Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Foolishness of a Promise

Gen. 17:1-7, 15-16; Mark 8:34-38


        Two children were getting ready to go home. One had experienced a marvelous day, the other not so much.

“We should do this again tomorrow?”

“Sounds good to me.”


The second child crosses his fingers behind his back and responds, “I promise.”

As we grow older we find multiple ways to cross our fingers.

“I promise I will call the first chance I get.”

“We should do lunch soon.”

“If I can find a way, it will happen.”

Promises are a lot easier to make than to keep. This is what makes our Old Testament text so remarkable.

Abraham is 99 years old. Yahweh comes to him and says, “I make a promise that your grandchildren and great grandchildren shall be numerous.”

Did I mention that Abraham was 99? Did I mention that Sarah was not much younger? Did I mention Abraham and Sarah had no children? What kind of foolishness is this? Did I mention the fundamental thrust of the Old Testament is the establishment of a relationship between God and Israel? Did I mention that relationship was based on a promise?

I was at a workshop this week where William Willimon boldly declared God chooses us, we don’t choose God. When he first made that statement I was a bit put off. Of course I chose God. No one in their right mind would be a minister without choosing God. But then Willimon clarified his statement. Godly choice is based on a promise, a covenant, that neither party would desert the other.

That makes a whole lot of difference. A quick reading of Genesis reveals that Isaac, then Jacob and Esau, and then the 12 boys who claim Jacob were the genesis of a new nation. That is not even counting Jacob’s girls or any of the kids sired by Esau. God kept God’s promise. So how well did those children do in remembering that Yahweh was their God? According to the next 38 books of the Old Testament, they didn’t do so well.

Well I am thinking to myself, Will Willimon might be one of the top ten preachers in America, he might be a pretty smart cookie, he might have even found himself on my bookshelf but the Bible doesn’t stop with Malachi. What about the gospels? What about Jesus? Doesn’t the scoreboard start all over again?

I wanted to raise my hand and challenge this dean of all things Methodist but one of the other folks beat me to it. I am so glad I remained silent. Willimon took the question, smiled, and paraphrased Mark 8:34. “If you want to keep my promise, deny yourself, take up the cross, and follow me.”

When I was a theological child, bent on charging windmills to hell and back for a heavenly cause, I loved that passage. “Jesus, my Jesus, your wish is my command.” “Jesus, my Jesus, I will follow you anywhere.” “Jesus, my Jesus, I will lead the way.”

Then I had children. I bought a house. I became respectable. Oh, I gave Jesus credit for every single one of those blessings. But I was no longer ready to deny myself.  As for cross bearing, I engaged in theological discussions which questioned if the cross and suffering adequately described God’s redemptive love. 

Culture can do that to you. Being happy, being comfortable, being friendly, being respected become goals worth obtaining. And those aren’t just personal goals. It is what we want our church to be.  You ask most folks what they are looking for in a church and they will say, “I want to find a congregation that is friendly. I want to find a church that is stress free. I want to find a pastor that preaches sermons that make me feel good.”  That sounds wonderful, but it has little to do with denying ourselves for Jesus.

Let me entertain you with a couple of questions about our Lord and Savior.

What was Jesus’ home address? He slept in the hills, he slept on a boat, he occasionally invited himself to stay overnight with friends but for the life of me I can’t find where it says Jesus had a mortgage.

What kind of paying job did Jesus have? Luke suggests that he worked for his father before his baptism. But once his ministry began, I can’t find any evidence to suggest Jesus made a penny. No wonder he ate with the tax collectors, sinners, and even the Pharisees. He probably hadn’t had a good meal in a month.

What was his message to the good people of Israel? That’s easy. He talked of love. He talked of community. He talked about heaven. He talked about all those things that we find so appealing.

So why did they kill Jesus? I asked that question to some of peers recently. It was amazing the response I received. One person,, whose name wasn’t Bill Clinton asked, “How do you define ‘they’?” Before I could answer he continued. “Is ‘they’ the Romans? Is ‘they’ the Jews? Is ‘they’ us. Don’t we kill Jesus every time we sin?”

A second of my clergy peer continued. “Your question is too simplistic. We must explore the theological reasons as to why the suffering of Jesus was necessary. Don’t you believe in the doctrine of Atonement? Don’t you believe Jesus had to be killed and resurrected in order that you might be saved?”

The rest of the group nodded their heads as if to acknowledge one has to be careful not to be too literal when treading on theological cornerstones.  So I approached the question a different way. I asked, “In the Gospel of Mark it appears to me Jesus was killed because he questioned the actions of the religious leaders.  What were they doing that made Jesus so mad?”

The person who called my initial question a bit too simplistic once again entered the conversation. “The priest didn’t want Jesus to overturn the applecart.  They had a system in place that worked. They would conduct worship, keep the holy days, offer prayers when needed, and the people would respond with their offerings.”

I should have kept quiet but I couldn’t help myself. I responded, “Kind of like we do today.”   (stop)

How often have you heard someone say, “The church is the place I go to escape the world.”

How many times have you witnessed a preacher who was loved by his congregation when he was in the pulpit but became conspicuously absent when a family was in the midst of a personal crisis?

How many times have you heard folks argue, “No one knows the truth, we all have differing opinions.” Yet how many times have we read where Jesus truthfully said, “Take care of the stranger, she is a child of God.” Or, “If you hurt one of my little ones, place a millstone around your own neck and jump into the lake.” Or, “You hypocrites, you preach for law and order but have forgotten to execute justice and mercy.” Or, “You snakes, you build your alters with the tithes of the poor and the blind and then call them accursed.” How many times did Jesus say, “I am the truth!”

Is it any wonder they killed Jesus? He spoke to a people who had manufactured a lie and called it holy. I wonder what words Jesus would utter to us should he grace our doorsteps this morning. Jesus might ask, “Why are children rather than ministers leading conversations concerning violence?” Or, “Why are the victims rather than the Bishops exposing sexual predators?”  Or, “Why do strangers and aliens have to hide in the shadows when my church is a sanctuary?”

Can you imagine Jesus asking us to take up the cross? And if we said yes, how long would it be before we broke our promise? You see, God through Christ contradicts so many of our most basic beliefs. The truth is Jesus’ mercy is given to sinners, not reserved for the righteous. Jesus’ strength is exposed in weakness, not displayed in power. Jesus’ wisdom is veiled in parable and paradox, not in self-help axioms. Jesus’ life is disclosed in death. God has never conformed to human desires. God is found most often in uncertainty, danger and suffering, which is precisely where most us least desire to be. With these expectations, one would have to be crazy to choose God.

But God continues to choose us. Last Sunday, in the second service, it came time for the joys and concerns. Now in first service joys and concerns regularly include the latest international crisis that has made it to the Sunday edition of National Public Radio causing joys and concerns to rival the sermon in length. In the second service, joys and concerns rarely lasts longer than the Doxology. So last Sunday in second service imagine my surprise when Betty Marker stood to speak. Betty is my neighbor. She is well read, well-mannered, and well respected. Betty used to teach school. In two sentences, she quietly displayed her dismay over the children killed at Stoneman Douglas High School. Then she intentionally used the word “gun”. There was a gasp or two. Someone clapped their hands. Then there was that uncomfortable silence that happens when we wonder if maybe Jesus just spoke.

 My friends, Jesus never speaks conventional wisdom. Jesus never seems to say what we want to hear. Often the words of Jesus are painful to our ears, yet those words bring comfort to the stranger, the outcast, or the neighbor.

So keep your ears open. Just the fact that you are here qualifies you to be chosen to encounter God’s whisper. Choosing to share those dangerous words with others is what the writer of Genesis would call Promise Keeping.

        To God be the glory.  Amen.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Foolishness of Treading Water

Genesis 9:8-17


        In ancient times nothing was feared more than a flood. It was believed that the anger of the gods manifested in swirling waters that cascaded through the land leaving nothing but a corridor of death and destruction.

        We forget how dangerous a flood can be. Without a care or a helmet, folks who don’t know one end of a kayak from the other launch their craft into gentle waters without realizing the dangers that might be lurking downstream.

        Ever ridden down a road in West Texas? At the bottom of many a hill is a pole with feet markers on it. West Texas is drier than a 25 minute sermon until it rains. Instantly, parched gulches become raging rivers. The poles warn drivers how deep the water is. There is nothing more sobering than driving on a dry pavement, starting down a hill thinking a little water has crossed the road and spying the pole which reveals the water is actually six feet deep. Twenty minutes later the water is gone and the desert has returned. Water, when released, can be a deadly.

        Genesis 6:5-8: God saw the wickedness of humankind was great and evil was continually in their hearts. God was grieved and regretted spoiling the earth with humans. God said to the angels, “I am sorry I placed humans among the animals and birds. I will wipe them out.” Only Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.

        Everyone knows the Noah story. A very thin reading depicts a wrathful God looking down upon the new creation and God is displeased. Rather than work to bring harmony among a people who didn’t think they were all that bad, God just planned to destroy them.

        A thicker reading portrays God as seeing the beauty of creation spoiled by a reckless and selfish species that could care less that pollution was poisoning the rivers and smog was shrinking the polar caps. In order to protect the birds and animals and vegetation, God exterminated the two legged vermin who were causing the crisis.

        Of course we know humanity was not completely destroyed and therein lies the complexity and I believe the beauty of this mythological story. After the water recedes, after the animals are released, God established a covenant not only with Noah but with the descendents of every living creature that came off the ark. The promise was this. “I will put a rainbow in the clouds, and when I become angry I will look at my sign and remember my pledge to never again destroy creation with water.”

        Immediately fly by night Biblical scholars and TV evangelist decided that God, in all HIS wrath, was planning an even more elaborate destruction. They have convinced everyone who foolishly listens that someday God will rain fire down upon the earth destroying good and evil alike. And we better be prepared because that day could be today.

Could it be we have missed the entire point of this marvelous story? Before it was discovered that perhaps he was not a very nice man, Bill Cosby was a pretty funny comedian. Remember his routine on Noah. It went something like this.

God speaks, NOAH!

Who is that?






        Right.  What’s a cubit?


        Right……… Am I on Candid Camera?


Just let it rain for 40 days and the sewers will back up.


        You expect me to drop everything I’m doing, build a boat, collect animals and wait for it to rain just because some voice out of nowhere commands it ?



        A number of years ago I took a youth group to Idaho. One afternoon we found ourselves floating down the Salmon River. It was a hot day so I slipped over the side of our raft and floated down the river. As the current picked up the boat pulled ahead of me. I to started to swim toward the raft when the guide hollered, “Roll over on your back, point your feet down river and hold on.” I doubt what I went through was more than a class one rapids but it was enough to get my attention. A little bruised and very embarrassed I pulled myself back into the boat as soon as we managed to find calm waters.

        Life is kind of like that. Sometimes we choose to jump out of the boat and tread water for a while. We just need to get away from a particular situation. Maybe it was something as simple as a misunderstood word. Maybe we hit a nerve that we didn’t realize was so sensitive.  Maybe our feelings were hurt and we weren’t quite ready for an apology. Instead of staying in the boat and figuring things out, we jump in the water and start paddling. Sometimes that works. But often the current picks up and a relationship heads toward the rocks.

        In the Noah story the lead character was told to get in the boat. We understand that. But at the end of the ride God took Noah, and the animals, and said, “You have got to take care of each other. You cannot do this alone. I promise that I will not lose faith in you. But in return I ask you not to lose faith in each other.

I know Lent is supposed to be a time of quiet reflection. But Lent is also a time when we ponder how our faith is a combination of trust in God and trust in each other. This week you were wonderful to suggest I take a few days to recover from Dad’s death. But I don’t want to be out there treading water alone. Rockfish is my boat and you are my community. I will heal much quicker if right now I know you are steering me to calmer waters.         Amen.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Louie V. Andrews Jr. Funeral Meditation

Louie V. Andrews Jr.

Funeral Meditation


Thank you for being here. Mom, Jane, Beck, Susan and I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love that has been showered upon us not just today, not just for the last week or month, but for all of the time you have been part of our lives.

This church, Groves Memorial, has been such a blessing to Mom, Dad, Beck and Bill and we give you thanks. The churches Dad served when we were children, Memorial in Greensboro and Community in Hampton raised us and we give you thanks. Wildwood near Morehead City turned retirement into a renewal of life and we give you thanks. You have such stories to tell about mom and dad. Many of those stories have been revived and relived in the past few days. Thank you for those precious memories.

Some of you have embraced Mom and Dad since they moved to this community. Some of you barely knew our father but are friends who have come to support Jane, Beck, Susan and myself. Your presence gives us such joy.

A couple of years ago Dad asked me to speak at his funeral. I am humbled by this opportunity and as my wife and sisters will quickly tell you it takes a lot to humble me. Dad had four children and any of us is capable of standing here at this moment. We each have stories which equally define who our father was and continues to be. I am not standing here as a minister. I am just here as one of his children sharing a thin slice of the whole picture.

I dare not speak for Mom. How does one begin to speak of a mutual commitment that lasted over 70 years? How does one define love, courage, admiration and inspiration in a few fleeting phrases. I can only place my words on a piece of paper. Mom, you have lived your words, graciously and heroically, often deflecting credit in order that the one you loved might be glorified.

So for the next few moments I want to share my thin slice concerning a man I admired and loved; a man who inspired and frustrated me; a man who established guidelines which would both rule and bewilder my life. My father was a strong individual often brought to his knees by his own expectations. It was in those moments of weakness that I came to see and admire my father as a very complicated child of God.

It was a hot afternoon in July when Casey came to bat. In the late innings of a scoreless game the crowd favorite stepped to the plate. Tom Casey worked the count to three balls and two strikes. I toed the rubber, touched the brim of my cap, alerting the catcher that I was about to attempt the curve ball we had been working on the past week. The ball left my hand and appeared to be heading toward Casey’s head. He stepped back and watched in disbelief as a combination of spin and gravity guided the pitch across the plate. The umpire, who happened to be my father, threw up his left hand and pointed toward first base. On that sweltering day in July, the mighty Casey did not strike out.

On so many levels my father approached life as an umpire. The ball is fair or foul, the runner out or safe, and the pitch was a strike or a ball. There are no gray areas in baseball. Dad completely understood Deuteronomy 30. “I have set before you right and wrong. Do what is right and you shall live. But turn away from what is good and you shall perish. Choose life so you and your descendents might live.”

Dad grew up in a time when the United States was evolving from a third world country into a super power. He had barely enrolled in college before being sent to Europe to fight Hitler. He lived through an exasperating era in which many cultural norms were challenged. He was a southern man in an age of complexities and darkness. He had learned from his father that there was an expectation to have the answer to any question. He was an umpire, deciding who was safe or out. He was a minister, preaching to those outside the lines. And then he became a poet.  Umpires are expected to be right with no help from instant replay.  But poets are haunted by the very truths they once thought were self-evident. Words are spoken. They became our cornerstones. But sometimes they fail to set us free.

        Fifteen years after my first curve ball I was finishing my second year at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. Dad was working on his Doctorate of Ministry at Union. As we walked across the field that separated the two campuses, we noticed two kids playing catch. Dad remarked. “That curve ball you threw to Tom Casey was a strike. I had never seen you throw that pitch before. It caught me by surprise.”

        I was barely a year old when Dad was sitting in an empty church near Tacoma Washington.  Due to the conflict in Korea he had been called back into the Army for a second time. Dad had prepared his whole life to be a supervisor in a cotton mill. He would have been as good at that job as his father before him. But sitting in that church he was thrown a curve. According to Dad a bright light came through the stained glass and he heard the voice of God calling him to full time Christian ministry. Soon he was in seminary choosing life over death. Some of my earliest memories are of Dad dragging me to Alabama to preach at a revival. He was a full blown evangelist, more Billy Sunday than Billy Graham, called to save his corner of the world. Only God was just beginning to throw Dad a steady diet of curves.

        How does one explain a southern man raised in mill villages joining students from North Carolina A&T in the Woolworth lunch counter seat-ins in Greensboro? How did this evangelist count among his best friend an orthodox Jew who ran a deli in Newport News? How does a veteran of both World War II and the Korean Conflict find himself protesting against nuclear weapons in the 1970’s.  How did a man so sure of his sexual ethics come to celebrate the lifestyle of Alice Taylor, the founder of St. Columba Ministries, and her partner Carol?

        Thursday night I wandered into Dad’s study. At one time he had a magnificent library, but then he started giving books away. I am as guilty as anyone of building my own library through his generosity. But a few books he couldn’t bear to give up. I discovered well worn copies of the prophets who consistently threw curve balls at this evangelical umpire. Howard Thurman was an African-American mystic and poet who became a mentor to Martin Luther King.  Elie Wiesel was a Hasidic Jew who escaped Auschwitz and spent his whole life trying to understand the connection between the pathos of Jeremiah and the hope of Second Isaiah. Malcolm Boyd, a gay Episcopal priest whose jogs with Jesus both confused and enlightened my father. And finally Donald Dawe, a professor at Union who spoke of grace in a way that completely erased the lines on the field. 

        These poets and others changed my father’s theological strike zone. But they didn’t change his style. When he embraced a new pitch, he would try to convert everyone with his Billy Sunday fire and fury. That is just who dad was.

        The last pitch God threw Dad’s way was death.  You would think a preacher who embraced universal grace had death figured out.  But I was amazed at his final observation. The guy who always embraced the strike zone, even when it changed, seemed a bit uncertain. He wasn’t afraid of death in fact I think he welcomed it. But a few months ago he made a remarkable observation. “When I die I believe it will be a quick transition. I’ll be here and then I will be with God. But if I am wrong and there is no God, it won’t matter because I won’t know the difference.” Some of you may be taken back by this remark. I prefer to rejoice and celebrate that Dad chose not to worry about tomorrow. A rational person might say he finally came to his senses. I think Dad just decided to let God be God. What a radical conversion to admit he was not in control.


So what legacy does my father he leave behind:

He was dogmatic, even rigid, and yet I loved him.

He had trouble with the curve ball. Sometimes the moment was too big for him. Sometimes he couldn’t find the words I wanted to hear. Sometimes he might have regretted the words he used. My goodness we went head to head with each other and yet I loved him. And you folks from Memorial, and Community and Wildwood know why.

When you were sick,

he visited you,

When you were hungry,

he fed you.

When you were buried in a deep psychological prison,

he never left you.

When your soul was stripped naked,

he stood beside you.

        Bless his heart my Dad was complicated:

        He was a southern man who loved Neil Young.

        He was an evangelical converted by a Hasidic Jew.

        He was a straight Presbyterian who loved the poetry of a gay Episcopalian.

        I loved him because he tried to care for the stranger, the church member, and his family, equally. My goodness is that a hard, perhaps even impossible task.

        Sometimes his words would drive me crazy, yet I know his hands and heart were always trying to do the right thing.

        How ironic I am talking about love because that was a word that seldom fell from his lips. From the moment I got my driver’s license until the last time he was aware I was heading home, his parting comment was always, “Drive Safely”.  That’s Southern talk for “God be with you.” Whenever he would send a letter or an email, he always closed with the word “Peace”. That is theological talk for, “God be with you.”

        More than anything else my father implanted a deep assurance, a whisper in my heart, a stirring spirit that renews, re-creates and steadies me. Whether I walk in the light or the darkness, whether I remain inside or outside the lines, Dad’s voice will always remind me, “God is with you”.


        Again, my family thanks you for being here. We are overwhelmed by your love and support.

        Drive Safely.



Sunday, February 11, 2018

92 Years in the Wilderness

Mark 9:2-9


        Every year, just like clockwork, three days before Ash Wednesday, the Biblical text sends us to the mountaintop. In an incredible event, recorded by the writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus and a couple of disciples find themselves in the presence of Elijah and Moses. It would be the equivalent of climbing Humpback and having a conversation with Jefferson and Lincoln. Moses was the liberator and giver of the Law. Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets, defied a thousand followers of Baal on Mt. Carmel, proclaiming Yahweh to be the only God of Israel. Moses stood toe to toe with Pharaoh. Elijah stood against Jezebel. Both were triumphant and now both were standing beside Jesus, essentially crowning him to be the Son of God. We call this event the Transfiguration of our Lord.

        It is good to go to the mountaintop. It is refreshing to stare out at the world below our feet and know God is still God. Sometimes a mountaintop experience actually happens on a mountain. Twenty years ago I lead a retreat of about 75 middle school kids at a ranch in West Texas. The plan was to take all the kids up a very large hill behind the barn/conference center. I had planned to do it late in the afternoon and have everyone back off the hill by sunset. At the last minute there was a change in the schedule causing the afternoon session to start after dinner.  Seeing this as an opportunity rather than a setback, I strategically placed folks along the trail with flashlights and up we went. We reached the summit after sunset. In every sense of the word, darkness had fallen upon us. Kids were nervous yet curious to see what would happen next. The adults were planning my lynching should any of us make it back to the barn.

        My written notes were useless. I asked everyone with flashlights to turn them off.  You can imagine the buzz THAT created. Fortunately I love the Book of Psalms. In a loud voice I proclaimed, “O Lord, our God, how majestic is Your name in all the earth. You have set your glory above the heavens. When I look at the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them?”

        Then I invited them to look at the stars and search for God. My improvised plan was to let them do this for 90 seconds while I figured out what would happen next. The first 30 seconds some kids nervously giggled. One minute into our adventure someone hollered called “Boo” but amazingly he was immediately greeted with shushes. Then there was silence. For better than ten minutes middle school kids starred at the sky and I believe into their hearts. Finally I broke the silence by repeating the words that had begun the exercise. “O Lord, our God, how majestic is Your name in all the earth.” Then led by the light of the stars, we slowly and safely made our way down the hill. At the bottom of the hill one child came up to me and described her newly discovered image of God. I smiled, knowing that soon that image would be forgotten, because while the mountaintop is wonderful, we must always return to the valley.

        That is the mystery and the bewilderment of Transfiguration Sunday. While the mountaintop exhilarates my soul, I understand the necessity of 40 days in the wilderness. Lent gives us permission to examine the dark side of our souls. Psalm 8 gives way to Psalm 13, “”How long will You hide your face from me?” Or Psalm 22, “My God why have you forsaken me?” And eventually Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, according to Your steadfast love.”

        Who doesn’t love the mountaintop? I love to head into the mountains either on bike or on foot. I ski just so I can stop and capture views rarely seen from my car. But I live in the valley, amidst the twist and turns, the holy and unholy moments, the joys and the pain that are life.

        Forgive me for a moment while I reflect on a person who has lived in the wilderness of 92 years. He has shaped and molded me. He is a person whom I love and yet whose idiosyncrasies have more than once blinded me with rage. Lent is his favor time of the year. Maybe my father understands Lent because he grew up in The Great Depression. Maybe he has always seen Lent as a time of reflection because it was in the midst of serving in two wars that he began to question the sanity of such insanity. Maybe he has always seen Lent as a time of cleansing because early in his life, as a Southern man, he radically chose to stand against a system that enslaved human beings. Maybe he just always liked the Blues and Lent is the one time the church sings songs with discordant melodies and lyrics.

        Whatever the reason, my father often seemed in a hurry to race from the mountain and head back into the wilderness. On the mountaintop we see God. On the mountaintop Jesus stands beside Elijah and Moses and everything seems perfectly clear. On the mountaintop we stare into the star lit sky and are filled with a tranquility that defies the reality of places like Nelson County where too many children are without clothes, too many homes are without running water, and too many meals are served without nourishment.

        My father always wanted to fix the brokenness around him yet like most of us, could be blind and powerless to the brokenness within his arm’s reach.  The God of the mountaintop declares we can perform miracles if we only have faith. I know my father believed this yet his time in the wilderness helped him understand Jesus as a holy response to our frailness and unbelief. The God of the mountaintop is Almighty. The Jesus of the wilderness was humbled by death. Which is more important, God’s power or Jesus’ example? I suspect we are caught somewhere in between.

        As a child, I thought my father had all the answers. Perhaps he thought so too. As a young adult, I questioned his sanity, but no more than he questioned his own. Now I am 67 and he is 92 and I think our vision has become similar. I’ve not lived through a depression. I’ve not experienced actual combat but I have witnessed my fair share of brokenness. Solutions that were so clear thirty years ago now seem delusional. Insights from the mountaintop crumble before I reach the valley.  Perhaps most of all I want to bring God down from on high and so that God might witness life the way it really is down here.  

I guess that’s when I remember God has already done that. No wonder my father is so fond of the wilderness.  Like the rest of us he eventually discovered if you want to find Jesus, you go where Jesus has always been. True, once a year Jesus stares down from the mountain and sees perfection through holy eyes. But the rest of the time he is down here with us, trying to make sense of our unholy mess.

50 years ago my Dad and I sat in my room listening to Sam Cook sing, “A change is gonna come”. It was weeks after Dr. King had been murdered. Dad said, “God didn’t make the world to be like this. We need to try harder.”

Today, let’s go to the mountaintop to remember what God imagined. Then tomorrow, let’s head toward the wilderness, find Jesus, and try a little harder.     Amen.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Have You Heard?

Isaiah 40:27-31; Mark 1:35-38
        The other day I looked up the word “Sabbath” in my Andrews Dictionary for Theological Thought. This is a book rarely known or consulted by anyone yet it has become my source to confirm information I have already decreed to be sacred. Sabbath is defined accordingly. “Since every day should include time to celebrate God, Sabbath uniquely gives us a break from the daily grind that enslaves us. It is God given time to free the body and the mind from a stress filled world.”
        For you, today is Sabbath. You have put aside your daily routine to come and gather with friends, to listen to some exceptional music, to lift your hearts to God, and be given a 15 minute break called the sermon where your mind can wander anywhere it likes without the interruption of a cell phone or  loved one. Praise Be To God.
        But for me the words Sabbath and Sunday are not interchangeable. Contrary to the country song, “I want to be a preacher so I no longer have to work”, I do actually labor more than one day a week. I have tried to make Friday my Sabbath.  My congregation of believers is a group of 12 to 16 guys that faithfully gather for the call to worship at the first tee at Stoney Creek. It is a time I turn off my brain, forget about church, and spend four hours recharging my soul. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
        A few months ago on a beautiful October morning I placed my tee in the ground and prepared to hit a drive that hopefully would skirt the tree on the right, fly over the sand trap and safely land 125 yards from the green. Before I could begin my back swing a member of my foursome yelled, “Louie, HAVE YOU HEARD the joke about the minister who played golf on Sunday.” I stepped away from the ball, grimaced at the thought of another worn out preacher joke, took a deep breath, redressed the ball, and promptly sliced my Titleist into the woods.
        I had no shot. As I prepared to chip the ball back into the fairway my partner said, “HAVE YOU HEARD if you place the ball back in your stance and open your club face you can slice it back toward the green.” I changed my stance, opened my club, took a mighty swing, hit a tree and watched the ball roll back between my feet. I then chipped it back into the fairway.
        As I prepared to hit my fourth shot the remaining member of my group teased, “Louie, HAVE YOU HEARD the news this morning.” I promptly shanked my shot back into the woods, retrieved my the ball, put it into my pocket and following the advice of Jesus, found a quiet place to pray.
        Can you imagine how many times Jesus must have encountered the words, “Have you heard?” Disciples, family members, even strangers were always saying, “Have you heard what they are calling you?” “Have you heard what they want you to do?” “Have you heard who wants you to come for dinner?” Have you heard that it might be dangerous in Jerusalem?” “Have you heard, have you heard? Is it any wonder Jesus headed to a deserted place to pray?
        The general assumption is when Jesus went off by himself to pray, he encountered the voice of God.      After all Jesus did have an inside connection. But how do we know that to be true? I went to an installation service for a friend of mine last Sunday. The preacher told us he experienced the presence of God after a week of hiking thorough canyons in Death Valley. First, it sounds to me like he was suffering from dehydration. Second, if that is the requirement to hear from God, I doubt many of us are going to be privy to any kind of divine inspiration.
        Besides, what if Jesus prayed, not for answers, but for a restoration of memory? All day long people pressed upon him for responses, for miracles, for a holy touch. I suspect each morning he needed to be recharged to meet the dawning of the new day.  I like to think when Jesus prayed he seldom if ever asked, “Tell me what to do.” I imagine his prayers began, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I imagine his prayers continued, “The Lord is my rock and salvation, whom shall I fear.” I believe with all my heart when Jesus was weary and perhaps searching for inspiration he remembered these words. “Have you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary. God’s understanding is unsearchable. God gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless. Those who wait for the Lord will find strength. They shall mount up on wings like eagles.”
        With a renewed sense of purpose revived not through a once in a lifetime journey to Timbuktu but rather a walk down memory lane Jesus prepared to greet the day. His tranquility was disrupted by a frantic disciple. “Jesus, where have you been? Jesus, everyone is searching for you.”
Now this is where we might expect Jesus to lose his cool and say, “Peter, can’t you see I am about my Father’s business” which translated literally means, “Peter, can’t I have a moment to myself.” But instead Jesus said, “Peter, you are right, we have things to do.” Then a short time later, surrounded by the same folks who were driving him crazy just 12 hours before, Jesus softly asked, “Have you heard the one about the guy traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho? Have you heard what may happen if open up your heart? Have you heard that God not Caesar will show you the way to righteousness? Have you heard that God will lift you up on eagle’s wings?”
        How amazing it is that when the chatter of this world sends us running toward solitude, God’s word reminds us of a unique phrase that offers comfort to the soul of anyone overcome by fear, or pain or disillusionment. “Have you heard? God will lift you up on wings of eagles.” How can we possibly keep that good news to ourselves?
Our mission is not to constantly retreat to the desert in hopes of discovering God but staying in the fairways and woods of life where God’s work really matters. This is where God has always expected us to be, perhaps not on Sabbath, but every other day of the week.
This is how we truly glorify God.  Amen