The pain of the beatings probably still stung them. And now, they are surrounded by other prisoners, capable of doing who knows what, and they are shackled to the walls. What else could go wrong?

But, even in the midst of these horrible things, we find Paul and Silas praying, even singing hymns in prison. I guess we could understand praying, as we all would probably be doing that in this situation. But they begin singing hymns, praising God! And then the others start to listen. The other prisoners begin to hear the message of Jesus Christ.

I wonder what the worship sounded like in that prison? I wonder what songs were sung, what words were spoken, what praises were lifted? When all of a sudden, the earth begins to shake. The doors to the prison shake free and open, but worship is going on. The prisoners are so involved with worship that they don’t leave.

The guard wakes up with all the commotion and notices the open door. He rushes over, thinking that everyone had run free, he is going to attempt to take his life. Paul calls out from inside, don’t do it! We’re all here! The guard, moved by all that had happened, wants to know more about this Jesus guy. He wants to know what it will take for him to be saved, to receive salvation. Paul gives him a simple statement. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

The guard took Paul and Silas home with him to meet his family, while they were there the guard bandaged their wounds and that very night, both he and his entire family were baptized. Who was this guard? What was his purpose for being where he was at that time? We don’t know as he is not named in this story. I guess we could say that who he was is not of great importance. It was all about the message. It was about the fact that anyone can be saved, anyone can receive the grace of Jesus Christ by believing in him.

This is a message of grace, hope, and love! It is a message for us today. Here’s why.

If we look at this story as an allegory into our lives today, we can see how Paul and Silas could be you and me. We are called to spread the message of Jesus in all the ways we can. We go out into a world that, more times than not, seems like a prison. We face chains every day. They may not be the physical chains that Paul and Silas faced, but they tie us down. They try to keep us from living as Christians. Addictions, temptations, and low self-images can keep us from telling and showing others what Jesus means to us. This puts up barriers, so God’s message is not heard. Please notice that these are barriers that we erect, they will never stop the flow of God’s grace to this world. God will always find a way to reach the lost and broken, the hurting and beaten down. God has such a great love for all people, that he will not stop reaching out, calling us back into that relationship.

But we can also see how we are like the guard. We might have been minding our own business, not really interested in this whole Christianity thing. But then we heard the message. It might have been a pastor, a friend, a family member, or a complete stranger that spoke God’s love either through words or actions, and we wanted to hear more. We wanted to know what it was about this Jesus guy that seemed to be pulling us closer to him. Through events and conversations, we realized that we want more, that we want to be in this relationship, and so we make the decision to believe in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Now, we want to proclaim it to the world. Where are you today? Have you made that decision? Are you ready to make the decision?

Acts 16:25-34

Silence….

sf_fathersFootsteps_04

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10a)

What does it mean to be silent. to wait on the Lord? What does it look like to not speak, but just enjoy the presence of the Almighty right where you are?

I am reminded of a moment when I was able to reflect the presence of God in the midst of terrible tragedy. I was in the middle of my clinical pastoral education at a local hospital, providing chaplain services to the patients who were suffering there. My pastoral duty, I thought, was to give wise counsel, to provide words of hope and promise to so many who felt distanced from God and from the peaceful realities of this life. I thought I was supposed to have answers or the right words to say. And for the most part, I thought I did pretty well in this area, until that one day…

It was a day like many others. It was a day that was filled with patient room visits, conversations with nurses and doctors. It was a day that seemed normal. I finished my rounds of visits and paperwork, and was finally on my way home. I reflected on what had happened throughout the day and was pleased with the words that God had given me to speak and the comfort they provided for those in the hospital. Dinner with the family was normal, almost forgettable. But then everything changed.

My pager went off a little after dinner. When I called in to find out the circumstances, I learned that it was for an infant baptism. The doctors were concerned with the health of this newborn and informed the parents of possible outcomes. When I arrived, there was a flurry of activity around the bedside of this little one. I was able to baptize the infant and then stepped back to observe the doctors, nurses, and parents.

It was a couple of hours later that I was called back to the room because of the decision which needed to be made by the parents. It was excruciating to bear witness to the death of a newborn boy. I couldn’t imagine what the parents were thinking and feeling. Following the decision, we were led into a different room so that the parents could be alone with their son. I followed them in and stood off to the side.

As I stood there, I was thinking that I should say something, anything, but what? How could any words in this moment speak comfort or peace when there seemed to be a complete lack of it. I began to question, as I was sure the parents were, to the presence of God in this moment. Why were there no words coming to mind to share with this family? I had gone through so much of this chaplaincy with pride in knowing what to say and when to say it, now…nothing.

I stood for what seemed like eternity. Then I looked around and found a chair to sit down on. I then rested for another half-hour or so. After listening to the family cry, one of the members asked if I would share a prayer. As best I could, I lifted a prayer for peace and understanding, for strength and wisdom in such a time. Before leaving the room, I let the family know that I would be right outside if they needed anything else.

It was the next day that I understood what God had called me to that night. I met with the parents and once again expressed my deepest sympathy and pain in their loss. It was then that the mother spoke to me. She expressed that she was thankful for all that I had done for them. When I asked what it was, she responded by telling me that it was because I sat down. In that moment, when things were swirling around and the world was crashing down around them, they felt the very presence of God. It was nothing I said. It was in the silence that God spoke to them. This is the very definition of the ‘ministry of presence.’

When we face terrible times in our lives, are we silent and still before God? Are we so in tune with God’s voice that we hear him speak in the silence, the stillness? Although we need to feel God’s presence in those difficult time, we also need to feel it everyday. How are your 15 minutes going?

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10a

Sermon-Title-Slide---Wk4Words are powerful. Words have deep meaning. Words can encourage. Words can diminish. Words can make you feel like you are invincible and then bring you to your lowest point of self-worth. Words are important. Words are power.

This is how we started this worship series three weeks ago, and again each week since. We are talking about our words and how we use them.

Do we build up, or tear down? Do we hurt others with them, or do we offer life-giving words? What has it been for you this week? Have you reflected on your words, what you said and how you said it?

So, the first week we talked about those words that we use in our everyday lives. These are words we use when in school, at work, at the store, or just walking down the street. We need to be careful of what we say because we can’t take it back. Our words can be forgiven, but not forgotten.

The next week we talked about family words. These are words we use when speaking to our kids, grandkids, parents, and other relatives. These can be hurtful words or even withholding kind words.

Last week, we talked about our words when it comes to politics. I said, that I don’t believe you can be a Christian and not be involved in politics. We also mentioned not only talking, but also listening and debating, the art of conversation.

But there’s something we haven’t talked about yet. The words we speak to ourselves. What words do you speak to yourself every day? How is that conversation going on in your own head? These are the words that keep replaying over and over in our head and they may have initially been heard from parents, co-workers, bosses, or schoolmates. What are the words you hear every day? What are those names you call yourselves? Do they sound like worthless, ugly, stupid?

If so, here’s the good news for you today. God’s word for us, is not the words that we keep hearing over and over again. God’s word counters our own “self-talk.” It erases our low view of ourselves. God speaks words of hope, grace, and love to our hearts. But what are those words, where do we find them?

We find them within scripture. We find them in the stories of Noah and Abraham as we hear about the promise of descendants and a future. We find them in the stories of Joseph in his protection. We find them in the stories of Moses. When Moses claimed that he couldn’t accomplish all that God was calling him to do, repeatedly, God gives him the hope and strength to complete God’s plan.

We also find these words in the life of Jesus Christ. We hear so many stories of healing where Jesus is offering his grace to all around. A man lowered through a roof in order to be healed, many lepers who had been cleaned, someone with a withered hand is restored, and Bartimaeus regains his sight.

We hear those life-giving words in Jesus’ comment to the woman who had bleeding for 12 years, the woman who was washing his feet with her tears, even in his calling Lazarus from the tomb back to life.

We hear words of grace spoken to the woman at the well who felt it necessary to get water in the heat of the day so she would not run into other women in the community. And the wonderful, loving words to the woman who was caught in adultery and was about to be stoned to death. Jesus tells everyone that if they had never sinned to go ahead and throw that first stone. The sound hear was that of stones just falling to the ground as they all walked away.

And finally, the words of grace, hope, and love spoken from the actions on that cruel cross. Jesus offers us life everlasting and life-giving words that counteract all of the hurtful words we continue to reply in our heads. These are all words for us from God, and they speak of grace, hope and love!

Religion & Politics

Sermon-Title-Slide---Wk3Words are powerful. Words have deep meaning. Words can encourage. Words can diminish. Words can make you feel like you are invincible and then bring you to your lowest point of self-worth. Words are important. Words are power.

This is how we started this worship series two weeks ago, and again last week. We are talking about our words and how we use them. Do we build up, or tear down? Do we hurt others with them, or do we offer life-giving words? What has it been for you this week?

We’ve already heard about how these apply to our daily lives and especially within our relationship with family. But can these words also apply when talking politics? Maybe they don’t right now, but I think they should. Why does it seem like when it comes to this topic of politics, all the rules of civility, kindness, compassion, and humility go right out the window? We are in a time in this nation when words are so often used, on both sides of the aisle, with reckless abandon. Words are spoken without regards to who they may hurt or what damage may be done.

How did we get here? What slippery slope did we find ourselves on to reach this unhealthy destination? The political scene looks like two opposing factions, lobbing hateful words against each other, not interested at all in coming together. They have become more interested in satisfying their base and strengthening their position. Each side is the one in the right and they believe the other is completely wrong.

What has happened? How did we get to this place? Can we ever get out of this hole we’re in? Because I’m tired. I don’t know how you feel, but when I watch the news and hear all the hateful words being said about human beings, I hurt. I’m tired of it. I believe there are three things, out of many, have contributed to the state we are in today.

First, we have developed a failure to listen, to really listen. When you hear someone speaking, are you listening to what they are saying, or are you just listening enough so that you can respond with what point you are trying to make? Are you listening to understand, or listening to react?

Second is how we talk to each other. Are we talking with people, or are we talking at people? There is a big difference. You see, when we talk at people, we are saying that our way is the only way and that we can’t believe that anyone who is rational would think any other way. We begin talking, not interested at all about what the other person thinks or feels. But when we begin talking with people, we begin having meaningful conversations.

Lastly, is a failure to see people as human beings, as created beings whom God loves. I think we’ve all seen this. We’ve heard politicians call each other names, degrading them in hopes of eroding their position on any worthwhile issue. What was it that someone said? The one who slings mud, is losing ground. Then we hear people talk about other human beings as animals, less than human, and even by racist terms. When does the name calling stop? When does the hatred stop? I’m tired, I’m hurt, and I’m disgusted by all the hatred, name calling, and one-sided conversations that have been going on over the past several years.

So, what can we do about it? I think we can reverse this especially in our community by doing as scripture tells us. We are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. It doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, but we can still love each other. Can we at least say that?

In order to see our lives involved with politics, I want to close with this.

When Sharon Kirtdall founded the women’s center in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1977, is was the primary advocate for the town’s African American community. Through the years, the services provided by the center have expanded to include health and housing issues, youth and older adult concerns, and crisis intervention. Although more and more of Kirtdoll’s time is devoted to fundraising, her basic commitment to social change has not wavered: “I don’t believe you can be a Christian and not care about people. Politics should enhance the lives of other people. And if you really care about people, your political ambition should be to change the structures to enhance the life of others. Sometimes I think, ‘Why can’t I just walk away and forget about it?’ It’s something in me, a spiritual conviction that makes me political.”

Many will say that the church should have nothing to do with politics, and that we should not discuss them together. But I say, that I’m not sure you can be a Christian without being involved in politics in one way or another. It’s about people. It’s about love. It’s about hope. And it’s about forgiveness. And I don’t want to be tired anymore, of people being ugly to each other.