4/30/2017 Sermon – “Jesus on the Loose”

I don’t know about you – it’s been a couple of weeks and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind!  Christ is risen! The resurrection of Jesus is maybe the most significant event in human history.  It changes how we all think about life and death.  That’s the moment when God was thinking completely outside the box.  You realize: if the resurrection of Jesus had not happened, if Jesus had not come out of the tomb alive after a brutal death, the New Testament would not have been written.  And I promise you, we would not be here, gathered like this.

Jesus is alive.  Right now.  What does that mean to you?  Jesus was a great healer, so the stories go.  He was an amazing teacher, among many teachers who have lived throughout history.  Except for Jesus, there are no great healers or amazing teachers who rose from the dead.

In the gospel stories, there are 10-12 times that Jesus appeared to people after his death, depending on how you count them. Sometimes, it was just to one person.  Sometimes he appeared to a group.  There is one story of him appearing to hundreds of people.

When you think of Jesus, alive outside the tomb, when you think “resurrection,” there are a few images that come to mind.  You might think of Jesus by the side of the road talking with Mary Magdalene, the first person to see him.  She didn’t recognize him at first – she thought he was the cemetery gardener.  On Easter Sunday morning, that’s the story – from the Gospel John – that I think we hear most often.  Or you might think of him with his disciples when he appeared to “doubting” Thomas.

But Luke is the only one who tells the story you’re about to hear.  Put yourself on the country road in that picture…

Luke 24:13-35.  Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

It’s another case of before and after.  This is how we were, now this is how we are, and the magic ingredient is Jesus.  Before meeting the risen Jesus, if anybody has had a right to be depressed, it’s these two people.  Jesus was grabbed in the middle of the night, “tried,” and executed.  They had such hopes, and God had let them down.  Have you ever felt that God has let you down?  This had not gone the way we hoped it would.  We’re walking, and then this guy comes along.  You don’t recognize him at first.  Watch how this works.  First,

Jesus comes as a stranger.  Jesus always starts out as a stranger.  There’s casual conversation.  Jesus doesn’t want to be intrusive.  He comes up to these two as they walk along and says, “Hey, what are you talking about?”  They talked about how Jesus had been crucified.  It was still fresh in their minds and they were pretty upset about it – as I think any of us would be.

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  (v. 27)

Jesus opens up scripture.  That’s one way major Jesus comes to us, especially for those of us who didn’t have a chance to meet him in the flesh.  This book is called “God’s Word” for a reason.  Jesus is called the “living word” for a reason. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” as John puts it. I’ve heard many people say that it was a moment of faith in the living, resurrected Christ that opened up the Bible to them, when they were able to say, “Oh, now I get it!”

You will always have questions, and there is so much to absorb.  There is so much God wants to say to us in the Bible.  So much more than the little bits we get in church from week to week.  And as this story shows, God will help you understand.  And as you understand, God is at work.  I believe it’s something you can even feel sometimes.  ‘They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’” (v.32)  You really don’t need to a theology degree to get good things out of the Bible.  At the moment, reading the Gospel of Luke then the Book of Acts is a great way to start.  Pray: “Jesus, show me what you need me to know.”

They’re walking and talking and at that point in the story – must have been for a few hours – they still didn’t know they were hanging out with Jesus.  Jesus had come to them as a stranger, and stayed a stranger until he became their guest.  After walking and talking, they invited him to stay.

Jesus is our guest.  In this story, Jesus waits to be invited. He does not barge in.  He waits to be your guest.  Jesus was walking on, until they insisted that he stay.  It might seem like some small point in the story, but it’s a huge thing.  Nothing happens for these guys until they made this stranger welcome.  What God needs from all of us is an attitude of welcome to the stranger, God needs us to be finding ways to invite strangers.  In another place, Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  (Matthew 25:35).

Jesus is our host.  But the main desire of Jesus is to become the host of the party.  He took bread and broke it for them.

Look at how this relationship is working: Jesus comes as a stranger and is welcome.  He opens up scripture to us, and becomes our guest (we say, “stay!”). Suddenly we realize who he is – the host of this party!

Jesus used scripture to help these two people understand who he was, but they didn’t really see who he was until when?  It was when they ate a meal together.

For them, it wasn’t the marks in his hands or feet, or his side where he was stabbed by the Roman soldier.  It was when the host served the food.

Caravaggio – Supper at Emmaus, 1606.

Food is a ministry tool that any Christian and any church can use and needs to use.  Why is that?  We share something we need.  Barriers are broken and bonds are made.  God uses food over and over in scripture as a tool to save people.  We might disagree about a bunch of things, and when our relationship gets tested, it might be time for prayer and a meal.  This is why I think church meals are so important – the more the better.  Because the more we eat together, the stronger we are, the more love we share, and the less we are strangers to each other, and the more God will use us to reach the strangers who need to know him.

When Jesus reveals himself, we get a little picture of how to do ministry.  You could call it… spiritual hospitality.  This is what he meant when he said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.”

We move from meeting the stranger (the God we don’t recognize), to welcoming Jesus the guest (inviting God into our lives and on our journey), to opening scripture (where God communicates with us), allowing God to be the host, the Lord of our lives and of our church.  We sense him in the midst of us.  We didn’t recognize him at first, but it’s not long before we realize who brought us together.  Christ is risen!

Prayer

O God, settle us down, open our eyes, especially to strangers, because we know that you are among them.  Help us know how to do hospitality as believers, as your people. Help us extend our time of worship into our time on the road, our time with family, and especially our time at the table.  Warm our hearts as we have faith in the living Jesus, we believe in him, Lord.  He is our guest today, and it’s in his name we pray.  Amen.

4/16/2017 Easter Sermon: “I’ve Got a Job for You!”

La Isabella, Dominican Republic. CN – 2009.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed. Right from the beginning, I want to know, do you believe that’s true?  What does it mean for you that Jesus is alive right now?

After one of the most awful scenes of torture and death that anybody could describe, and then a day of hiding and depression, this is how Matthew tells the story…

Matthew 28:1-10.  After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.  7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’  8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

That story is about what happens when people believe.  They get surprised by God, God gives them a life that they never thought possible, then God gives them a job description, gives them a mission.

Is there a cemetery that you visit from time to time?  Look, maybe it’s just me.  I’ve been in and out of cemeteries so much over the years, that I see them a little differently.  I am more aware now that for most of those stones you see, at some moment in time, people gathered in that spot.  Words were said. Families were going through some kind of emotion, thinking about how they’ll fix what’s broken, or maybe some kind of relief.  We’ve all been there.  We’re heading there.  Life has an end.  Jesus was dead.

On this day, of all days, for the resurrection of Jesus to have any meaning in our real lives, we have to remember that Jesus lived a real life and that this was a real death that Jesus died.  It was only a couple of days before that he was betrayed and crucified and died.

The living Jesus is just as real, and this isn’t a fairy tale.  I still want to know – do you believe?  Is it true?  Everything you are as a person, everything we are as people, everything we do as church hinges on whether we believe.

  • It starts with a quiet, oppressive sadness. Two women named Mary are walking toward the tomb of Jesus. Thinking about, talking about the execution death of their teacher/leader/healer Jesus.  They loved him.  The images of the cross are still haunting them as they walk.  Some PTSD going on maybe?
  • Then there’s an earthquake. Have you ever been in an earthquake?  I’ve only experienced a mild one, but it was enough to make me realize that there are forces in the world no one can control and then…
  • …an angel rolling back the stone from the tomb. The guards faint, the women run, right into…
  • …Jesus, who is not dead anymore.

The picture changes so quickly and so completely, that lost in this confusion are the things that Jesus and the angel say to these women.  They are so shocked, the words have to be repeated.

This is where the followers of Jesus start to receive their mission, and this is where the world starts to change – not just for them, but for you and me too.  Listen to these words…

The angels say, “Don’t be afraid.”  I would think that’s appropriate for the moment.  “You’re looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  You were expecting to find him dead but he isn’t.”

Now go tell the disciples.

Then go to Galilee.”

When the women see Jesus he says the same thing, “Don’t be afraid.  Tell the disciples. Go to Galilee.”

Flowers next to the Sea of Galilee, near the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). CN – 2011.

Go to Galilee?  They were still in Jerusalem when Jesus gave them their mission.  These two women named Mary, who are the only ones who have seen him alive, now have to go tell everyone else that Jesus is alive… and he’ll meet them back home, and they need to walk for about a week and a half to get there.  If it happened here in Manheim, it would be like the women running up the hill to tell us to meet Jesus in Pittsburgh – and we’re walking there.  It’s a test.

If you want what Jesus has to offer, you have got to leave the cemetery, leave that place, leave the things that are keeping you dead, and trust what Jesus says.  Stop living in the past, reach out and grab the new future.  If you believe, your new life starts now.

Hiking in the area between Galilee and Samaria. CN – 2011.

On the ten-day walk back to Galilee, the disciples had to decide whether they really wanted to be a part of this group, and whether they really believed in the risen Jesus. And they had plenty of time to think about it.  So, by the time they got where they were going, some doubted.  Even with Jesus standing right in front of them, some doubted.  And why wasn’t this easier?  Why couldn’t Jesus just say what he wanted to say right there in Jerusalem?  Why did we have to walk all this way and climb all the way up here?  Isn’t it easier to just stay home and be occasionally religious?  Can’t we just be comfortable?

View from the top of the traditional Mt. of Transfiguration near Nazareth, Palestine. CN – 2011

Jesus says, “Go to the mountain. I’ve got a job for you.”  It’s a test of faith.  Jesus has faith in us.  He wants to know if we have faith in him.  Jesus wants to know if we’re obedient.  Jesus wants to know if we’re going to go to the mountain in Galilee if he tells us to.  If we won’t go to the mountain as his disciples, then how can he trust us to go the nations?

People of God, Jesus said, “Go to the mountain; I’ve got a job for you.”  When we get to the mountain, Jesus has more than a job for us – he has a mission for us, a calling, should we decide to accept it (don’t forget, some of us are going to doubt and turn the other way).  We’re going to baptize the nations.  Through the power of Christ, we’re going to change the world.  We are going to make a difference through the love of Christ.  We’re going to bring them to faith.  We’re going to feed them and love them and tell people that he’s alive.  God will use that good news to make difference.  And he’ll be right there by our side – it’s a promise.

 What does it mean for you that Jesus is alive right now?  What’s your major problem of the moment?  Health?  Family?  Work?  A particular relationship? What does it mean for that situation that Jesus is alive right now?  You can have hope in your deep place.  You can know that God has the end of your story written. Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.

Jesus talked a lot about what his death and resurrection means to us.  Let’s go back to something Jesus said on the way to the cross and the empty tomb.  We were walking along with Jesus when he pointed to a shepherd and a flock of sheep and said…

Shepherd near Bethlehem, Palestine. CN – 2011.

I am the gate for the sheep… Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture… I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly… (John 10:7-10)

A life full of hope and confidence.  Full of Christ.  How does Jesus make this possible?

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’  (John 10:17-18)

This shepherd lays down his life for you, and for me!  Our sins died with him.  When he takes up his life again, he gives us new life if we believe in him.  Our sins are gone, and the only thing left to do is believe.  Have you entered the gate?  Come to the gate; come to the shepherd. Christ is risen – he is risen indeed!

Prayer

O God, on this day you amazed the world.  You took the worst that the human race had to offer and turned it into the best thing that ever happened.  You saved us.  You make life out of death. Now bring that abundant life to us.  Make the living Jesus real to us in ways we’ve never experienced or expected.  Help us make him our Lord.  Help us remember that he is the master of our lives and of our church.

Then use us to bring life to the world you love and sent Jesus to die for.  Give us opportunities to show people that Jesus lives in us.  Heal our relationships, give us a greater ability to love and forgive. Give us eyes that are sensitive to pain and injustice, and hands willing to do something that makes a difference here in Manheim and everywhere else that we have opportunity. We pray with faith that as we give ourselves to you, you will give us the kind of life that never dies, because of the risen Jesus.  Amen.

4/9/2017 Sermon: “Disturbing the Peace”

Palm tree near Jericho, Palestine. CN – 2011.

If next Sunday is Easter Sunday, then today is…  Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus leads this spontaneous parade into Jerusalem.  The story goes that people cut branches from trees and put them on the path where Jesus was riding his donkey.  There’s only one verse in the bible (John 12:13) that says it was palm branches, but it makes sense, right?  They lay flat.  They also show honor.  Palms are planted in special places and palm branch designs were used on/in buildings in ancient times.

Anybody here ever marched in a parade? Part of a band, maybe? On Memorial Day, in our town, at the end of the parade, would be kids on bikes.  We looked forward to it every year: decorating our bikes with crepe paper and putting playing cards in the spokes so that they sounded like motors.  Fun.

And this parade is fun.  It was almost two thousand years ago, but you can still go to the place where this happened and get some sense of what it was like.  This is where it gets real.  This is where the God of the universe comes to save you and me.

The parade starts at the top of the Mount of Olives.  It’s a hill overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem and the very first thing you see from that spot is the Temple Mount.  When the tour buses come to the Old City, that’s where they like to take you first.  You come up the back side of the hill and then suddenly – there it is.  They stop and let you take pictures.  Today, the Dome of the Rock is around where the Temple would have been – a Muslim shrine.  A different view, but the same spot and it’s breath-taking. Today, there’s a parking lot and a guy with a camel who will give you a ride, for a price.

Let’s hear how Matthew describes it…

Temple Mount, looking west, with the Mount of Olives beyond. CN – 2011.

Matthew 21:1-17.  1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

Palestinian shepherd, not far from Jerusalem. CN – 2011.

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”

17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

All the gospel stories and all the Jesus movies have this scene.  It will help us to watch how this played out.  Here’s the first part of that story;

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbWurHq1bCQ)

Dani Fair and I were having a conversation about how to prepare for Palm Sunday.  What colors should be used on the altar?  It’s a thing for older churches.  Purple or red?  Palm or Passion?  Do we think more about the parade or cross?  Lots of churches pick one or the other.

At the beginning of that clip, the parade goes by a kind of framework outside the city walls.  That’s where the Romans crucified people.  It’s a not-so-subtle message about who is in control.  As the parade comes near the temple, the Jewish religious leaders are watching.  The Romans are watching.  Jesus has gotten their attention.  What happens next is not for the faint of heart, and you can’t just skip to next week.  He is confronting who and what is in control.

Excavations of the southeastern side of the Temple Mount, showing steps Jesus would have used, behind workers. Dome of the al Aqsa mosque is above.

When Jesus got to the Temple Mount, he got off the donkey, went up, and overturned the tables of money-changers.  These are probably the steps he used (see photo).  Years later, the Temple Mount was destroyed and rebuilt and there’s a wall across those steps now, but the money changers wouldn’t have been far from there.  This place, this moment in history when your sins died on the cross is real.  It wasn’t just a story. he walked up those steps.

So, I have this confession.  A few nights ago, Kathy and I went to an R-rated movie.  R for the violence.  Yeah, it was date night and I know how to entertain my wife!  Afterward, we were talking about how hard it seems to be for movie people to tell a story without at least a little bit of bloody destruction – and we’ve all become accustomed to it.

Real violence in the real world is different, though, isn’t it.  Some of us have seen things we can’t “un-see.”  I only mention that because Jesus, God in human form, came to this literal place on a very real mission to save you and me.  And blood was spilled.  Somebody died.  It was real.

You have to picture people on those steps, walking along with Jesus.  Other people at the top, with their arms folded.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t handle confrontation well.  I confess it.  To this point I’ve loved Jesus, but in the moment, it makes no sense.

Jesus isn’t just asking for trouble; he has walked right into the middle of it, in full public view of people whom he knows want to kill him.  And then, as if walking into town with a parade isn’t bad enough, walks up those steps and loudly disturbs the peace – he goes after the people selling things and changing money in the Temple courtyard.  In the Jesus movies, it isn’t the people he attacks – he goes after the tables.  In any case, I thought Jesus was supposed to be bringing an over-powering sense of calm.  Irresistible serenity.  Bring in the next Jesus please!  Let’s try somebody little less confrontational!

I would love to have been there, but then again, maybe I wouldn’t have liked what I saw.  On the one hand, I really would like to know what happened – exactly what happened, and how it looked and sounded.  On the other hand, the more I learn about Jesus, the more I find out how much he disturbs the peace. He just doesn’t leave well-enough alone; he “opens cans of worms.”  He does things that bother me.

This story has always been a problem for Christians.  When you get into the details, it doesn’t jive with the mental picture we have of Jesus, which is usually a mild-mannered, medium-built, brown-haired Nordic man with a glassy-eyed, sad expression on his face.  It’s hard to imagine Jesus laughing hard, which I’m sure he did sometimes, or getting really upset, which he also obviously did.  Today, Jesus has some fire in his eyes, and there are a lot of people watching. Everybody is having a different reaction.

Above those steps, we’ve got the religious leaders trying to keep proper control.  Good “religion” means everything is under control, right?  Jesus is not fitting their mold and that’s a big problem.  If he could only have warned us he would do these things!  Communication is the issue!  Church people like to say that.

Near those steps, the Romans are watching, waiting for something to get out of hand.  For now, the parade’s not a problem.  But when there is a problem, they’re ready to settle it.  Fast.  Just doing their jobs.

Walking up those steps, the disciples, Jesus’ closest friends and followers, who have been walking with him these past two weeks, have an overpowering sense of dread.  He’s out of control.  There’s nothing we can do.  Doesn’t he get how he is setting himself up?

At the top of those steps, we’ve got the people selling things and changing money.  The temple religious system is good for them.  Hey Jesus – I’m just making a living here!  What are you doing?

And walking up those steps with him is a crowd that includes noisy children.  Did you catch that the children were shouting in the Temple courts?  Jesus is encouraging the children to be noisy in the holy place.  On this day, that was the last straw.

Are you brave enough to walk up those steps? I know that I’m thinking, “This is not turning out the way I thought it would.”  Too much trouble.  Too much tension.  It’s all heading downhill.  It’s a train-wreck.

On this Palm Sunday, how does Jesus disturb your peace?  I believe a lot of people might have this form of religion that doesn’t much involve God.  It’s more about us and our needs. We drift into it without even knowing sometimes.

We stand in front of our own personal money-changing table and beg Jesus, “Jesus, please, don’t knock over this one!”  And every now and then, he knocks over my table, that thing I have used as a substitute for God.  He wants to re-focus my attention.  Then, if I’m one of his, he may need me to knock over a table or two on my own.  He may need me to do something to “make a difference through the love of Christ” (our church motto).  It might mean disturbing the peace somewhere a little bit ourselves.  What does our faith call us to do?

By this time next week, there will be an empty tomb.  I suspect that will disturb the most peace of all!  That tomb is also a real place.  He’s alive. Do you believe? The God of the universe is doing this for you and me.

 Prayer

 Jesus, this is not an easy thing you’re asking us to do.  The walking has been hard and the places you take us are not easy to endure.  We thought it would be easy. And it’s not.  Forgive us for our reluctance.  Give us strength for what lies ahead.  We thank you for walking with us, that you never abandon us, and that you are bringing us to new life we so desperately need.  Amen.

4/2/2017 Sermon – Dare to Dream #5: “What’s in Your Hand?”

We’re now at the end of Dare to Dream, the book by Pastor Mike Slaughter. He’s been encouraging us to develop a mission statement as believing Christians. The “mission” of your Dare to Dream mission statement prompts you to act out what you believe. The content of your life as a follower of Christ and as a church

Honors God. Your mission says yes to God, shows your love for God, deepens your relationship with God, fills the void in your own soul, supplies what’s been missing, makes you strong, gives you confidence.  Honoring God begins with faith in his son, begins with saying “Jesus, I believe in you.”

Blesses other people.  Your mission recognizes that God put us here to help God change the world, one person at a time.  By the love and the care and the kindness we show, with our minds off of ourselves, we become the presence of God to other people.  The church practices this, and then the “other people” must always include people we don’t know, people God needs us to reach – to make a difference through the love of Christ.

Brings you joy.  There is nothing more fulfilling than knowing God worked through you, used you to change someone else’s life.  It’s even more fulfilling to know that God used them to change the world somehow.

Today, Moses is still having a conversation with God in the burning bush.  Moses is a new believer.  He’s about 30 seconds into his spiritual life.

God wants Moses to be God’s partner in saving the Hebrew people. Moses has just said, “But who am I…?  …and who do I say you are?”  Remember what God said?  “I AM WHO I AM.”

Moses isn’t done avoiding his mission…

Exodus 4:1-5. Then Moses answered, ‘But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, “The Lord did not appear to you.” ’ 2The Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ He said, ‘A staff.’ 3And he said, ‘Throw it on the ground.’ So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. 4Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail’—so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand— 5‘so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.’

‘But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, “The Lord did not appear to you.” (Exodus 4:1)

But suppose… And then God gives him some signs, some miraculous things to do in case the people don’t believe.  God asks – what’s that in your hand?  Moses is a shepherd and carries a long stick that God turns into a snake, then back into a stick (God also makes his hand leprous then heals it).

Palestine. CN – 2011.

All the shepherds in that part of the world have these long sticks they carry.  Moses doesn’t have much, but he’s got this stick – a staff – and God uses it over and over as he leads Moses and the people to the Promised Land.  The point is that God didn’t ask Moses to go gather supplies, get training, clean himself up, put together a resume, and get prepared.  Moses, what’s that in your hand?  A stick?  Okay, that’s what we’re going to be using to save the people today.

When we choose to honor God, God always uses what we have and sometimes supplies what we don’t have.  There’s always a little bit of scary doubt before faith kicks in.  Moses had to learn to trust God and so do we, right?

Even after God gave Moses some pretty strong, obvious, scary signs (I’d remember my stick turning into a snake!), Moses isn’t done avoiding God’s mission.

But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ 11Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’ 13But he said, ‘O my Lord, please send someone else.’ (Exodus 4:10-13)

Even though Moses gave this heartfelt protest, God didn’t let him off the hook; he had to step out and just do it.  Because he knew the Egyptians and the culture, he had to go.  In the mission God gives, sometimes it has to be you.  What’s interesting is that God didn’t fix the speech problem Moses had, but allowed his brother-in-law Aaron to be his partner when words needed to be said.

There is no such thing as finding joy in the Christian life, being blessed by God, without a willingness to be used.  Honor God, bless other people, find joy.

The eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, looking southwest, very close to the traditional site of the Feeding of the 5,000.

Do you remember how Jesus handled a crowd of 5,000 hungry people on a hillside by the Sea of Galilee?  That story says the crowd was coming toward Jesus.  His disciples came to him and said…

There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ (John 6:9)

I know you remember what happened next.  The baskets they were using began to overflow. Like the stick of Moses, it was a sign, to help the people believe. Why did Jesus do this? It was about more than just creating a huge dinner for a big crowd.  He explained it this way:

Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.  (John 6:47-48)

God does things to get our attention, calls us to believe, then uses us to bless other people. And the blessing of other people that we do brings us joy.

This is really important for us as believing Christians and as a church.  God needs us to bring change to a needy world.  This is where we find meaning in life as believers.

There is a scene in the movie City Slickers that goes like this:

Each one of us has something God can use.  So, what do you have?  What is in your hand? Mike Slaughter asks it this way:

What are the gifts of your head?  What do you know more about than most other people? As you’ve heard over the last few weeks, God can even use your worst experiences.

What are the gifts of your hands?  What do you do better than a lot of other people?

What is the passion of your heart?  What situation in the world gets your attention? Or, it might be something close to where we live.  What is it that you seem to care about more than other people?  I’ve had several passions.  Reaching youth for Christ is one of them.  Doing what I can to help people in poverty is another.

These questions aren’t just for us individually; they are for the body of Christ, for the Church, for St. Paul’s United Church of Christ.  Just as those questions get unique responses from each of us, no two churches are the same (nor should they be).  We are not called to be like other churches and God needs us to do our mission right where we are in the streets of Manheim, PA, or where ever we are planted, bringing ripples of change that give blessing to people we may never meet..

Prayer

God, we believe; help our unbelief.  Like Moses, too often we think we are small, insignificant.  But you care deeply about the people of our world and our town.  We know you need us.  We offer ourselves just as we are.  We give you what we hold in our hands.  We honor you with our gifts, use them to bless the people of Manheim and beyond.  Thank you for this opportunity to experience your joy. Amen.