6/14/2015 Sermon: To the Nations #2 – “Travel Plans”

mummau park 2015
This worship service took place at a local park, picnic after!

This is the time of year when churches send groups on service projects and mission trips.  Sometimes our groups will stay in Manheim or go to another state to do good deeds for other people, and sometimes they travel to faraway places.  When you travel, do you have a packing list of stuff you always take with you?  Maybe you always have a travel bag packed, just in case.  The last time you traveled, what was one thing you forgot?  That’s why our Missions Team gave everybody a packing list!

Jason greetingOur theme this month is called “To the Nations.”  Next week in worship, Christine Baer from Church World Service, in Lancaster, is coming to talk about refugees from other countries who have come here and are living among us.  In one way or another, people in God’s kingdom travel.  There is always movement, spiritually and physically. Almost every week in worship we say, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”  You may have lived in the same place for a long time, maybe you think you don’t go anywhere, but if nothing else, you are on a trip through time.  And the landscape keeps changing, doesn’t it?

We believe that God leads us on this trip.  We are not alone.  There’s probably no more famous example of a journey with God than the story of the Hebrew people escaping slavery in Egypt.  This might be the biggest camping trip anybody ever tried to put together.  It’s been a few weeks or months since they came through the Red Sea.  Let’s check in to see how it’s going…

Exodus 17:1-7.  From the wilderness of “Shin” the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ 5The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

So, the Hebrew people have run out of food and water and they’re starting to hurt. They were complaining.  Depending on your translation of the bible, they were grumbling (NIV) or murmuring (KJV).  They were not happy and it was not just a case of being cranky before a meal.  These were real circumstances and I imagine that at least the parents with kids were starting to worry.  The story says there were many thousands of these people – these families – out in a desert with no way to support themselves.  It was a serious situation.  This was a problem only God could solve, which is the point of this story.  God was using this experience to teach them how to rely on God and turn to God.  And they were not learning this lesson very easily.

Instead, the people put a target on Moses.  It’s true that God had made him their leader, but it was as if, suddenly, God didn’t exist.  All they had to do was tell God what they needed.  Instead, they complained at Moses, whose response was, “Why are you complaining to me?”

DSC_0112God watches them walking along in the desert wilderness, free from slavery, but still much to learn about being free.  God says, “People!  Shake your fist at me!  In scripture, when the people learn to do this, when they learn to release their problems to God, God gives them a way.  When the people start speaking to God, even complaining to God, God has a way of guiding them and bonding them.

It seems counter-intuitive, but the best moments in church life I’ve seen are when the church has to face some serious issue together.  When we decide to put aside the individuality, when each of us decides “it’s not about me,” when each of us takes the skill or talent or resource God gives us and offers it for the common good, when together we ask God to get us out of this mess, this wilderness, beautiful things start to happen.  When we turn to God together, God brings water out of a rock.

If you have faith in the power of Jesus working in your life, if you expect that a door will open, God will do it.  It just might not happen in the way you think it will or want it to.

The Inheritance. Once upon a time, there was a man who promised to give all 10 of his children 100 gold coins each on the day of his death.  At the time he told his children of what he intended to do, the man had far more than he needed to fulfill this promise.  But toward the end of his life, he fell on hard times.  He found that he did not have enough money to keep his word to all his children.

On the day of his death, the children gathered at their father’s bedside at his request.  One by one, they stepped forward, embraced their father, and received a purse with 100 gold coins.  When it was time for the youngest son to receive his inheritance, the father waved everyone out of the room.

“My son,” he said, “I have terrible news.  Though I have been able to give 100 gold coins to each of your brothers and sisters, I only have 20 for you.”

The youngest son was angry.  “But father, if you knew this, why didn’t you adjust what you gave them so that everything would be fair?”

“It is better that I keep my word to as many as possible,” the father said.  Although I cannot give you as many gold coins as I promised, I can give you my greatest treasure.  In addition to the 20 gold coins which I have for you, I offer my 10 closest friends.  Their friendship is worth far more than all the gold I ever possessed.  I urge you to treat them kindly.”

Just after he spoke these words, the old man died.

When the days of mourning were over, thrilled by their sudden wealth, the nine oldest children went on vacation.  The youngest soon stayed at home, deeply disappointed.  When he paid off his debts, he found he had only four gold coins left.  Though he had no great desire to see his father’s friends, he decided he must honor his father’s last request.  Reluctantly, he reserved a room at a banquet hall and invited his father’s 10 friends to dinner.  It was a wonderful meal.  His father’s friends weren’t so bad after all!

When the meal was over, the 10 elderly people said to one another, “This is the only child who treats us with kindness.  We will return his affection.”

The next morning, each of the father’s 10 friends sent two cattle and a small purse of money to the youngest son.  Several of the old farmers helped with breeding the cattle.  Soon, the youngest son had a large herd.  Others offered advice on how to invest the money.  It wasn’t long before the youngest son had greater wealth than any of the other nine.  Above the door of his home, he wrote these words: “Friendship is of more value than gold.”

John Wesley said,

Do all the good you can,

by all the means you can,

in all the ways you can,

in all the places you can,

at all the times you can,

to all the people you can,

as long as you ever can.


God, you are able to do miracles in our lives.  You are able to heal, you are able bring peace.  We believe; help our unbelief.  Break down our walls and help us see a glimpse of the life we can have simply by allowing you to take control.  Give us the courage, and the willingness, and the circumstances to step out for you.  Take away our fear of commitment.

Help us communicate to our world that we are Christians, not just church members.  Then give us dark places to go where we can carry your torch, showing the world that life is not as hopeless as it might look right now.  Through your Spirit, give us the a supernatural ability to resolve our issues in helpful ways, and the patience to be compassionate.  Help us carry each other along the path you’ve given us to walk, following your son Jesus.  Amen.

6/7/2015 Sermon – “To the Nations: “D-Day”

To The NationsLast month, the theme of our worship was “God on the Road.” When people found out that Jesus was alive, God changed them.  And God caused believers to take that message to anyone who would listen, wherever they were.  Through these believers, God went on the road.  Jesus said go – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19)

I really believe that this is a standing command for the church.  God assumed that believers would travel, and the family of believers would be a world-wide network. God needs the love and the healing to travel. Faith was never meant to be contained in one place, in one space.  Every healthy group of believers shares the ministry of the Spirit among themselves and makes a plan to share that ministry with strangers.  The fate of other nations matters to us and to God.

So, this month, we’re going to think about how we go to the nations, and this morning, I want to think for a short time about our relationship with God as we seek to do that.  We’re going to let God open our eyes “To the Nations.”

It’s not as if, sitting in this place, we don’t have a relationship with people in other countries.  We don’t think about it as much as we should.  Over the years, we’ve gone to the nations in a lot of different ways.  Today, we’re mainly tourists, but it’s around this weekend every year that you hear some WWII veterans talk about D-Day – June 6, 1944 – when the biggest naval invasion in the history of the world happened on the northwestern coast of France.  It was the beginning of the end for the Nazi control of Europe.  A lot of Americans gave their lives so that other people could be free from an evil political system.

I know that we still have a few folks who remember that time, when the war reached a climax.  Maybe you had a family member who was in the military then (in the worship service was Cy Peters, who was an Army paratrooper on  D-Day).  How did that affect the life of your family?  To bring the question in a broader way, how has war changed the course of your family’s history?  Is it possible that war on the other side of an ocean brought your family here?  The history is really sketchy, but I know that some of my family came to Pennsylvania to escape the 18th century wars that were happening in Europe.  Yours too, I’ll bet.  People are still coming to this country to escape war, and in a couple of weeks, you’ll hear from a young woman named Christine Baer about how Church World Service is helping some of them to become our neighbors.

saving-private-ryan-tom-hanksWhen the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came out in 1998, we were visiting my mother in Ohio.  My step-father had been in the Navy during WWII, and was on the crew of an LST, a kind of front-loading ferryboat for people and equipment. These were used as landing craft on Omaha Beach at Normandy.  When we walked in the door for that visit, he said to us, “Before you leave, you’re going to see this movie with me.”

He meant all of us.  Maybe you remember that the first 20 minutes or so are violent, to say the least, in very realistic way.  Our kids were 12 and 14 at the time, and afterward, he said something like, “And that’s what war is.  Don’t ever forget it.”  He meant – in war, real people die in awful ways. If that was disturbing for you to see, good.  It should be.  It’s not a video game.

So, I think it’s interesting how our attitudes toward war have changed over the years.  All the kids in my neighborhood had helmet liners and green fatigue shirts from the local Army-Navy surplus store.  When I was growing up in the 1960’s, there were World War II TV shows and movies and bubble gum cards – as if this war was a great adventure and its main purpose was to help America feel good about itself.

But listening to veterans talk, I don’t have the impression that they thought they were on a great adventure.  They had a job to do and they did it.  They were far away from home and they hated it.  They talk about things they saw that they can’t get out of their minds.  One of the things that the veterans keep saying in interviews, especially whenever they are at one of the battlefield cemeteries, is, “What a waste.”  There is probably no greater truth about war.

World War II started a long time before D-Day, and although there are plenty of villains to point the finger at, historians point out that most wars are the result of a chain of events that might go back centuries. Cause and effect – that’s how history works, they say.  You do something, I do something back.  It has to do with how people resolve conflict with each other.  Every war starts with a problem between people somewhere and the story I want to bring now describes the beginning of a problem for the people of God.  This is the kind of problem that eventually leads to a war.  And if we listen closely, we may learn how God wants us to live.

1 Samuel 8:4-18.  Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5and said to him, ‘You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.’ 6But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to govern us.’ Samuel prayed to the Lord, 7and the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.’

10 So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11He said, ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.’

Ever since the tribes of Israel escaped slavery and came to the Promised Land, they had been governed by judges, who were something like a combination of prophets and administrators.  They guided the people in just ways of living.  For about 300 years (beginning 1375 BC), They were responsible to make sure that justice was served in the land and that God’s voice was heard.  The more the judge relied on God, the better things went for the people.

Samuel was the last of the judges, and that was the story of how the time of judges ended.  It ended because of a problem: Samuel made the decision to appoint his two sons to be judges after him.  This was his decision, not God’s, and these two sons of his were not good people.  (see 1 Samuel 8:1-3).  So, the people rejected this idea of Samuel’s, as they should have, and asked for a king instead.

So, the people had one problem and turned it into two problems; it was a solid case of getting what you pray for:

  1. They rejected God leadership. Instead of coming to God with the problem and waiting for God to help, they also made their own decision.  God was perfectly capable of finding the right person, if they had only asked, if only Samuel had asked.
  2. Their second problem was that they wanted “to be like everybody else.” All the other nations had kings, and they had no imagination for the kind of answer to their problem that God might give.

One of the differences between a king and a judge was that a king was the commander of an army and a judge was not.  A king could organize the nation for war.  The people of God were saying that they wanted to be able to fight wars with other people.

But God’s people are not supposed to be like everyone else. God had been trying to teach them that if they got into a dangerous situation with another nation, they should rely on God, and God never failed to help.  But the mistake the chosen people make over and over throughout the scripture is that they turn away from God and go it alone. It’s that pride thing again.  And God usually decides to let them learn the hard way.  The people got their king, and his name was Saul.  He did everything Samuel predicted, and war became part of their lifestyle.  This was the event that got the ball rolling: a combination of selfish pride between Samuel and the people.

We learn the hard way, too.  And in every conflict, somebody can make the decision to “break the cycle of violence” as you sometimes hear community leaders begging people to do when neighborhood riots break out.  Some conflicts can only be resolved with a D-Day, but I think even that battle could have been stopped before it started – somehow, years before.  Maybe I’m naive; maybe it couldn’t have been stopped.  But it’s still true that God’s people are not supposed to be like everyone else. They have the power at their fingertips to control pride.  A war may start somewhere, but it doesn’t have to start with us.

There is so much conflict in the world right now; there is so much to talk about and think about.

St. Maarten, 2009.  CN
St. Maarten, 2009. CN

I think it’s a kind of butterfly effect.  You know, the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in a rain forest can cause a hurricane somewhere else.  It’s a little crazy, but work with me!

I think conflict starts at the simplest level, in the most basic way.  The next time you come to a moment when anger, choose not to react.  I know it’s hard.  This takes the discipline of an athlete.

When a group you’re with is getting worked up about something, and you begin to agree, pause for a moment to learn a few facts and think about whether the God of love and justice would want this.

The world is an amazing place, and God loves it, loves the people who live in it.  The vast majority are normal, good people, just trying to get by.  We do well to make a connection, to get to know them, instead of ignore, mistrust, or fight people who don’t look like us or live like us.  We do well to make ourselves open to the ways Jesus wants to flow through us to the world God loves.


O God, we have so much to learn about you and about ourselves.  You think and act in such different ways from us. Help us put aside the pride that keeps us from admitting our need for your love; help us love each other.  Change the pride that corrupts us into the kind of concern that heals our wounds and brings peace.  Open our minds and our hearts to the Savior you sent to us, who overcame a world of pain and hurt and death.

God, we hear you calling us to new life.  You open the door to our tombs and we come out to you.  It’s a brand new day.  Now show us how to live and how to give life.  Open our eyes to see the world you love. Amen.