Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sermon for June 15, 2008

The World Needs our Feet
Romans 10:9-15

Here are some of my favorite bumper stickers . . .
· I’m not gaining weight, I’m retaining food!.
· I brake for no apparent reason.
· Forget about World Peace. Visualize using your turn signal.
· He who laughs last, thinks slowest.
· Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.
· Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
· I love cats...they taste just like chicken.
· The more people I meet, the more I like my dog.
· Sometimes I wake up grumpy; other times I let him sleep.
· Work is for people who don’t know how to fish.
· Hard work pays off in the future. But laziness pays off right now.
· It’s lonely at the top, but you eat better.
· Always remember you’re unique, just like everyone else.
· There are 3 kinds of people: those who can count & those who can’t.
· Why is “abbreviation” such a long word?
· Bumper Stickers Solve Nothing

Some bumper stickers are funny, some are informative, some make you think, others make you mad. In any case, they’re usually a reflection of direction the person in life is traveling. When it comes to bumper stickers, the words on the outside of a car are often an indicator of the kind of person on the inside of the car. In the same way, the words that come out of our mouths are often an indicator of what kind of person we are in the inside.

From the Bible’s point of view, our feet are the indicators of what we believe. I know it sounds weird, but listen to how the Apostle Paul puts it in the book of Romans.

The world needs our feet. Now I need to tell you, I’m surprised I’m even saying this to you, because I think feet are disgusting. I definitely have a foot hang up–a piece of information, which, is probably more than you wanted to know about me. I can think of several words to describe these appendages on the ends of my legs. The words ugly, hairy, smelly and grungy are a few that I would choose. But despite their flaws, the world needs our feet.

Paul is quite clear on this in Romans.
“ . . . how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?”

Our feet to carry us to the grieving and hurting, the needy and lonely, the friendless, the blind and the prisoners, the poor and oppressed, and those who do not know Jesus Christ. Our feet bring us into contact with those who need to know how God’s grace and our faith can make a difference in life. So, the world needs our feet. There are, however, some problems with this. First and foremost, I don’t want to my feet to bring me into contact with friendless-the blind the prisoners, the poor and oppressed and those who do not know Jesus Christ. I would rather my feet bring me to my comfy chair while I relax and read a good book. I would rather have my feet bring me somewhere where I don’t have to think about the pain and suffering in the world. Life is easier if I let my feet lead me to places where I can deny the reality the world is filled with pain.

And anyway, if I were to go to the suffering and poor in spirit, I wouldn’t know what to do. I wouldn’t know what to say. How is little ol’ me going to make a difference?

And there’s another problem --The term “congregational evangelist” sounds like an contradiction. Maybe we should let the Baptists, Nazarenes and Pentacostals put the gospel shoes on their feet. Anyway, if God has already predestined everything, as our Puritan ancestors taught, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

There is one more problem -- people are not going to automatically call on God. Someone needs to go and someone needs to talk. In fact, not just anyone–WE need to go. As Paul says, quoting Isaiah:
That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Isaiah actually writes this:
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa. 52:7, NIV)
Did you get that. God can take these obscene feet of mine and make them beautiful.
How, exactly, is God going to make my feet . . . beautiful?

It’s important to understand that in Biblical times they didn’t have email or fax machines or phones. So in order for leaders to relay messages to their hearers they sent messengers. Often times the messenger would travel by foot for miles to get the message to his hearer. The ancient Greek myth of Phidippides is an example. In 490 B.C. Persia’s fleet of 600 ships loomed off the Greek Shores not far from Athens. According to legend, the general of the Athenian troops sent his fastest runner, Phidippides to ask for help from Sparta. Phidippides ran for two days and two nights to reach Sparta, about 140 miles away. He gave the message to the Spartans. The Spartans agreed to send troops, but not until after their religious festival was completed in nine days. Phidippides ran back to Athens, but the general couldn’t wait that long, so he ordered his troops to advance on the Persians. The Persian army was no match for the Athenians and 6,400 Persians were slain. The general then ordered Phidippides back to Marathon to spread the good news. The distance between marathon and Athens was approximately 25 miles. Phidippides made the distance, managed to gasp “Rejoice!” before he collapsed and died. That reminds me of another bumper sticker: “Walk, don’t run.”

You can imagine what people and communities would be thinking when word got out a messenger was bringing word to them? Their hearts would pound not knowing if the news was going to be tragic or good. When the news was good, the messenger became the most popular person around. People would say the messenger’s feet were beautiful. Now the word beautiful here does not mean lovely in appearance—thank goodness. It means “in time” or “timely”. It was as if the people were saying, “your feet brought you just when I needed to hear something good.”

There are people all around us in desperate need of some Good News. They are going through a trying time. They don’t need to hear “suck it up” or “hang in there” or “our church has great music.” They need to hear Good News. Jesus loves us and cares for us. Sin and death are defeated, and we can be right with God. As much as I resist going to those tough places, I love it when I hear someone say, “Your feet brought you just when I needed to hear something good.” Where our feet bring us shows the condition of our heart. How you walk and where you walk to is an indication of the health of your relationship with God.

Remember those words from Proverbs 6 that we just heard? Listen again for talks of feet and words. “Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion:
eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family.” In fact, your walk a sign of your faith. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The apostle Paul reminds to walk by faith instead of sight (2 Cor. 5:7). In other words, the desires of our hearts, the words of our mouths, and out feet are all connected. Our heart gives us the will to go. Our feet respond and bring us. And our mouths speak the Good News. An active heart leads to an active mouth, which also shows itself in active feet. And active feet are beautiful to God. Or, to quote another bumper sticker:
Dance With Your Heart and Your Feet Will Follow!
When is the last time someone said to you, “Your feet are Beautiful”? What are you doing to bring Good News to the people around you in your daily life?

I find that there is a prayer that God always answers. I will say, “God, lead me to someone who needs to know your love today.” I have prayed that prayer, and then promptly forgotten what I said. At some point in the day, usually my most hectic day, someone will call – someone who us hurting and needs help. At that point I have a decision, be patient with the interruption and take time to listen, or brush the person off. Even before I became a minister, I would pray, “God, lead me to someone who needs to know your love today,” and people would bare their souls to me in the strangest of places. Once I was in a restaurant, ready to order my dinner. The server came and said, “Hi, I’m Ashley. How are you all?” “Fine, how are you?” I asked. I didn’t really mean it. It’s just what you say, right? Before I knew what was happening, Ashley was sitting in our booth, telling my family and me about all her problems at work. I’m thinking to myself, “Can I just order my pizza now?” But I prayed that God would help me walk to the places and people who need to know God’s love. I have had the same thing happen at the grocery store check out line and school events. It even happened on my honeymoon. Chris and I became acquainted with an older couple who were vacationing in Bermuda at the same place we were staying. From our perspective, it was a superficial relationship – small talk and shallow chat. Somehow, weeks after we went our separate ways, the wife of the other couple tracked us down and called us to tell us how bad her life had become. I was not a minister. I was not even in seminary. Chris and I were just out of college. We just showed some compassion – the ability to listen, and the willingness to stay put so that we could listen and respond with love.

I must admit, I am not always proud of where my feet take me. At times, my feet and I have chosen the path not lit by the Word of God. I also suspect I have not always been in the position of passionately listening at the Savior's feet. Nor have I always humbled myself to others, failing to wash their feet with love and service. However, my prayer is that I can be described as follows:
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.”’
I would be thrilled people thought of me and said, “Matt is a man with beautiful feet.”

How beautiful are your feet?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sermon for Sunday June 1, 2008

Come to Me
Song of Songs 2:8-13; Matthew 11:25-3

Tennessee Williams tells a story about Jacob Brodzky, a shy Russian Jew whose father owned a bookstore. The older Brodzky wanted his son to go to college. Jacob, on the other hand, desired nothing but to marry Lila, his childhood sweetheart -- a French girl as breezy, vital, and ambitious as he was quiet and retiring. A couple of months after Jacob went to college, his father fell ill and died. Jacob returned home, buried his father, and married his love. Then the couple moved into the apartment above the bookstore, and Jacob took over the business. The life of books fit him perfectly, but it cramped her. She wanted more adventure. She eventually met a talent agent who praised her beautiful singing voice and enticed her to tour Europe with a vaudeville company. Jacob was devastated. At their parting, he reached into his pocket and handed her the key to the front door of the bookstore.

“You had better keep this,” he told her. “You will want it some day. Your love is not so much less than mine that you can get away from it. You will come back sometime, and I will be waiting.” She kissed him and left. To escape the pain he felt, Jacob withdrew deep into his bookstore and took to reading as someone else might take to drink. He spoke little, did little, and most times sat at the large desk near the rear of the shop, immersed in his books while he waited for his love to return.

Nearly 15 years after they parted, Lila came back to the bookstore. But when Jacob rose from the reading desk he did not recognize the love of his life. “Do you want a book?” he asked. Lila was startled, but she gained possession of herself and replied, “I want a book, but I’ve forgotten the name of it.” Then she told him a story of childhood sweethearts. A story of a newly married couple who lived in an apartment above a bookstore. A story of a young, ambitious wife who left to seek a career, who enjoyed great success but could never relinquish the key her husband gave her when they parted. She told him the story she thought would bring him to himself. But Jacob’s face showed no recognition. He had lost touch with his heart’s desire. He no longer knew the purpose of his waiting and grieving, that now all he remembered was the waiting and grieving itself. She cried out, “You remember it; you must remember it -- the story of Lila and Jacob?” After a long, bewildered pause, he said, “There is something familiar about the story, I think I have read it somewhere. It comes to me that it is something by Tolstoy.” Dropping the key, she fled the shop. Jacob returned to his desk, to his reading, unaware that the love he waited for had come and gone.

How easy it is to miss love when it comes. Either something so distracts us or we have so completely lost who we are and what we care about that we cannot recognize our heart’s desire.

I want you to think about the person sitting to your right and your left. Think about the person who is sitting in front of you and behind you. Think about your family and your friends. Now think about the handful of people whom drive you crazy. I’m going to tell you something about them – each and every one of those people, you and me included, aches to be loved. In a world that seems plagued by an epidemic of emotional pain, it’s not surprising that we are a culture infatuated with love. Most people will go to great extremes to feel loved. Romantic fantasies . . . casual one-night-stands . . . we’ll spend billions of dollars on how-to-books and online friendships, pills and powders, make-up and seductive clothes. But none of these seem to secure the kind of love that will fill the empty, lonely spot inside that waits for someone – anyone – to accept and passionately love the real me.

I’ve met people who live their lives believing that there is no one there for them. They think, “Nobody understands me. Nobody cares about my pain. No one cares if I live of die.” Even in marriages, it’s easy to feel that one’s spouse no longer understands. I read a story about a couple named Mark and Beth. When they were young, they fell in love. Their eyes sparkled and their steps were light. They felt that unique, special attraction for each other. They got married, believing that they would forever supply each other with a permanent sense of self-worth. But, as time went on, Mark expected Beth to always be as loving and accepting and forgiving as she was when they were dating. Beth expected the same from Mark. They began to feel disillusioned, even betrayed by one another. As the years passed, affirmation was replaced by sarcasm and ridicule. They each expected unconditional love and acceptance from the other, and each failure to do so was another brick in the wall between them. Mark and Beth recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. Although they shared ten years together, they experienced very little real love. Unfortunately, not even marriage guarantees that our need to be loved will be fulfilled.

So here we sit today, frustrated lovers, wanting to be understood but feeling alone. We want to love and be loved, but we feel incompetent, inadequate and insecure. Some of us try to compensate. Some will tell themselves. “If I can only do something to make myself more likeable or desirable . . . if only I can be successful . . . if only I can make myself more beautiful . . . if only I try harder or put more effort in . . . THEN all my problems will be solved.”

The truth is hard to accept. We will never be loved by doing more. We will not be loved if we stumble upon the correct formula of things to say, do and wear. Here’s the truth: you are already loved. Someone already who knows you and understands you. Someone already sees you– shortcomings and insecurities included – and still loves you. You are loved by God. God’s just nuts about you. God pursues you and calls out to you and God will do anything it takes to draw you into a love relationship. All God asks is for us to trust that real love can be life-changing and real. God wants us to throw off the bonds of insecurity and hear words of love: “Arise my beautiful one and come with me. See! Winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on earth, the season for singing has come. Arise, come my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.”

Like our human relationships, we think we have to do something to earn or deserve God’s love. Many people feel useless or worthless is we are not busy doing something. But God has already given his love to you as a gift. You don’t pay someone back for a gift. You just receive it – otherwise it’s not a gift anymore. There is no work of effort involved. God is passionately, intimately, breathlessly, fiercely, undeniable in love with you. God knows you. God understands you. God loves you and God wants you to arise and allow yourself to receive that love.

Here lies the beauty of the Gospel. You don’t need to carry around heavy burdens of doubt, or self-contempt-or inadequacy. Jesus says drop them and take the burden of love upon your shoulders instead. God says, “I have come to you. I sent my son in human likeness so that I may fully know you and you may fully know me. Now make good choices. Seek the highest love. Come to me and I will give you rest for your souls.” I believe right now Jesus looks at you and sees your pain. He knows the weight of your family problems. He knows what it’s like when you feel no good. Jesus understands loneliness and feeling like nobody really cares about or understands you. He experienced it all himself. And through that Jesus says, “Just leave it behind for a while. All your striving to find love and acceptance is just a distraction. They are detours which lead you farther away from God’s love.” Jesus says, “I’ll carry all those burdens and distractions for you. That’s how much I love you. Arise my beautiful one, come with me . . .”

In his book Mortal Lessons physician Richard Selzer describes a scene in a hospital room after he had performed surgery on a young woman’s face:

I stand by the bed where the young woman lies -- her face, postoperative -- her mouth twisted in palsy -- clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, one of the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be that way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut this little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to be in a world all their own in the evening lamplight -- isolated from me -- private. Who are they? I ask myself -- he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously. The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” “She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It’s kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with the divine. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers -- to show her that their kiss still works.

Regardless of the scars you bear from the ravages of life, no matter how you feel about yourself at any given time, God loves you. God kissed us by giving us Jesus – by allowing his body to be twisted on a cross to show us that God’s love still works. No matter what, you are beautiful to God and he will never stop loving you.

God will never force a relationship on you that you don’t want. But I think we want it. I encourage you to find a space where you can be alone with God. I want you to sit quietly and allow the Holy Spirit to confirm this message to you. Allow God to speak words of love to you in inward stillness. Come to God saying, “O God, lover of my soul, I am yours. I belong to you and you love me as I am.” And as you listen, may the kiss of the Spirit touch you as you hear the voice of a God who is totally in love with you: Arise my beautiful one and come with me. See! Winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on earth, the season for singing has come. Arise, come my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.

Sermon for January 21, 2018

How Far Would You Go? 1 Samuel 17 I had a sermon all ready to go today. It was a NICE sermon. You would have felt really good about i...