The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (August 2, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a
Two phrases from this poignant story resonate with me: “You are the man” and “I have sinned.” Boil it all down, and you have all one really needs to know about the gravity of sin and its resolution.

David is outraged and moved by the story of the defenseless lamb. Alas, it is always much easier for us to see sin in the lives of someone else; our own shortfalls are arguably “not so bad.” But, Nathan’s accusation is straight up and to the point. “You know you did it, David.”

When confronted with our sin, we can aver, justify, minimize, shift the blame or use any number of other strategies to avoid owning up. In the end, not a one of them will avail our need for cleansing and righteousness. There is only one way through to forgiveness — confession. “I did it; I was wrong.” 

The cost for sin is great; confession does not take that away. But it does make restoration possible — it opens the door for hope from despair.

Psalm 51:1-12
The textual notes tell us that this is written by David after he has been confronted by Nathan about his sin with Bathsheba. The language speaks for itself; the depth of agony, sorrow, and penitence are as palpable here as any place in the scripture.

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
“Huh?”

Can you imagine that response to a miracle? The Israelites have been dreaming of bread and “fleshpots” back in Egypt, and Moses tells them God will send them food the next morning. “Just look for it when you open your tentflap and step out.”

So, they do — and they may have been a little underwhelmed at first. “What’s that?” Kind of like children confronted with a plate of spinach or stewed carrots, perhaps. 

We aren’t always immediately thrilled with God’s answers to our prayers, are we? Sometimes, it takes some time to get acclimated and to catch up with the wisdom of what God is doing. Manna may not have been a four-course meal, but it sure did get them through some tough times in the wilderness!

God tends to come through in the clutch, even if it’s not the way we would have done it ourselves.

Psalm 78:23-29
The psalm text calls God’s manna from heaven, “the bread of angels.” Probably a little poetic license here — we don’t literally know if this is what angels eat for breakfast every morning.

But it is the symbol of abundance and provision. Good enough for angels, good enough for you and me!

Ephesians 4:1-16
The Apostle reminds us that we are definitely all very different parts of the same body. No two of us perform exactly the same functions (or see “eye to eye” on all things, necessarily!) But, we all definitely need each other in order to perform most effectively.

Besides, there is a powerful argument presented here for finding unity in the midst of our considerable diversity: we all share one hope, one calling, one one Lord, one faith, one baptism (even if I use more water than you do!) — there is one God who looks parentally upon each of us.

We are a family, after all, and though we may fuss and fight like one — in the end, we are here to stick up for one another, as well.

John 6:24-35    
People are always hungry.

Things were no different for Jesus; after a couple of “feeding the five thousand” episodes, there are those who find themselves standing in line, coming back for more. He is hard-pressed to keep up with the demand, as he evidently did not come into the world “to save the people from their hunger.”

He tries really hard to point them to the bread of heaven — not exactly the same thing as the manna they had all heard about (see above) — and promises that their spiritual hunger and thirst will definitely be satisfied if they believe in him.

“Fine, but we’re still hungry here, Jesus. What are you going to do about that?”

As we will see in next week’s lesson, Jesus will tell them that eating his flesh is the answer– but he doesn’t get many takers.

Ministry sure is hard.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I am a total and complete “land-lubber.” I get sea-sick standing on the pier at Myrtle Beach.  Therefore, it will not surprise you to learn that I know absolutely nothing about lobsters, except what I read in Wikipedia and in this illustration I clipped from an unspecified “Christian magazine” and put in a file about twenty years ago.  So, I am dependent upon those two slightly wobbly sources for the accuracy of this idea.

“From time to time lobsters have to leave their shells in order to grow.  They need the shell to protect them from being torn apart; yet when they grow the old shell must be abandoned.  If they did not abandon it, the old shell would soon become their prison – and finally their casket. The tricky part is the brief period of time between when the old shell is abandoned and the new one formed.  During that terrible, vulnerable period, the transition must be scary to the lobster.  Currents cartwheel them from coral to kelp.  Hungry schools of fish are ready to make them a part of the food chain.  For a while at least, that old shell must look pretty good.” Brent Mitchell.

“The brief period of time between when the old shell is discarded and the new one is formed” – that’s where we find the congregation of the Israelites today. They too had left behind an old shell – years, generations really, of slavery in Egypt.  It was not a good life, but it was life.  It was bad and hard, but at least it was a place where they understood the rules, they knew what to expect.  It may not have been a land flowing with milk and honey but at least there was water to drink and food to eat and a roof over their heads.  True they were slaves – but then again, it was steady work.

Here in the desert, in the wilderness – nothing was certain.  Everything was wide open: they had no jobs, no crops, no storehouses, no overseers, and no certainty about where the next meal would come from.  No wonder they were grouchy and complaining.  Truth be told, in their shoes, we would be too.

In this state of exposure and uncertainty and anxiety about the future – the past began to look pretty good.  Throughout the biblical stories of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness a constant theme is played out, over and over and over again.  The congregation of Israelites complains about their condition and blame Moses and God for getting them into this mess.  And they also look back upon their time in Egypt as the “good old days,” reciting fuzzy memories of their years of suffering and servitude.

“The tricky part  . . .  is the brief period of time between when the old shell is discarded and when the new one is formed.”  That was true for the Israelites and it is true for us.  American Christianity is in that time between shells; we are walking through the desert without the security and safety of the old ways of doing things.  Sometimes it feels like we are being forced to reinvent ourselves on an almost weekly basis and in the midst of being blown about by the winds of change we are tempted to look back on the way things used to be and to think how much easier it would be if things never changed.  We can find ourselves wishing for more stability, for more security, for “now” to go back to being like “then”.

Until I was thirteen my family lived in a little four room house on a farm we shared with my grandparents.  Four little rooms and an attic for two parents and five children.  A well in the yard for water, and an outhouse in the woods for, well, you know.  Within a year both my grandparents died and my aunt who had lived with them married and moved down the road to her husband’s farm and my family occupied my grandparent’s house.  It was a large rambling two story farmhouse with lots of rooms, big porches on the front and back, and best of all – indoor plumbing.

Our family had some difficulty adjusting to our new home.  I don’t want to be indelicate here, but when the men in the family got up in the morning, they headed outside before they remembered they had a bathroom.  More interestingly, we found ourselves living in the same amount of space we had used in the old, smaller house.  It took us a while to spread out and take advantage of all that unrestricted room.

The congregation of the Israelites complained about food and God gave them food.  In chapter 17 they complained about water and God gave them water.  As time goes on they complained about other things.  Sometimes God got angry, sometimes God didn’t; but God always responded to their need and provided for them  Because God knew that lack of food, water, and other things wasn’t what was really bothering the Israelites.  It was all that freedom, all that uncharted future in front of them.

So it is with us.  We too face an uncertain and uncharted future.  We too are often guilty of succumbing to the fatal allure of the familiar.  We too look at the way the world is changing and we become frightened.  We too look to the past for assurance: We cling to the old hymns and the old liturgies as if we can only pray and God can only hear in those words, in those ways.  We go down the hall of the church and point at pictures of pastors and confirmations of the past and think, “It was so much better when things were like that.” And maybe it was, but the fact is, it will never be that way again and we must be the church in the world as it is – not as we wish it were.

And the story of the manna is our assurance that God is with us in our wilderness, God is leading us through this time of uncertainty and growth, God is providing what we need, not necessarily what we want, but certainly what we need.

The writer of Exodus refers to the manna as a test.  Sometimes we forget that testing is an educational tool, a tool to help us discover those places where we need to learn more and grow more.  God is not trying to trip the Israelites up, not trying to see if they measure up to being the “Chosen people” – God already knows that they don’t and that such measuring up is beside the point.  God is using this test to teach them the lesson that faith is not about what we know and not about what we are capable of doing.  Faith is about trusting God in those times when we are without even the vestige of a shell of outward protection; when we are bereft of anything except our sheer and utter dependence upon the goodness of God.  To go out to pick up manna and to take only enough for one day is to trust that God will provide again the next day, and the next day after that, and yes, the next day after that.

Pray with me please:  “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 317.  Collect after the Litany)

Amen and amen.

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (July 26, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Boy, oh, boy! What can we say about King David and his wandering eyes?
There are any number of approaches possible for preaching this text; certainly, “be sure your sins will find you out” is a tried and true message. The futility of trying to “hide from God” (a la the story of the Fall in the garden of Eden) might be another. Seeing if you can find somebody else to take the fall for you (“go on down to your house, Uriah, and ‘wash your feet’ –[wink, wink]”) is another fool’s errand.
 
I am struck by the depth of the desperation that ensued as David sought any remedy other than honest confession for his sin. Those in the recovery community learn — at a price, to be sure — that every offense is only made right by an act of atonement. Responsibility must be accepted and amends must be made.
You can’t send Joab to do your dirty work for you.
Psalm 14
I recently re-watched Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien (all three movies — it was a holiday!) When I read this psalm, I get a visual image of the “all-seeing eye” of Sauron flashing in my mind. 
(Of course, you can Google it and find an image — or you can just go here.)
I’m not certain that this is what the psalmist had in mind with his line, “The Lord looks down from heaven…” — but there is something to be said for the pervasiveness and thoroughness of God’s vision when it comes to considering the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.
 
2 Kings 4:42-44
The Hebrew Bible version of loaves and fishes: loaves of barley and fresh ears of corn (well, at least of grain — what else other than corn comes in ears?)
At any rate, Elisha’s miracle — based on a word from the Lord — foreshadows the trust that Christ would call forth from his disciples on the hillside. Little is enough — and more than enough! — when God is in the mix.
Psalm 145:10-18
This is one of the most encouraging psalm texts in scripture — and that’s saying a lot! Both God’s words and actions are intended for good (v.13.) God is near to “all who call” on God. Truly.
Ephesians 3:14-21
Love, strength, grace, glory, riches — Ephesians is filled with these “power” phrases, available as Christ dwells in the hearts of believers. Indeed, in the fullness of God’s good intention — its height, depth, and breadth — there is very little that God cannot accomplish. Certainly, more than we can imagine (if not always exactly what we have imagined!)
John 6:1-21    
No rest for the weary — and, on this occasion, no food, either.
John’s telling has Jesus slyly testing the disciples. They are excellent foils for his plans to illustrate what faith in God looks and acts like. Jesus works with very little (compare the relative bounty in Elisha’s story, above) but leads the disciples to see that God provides not just enough — but much more than they ever could have imagined (see Ephesians, above.)
For the disciples, it’s personal. When the lesson has ended, they each have their own basket to carry away — a reminder of God’s sufficiency in the time of need.
The second episode, with Jesus walking on water in the midst of a storm (and transporting not only the disciples, but their boat, to safety with Mr. Scott-like efficiency) illustrates even further how little we need fear when God is the strength of our lives.
It’s tough in the midst of our own storms — admittedly. But let the words of Christ dwell richly in us: “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In the far west of North Carolina where I live, you will often see a sign in front of a church or Masonic Lodge or VFW building announcing a “Poor Man’s Dinner” fundraising event. (Except the Catholics; the Catholics have “Friday Night Fish Fry”, for which I am eternally grateful.)  A “Poor Man’s Dinner” consists of pinto beans and cornbread, with sweet iced tea and appropriate deserts.  This is a nod to the area’s past when most of the people were very poor and pinto beans and cornbread got many families through the winter.

In our gospel lesson for today, Andrew brings forward a young man who “has five barley loaves and two fish.”  Barley loaves and fish was a poor man’s dinner.  The middle classes, the wealthy, the Greek merchants and the Roman occupiers all ate wheat bread – the poor ate bread made from barley.

I have often wondered about how Andrew stumbled upon the young man with the loaves and fishes.  Did the boy shyly tug at his elbow and say, “It isn’t much but the Teacher can have it.”?  Did he sit off in a corner with his lunch under his cloak, occasionally sneaking a bite before he was spotted by Andrew, who then said, “Aha, you need to share that.”?  Or was it something in between?  How was that the boy decided to share?

Surely the boy had to wonder about what difference his little bit of food, his “Poor Man’s Dinner,” would make.  He had to think, “There are so many and I have so little.  All that will happen is I will have to go hungry along with everyone else.  Better to keep what’s mine and let the other people take care of themselves.”   Someone shared a cartoon on Facebook this week.  It showed four people in a rowboat.  The two people at one end were furiously bailing water out of the boat as it began to sink.  The two people at the other end sat back comfortably and smiled as one said to the other, “Sure am glad the hole is not in our end of the boat.”

Sometimes we’re all like that.  When things look dicey, we decide that the hole isn’t in our end of the boat, therefore it’s not our problem.  We look to take care of our own people and our own stuff; we secure what matters most to us and certainly don’t want to waste what little we have on the needs of someone else.  Besides, it’s easy to think, “What difference will it make?  I have only enough for me and mine.” I read an article recently about what are called “Preppers.” It’s a more urban and urbane version of survivalists.  These are people who believe that we are facing a major economic crises and social upheaval in the near future.  They are storing several months’ worth of food in their homes, creating emergency plans to get out of the cities into an isolated hideaway, and arming themselves to fend off the masses of unprepared people who will want to get at their stuff. (“The Week,” July 17, 2015)

In contrast to this attitude of scarcity and self-protection, our scripture lessons call us to have enough faith in God to share what we have, trusting God to provide whatever else is needed.  In Second Kings, the man from Baal-shalishah showed the offering, the first fruits, to Elisha.  He is a bit embarrassed – it is not much, just twenty Barley loaves and some other fresh grain, a poor man’s dinner indeed. But Elisha doesn’t bat an eye. “Give it to the people.” he says.  “What? How can I?” the man sputters. Elisha’s servant chimes in, “It’s not enough to feed all these people.”  And Elisha assures them both, “The Lord has promised, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’ ”

As we saw in the gospel lesson, the boy hands over his five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus.  And somehow, someway, God provides.  There is plenty, more than enough for everyone. Jesus makes a rich feast out of a poor man’s dinner.

We often think we don’t have much to offer either God or the world, either personally or as a congregation. We see ourselves as poor, or small, or weak, or otherwise inadequate.  And nothing could be further from the truth.  The Biblical story is a story of a God who takes our little and turns it into a lot.  We often try to hang on to what we have because we don’t really trust God’s promise that if we turn everything over to him we will be all right, really we will.  Deep down, most of us don’t believe that God will take what we grudgingly, almost reluctantly hand over and turn it into more than we ever imagined possible.

But the gospel is – God in Christ has done and will do just that.  God doesn’t really want our treasure, God wants our trust.  God doesn’t really want our finances, God wants our faith.  God doesn’t really want our things, God wants us.  God wants us to let go of everything else and to truly believe that we can rely on the fact that the divine and holy love that made the universe also made us and that this immense love, a love “that surpasses knowledge,” (Ephesians 3:19) will provide for us and will use us to provide for others.

May we let go of our endless need for self-protection and self-reliance.  May we turn loose of our desperate desire to control our own lives and manage our own future.  May we look upon the love of God in Christ and relax, and open our hands, and release into God’s care all those things we have been so desperately holding on to because we are afraid of not having enough.  May we give to God our “barley loaves and fish,” our “pinto beans and cornbread,” our “poor man’s dinners,” so that God can transform them and us into a rich blessing for the world.

Amen and amen.

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (July 19, 2015)

Click here for today’s texts
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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Not every idea that we have for ministry or for “God’s glory” is necessarily a good idea — at least for the moment. There is something significant about waiting and working on God’s timetable.David’s motivation for the temple project was most likely very sincere. But, God urged David to wait on that project. God just wanted David to do what God had set before him: be the king, lead the people.

Unfortunately, David — like so many of us — had a very short attention span when it came to listening deeply and waiting patiently for the will of God. We tire of the plain old day-to-day tasks of ministry and long for something more exciting, something grander.
Soon, David will “find” an object for his attention and energy — in the form of Bathsheba, another man’s wife. We stray from the path God sets for us at great peril, my friends.

Psalm 89:20-37

What an incredible word of God’s faithfulness to us, in spite of our actual and potential unfaithfulness!
God plans in advance to remain faithful to God’s own covenant promises. We may (and certainly do) stray from God’s commandments, and that always has a cost (vv. 31-32.) But, God does not give up on us (vv. 33-34) — God determines to continue the work of building our lives and making God’s righteousness known throughout the earth.

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Not every leader among the people of God is a good and faithful leader. This fact is sad, but true. There are “flocks” that have been hurt by unfaithful shepherds — just as there are faithful shepherds that have been injured by their flocks — but that’s another story.
Wherever there has been hurt in the lives of God’s people, God is present to bring healing and restoration. (v. 3) God is the God who makes it right. (v.6)

Psalm 23

God is the restorer of our souls — when we are physically depleted, God guides us to the place of rest (green pastures.) When we are spiritually and emotionally drained, God allows us to drink deeply from the  still waters of God’s own compassion.

Ephesians 2:11-22

This passage forms part of Paul’s clear vision for God’s work in building all the people of the earth into a “new humanity.” Begun in the covenant promises given to Israel, that work is now moving toward completion through the life of Jesus Christ.
There is one Spirit, Paul says, that grants us all access to the Father. As the Spirit completes the work of fashioning our lives into a temple, we look forward to the time when God will dwell with God’s people — all of them, without division or hostility. (v. 14)
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Compassion costs.
The apostles return from their mission work excited, but a bit exhausted, as well. They have seen and felt the power of God made manifest through their lives. Many, many others have been “blessed” by God as a result of their faithful ministry. Jesus tells them that they have earned a respite — a little rest.
But, alas, there is very little rest for the weary in ministry, it seems. There is almost nowhere that Jesus and the guys can go that there are not needy people waiting on them, hoping for a touch of the Christ.
Where will the crowds gather in our lives — hoping to be touched by Christ through us? Careful, it’s costly!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Evening Shade” was a show that starred Burt Reynolds as a small town football coach in Arkansas. One night the coach’s two small children were leaning out the upstairs window, looking at the stars.
They began to chat. The boy says: “I’m glad I’ve got you guys. It sure would be lonely without you.” His sister replies, “Remember Sunday School.” The boy looks at her and asks: “Remember Sunday School? What do you mean by that? Oh, yeah. You mean how God is always here so we’re never alone.” She nods and says, “Yeah, that’s what I mean.” and her brother looks back at the sky and sighs, “Well, I know that’s right, but sometimes I just need somebody with some skin on them.”

I think most of us know how he feels. The world can be a difficult and dangerous and lonely place. And as comforting as it is to believe in a God in Heaven who loves us and cares about us and has a plan for our lives; sometimes you just need somebody to talk to who will talk back. That’s why people flocked to Jesus. Sure there were those who had heard about his miracles and just wanted to see a good show. And there were those who were there just because everybody else was there.

It’s like the Friday night high school football in the small-town south. When my son was in the band I used to sit in the stands and listen to women talk about church and teen-agers talk about who’s dating whom.  One night the Methodist preacher told me to sit with him. He said, “This is the section for the football fans. The other people are just here because everybody else in town is here.”

So there were the thrill seekers and the crowd seekers, but there were also the God seekers, those who had heard about Jesus; had heard about his words and his actions and had come to catch a glimpse of the Holy. Jesus and the apostles had been really busy and really needed a break. So Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” They were going on retreat, on vacation, on holiday. But it was not to be. By the time they got where they were going, a crowd had gathered. Jesus looked at them and weighed his own and his companions’ weariness against something he saw in the faces turned up at him, something in the crowd’s eyes.  What was it that swayed Jesus to give up the plan to rest? I think he looked at them and saw their hunger.  Not a hunger for food, but a hunger for companionship, a hunger for community, a hunger for love, a hunger for God.

Verse 34 says, “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Compassion literally means “to feel with.” Jesus felt compassion for them because he had felt what they were feeling.  After his baptism, the Spirit drove him into the Wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. There he learned what it feels like to be abandoned, deserted, alone in the universe.  He also learned what one does and does not need in a time like that.

There in the wilderness, Jesus realized that fixing every human hurt was not to be his mission. People didn’t need a Superman jumping to their rescue. People needed to know that God was in the world with them, not off in heaven above and beyond them. People needed to know that God cared, and that God wanted them to care, and to act with caring as well.  So, there in the desert, Jesus came to a momentous decision; he would purposely withhold his power, restrain himself.  Throughout his ministry opportunities for healings came to Jesus, but he didn’t go looking for them. Every time he worked a miracle it happened because of those three little words – “he had compassion.”
That he had compassion is the most important thing we can say about Jesus, and about God. We live in the midst of a world in which people are afraid of their own shadows, a world where if they believe in God at all, they believe God to be either remote and uncaring, or cruel and vindictive. In such a world, we in the church have been called to witness to the fact that he had compassion.

The world in which we live is depressed and sad and frightened and on edge about the future. And into this bog of sadness and sorrow, we the church are called to imitate our Lord and find ways to break into the cycle of fear and violence with words and acts of hope and assurance, words and acts of compassion and healing. Now, that is a mighty tall order isn’t it? What can one church do? What can one Christian do?  In the face of all this hurt and pain, who are we to think we can make a difference?

Those must have been the sorts of questions a little Albanian nun asked herself over fifty years ago when she found herself in Calcutta, one of the worst and most hopeless places in the world. And what she decided to do was to do what Jesus did in our story, she had compassion on the ones right in front of her. She dealt with the need she was given and did what she could. She began to pick up the dying beggars off the streets of Calcutta and to give them a decent place to die. That was it. She washed their wounds and their bottoms, she cleaned their sheets and their latrines. She fed them, and bathed them and turned them on their pallets when no one else would touch them. She had compassion, one dying person at a time. We are called to have compassion, to preach compassion, to teach compassion, to live compassion. We are called to break whatever rules and taboos and cultural barriers necessary to let the world know God is not harsh, God is not out to get them, God is not punishing them for their sins. God is love. God is steadfast, everlasting, never-ending love.
God is reaching out into the midst of our fear of death with an offer of life, of life eternal.

“He had compassion.” Jesus had compassion then, and God has compassion now. Open up your hearts and let God love you.  Open up your arms and show God’s love to the world.

AMEN AND AMEN

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (July 12, 2015)

Click here for today’s texts
Click here for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
The reading, as assigned, feels a little disorienting, in that there is a three-month break in the action between verse 5 and verse 12. The quizzical and tragic incident involving Uzzah — who was probably just doing what he thought was best — is omitted, as is the aforementioned 90-day hiatus of the ark in the house of Obed-edom, as David was “afraid of the Lord.”

But, once it became clear that the ark was a source of blessing and not of curse (as long as you kept your hands off of it,) David proceeds with the processional. And, I mean, proceed he does! 

The former shepherd boy does the Holy City Hoedown, as it were, and his wife — Michal, Saul’s daughter — is ashamed of him. (Maybe she was still ticked off that David had won her in the Goliath contest…who knows?)

Whatever the source of her bitterness, it didn’t serve her well; she remains barren for the rest of her life, a symbol in Israel of the withdrawal of God’s blessing. (But you don’t get that part of the story in today’s reading, either — look to v. 23)

Worth noting: the blessing by David of God’s people took a very tangible form. He distributed food to every household. Might be a good reminder for us of just how the blessing of God is intended for every one of God’s people, everywhere.

Psalm 24
A fitting psalm for the processional. Lift the gates, open the doors; the celebration is for the LORD, who is strong and mighty. As we learned from David’s earlier encounter with Goliath, “the battle is the Lord’s.” 

Amos 7:7-15
To whom are we ultimately accountable for our lives? Against whom are we measured? Ever and always, it is God’s measurement (judgment) that counts. God’s will is the rule of life.

Psalm 85:8-13
When we are quiet long enough to hear God speak, what we will often hear is God’s message of peace. Love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace — these are “the good” that God desires to give.

Ephesians 1:3-14
We are, indeed, blessed with a number of “spiritual blessings” in Christ:

  • we are chosen before the foundation of the world (God works way ahead of the curve!)
  • we were destined to be adopted into God’s family
  • grace is freely bestowed on us, as are redemption and forgiveness
  • we have an inheritance (who wouldn’t like to get one of those?)
  • we have heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, and we live for Christ’s glory
  • we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit — a “down payment” of sorts on the life we will live forever with God

Mark 6:14-29
Some days, it just doesn’t pay to be a preacher!

John has famously and steadfastly proclaimed the message from God: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” For Herod, that repentance involved not marrying his brother’s wife — but, he just couldn’t help himself!

While Herod is uncomfortable with John, he also respects him and is intrigued by him. But, with his blood all riled up after watching his niece/daughter dancing after dinner, Herod pretty much traps himself into killing a man he really wanted to protect.

Rather than let his pride suffer (not to mention the hell he would have to pay for refusing his wife,) Herod lops off John’s head and serves it up on a platter.

Oh, be careful little mouth what you say!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Recently I made a quick stop at a convenience store and parked at an awkward angle. When I came back to the car, a woman driving a UPS truck was pulling in behind me and asked, “Are you going forward or backing up?”  I quickly figured out her problem – if I was pulling forward, it was safe for her to park behind me; if I was backing up, she needed to park somewhere else. Being a preacher I took her question far beyond its original, pragmatic meaning. “Am I,” I thought, “going forward or backing up in my life?” For the rest of the day I applied the question to myself and to my relationships and to my family and to my church. Am I going forward or backing up? Am I making progress or am I losing ground? Is my church making progress or backing up?

In our gospel lesson, King Herod has a dilemma about what to do with John the Baptist. He has more than a political decision to make here; the text reveals that he was struggling with a deep spiritual question, a question he only barely perceives or acknowledges, but one which was more important than any other question he would ever face. What would he do about John’s call to repentance and the coming Kingdom of God? Would he go forward or would he back up?

As the story begins, Herod has begun to hear about the preaching and teaching and healing of Jesus. People are speculating as to who Jesus is. Herod leaps to a farfetched conclusion, one based on his own guilt and fear: he decides Jesus is John the Baptist, whom he beheaded, now reincarnated to haunt him.  Herod had an affair with his brother’s wife Herodias.  Herod and Herodias then divorced their respective spouses and got married. John was not hesitant in telling the king that he was a sinner bound for hell.  Herodias was furious that a popular preacher was calling her an adulterer in public, so she pressured Herod to shut him up. Now, Herod could have killed John right away, but, but . . . something stopped him – fear and perplexity and the minute stirrings of the soul. “. . .for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.” (verse 20)

Herod was perplexed. He was confused. He couldn’t decide whether to go forward or back up. He knew what politics and self-protection dictated; and he was a consummate politician; and yet something kept him from doing the politically right thing. Something deep inside, be it religion or superstition, kept him from doing away with John. So he kept him in prison, locked away, kept John from interfering with his daily life, and yet, and yet, he liked to listen to him.

Is that perhaps the way some of us live our spiritual lives? Most days, in most ways, we follow the customs of our time, the dictates of the so-called real world, making decisions based on pragmatic necessity; keeping our religiosity locked away in a convenient spiritual prison, where we can listen to it when we have time and when it won’t cause us any trouble. That’s what happens when we try to live our lives by two contradictory and competing standards. Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti tells of taking voice lessons while also attending teachers college. At graduation, he said to his father, “What shall I do, be a singer or a teacher?” His father said, “Luciano, if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.”

Amos used the symbol of the plumb line, a simple builder’s tool, a string with a weight at the end. Hold it to the top of the wall and it hangs straight down, showing you if your wall is built correctly.
Amos says that God’s word and God’s way are to be our plumb lines, that by which we measure our lives to see if we are straight and true. Herod’s problem is that he has too many plumb lines working. One is John’s preaching, a plumb line that judge’s Herod’s life and finds it wanting. Another is Herod’s wife, who is pressuring him to follow her will. Another is public opinion, another is the will of his political friends and another is the will of his political enemies. No wonder Herod is perplexed, his plumb lines are getting tangled, calling him in different directions. Herod can’t decide what to do, so he tries to get away with doing nothing.

Herod’s hand is forced when the plumb lines come together and he can no longer delay. There is a party, he drinks too much, then he makes a rash promise. His wife seizes her moment and demands the death of John; and there Herod sits, again perplexed and bothered. Will he do the right thing? Or will he cave in to the pressures of prestige and pride? In his struggle to sit between two chairs, Herod falls. In his choice between going forward into God’s Kingdom or falling back into his old ways, Herod chooses badly and calls for the head of John the Baptist. He has picked the wrong plumb line by which to measure his life.

In “the Robe,” a novel about early Christianity, Lloyd C. Douglas tells the story of what happened to Jesus’ robe, the one the soldiers gambled for at the foot of the cross. In the novel, it continually changes hands, and its owners are faced with a choice about how to respond to the story of the Robe, the story of the crucified Jewish peasant. One who responds is a Roman soldier named Marcellus. He hears the gospel story, he receives Christ into his life, he becomes a Christian. He writes his lover, Diana, back in Rome, telling her the story of the Robe, the story of Jesus. She writes back, “It’s a lovely story, we don’t have to do anything about it do we?

Diana, like King Herod before her, has hit upon the dilemma of hearing the Gospel. It is a beautiful, frightening, perplexing story, one people like to listen to. And if you listen carefully, you will realize that it is calling you to change, to become different. And most of us don’t want to. Like Diana, we cry out, “We don’t have to do anything about it, do we?”

Well, yes we do. We cannot sit on two chairs, for we will surely fall between them. We cannot live our lives by a variety of standards, we cannot measure ourselves by contradictory plumb lines, for they will surely get tangled, and our house of faith will fall. We cannot sit still in the parking lot of life; we must go forward or back up. We cannot keep God and Christ locked away in a private prison of our own devising, bringing them out to look at and listen to at our convenience. We must decide, we must do something about the story of Jesus.

Our calling today is to measure our lives by the plumb line of God’s love. That plumb line was established on the cross, where Jesus gave his life, his all, for us. Our calling is to conform our lives to his, to love with his love, to forgive with his grace, to move with Christ into the fulfillment of the Kingdom. So, I ask you, as I ask myself, “Are you going forward, or are you backing up?

Amen and amen.

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (July 5, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-1
There’s something to be said for biding your time. Well, for biding God’s time, I suppose.

David has waited patiently while the drama that was Saul’s life played out. He has known for some time that he was the “anointed” of the Lord — chosen by God and sealed by the prophet/judge/priest Samuel. It would have been easy for him to have “got the big head,” as my grandma used to say.

But, he did what was set before him — no more, no less. In God’s time, it came to pass. And, it was good (well, for the most part.) Forty years of rule were built out of patient days, weeks, and months of quiet service. 

One never knows just exactly what one is being prepared for when God’s call to service comes.

Psalm 48
The psalm provides fitting accompaniment to the first lesson’s closing line: “David became greater…for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.”

It is God’s greatness that is to be praised.

Ezekiel 2:1-5
‘Zekiel got the call of the Lord…the same one that many of us as preachers get. 

“You go tell them what I tell you to tell them,” says God, “no matter whether they listen or not.” That’s not always an easy commission to fulfill. But they cannot say that there was no one to give them the words of the Lord!

Psalm 123
Servants and handmaids never had much hope for grace, unless it came from the master or mistress of the house that they served. God’s mercy is much keener than that of an earthly master; it is the perfect antidote for contempt.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
“Thank you, Lord; could you heap a few more weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities onto my life?”

I doubt that any of us are lining up to pray that prayer. I also doubt that Paul wrote this portion of the letter to glorify his suffering. The incomparable goodness of Christ that strengthens us in the midst of difficulty is one of the more quizzical components of discipleship — something that is awfully hard to explain to those who have never experienced it.

In what ways have you experienced the grace of God in times of weakness? Has it been sufficient for you? How?

Mark 6:1-13
Sometimes, we are just bound and determined NOT to believe our eyes.

It strikes me that the residents of Jesus’ hometown were perfectly willing to admit that when he spoke, his words reflected wisdom. They had no doubt that he was able to perform deeds of power with his own hands (and evidently sans smoke and mirrors.)

Yet, they still decided to “take offense” at him — because, after all, he was JUST the carpenter’s son. He really had “got too big for his britches” (which is somewhat akin to gettin’ the big head — see above.)

I have never quite figured out how one cuts off one’s nose to spite one’s face — sounds like a painful proposition — but the folks in Nazareth evidently had it perfected to an art. Sadly, even Jesus Christ himself couldn’t be a successful pastor in his own hometown. Some folks are just too hard-headed to help!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I live in a very small place, a county of less than 10,000 people with one town with fewer than 500.  A few years ago I was working at a United Methodist Retreat Center here and received the opportunity to write some short devotional pieces to be printed on the back of United Methodist church bulletins.  It didn’t pay much but I enjoyed doing it and my mama was a Methodist and it made her proud, so it was a good deal all around.

In the two years of the series I only saw a printed bulletin once and that’s sort of a funny story.  I occasionally heard from people around the country about the devotions.  Friends were in Sunday worship were surprised to find my name on the back of their church bulletin.  I got emails from New York and Massachusetts and Montana and Oregon and California; even one from Alaska.  One summer night my college age son had a friend over who was also home from college.  I stuck my head in my son’s room to say hello and the friend said, “Hey Rev. Chilton, (he was a very polite young man) I saw your devotion on the back of our Methodist church bulletin this morning.  I thought you might like to see it. Good meditation.”  As I looked at the bulletin in my hands he said something that made me laugh and made me wonder.  “Yeah, Rev. Chilton, I sat down in church during the prelude and looked at the bulletin and saw your name and said to the people around me, ‘Hey, that’s Rev. Chilton from the Retreat Center.  That’s Joe’s dad,’ and all the people around me said, ‘Oh no; that couldn’t be him.  We know him.  It must be someone else. They’d never print something from somebody from around here.’ And excuse me Rev. Chilton but I said, “Exactly how many ministers named DELMER Chilton do you think there are in the world?’ But they still said it couldn’t be you because they knew you.”

It can’t be him because we know him. “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” “Prophets are not without honor except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” (Mark 6:3-4)  There is something about familiarity that breeds contempt.

Jesus experienced this when he returned home to preach.  At first his friends and neighbors were impressed; “astounded,” the text says.  Partly this was because they had not expected such things from him.  “Mary’s son” was a bit of an insult, a crude jibe at his parentage.  It should have been “Jesus, son of Joseph,” but they knew the story of Mary’s pregnancy and Jesus birth, at least the part about her being pregnant before the wedding and they questioned who the real Daddy was.  And so they called him “Mary’s son.”  Nothing much was expected of him, he was just a carpenter, a manual laborer, and brother to men and women they all knew.  And here he is, spouting out “wisdom” and performing miracles.  Who does he think he is?  And unspoken and implied is the suspicion that something underhanded and evil is going on. “Where did he get this wisdom?” And so wonder turned to something else, something evil, “They took offense at him.” (Verse 3)

Jesus’ basic humanity shows as he is hurt and confused by their rejection. “He was amazed at their unbelief.” (Verse 6) Jesus did not anticipate this and he did not understand it.  He’s probably thinking, “I’m one of you.  I grew up here.  Why are you so surprised that I’m smart?  Why do you see doing good things in the name of God as bad? Why are you rejecting me?”

But Jesus does not let their offence and rejection stop him from his calling and ministry.  He shook his head and moment and turned in a new direction, teaching in other villages.  He also called the twelve to him and sent them out to do the same.  Instead of allowing opposition and failure to bring an end to his ministry, Jesus used it to turn in a new direction and expand that ministry six fold.  And his instructions to his disciples are both a call to simplicity and a lesson in trusting God above all else.  Simplicity in taking nothing with you and in not skipping about from place to place, looking for a better deal.  If you are concerned about the financial or material return on your message, you might be tempted to temper that message in a way calculated to ruffle the least number of feathers.

But if you are willing to be satisfied with whatever you get, trusting God that it will be enough, then you can preach and teach and live out the truth in freedom.

This is not just a word for pastors and preachers; this is a word for the church, the congregation. We too have been called and sent by God in Christ.  We too have been sent out with authority over unclean spirits.  I’m not sure what that meant 2000 years ago but right now, in the United States of America, the unclean spirit that is choking the life out of us is Racism.  And we are called to speak and act in ways that challenge the racism in us and around us.  And there are many in our communities who will first be astounded that we said it, and then they will be offended.  But if we carry on, and we will; trusting God, and we will; we will be amazed at the ways God will work through us to cast out demons and heal sick spirits.

Amen and amen.

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (June 28, 2015)

Hey, Sports Fans…sorry that we’re late and a little short this week. It’s just been ONE OF THOSE WEEKS!

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
One might assume that David had plenty of reasons to exult over the death of Saul. The mad king had taunted him, hunted him, and perhaps would gladly have spilled David’s blood had he had the chance. Yet, David’s grief at Saul’s passing is evident in this song of lament.

Saul’s tormented reign brought with it much to be sad about, no doubt; yet, there is no life that is completely devoid of goodness or accomplishment. David reminds Israel of the days when Saul “clothed [them] with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on [their] apparel.”

The depth of David’s grief is reserved for his friend and Saul’s son, Jonathan. War is costly, and its price is illustrated far too vividly here. No wonder David would later write the poignant line, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem….” (Psalm 122:6)

Psalm 130
If God were determined to “keep score” of our iniquities forever, there would, indeed, be none of us who could stand before God’s righteous presence. But, the good news of the psalm text is that God does forgive — and in the great power of forgiveness there is redemption. This is a message that is badly needed still in our world today.

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24
God’s good intent in creation was — and is — for good.

Lamentations 3:22-33
No wonder the oft-used saying has such power: everything looks better by the light of a new day. Jeremiah tells us why — “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never end; they are new every morning.”

Take a minute to stop, look, listen, and feel all around you the ways that God’s mercies are reborn with the new day.

Psalm 30
There is hardly a more soul-healing verse in all of scripture than v.5: “God’s anger is but for a moment, but God’s favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Yet another reason to hope for the next new day.

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 
A great passage on the balance that comes in our giving out of our resources to meet the needs of another’s lack. This is far more than a text for the annual stewardship emphasis; it is a look into one of the core competencies of Christian discipleship. We give because Christ gave; we share out of what we have, not out of what we don’t have.

In God’s miraculous plan of economy, nobody has too much and nobody has too little. (I have to wonder, would this really be too difficult for our elected officials to understand?)


Mark 5:21-43 
Oh, the power of touch!

This wrapped-about twin healing has always fascinated me — Mark mentions (parenthetically) that Jairus’ daughter was twelve, and the woman in the crowd had been bleeding for twelve years. I have wondered if they both began their journey toward Jesus on the same day twelve years earlier? (Sorry if that’s a bit of a theological red herring, but I can’t help thinking of stuff like that!)

At any rate, the request for Jesus to come and “lay hands” on the little girl is interrupted by a woman who wants to “just touch” — not Jesus — but the edge of his clothes. Just a brush, an “I-hope-he-won’t-notice-but-I’m-going-to-give-it-a-go-anyway” act of faith.


One might argue that Jairus is bold and that the woman is a bit cowardly, or at the very least embarrassed. Maybe there is no great risk on the part of either of them since they have nothing to lose. 


What’s really cool, to my way of thinking, is that it doesn’t matter to Jesus: he takes whatever faith we are able to place in him and makes it work. 


The power of a touch.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

A number of years ago I served as the stewardship consultant for a friend’s congregation, including being the “guest preacher” on Commitment Sunday.  The lectionary text for that Sunday was the story of the woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.  In consultation with the pastor I told him that I would find it difficult to preach on this text without offering the opportunity for people to come forward for anointing with oil and the laying on of hands for healing.  Though he was worried about the timing involved in adding the liturgy for healing to an already full agenda of two services with communion and the bringing forward of commitment cards, he agreed with my plan. Things went well on Commitment Sunday.  Not only did the congregation increase their pledges by a good percentage, we were pleased and a little bit surprised to see almost everyone in the congregation come forward for the laying on of hands.

 

A few weeks later I received a call from the pastor.  He said, “Have I got a story to tell you.” He went to visit a man who has been visiting worship for the last few weeks.  He lives in a boarding house just down the street.  After a few minutes of pleasantries, he told the pastor that Commitment Sunday was the first time he visited the church. He had just gotten out of rehab and had committed himself to going to church.  He said, “I had never been to a Lutheran church before, but it was close and I had no car so I walked over.  I went to the 8:00 service and decided to do whatever everybody else did, so when people went up for healing, I went too.  And later I went up for communion.  I even filled out one of those Commitment cards.  I said I’d give as much as I could when I could.  After service I went to coffee hour and an adult Bible class and then somebody invited me to come to the congregational dinner after second service, so I sat in the library and read until the dinner.  Long story short – it was almost 3:00 pm when I got back to my room.  When I walked in I saw my ashtray overflowing with butts and ashes and thought ‘Gee, I haven’t had a cigarette since before church.’ so I lit one up.  And it tasted terrible.  I spit it out. And then I realized what had happened, why I didn’t like cigarettes anymore.  When you prayed for my healing, you asked me what I wanted to be healed of and I said ‘My addictions.’  Pastor, I didn’t mean smoking.  I like smoking!”

 

When you ask for healing, you can never be sure what the result will be.  Jairus came to Jesus asking for help for his daughter.  He thought Jesus would hurry along to heal her, especially after Jairus told him she was near death.  But no.  Jesus dawdled along, stopping to talk to an old woman in the crowd, delaying so much that the little girl died.  And the old woman Jesus talked to? She didn’t really want to bother him, she really was a little bit afraid of him, but she did gather enough courage to reach out and touch him, hoping that would be enough to cure her.

 

Jairus wanted Jesus to hurry, the old woman didn’t want Jesus to stop, the man at church wanted to be healed of his addictions – except the ones he wanted to keep.  None of them got exactly what they wanted, and all of them were healed in ways they never imagined.

 

Most of us in the church are looking for something from Jesus. There are as many different desires as there are people.  Spiritual peace or spiritual growth, forgiveness and relief from guilt, peace of mind and soul, physical or emotional healing, a sense of direction, a calling, a place to belong, a cause to follow; the list could go on and on.  And our Scripture lessons hints to us that asking Jesus for something is a bit dangerous.  While you are apt to get what you need, you are also likely to get something you may not have wanted.

 

An encounter with Christ will change you, whether you want to be changed or not.  That is the risk we take coming to church and praying for God to be involved in our lives.  We cannot control how God will go about answering our prayers.

 

God might allow the thing we love the most to die before restoring it to life, pushing our trust and devotion to the very limit.  God may force our faith into the open, calling us out in public, giving us no choice but to affirm our commitments in front of others, no matter how uncomfortable and afraid that might make us feel.  God could heal us more completely and thoroughly than we want, removing from our lives bad habits and negative attitudes we would prefer to keep.

 

There’s an old saying “Watch out what you pray for, you might get it.”  Well, here’s a new saying, “Watch out what who you pray to; you might get something you never thought possible!”

 

Amen and amen.

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (June 21, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Who doesn’t love a good “David and Goliath” story?
 
Here we have David, the prototypical underdog — a skinny, knock-kneed, snot-nosed teenager filled with ambition and foolish enough not to know any better — against the prohibitive favorite in the fight, Goliath — the mighty, battle-hardened, swaggering bully who never met an Israelite body he didn’t want to separate from its head.
 
If we want to help our parishioners feel some of the tension that was present on this day, we need only understand that the word “Philistine” with which we are so familiar from childhood Bible stories is the same word that passed through the Latin language via the Roman Empire and became transferred as “Palestinian.” This battle account could be today’s headlines in a “holy land” war story.
 
Of course, one of the prerogatives of coming out as the winner in a war is the chance to write the history books — so this one turns out A-OK for Israel and their God.  
 
How did the ancient people of Yahweh hear this story? With much favor, as well as fervor, no doubt! The young boy-who-would-become-king rejects not only the curses of the enemy, but the artificial aid of his own ruler and countrymen. In this account, David needs absolutely nothing other than his faith in God and his trusty sling. (A curious question — why did he select five stones, if God was going to aid him with the first shot?)
 
In short order, the score is Yahweh 1, Pagan Gods 0. What else can you say?
Psalm 9:9-20
Given the background of David’s victory against Goliath, I have often wondered if v.20 might not be translated: “Put the fear in them, O Lord; let the nations know that they are only human.”
1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16
We get a glimpse of the paranoid Saul — a sad departure from the days when he was the champion of Israel. After the departure of the Spirit from his life, he is left only with jealousy and rage. The figure of Jonathan, his son, is the most redemptive aspect of Saul’s life that remains. Through Jonathan’s friendship with David, the “soul” of Saul’s reign is joined with the “soul” of all that David would come to represent in Israel.
Psalm 133
Verse 1 is in stark contrast to the tone of rivalry, bitter jealousy, and rage in the earlier readings. In comparison, unity is indeed refreshing  and renewing. (Mt. Hermon is the highest point in Israel — the water that runs down from its “dews” and snows feeds the Jordan River, which in turn feeds the Sea of Galilee and most of the rest of the land.)
Job 38:1-11
The Creator God revealed in Job, who is powerful enough to lay a foundation for our earth and to cause the oceans to cease their crashing at our shorelines, is certainly powerful enough to sustain and protect us, eh?
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
After the storm-tossed passages of our lives, it truly is a blessing sometimes to enjoy the quiet of a desired haven. God is good when the storms are raging, but seems even better when they have passed.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Paul understands a thing or two about storms and being tossed (not to mention the occasional beating and prison term.) So, when he urges us to take care of today’s business today, it’s a pretty important idea. You never know where the storm will blow you tomorrow!
Mark 4:35-41     

Speaking of storms…

It is so easy to berate the disciples in this story for panicking over the waves. I’ve seen the type of boats that were used on the Sea of Galilee during Jesus’ time (not that different from the boats that are still used today) and, let me tell you, I would be a little nervous, too! The sides aren’t more than 12-18 inches above the waterline. They were getting swamped!

I am also amazed that Jesus manages to sleep through the storm; I think we’re supposed to take our cue from that and learn something about the essence of faith. Relax, God’s gonna take care of you…or something along those lines.

That is certainly true, whether we hit the panic button or not. God is going to take care of us. Notice that Jesus’ “rebuke” to the disciples is much more gentle than that he gives to the wind and the waves. In hindsight (which, they say, is always 20/20,) I’m sure the disciples could see it all playing out much more clearly. God’s provision and care depend, not on our faith nor on our confidence, but on God’s faithfulness.

So, if you get a little scared next time your boat starts filling up — it’s okay. Try to have at least a little faith

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I had my first real theology lesson when I was about twelve or thirteen I was working in the tobacco field with my father; he was plowing, I was hoeing.  It was an unusual day in that we were out there by ourselves; usually there were several of my brothers and sisters and Mama and maybe Aunt Mildred but not today.  Today, it was just us.  I had my head down, concentrating on not hitting a young tobacco plant with my hoe when I realized the tractor was no longer running and Daddy was yelling for me to run to him.  He pointed into the distance and then beckoned me with a wave.  I looked out across the valley and saw sharp lightning and a wall of rain and hail coming our way.  Then I heard the thunder and felt the wind and saw it stir the trees in the woods around the edges of the field.  I ran to Daddy and together we ran to the nearest tobacco barn.

We were probably safe, but I didn’t feel safe.  I felt exposed, sitting just inside the door of a fifty year old log barn with a tin roof and a dirt floor.  The wind howled and the hail pounded the roof and the thunder roared and the lightning lit up the sky.  Daddy sat on an old box, his long legs crossed and wrapped around each other as he took an unfiltered cigarette out of the pack and fumbled for a dry match.  I shivered, from fear or wet or maybe a bit of both and asked him, “Aren’t you afraid?” (Full disclosure – I probably said, “Ain’t you scared?”) And he blew a stream of smoke and looked me in the eye and said, “Yes, I am.  But I’m not in charge, he is.”(Pointing up with his index finger.) “Comes a point in life, son, where you just have to decide if you trust God or not.  I trust him, so I’ll sit here ‘til this is over and then deal with what’s next.”  “But, but,” I said, “Sometimes it doesn’t work out for the best.  People get hurt or die.” and Daddy said, “I didn’t say I understood the Lord, son, I just said I trusted him.”

Our lessons for today are about trusting God in the midst of things we really don’t understand.  The book of Job is a treatise on the question of undeserved suffering.  The answer given is not really an answer.  It is a response, or better yet, a rejoinder.  The author’s point is often said to be, “God is the creator and we are not; who are we to question God?”  What if the point is something else?  What if the point is that God cannot answer us because the truth is beyond our understanding?  Perhaps the underlying truth of how the world works is something we will never, ever really figure out.  And so, like my Daddy, we have to figure out if we can trust God without completely understanding what God is up to in the world.

Paul talks about this kind of faith in our lesson from Second Corinthians.  He talks about enduring “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” (6:4-5) His point is that underneath all this “bad stuff,” God is working to bring about our salvation.

And in the familiar story from Mark, we find Jesus asleep in the boat in the midst of a storm.  The disciples are afraid and are also a little bit upset with Jesus for not being afraid, for taking a nap when he should be doing something for crying out loud. “Don’t you care about us?  Don’t you love us?  You can save us and you’re doing nothing!”  Jesus wakes up, tells the wind to calm down and then tells the disciples to calm down.  He says to them, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Or, in the common tongue, “C’mon – don’t you trust me?”

All our texts call upon us to trust God in the midst of life’s difficulties.  This is not an easy thing to do because life is dangerous and unpredictable and God’s involvement is often hard to see and appreciate.  We often find ourselves like the disciples in the boat, or a little boy in an old barn, trying to decide if we really, really do trust God.  And the witness of the church, from the first disciples down through the ages to an old farmer in a tobacco barn is that, even though we will seldom understand exactly God is doing, God can indeed be trusted, now and for eternity.

Amen and amen.

The Third Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (June 14, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
“Well, there’s my youngest boy — but I doubt you’re looking for him. He’s just a shepherd.”

You can almost hear the overtones in Jesse’s voice as he dialogues with the great prophet, Samuel, can’t you? Saul — the tall, handsome, strike-fear-in-the-hearts-of-our-enemies king of Israel is on his way out. The search is on for his replacement.

Like any good call committee, Samuel and the people he represents are pretty sure THEY know what they want. What God wants may be something else entirely.

We most likely want to be very careful in our discerning of “God’s will” in our lives — the Eliabs in our lives do look awfully good sometimes. If we can, though, it’s always best to hold out until God says to us, “Now there you go; that’s what I really had in mind.”


Psalm 20
Verse 6 seems to center this selection in its relationship to the first reading. God always helps God’s “anointed.” When God is in the midst of our choices and the direction of our lives, there is help (regardless of the number of chariots and horses we may have — or not have — at our disposal!)

Ezekiel 17:22-24
What a great image: God is the one who is tall enough to break off a sprig from the topmost branch of a “lofty cedar.” Having recently returned from some vacation time among the redwoods of California, I imagine just how impossibly high the top of one of those great trees looks to be from my location down on the ground. 

God’s reach is impressive, indeed!


Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
Whenever I read this text, I hear the strains of Eugene Butler’s excellent choral setting, “It Is a Good Thing to Give Thanks Unto the Lord.”  (see a sheet music sample here, if you’re interested)

God’s presence with us is not on the clock; steadfast love in the morning, faithfulness by night — all set to the music of the lute, the harp, and the lyre. What a deal!

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Several great theological “one-liners” in this passage:

  • “we walk by faith, not by sight” — very apropos when considered with the first reading
  • “away from the body, at home with the Lord” — a concept that brings much comfort, eh?
  • “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” — says it all, really

 Mark 4:26-34
The kingdom of God — its spread, its flourishing, its end results — is so far beyond our control or even our imaginings that it’s hard to describe. But, as usual, Jesus’ parables do a pretty good job.

Our work matters; what we do as laborers in God’s field is important. But, ultimately, if you want to see just exactly how much it all depends on you or me, consider that God works whether we are awake or asleep. Our efforts are mustard-seed-sized in the totality of the kingdom; they could be blown away by the slightest puff of wind.

And, yet, God chooses to bless them and grow them — at times — beyond our wildest expectations.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

There’s a favorite story in my family about my grandfather Reid Chilton, who was just absolutely crazy about playing baseball. When he was a teen-ager, he lived with and worked for his uncle, a holiness preacher who didn’t hold with the foolishness of ball playing. One day Uncle Arrington knew that Reid was scheduled to play in a baseball game, so he put him to working sowing peas in the cornfield.  (For the non-gardeners: this was a common practice years ago, pea vines didn’t harm the corn and grew up wrapped around the stalk.)  Uncle Arrington said, “Finish sowing those peas and you can go.”

Reid was devastated, he knew he didn’t have time to plant that whole bucket of peas and ride his mule over to Dry Pond for the ball game. As he worked and fretted, he came upon a burned out stump in the middle of the field. He looked around, saw no one was looking, dumped that whole bucket of peas in the stump and covered them with dirt. He ran out of the field, showed the good reverend his empty bucket and rode off to play ball. Things were fine until several weeks later when Uncle Arrington was cultivating the field and came upon a stump over-flowing with pea vines! Grandpa always finished that story by looking wistfully into the distance and muttering, “Who knew peas would grow in an old stump?”

“. . . the seed would sprout  and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” (Mark 2:27-28)  “

There is a difficult lesson here for those of us in the church who have a hard time letting go and letting the work of God take its natural, God-given course. Jesus says to us that we are to plant the seed and let God worry about the growth. Jesus says we are not responsible for making the church grow. Jesus says we are not responsible for making sure everybody “gets saved.” Jesus says we are not responsible for making the Kingdom of God a smashing success. Our job, our responsibility, our calling, is to plant the seed and reap the harvest. God is responsible for the growth.

Faith is often defined as trust, and in this case, faith is trusting that the things we do for God will turn out all right, in God’s way, in God’s time. Faith is keeping on with the work of the Gospel and trusting that in God’s own time the crop will grow, even if we never live to see it. Faith is, in part, letting go of our control over the results.

We live in a world in which people afraid of losing control; or more correctly, of letting someone or something else control their fate. We have been taught that in order to succeed one must have a goal – after all, as Yogi Berra said, if you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up somewhere else. We have been taught that in order to succeed one must have a plan – a well-defined outcome and a strategy for achieving it.  In the church, we create five year plans and mission strategies.  Minister’s magazine are filled with analysis of what we must “do” to reverse the decline in membership or to increase giving or to have the best Christian Education program in town.

Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of God; the work of grace and mercy and compassion and peace with justice in the world; works with a totally different outline. These parables remind us that we are called to do the work; indeed we are called to do the work to the best of our ability; but they also remind us that the ultimate purpose and outcome of this work is not in our hands but in God’s. Which is, I assure you, a reality that is both frustrating and reassuring. It is frustrating for those of us who don’t like to wait, who like to be in charge and in control of our own fate and destiny, who like to see progress being made, who like to be able to measure and calibrate and control. But it is also reassuring and liberating to know that, in God’s eyes, success is not judged by the size of the harvest but by the faithfulness in sowing seeds.

In our churches, we are planting seeds in God’s field, cedar sprigs on mountain tops. What they will be has not yet been revealed, but of one thing we can be assured, God has not finished the work God began in us.

We are like that stump in the cornfield just before the eruption of growth; the seeds have been planted, the ground has been cultivated, the fertilizer has been put in. We have done and continue to do our work. Our calling today is to keep doing our work and to trust God to work in and through us to grow the Kingdom.

Amen and amen.

The Second Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (June 7, 2015)

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Give a look and a listen to our new “Lectionary Lessons” feature — designed for the Christian Ed/Bible Study hour. There’s a teaching video on Youtube and a downloadable lesson sheet focusing on today’s scripture texts. Let us know what you think!

https://youtu.be/DgbMeTT9Erc

Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
Mel Brooks made the catch-line famous, in his 1981 film, History of the World, Part I: “It’s good to be the king!” 

(Get an idea with this 4-minute excerpt from the film, set to Mel’s own “hip hop” song lyric. Probably should be rated PG-13, or so…)

For Brooks fans, the line becomes something of a leitmotif in his other films, including Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs, and The Producers — not that that has anything to do with anything — except that I am reminded of it when God, through Samuel, tries to tell the Israelites that gaining a king to rule over them might not be all they think it is cracked up to be!

“It’s going to cost you!” is something of a biblical leitmotif where sin is concerned, yet over and over again, we humans are willing to enter the bargain anyway.  The Israelites (who play our part in this drama) use the argument familiar to every teenager who has ever been confronted by a parent over dubious behavioral choices: “Well, everybody’s doing it!”

What’s a prophet — or a God — to say?

Psalm 138
This God — the LORD of Israel — is greater than all gods; this God is the true King above all kings.

Noticeably, the LORD, as the high King, is very close to those who recognize their own lowliness; but remains “far away” from those whose self-attitude is haughty. Those who seek the help of the LORD when they are in trouble will find it; those who maintain an “I got this” state-of-mind are not so likely to find themselves aided by God’s strong “right hand.”

Genesis 3:8-15
Ah, speaking of the “fruit” of our own choices!

I have long been intrigued by the fact that God never said a word to these first humans before they exhibited their first sign of guilt; they “heard” God walking in the garden and they “hid” themselves in the trees.

Apparently, not only does the guilty dog bark first, he/she also tucks tail and hides at the first sound of accountability coming!

Psalm 130
Does God keep score?

The psalmist asks a question (v.3) that still resonates. How in the world could I ever answer for every single time I “sinned?” (i.e., broke a rule, crossed a boundary, told a lie, hurt another person, etc.)

There is something powerful to consider here about just how forgiveness works. If I can never even the score of my wrongdoing, then sooner or later I would just give up trying — and sin would progress to its inevitable conclusion: hurt, destruction, and death.

But, if there is a way to “wipe the slate clean” and get a fresh start — starting over seems like a genuine option. After a time, I know the deep need of my life for cleansing and renewal; I feel it “in my bones.”

Honest confrontation of my shortcomings and confession of my sin are the prerequisites of right living and right relationship — with God and others. Like waiting through a long, dark night for a glimmer of hope and sunshine, passing through the anguish of repentance brings redemption to my soul.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
How thankful have I been for grace lately?

V. 15 says that “grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving….” Just makes me wonder how thankful I have been for the incredible grace given to me. Have I stopped the flow of God’s grace through my life in any way by ingratitude? 

Mark 3:20-35   
“That boy done lost his mind!”

There was a certain young man in my hometown of whom that statement was made regularly when I was growing up. Theories varied as to exactly why Ray Skinner (not his real name, by the way) was crazy — or if he even was really mentally unbalanced — but none of us “kids” were ever brave enough to actually talk to him and find out. He was sort of our local Boo Radley, I suppose.

The setting for today’s gospel reading is a very Boo Radley-like experience Jesus has with his own family — those who should have been best-positioned to know him. Jesus is, of course, talking about his “kingdom,” which was his favorite subject. He really believed that God had sent him to establish a kingdom that was sort of, kind of on this earth — but wasn’t really, exactly like the other kingdoms of the earth.

Yeah, that was some crazy-sounding stuff right there! No wonder his momma and them came to try to talk him into coming home with them.

Just how crazy are the demands of the kingdom of God for those who would claim to follow Christ today? Are we “brothers and sisters” of our Lord Jesus?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I left home —  the farm in the foothills of North Carolina — when I was 18,  to go to college. Though I still speak with a decided southern accent, I do not sound like the folks in and around Mt. Airy, NC anymore. Years of higher education in the Research Triangle area of NC and serving transplanted mid-westerners in Lutheran congregations in Atlanta and Nashville have taken the edge off enough that when I go home to Mt. Airy I get, not the “you ain’t from around here” look, but the “you went off and got different” look — which is almost as bad.
When Jesus goes home in today’s Gospel lesson, he gets the “you went off and got different” look from his community and his family. They knew who he was, he was Mary’s boy, he was James’ brother. But then again, he wasn’t; something was different, something was wrong, he had changed.
A woman slips into the living quarters back of the carpenter shop, “Mary, I saw your boy. Yeah, Jesus the one that went off to be a preacher. Boy, he sure talks funny, like them city folks he’s been hanging around with. And, well, it ain’t just the way he talks, it’s what he says. That boy of your’n’ has sure got some funny ideas. People are talking like he’s nuts or something. You better do something about it.”
So Mary gathers up the family and sets out to find her boy. There are two motivations working in their effort to stop Jesus. One is the fact that Mary and James and the rest still live in Nazareth and what Jesus does reflects on them. Family honor and business are on the line. The second, and I suspect more powerful, motivation is love. They love Jesus. They didn’t understand him, but they loved him.They were wrong to try to stop him, but they were wrong for the right reason. They loved Jesus as a son and brother and they wanted him to be happy, they wanted him to be successful, they wanted him to fit in, they wanted him to be safe, they wanted him to come home; if not home to Nazareth at least home to traditional values.
When they found Jesus they discovered that things were worse than they thought. Not only was Jesus talking funny and doing weird things; he was also openly defying the public officials, engaging in public argument with the temple scribes. This was serious business indeed.
The scribes were accusing Jesus of being a Satanist, of being in league with the devil. Can you imagine the fear that struck at Mary’s heart when she heard it said that her sweet, precious, first-born son was not only odd but that he was also evil? And Jesus only made it worse by arguing with the scribes, by making them look like fools.
Mary had to act and act quickly. She sends in one of the boys with a message for Jesus to come out and go home. And Jesus, unbelievably, rejects his mother and his mother’s pleas.
Jesus turns his back on his family. He looks around the crowd and says, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mothers and my sisters and my brothers; those who do the will of God!”
In that moment, Jesus redefined for all time the meaning of family. It was shocking then and it is shocking to many of us now.
For the people of Jesus time and place, family was not an important thing; it was everything. Who you were, what you did, who you married, your entire relationship to society and to God were defined by your family.
Jesus was not just Jesus who used to be a carpenter in Nazareth and was now a Rabbi. No, Jesus as Jesus, Son of Joseph, of the house and lineage of David, a descendant of Abraham. Without those family connections, Jesus was nobody, at least not anybody who had to be recognized or dealt with; he was permanently “not from around here.” He had done “gone off and got different.”
You have heard it said that “Blood is thicker than water,” but in that moment Jesus declared that “the waters of baptism are thicker than the blood of family.”
Now, this did not mean that Jesus no longer loved “his Mama and them,” as we say back in Mt. Airy. It did mean that Jesus declared a rearrangement in the order of his relationships; and by so doing, rearranged the order of our relationships too.
I am still son and brother and husband and father and pastor and neighbor and friend to many and probably am considered a jerk by more people than I would like to know about.
But all those relational definitions are secondary to one over-arching and defining relationship; I am a child of God and younger brother of Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and Savior. That relationship takes priority over all others and makes sense of all others. As long as I remember that Christ is first in my life, everything else falls in line.
For more than 600 years the Hapsburgs ruled much of Europe. In 1916 Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria died. A procession of dignitaries and elegantly dressed royal mourners escorted the coffin which was draped in black and gold silk. A military band played somber funeral music as the torch-lit procession made its way down winding narrow stairs into the catacombs beneath the Capuchin Monastery in Vienna
At the bottom of the stairs were great iron doors leading to the Hapsburg family crypt. Behind the door was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna.
The Commanding officer rapped on the door and cried out. “Open!”
The Archbishop replied, “Who goes there?”
“We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz-Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Defender of the Faith, Prince of Bohemia-Moravia, Grand-Duke of Lombardy . . . .” And so it went, through the entire list of his 37 titles.
“We know him not, “ the Cardinal said, “Who goes there?”
The officer spoke again, using the informal title, “We bear the remains of Emperor Franz-Josef I of the Hapsburg line.”
“We know him not,” the cardinal said again. “Who goes there?”
This time the officer replied, “We bear the body of Franz-Josef, our brother, a sinner like all of us.” At that the doors swung open and Franz-Josef was welcomed home.
Whoever else you may be, whatever other relationships you may have, there is one title and one relationship that can never be taken away from you; you are always a child of God, born out of the waters of baptism and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever.
Though that means that wherever you go on earth, you will be considered and bit odd and “not from around here” because you have “done gone off and got different;” it also means that you are always welcome and at home in the family and kingdom of God.
Amen and amen.

Holy Trinity Sunday for Year B (May 31, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Isaiah 6:1-8
I don’t know that any of us will ever be able to capture or imagine the awe and terror of Isaiah’s vision of a visit to the throne of the Lord. The hem of God’s robe fills the temple; now that’s a big robe!

Seraphim are there, hovering and shouting (though we often think of angels “singing,” the text never really says that they sing.)

The house is shaking and there’s smoke everywhere — much more dramatic than our sanctuaries on most Sundays, I’d say. 

The cumulative effect is that Isaiah comes quite undone. “Woe is me,” is the best hymn of praise that he can squawk out. Something about truly seeing God as holy reminds us deeply and painfully that we are not.

And, yet — the call of God comes: “Who will go for us?” Since there’s nobody else present, Isaiah steps us with one of his most famous lines: “Here am I (gulp); send me.”

The old evangelist used to say, “When it comes to the call of God, it’s not your ability God is interested in. It’s your availability!” I kind of like that, even if it makes me nervous!

Psalm 29
The psalm text offers accompaniment and counterpoint to Isaiah’s grand vision of God.The emphasis is on the commanding, calling “voice of the LORD.”

This voice is not for the faint of heart, yet it is a source of both strength and peace.

Romans 8:12-17
Our readings in Romans 8 continue, opening doors to yet more aspects of the limitless, ever-present Spirit of God. 

  •  The Spirit leads and guides
  • The Spirit “puts to death” our fleshly inclinations
  • The Spirit does not lead us to fear
  • The Spirit allows us to cry out to God, as a young child to a loving, trustworthy father
  • The Spirit assures us that we are, indeed, children of God

John 3:1-17  
We have encountered portions of this reading already through the church year; there is much of note in this third chapter of John’s gospel. On Trinity Sunday, however, perhaps the center of the text is found in v. 8:

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

One of the most difficult illusions for we human beings to give up is that of control over our lives. Experience teaches us that there are really very few things that are within our capacity to control.

Certainly, we do not control the Spirit of God — anymore than we can control the wind. (As I write these words, we are entering the “hurricane season” in Florida with a tropical storm just off the coast. If you’ve ever survived a hurricane or similar natural disaster, you realize just how little control you have!)

That image helps me connect to Isaiah’s experience in our first reading. His experience of God was somewhat out of control, to the point of being terrifying. Much like the roaring of hurricane-force winds and the sound of trees splitting or being ripped up by their roots.

May we not forget the power we are dealing with when we blithely mention the presence of the Spirit, pronouncing the Spirit’s blessings on the lives of those to whom we preach and with whom we minister.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

When my parents were still living, I used to call home about once a week.  It was a “News from Lake Woebegone” sort of phone call – though in my case it was the “News from Slate Mountain.”

I got an update on the latest spat at the church and how the weather and the crops were doing and finally the obituaries, which were always a bit confusing because I never really knew who was being talked about – neither who was dead nor who was mourning.

Daddy would say, “Well, I don’t reckon you heard about William McCorkle dying?”  While I was smart enough not to point out to my father that a 75 year old man dying in Slate Mountain, North Carolina was unlikely to be big news in Atlanta; I was not smart enough to refrain from admitting that I did not know who William McCorkle was.  “Sure you do,” he would protest, “He was your Great Aunt Vesta’s first boy by her second husband, Old Man Willard McCorkle.  She married him after your Great Uncle Grover Cleveland Chilton died.” Me: “I still have no clue Daddy.”  My father: “He ran that little store up on Highway 52, almost into Virginia.”  Me: “Oh yeah, I remember him.  He would sell beer to me when I was still underage and in high school.”  Daddy, “Well, he wasn’t a real Chilton, but anyway – he died.  Funeral’s at the Holiness Church on Tuesday.”

The thing that always fascinated me about these conversations is that while abstract, technical connections were important to Daddy – “Great Aunt Vesta’s boy by her first marriage,” – they meant nothing to me.  But, whenever he could identify an activity, something the person did,

I would often remember who they were.

Identity and activity are closely intertwined. When trying to describe someone else, after we say they are tall or short; fat or thin; young or old; blonde, brunette, gray, or bald; what do we have left to say?  We most often shift to talking about something they do: how they dress, how they talk, what they like to eat, the books they read, the hobbies they pursue, stories about funny things that happened while you were with them.  All of this is about activity, about doing.

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday.  Traditionally, Lutherans use the Athanasian Creed on this day.  It’s on page 54 of the Lutheran Book of worship.  And on page 55.  It’s really long.  And it has lines in it like this: “Uncreated is the Father; uncreated is the Son, uncreated is the Spirit.  The Father is infinite, the Son is infinite, the Holy Spirit is infinite.  Eternal is the Father, eternal is the Son, eternal is the Spirit; And yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal; there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.” and so forth and so on for two long pages.  This, to my ears, sounds a lot like “Your Great Aunt Vesta’s boy by her first husband Old Man Willard McCorkle before he died and she married your Great Uncle Grover Cleveland Chilton.”

All the abstractions about both God and William McCorkle may be true and technically accurate, but for most of us, they are not particularly revealing or relevant to the way we live out our faith.  What is important to most of us about the Trinity is the way it helps us understand and participate in the activity of God in the world.  Who God is and what God does in the world is revealed to us in the Living, active Word of Scripture and the way we learn there about how God acts to save the world and us.

The three basic cycles of revelation in the Bible are 1) – God as Creator and Parent, Provider and Liberator told to us in the Creation, Exodus and Promised Land stories.  2) – God as Redeemer shown to us in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. And 3) – God as Sanctifier, the one who makes us holy, bursting upon in the stories in Acts as the church grows upward and outward.  We traditionally talk about these using the language of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But, both in the scripture and in our lives, it is not so easy to separate things.  Genesis Chapter One talks about the Spirit of God moving on the waters and John’s Gospel in its first chapter makes a case for Jesus as the Christ as the Word of God that speaks creation into being.  Our text from Romans intertwines all three aspects in its exploration of what it means for us to be adopted as Children of God.  Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, told to us in John 3, talks about the Kingdom of God and being born of the Spirit and the Son of Man being lifted up – more mixing and matching of the activities of God in the world and in our lives.

Whatever else it may be, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is important to us as a short-hand way to remember the “many and various ways” God has revealed God’s self in the past, and as a guide to the possible ways God will continue to reveal the Divine Presence in the present and future.

The trinity reminds us that our God is an active god, not content to sit back and see what happens.  Our God is a god who has been and will continue to be engaged in the lives and goings on of the world and God’s many beloved children.

The trinity reminds us of our calling to be actively engaged in carrying out God’s will and way, mission and ministry in the world.  We are invited to jump into the work of creation, caring for and bettering the earth, which God made and then placed into our hands for safe-keeping.  We are invited to carry on with the task of redemption; taking Christ’s message of love and forgiveness, grace and renewal, to all people in all places.  We are invited to live life in the Spirit, being ever more attentive to the intimate presence of God in our lives; praying, meditating, and living out the fruits of love born through our interior communion with God.

Because, as important as it is to know who “Great Aunt Vesta’s boy by her first husband Old Man Willard McCorkle” was; it’s much more important to know how to treat him when you meet him on down the road.

Amen and Amen.