Sunday, September 30, 2018

More than One Way (Exclude No One)

Mark 9:38-41

“More than One Way”


I am a member of the Nelson County Ministers Alliance. It is not a very large group. There are a handful of faithful folks that meet once a month. There are an equal number of folks who show up for a month or two and then move on. Those of us who hang around rarely get much done because we are so different. At first glance the obvious reason would be our racial makeup. But that is not the case. Some might think it is political because our group contains both Republicans and Democrats. But that’s not it either. We get along great but we are so theologically different we have a difficult time finding common ground. We show up for meetings because we have become good friends. But I doubt any of us could regularly attend the same church. Deep down, we are all a bit suspicious of each other’s relationship with Jesus.  

What is so unusual about that? As a child I was told some outrageous things about Roman Catholics. In the cul-de-sac where we lived there was a neighbor who always cut his grass on Sunday. I was told he had been to Mass Saturday night and so I assumed The Pope said he did not have play by the rules everyone else was forced to obey. My feeble mind I took this misinformation and made some unflattering assumptions about anyone not Presbyterian. The Episcopalians were just Catholics who had gotten a divorce. Baptists were Holy Rollers and Methodists were holy rollers who could drink. My knowledge of faith communities didn’t extend much further than that.  But with each new encounter, my suspicions and misinformation increased. I suspect my story is not so different from anyone else growing up 60 years ago.

Maybe our problems stems from our obsession with what everyone else is doing. Why do some churches have folks kneel during the service? Why don’t Presbyterians call the communion table an alter like everyone else? Why do some folks say trespasses and other debtors? And what’s with this speaking in tongues? What good is it if no one can understand what is being said?

Those are just complaints from our lifetime. In Mark’s gospel John complained that someone was casting out demons in Jesus’ name and that person wasn’t even one of the chosen disciples. He complained to Jesus only to have the master respond, “Why is that a problem?”

I can hear the disciple’s outrage. “Why should THEY get credit for something only WE should be doing? Jesus, make them stop. They are going to ruin everything.”

There are three things I have learned from being righteously indignant. First, when I am Jesus isn’t always standing beside me. Second, Jesus keeps reminding me I need to worry more about who I am rather than wasting so much time pointing out the flaws of others. Third, and this is the hardest one of all, the people I am pointing out probably don’t even realize I have a problem with them.

The question that Jesus asked which flabbergasted the disciples was, “Were the people healed?”

The disciples responded, “That’s not the point. They weren’t doing it the way you would have done.”

Jesus asked a second time, “Were they healed?”

“Yes……… but”

“But what,” Jesus asked. “If the man was healed, what difference does it make who gets credit?”

About a year ago my good friend James Rose asked me if I would do the annual homecoming sermon at his church. Homecomings are a big deal in Black congregations. The service is in the middle of the afternoon so folks from other churches can attend. People who only go to church once a year make it to homecoming. The food is great and the expectation is that the visiting minister is going to revive the sagging spirits of the faithful and rescue the souls of those on their way to hell. I took some members of our choir to warm up the congregation before I delivered the knock-out punch. The place was packed. Ministers from nearby churches, many of them friends of mine, were sitting on the first two rows. I imagine they  were wondering why I had been chosen to speak.

I should have asked myself the same question. 

I stepped into the pulpit with a carefully crafted sermon typed out days before. Strike One. At a revival you are moved by the spirit, not by a manuscript.

I looked out at the congregation and made a ridiculous assumption based on my tradition and my faith. I said something like, “I know God has saved you, so what are we going to do with this magnificent gift?” Strike Two. The task of the evangelist is to save the sinner.

But my greatest indulgence was yet to come. I only spoke for 15 minutes. Now the choir was thrilled. They had already suffered through one of my sermons earlier in the day. But the congregation had hardly settled in. They were waiting for me to work them up to a fever pitch. They were primed to push me forward with a chorus’ of “Amen’s” and “Praise God”. But the sermon was over before it had begun. Worse yet, when I finished I didn’t even issue an alter call. I hadn’t saved anyone. I had taken three mighty swings and struck out. And I knew it when I saw the face of the congregation. Like Frank Sinatra I did it my way. Unfortunately, on that day, in that particular setting, my way was the wrong way. I forgot, the purpose of the afternoon was to praise God, not for me to be applauded. It is a mistake we ministers make quite often.

So what do we do when we have different traditions, different expectations, and even different ideas on how we are to go about celebrating our love of God?

Remember the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. The two had nothing in common. There was such tension between them culturally that they just sat in silence until Jesus asked for a drink of water.  She responded, and they began to talk. How often are preconceived notions drowned when a cup is shared? The older I get the more I am convinced that God didn’t send us here to convert the world. God sent us here to listen to the world and eventually share a cup of water.

Next week is World-Wide Communion Sunday. I want to try something very strange. If you have read your newsletter you know that I am asking everyone to bring something to church from a trip to someplace outside of Nelson County. Some of you are world travelers. Some of us get excited by a train ride to Washington. Regardless I want to briefly share why that keepsake remains so special to you. I believe everyone here has overcome a prejudice toward a race, a culture, or a lifestyle. We didn’t do it on our own. I believe God has led each of us to a particular person with whom we shared water, or perhaps some other drink. Next Sunday I hope to some of those stories. I’ll send an email out midweek. I am not asking anyone particular to be prepared to speak. I know not everyone feels comfortable speaking. But I hope some of you will be willing to share your story. What better way to celebrate World Wide Communion Sunday then by proclaiming how God enlightened your heart through an encounter you never expected. I am not preparing a sermon and I know you don’t want me to ad-lib.  That is not the Presbyterian way. I am counting on you.

So Come Prepared.      


Sunday, September 23, 2018

I am the Greatest

Mark 9:30-37

“I am the Greatest”


        Sports fans love to argue. Was Babe Ruth the greatest baseball player of all time? Not according to some who argue he might not even be a designated hitter in today’s game. Could a 25 year old Tiger Woods have beaten Ben Hogan if they had played in the 1950’s with real woods and balata balls? Not according to my father. Could Broadway Joe start for anyone other than the Jets today? Perhaps Mohammad Ali was the greatest in boxing but can any other sportsperson claim that title? That is why the argument over who is the greatest has raged for thousands of years.

        In the text this morning the disciples are engaged in this very argument. Now when we read Luke’s version, the argument is over who is the greatest disciple. But the gospel of Mark gives us a different context.  Jesus had just asked them who they believe he was. The answers ranged from Moses to Elijah to the rest of the prophets. Then Peter dared to suggest, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus told them to stop talking. But they couldn’t. As they journey down the road through Galilee the competitive nature of 12 guys bored out of their minds began to kick in.

        James began, “I think on any given day no one was greater than Moses. He stood toe to toe with Pharaoh and did not blink. When they got to the Red Sea, he was the first one to step into the water. Those slaves weren’t going anywhere without Moses.  He even climbed Mt Sinai twice to get the 10 Commandments.”

Matthew interrupted him, “But what about David? I hear Goliath was ten feet tall. No one was smarter or braver than David. People feared Israel when David was king.”

“What about Elijah? Pharaoh was child’s play compared to Jezebel. Imagine standing on Mt. Camel surrounded by 300 prophets of Baal. Imagine having the gall to dump 12 buckets of water on the altar before asking God to ignite it with fire. Imagine facing the wrath of Jezebel right after you had just had all her prophets slaughtered.”

I imagine each disciple brought up their favorite Old Testament hero. They made the case for Joshua, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, and probably even Amos. And then Peter added his voice. “I still say it is the Messiah. With the Law of Moses in one hand and the sword of David in the other he will strike down the enemies of Israel. Jerusalem will be purged of foreign rule. We will return to the worship of Yahweh and every nation and god will respect us.”

That’s when Jesus re-entered the conversation. “Peter, do you really think that is why I am here? Do you think I can overthrow the Roman Empire? I don’t own a sword and I certainly don’t know how to use one. Listen to me. If you want to be the greatest, you must become a servant to all.”

The jaws of the disciples must have dropped. Peter was the only one brave enough to speak. “Jesus, you need to explain yourself. We have been dreaming about the Messiah for 400 years. We have been told his coming will mark the day when we will rise up and rule the world. I don’t remember anyone saying anything about being a servant.”

Jesus picked up a child. This was not the act of a 21st century politician kissing babies to prove his compassion. This was not the act of a helicopter parent protecting a child from all harm. This was not even a coach giving the third string left guard a trophy for participation. This was Jesus picking up a child that no one would even acknowledge until her 13th birthday. A child in the day of Jesus was a liability. 35% of the children born did not see their first birthday. 30% of those survivors did not live to be five. Before they were ten, many girls were sold into prostitution and a similar number of boys were taken to work as slaves for foreign soldiers. Only when a child made it to the age of 13 were they even considered to be part of the community. No one invested in a child because too few children survived childhood.  Cattle and sheep were more highly valued. So imagine the shock of the disciples when Jesus picked up that child and said to the disciples and anyone within ear shout, “I have come to radicalize your religious and cultural expectations and I am starting with this concept of Messiah. You believed the Messiah will conquer the world. That is true. But the Messiah’s weapon will not be the sword. It will be compassion, justice and hospitality.”

The Gospel of Mark was not written to a 21st century audience who spend a good portion of their day listening to the endless drone of TVs and other social media devises. The gospel of Mark was not written to folks who were economically or educationally advanced. The Gospel of Mark was written to mothers who had lost children, slaves who had never known freedom, and former Jews who had just witnessed the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  They knew what it meant to be last and knew the ancient understanding of Messiah would not be realized in their lifetime. In their pain, in their sorrow, and in their desolation they cried out, “God, where are you?”

Gustavo Gutierrez claims, “Human suffering, whatever its cause, creates a major question for theological reflection. How are we to proclaim the resurrection of the Lord in a land where death reigns?”

The writer of the Gospel of Mark understands this dilemma. The ones hearing his gospel desperately want to encounter a word of good news. Yet life has left them suspicious of charlatans and pretenders. So Mark offers them the story of Jesus. What was so great about that?

Imagine, for the first time, hearing the story of one who believed every child was important. Imagine being told of a man who was called king but sat on no throne. Imagine being told of a teacher who claimed everyone was loved by God. Imagine being told this man’s life tragically concluded with humiliation and death. Then imagine being told that was not the end to the story.

More than any other gospel, the cross takes center stage in the story told by Mark. For Mark the cross represents a culture which thrived on power, humiliation and shame. In other words the cross stood firmly in the way of Mark’s audience achieving humanity.  When Jesus picks up a child, it was as if he was picking them up. Then he dared to proclaim, “I am willing to submerge myself in your darkness. I am willing to witness and share your shame. I am even willing to die because I know our God will not abandon any of us to the evils of life or death.”

So what kind of Messiah is that?

Was Jesus the greatest?

Only you can answer that question.

To God be the Glory.   Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Cost of Discipleship

Mark 8:27-38


        In April of 1945, days before the allies liberated the concentration camp in Flossenburg, on direct orders by Heinrich Himmler, a Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonheoffer was executed. In the late 1930’s Bonheoffer had joined the German underground convinced that it was his duty as a Christian to work toward the defeat of the Nazi State. His best known book, The Cost of Discipleship was written in 1937 and published posthumously in 1947. Listen to his words. “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow upon ourselves. We preach forgiveness without requiring repentance, administer baptism without church discipline, serve communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship. Costly grace is a gospel which must be sought over and over; it is the gift that must be asked for; it is the door at which we must knock. It is costly because it cost a man his life. It is grace because it gives us life.

        Anytime I read Mark 8:27-38, I pull Cost of Discipleship from my bookshelf to help me comprehend what is a scandalous passage from Mark’s gospel. First there is the startling prediction of Jesus’ suffering and death. Second, Jesus defines discipleship as being one who is willing to lose her life for the sake of another.

        Martyrdom is something we uniquely hold up as praiseworthy. On Memorial Day we take a break from the rigors of our labor to remember those whose lives were lost to insure our freedoms. This week, during the 17th anniversary of 9-11, it was announced that due to respiratory disease, the number of first responders who have died since the attack is greater than the number who lost their lives when the twin towers collapsed. 

The decision of going to war makes the forfeiture of one’s life a possibility. The only mathematical table used in war is subtraction.

One who rushes toward a collapsing building knows that her life expectancy has been instantly changed.

When a young theologian speaks out against tyranny he is well aware the repercussions can be life changing.

But few folks consider going to church to be dangerous. So why does Jesus insist on talking about self-denial?

It is hard to put others ahead of ourselves. The mantra of the day is, “If I don’t take care of myself, how can I be expected to take care of others.” That is wise saying. But sometimes aren’t we all a little guilty of worrying too much about ourselves.  Maybe that is why, from its infancy, the Presbyterian Church has celebrated Elders.

Now I am not just talking about old people. I am speaking about the folks who are elected to serve our congregation. Every year twelve folks take on the obligation of putting you ahead of themselves. Imagine how hard that sometimes can be?  Elders have the task of juggling two hundred balls in the air with only twenty four hands. An Elder has to be both the voice of reason and imagination. An Elder has to be able to hear dissenting voices. He has to hear his own voice and wonder for whom he is speaking. She has to have the courage to occasionally confront the minister and question his motivation. In other words, our Elders are charged to further the peace, unity, and purity of the congregation by serving Rockfish Presbyterian with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

        Anyone who has served as an elder can tell you that can be quite a cross to bear. But I also believe anyone who has served as an elder at Rockfish will confirm that even in those few moments of disagreement or discontent, as you sat around a table with those other eleven people, you never doubted their desire to accomplish God’s will. The greatest compliment I can give our session is it is not identified through individuals but rather as a group known for its extraordinary work.

Peggy, you are returning for a second term. Dana, Ken, and Wendy, I ask you to come forward with Peggy, denying yourself to become part of something greater than us all.



Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sometimes It Takes More Than Hearing to Believe

Mark 7:31-37


        Growing old is not for the faint at heart. When you get to be our age the hardest thing about exercise is getting up off the floor once we have finished. Of course that is just the beginning of our problems. Remember when we had a lot more energy. Remember when we never forgot where we left our car keys.  Of course the universal malady of folks our age is loss of hearing. I took my grandson to a baseball game in Washington last month. Because of his age he is required to ride in the back seat. Because of his excitement he talked almost the entire trip. Because of his soft voice and my aging ears, my response was always, “Uh-huh”. I have no idea what he said or what I agreed to do. When I later complained to Deb that Andy speaks too softly, she rolled her eyes as if to say, “Who’s calling the kettle black?”

        In Mark 7 Jesus encounters a man who cannot hear. His lack of hearing left him with the inability to speak. Imagine his world of silence. For those of us who are able to both listen and speak, choosing silence can be a remarkable gift. Often my favorite part of worship is when we take time after announcements to just sit quietly. It is as if we are saying, “OK God, we have done all the preliminary stuff. Now we are ready for You to enter our space.” It seems more and more silence has become a luxury. It is good to have a place we can cherish quiet holy moments.

But for this man, silence was a curse which defined his very being. When one cannot hear, vocational opportunities are limited. Being deaf excludes a person from the normal activities of everyday life. But being deaf was even worse in the culture which in which this man lived. Many folks believed his illness was the result of immoral behavior. Because he was deaf he was shunned and excluded. He never had the chance to experience common decency.

But something else we often take for granted was eliminated from him. Imagine life without music. Tuesday I was traveling back from Charlottesville after visiting a jail and nursing homes. The stories I hear can sometimes suck the very life out of my soul so I turned on our very eclectic Public Radio Station. Right on cue the DJ announced, “I think we all need a breath of fresh air”. She then played twenty five uninterrupted minutes of Eva Cassidy. While that name may not be familiar to some of you, I suspect each of you with ears to hear has adopted one or more particular artists who transcend any chaotic moment with melodies that must have been crafted in heaven. This poor deaf man had never experienced such joy, until Jesus arrived.

Jesus did more than just heal the sick. He gave them hope. Furthermore, Jesus always healed in public because there was a lot of other healing and joy that needed to be spread around. Before Jesus healed the man, he didn’t give him a lesson on morality.  To everyone else the man was unclean, even untouchable.  But Jesus reached out and placed his hands on the man’s ears. This gesture was done for the sake of the community. Jesus did not see the man as a sinner. By ignoring the purity laws Jesus confirmed that the man was, and had always been, a child of God.

We can snicker at the ignorance of this primitive culture but don’t laugh too loud. Even as advanced as we are in the art of civilization we are still social isolationists. Sometimes when a person can no longer care for herself she is seen as a burden to society. I am so grateful to the many of you who visit hospitals and nursing homes. The infirmities of folks who are sick cannot compare with the isolation they often experience. But when you visit, when you call, when you send a card, you remind them that they have not been forgotten. I was with Nancy Small at the Martha Jefferson Home Tuesday. On leaving she said to me, “Louie I haven’t been to Rockfish in so long do you think people still know who I am?” I pointed to the birthday cards many of you sent which are displayed by her door. I smiled and said, “They remember you.”

The words and actions of Jesus were music, not only to the ears of the man who was deaf, but to the hearts of the people who witnessed the miracle. They were overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus the Healer. They lived in a culture that demonized a man because of a physical ailment. Jesus broke cultural protocol by touching him. Then Jesus defied the laws of logic by restoring his hearing. The witnesses not only wanted to proclaim the miracle, they wanted to declare Jesus as the Christ because he was destroying cultural traditions and barriers with a single word. Their entire lives they had been told to obey the law. Now this teacher with the power to heal introduced them to a new song.

And that brings me back to Eva Cassidy. In her brief musical career she seldom sang her own songs. She took classics that had been recorded numerous times and somehow made it her own.  Everyone here has heard Judy Garland sing Over the Rainbow. Garland sang it as a child and it was probably the encore for her last concert.  It was The Great Diva’s signature piece.  Twenty years ago a friend gave me a copy of Songbird. He told me the CD had been recorded by a little known singer in the DC areas who had died two years earlier of cancer. Posthumously her version of Over the Rainbow was played on a London radio station. Instantly Eva Cassidy became an international star.  We had heard the songs she sang before but we had never heard them sung quite that way.

When Jesus arrived he did not say anything new. He regularly quoted Jewish Scripture. He told stories that many folks had already heard. His material was not unique; it was just the way he delivered it.  The Rabbi would come out on the Sabbath and proclaim, “You shall not do this and you shall not do that.” Jesus would say, “If you have two coats and someone is in need, keep them from becoming a thief by giving them your second coat.” The Pharisee would proclaim, “The Sabbath is holy. You shall not prepare food on the Sabbath. You shall not wash dishes on the Sabbath. You shall not do anything that brings joy on the Sabbath.” Jesus said, “God gave us the Sabbath in order that at least one day a week we might relax and celebrate each other.”

You would think that everyone would listen to Jesus and ignore the voice of the Rabbi and Pharisee. But the Bible has been preached rather than sung for so many years we have become deaf to the good news.

The Bible has become a hammer rather than an ointment that soothes our wounded souls. It has become a voice of condemnation rather than an instrument of peace and reconciliation. Folks who only lecture the Bible have become deaf to its liberating songs causing folks to run from the Church because they are tired of being damned. Do we really need another shrill voice filling our ears with holy condemnations based on narrow-mindedness and inaccurate readings of God’s Joyful Word? So many erroneous interpretations of the text have left us deaf.

  For the last two years, once a month I visit Jessie Crossain. He is an inmate in the Buckingham Jail. He was sentenced to 30  years for a capital crime. He will receive no parole. As a youth Jessie occasionally went to Church. In jail he has studied Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation.   Six months ago he told me he wanted to read the Bible from cover to cover. I asked him why? He said he had a lot of free time on his hands. He read Genesis and told me it was the biggest BS he had ever encountered. I told him to read it again with his ears and eyes wide open, expecting to be surprised with every turn of the page. The next month he came back and said, “Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph were worse than me but God still loved them.” As of last week, we have made it all the way through Esther. Next month we start of Job. For Jesse, the Bible has become good news in an angry and dangerous world.

Sometimes we stumble upon moments when we cannot hear God. Sometimes the words folks claim God is speaking leaves us weary. Sometimes the so called Good News just seems like old news repackaged.  Then sometimes we hear the Bible in a way that reminds us of Eva Cassidy singing Over the Rainbow.

That is when we are brave enough to pick up our Bible again. That is when we dare to come to the text with curious eyes and open ears. With all the white noise and clutter on your personal airways, perhaps you are finally ready to listen to an old tune sung to an entirely different melody. Come talk to me and we will do it together. Come to SS at 9:00 and you can do it with others. Just pick the Bible up prepared to encounter more than the same old story. You will be amazed with what you discover.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Mr. Facing Both Ways

Mark 7:1-8; James 1:17-27


       I will make the assumption that all of you washed your hands before coming to church this morning. After all, cleanliness is next to godliness. But how many of you brought a little bottle of sanitizer with you so that you might freshen up before taking communion? I need to confess, I left mine at home. Not only that, since coming into the sanctuary I have handled a bulletin, two hymn books, my music folder, and this sermon before me. I shook hands with three different folks and patted one person on the back. I share all of this because I not only will be participating in communion, I will be the person breaking the bread. What would Miss Manners say? More importantly, what would a good Pharisee say?

       Our text this morning begins rather oddly. The Pharisees notice that the disciples of Jesus failed to wash their hands before eating lunch. Now I know that it always best to wash before one eats but this complaint seems so trivial. Half these guys were fishermen. They had been eating with soiled hands their entire lives. You would think Jesus would have ignored the criticism and continued with the meal. But Jesus wasn’t very good at turning the other ear. He called the Pharisees a bunch of hypocrites claiming they had no idea what it meant to follow the commandments of God. What on earth is going on here?

        As you are well aware, Hebrew Law includes many laws concerning ritual purity. There are exacting regulations on how food is to be prepared. I for one refuse to argue with the results. A couple of weeks ago I devoured a pastrami sandwich in a Kosher restaurant off 44th Street in downtown Manhattan.   It was the best pastrami on rye I have ever eaten. I assume my hands were clean but I can’t swear to it.  No one behind the counter checked me out before I wrapped them around that glorious piece of heaven. All they seemed to care about was me paying the bill at the end of the feast.  But something different was going on with Jesus and the Pharisees and it had nothing to do with the food. The Keepers of the Law were determined to catch Jesus breaking the Mosaic Codes. Instead of backing down, Jesus lambasts the Pharisees for making a big deal over the trivial while turning a blind eye to what actually mattered.

       Jesus said, “It is not what you take into yourself that makes you unclean. It is what comes out.”

       Please understand that Jesus was speaking philosophically. I don’t want any of you running to your doctor and telling them Jesus said a low salt, low fat diet is just a bunch of nonsense made up by folks who want to make us miserable. What we eat is important. Washing our hands before lunch is imperative. But the point Jesus was making was, “Lip service too often replaces real service.” Or as the writer of James liked to say, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”

       What frustrated Jesus was he knew the Pharisees were students of the Law of Moses. Jesus preached that the primary reason for the Law was to inspire folks to live a full life loving God and loving their neighbor. But instead of embracing the essence of the Law found in the Book of Exodus, the Pharisees skipped over to the Book of Leviticus.  Anyone here actually read the Book of Leviticus?  The first 15 chapters talk about which animal you can sacrifice in the tabernacle. Most of the folks to whom Jesus preached never owned an animal much less sacrificed one. The next five chapters talk about clean and unclean food but again, most of the folks listening to Jesus ate whatever they were lucky to have on their plate. The Book of Leviticus has little meaning for folks doing their best just to make it through life.  The core of the Law of Moses, i.e. Exodus and Deuteronomy, explains how God desires me get along with that guy down the street. But that can be hard stuff. The Pharisees found it much easier to worry about table settings and hygiene. But then who can blame them. Hasn’t it always been easier to place ritual ahead of principles?

       Risk is hard and what greater risk can there ever be than getting out of our comfort zone. There is a character in the John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress called Mr. Facing Both Ways. Mr. Facing Both Ways weighed every issue, understood its moral implication, then always took the easiest path, especially if it happened to benefit him. After all, what could be more difficult than addressing problems with moral implications? The Pharisees acted like Mr. Facing Both Ways. They knew the laws about caring for the weak, the widows, and the orphans but decided it was easier to worry about which meat was kosher. I guess you could say they washed their hands of anything that might be the least bit important.

       We live in an imperfect world which daily confronts us with opportunity to address moral issues.  This is difficult because some issues can fracture even a holy community. The author of the Book of James understood this dilemma. Yet he courageously warned his folks that you have to do more than just sit quietly and hand out sanitary wipes. Perhaps he remembered the Prophet Jeremiah who wrote, “The Law of God is written upon your heart. You know what is right and what is wrong. Blessed be the one who listens and responds.”

       Many of us went to church yesterday. John McCain could have picked anyone to have spoken at his funeral but he chose four men who had absolutely nothing in common. Henry Kissinger was the architect of the Vietnamese strategy that McCain never understood. Bush and Obama were the two men who kept him out of the White House. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned Independent was McCain’s first choice to be his vice-president. But it was more complicated than that. Kissinger was a non-practicing Jew, Lieberman an orthodox Jew, Bush a converted evangelical and Obama attended the United Church of Christ.  Why these four men? Because McCain wanted folks who would do more than eulogize him. He wanted speakers who had agonized over tough decisions, even decisions with which McCain disagreed, and then acted in ways they believed was good for the country they loved.  

       Hearing the word is easy. Manipulating the word to serve our purposes is not all that hard. But doing the word for the sake of the common good is Holy. It is so much easier to wash our hands. But Christ calls us to a higher standard. When you pick up the phone and call a shut-in, you are getting your hands dirty. When you drop by a neighbor and ask them if they need something at the grocery store, you are usually going out of your way. When you stop to talk to a widow or widower who is walking down the road, your voice might be the only one they encounter all day. But maybe McCain’s final request is the hardest of all. “Even when I know I am right, I owe it to myself, and those I love, to listen to a conflicting voice before I act. It has never been about what is good for me.  It has never been about what is easy.” Christ implores us to do the hard work for the good of the orphan, the widow, the outcast and ourselves.  TGBTG.