Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Good Shepherd

Scripture Lessons: Matthew 9: 32-38 and Psalm 23 Sermon title: The Good Shepherd Preached on April 22, 2018 I wondered some about doing that, but if ever there was something worth being able to quote from memory, this is it. And I think we should all memorize it in this translation, the King James Version, because it just sounds so beautiful. But memorizing is hard for me, and for many of the members of my generation and younger. One of the problems with having information always at your fingertips is you get out of the practice of committing information to memory. How many times have I said: Why should I work to memorize it if I can just look it up on my phone. But, I find myself having to look up on my phone, even my own phone number, which is weird, because I still remember the Buchanan’s phone number that goes to a house they haven’t lived in for at least 15 years. The land line of my closet friend from childhood is till right up here, but today, most everything just slips right out. Why is that? Part of it, is because before we could google everything, we had to memorize it. Before fancy cash registers, every fast-food employee knew how to make change. And it’s not that now people are dumb, it’s that we slowly stopped using the parts of our brain that quickly retain information, and those memorizing brain cells got weaker and weaker, so other parts of the brain could get stronger. I don’t remember all the facts and figures or technical language about the subject, but you can look it all up on the internet. It’s true, and it’s probably why some generations in attendance this morning didn’t need to look at the bulletin to recite the 23rd Psalm while others did. And having the 23rd Psalm memorized is good, because cell service is bad in the valley of the shadow of death. When you’re walking through there you have to have some things committed to memory for them to light your way. You have to know it, but we memorize less and less so our brains aren’t used to it and, somewhere along the line, we stopped emphasizing memorization, stopped making sure that every child could say it by heart. I think our confirmation class still has to be able to. When I was in confirmation class here I think we had to, but I’m a little rusty at reciting it from memory. Besides, saying the 23rd Psalm wasn’t something that we did at home. It was something that I only worked on in order to join the church, and a few generations ago, I don’t think it was that way. We used to memorize, but times have changed. Church has changed. My grandfather once took us to the church he worshiped in as a child. He grew up in a place called the Caw Caw Swamp. It’s somewhere in the Low Country of South Carolina. His mother is buried there, and he showed us her grave. Then we walked into the little church, just one room to the place, and walking down the aisle it was like the memories were flooding back to my grandfather. One thing I remember is him saying, “On the back pew there, that’s where the nursing mothers sat.” I remember how scandalized my mom was at the thought. She was sure it wasn’t true, and misremembering is something my grandfather was and is prone to, but maybe she couldn’t believe it because her childhood memory of church is so different. She often told me how she remembers playing with the head of her mother’s mink during the worship service, and how if she wasn’t quiet her mother would pinch her until she was. That might be why, when they first joined this church, they went to the service here that happened during Sunday School. We were young kids, and so we went to class, they could worship in peace, and I wouldn’t have to get pinched. Many churches have been thinking that way for at least the last 50 years: don’t make the kids suffer through, put them somewhere they can be kids, and that’s a thoughtful idea, a good idea in theory, but here’s something that doesn’t happen as much – the faith of our mothers and fathers getting passed down from one generation to the next. That’s a problem. We are slowly loosing something, and sometimes I can see so clearly what it is that we’re losing. You ever ask a Presbyterian to pray? I’ve been to meetings where you can ensure that every Presbyterian will show up on time with the simple announcement: “Last one to sit down has to say the opening prayer.” You should hear my grandfather pray. Big, deep voice. “Let us return thanks,” he’d say before Thanksgiving dinner. And I’ll bet that he could do that because he had seen it done. As an infant in his mother’s arms he heard powerful prayers in a one room church before he even knew what it was. Think about that one room church. As a toddler, there was no nursery for him to go to, so I don’t know what they did with him. They didn’t even have Sunday School rooms, which isn’t perfect, but how far it must have gone towards passing down our faith from one generation to the next. As much as I love and value Sunday School, being in one room to worship together matters. Being in the place where children watch their parents worship God matters, because the way they learn is by watching what we do. And by “we” I don’t just mean parents – I mean me and all of you. I mean everyone here who promised to help raise each baby who has been baptized in this church. Do we, the people of this congregation, receive this child of God, into the life of the church? If so, please answer “We do.” Will we promise, through prayer and example, to support and encourage her to be faithful in Christian discipleship? If so, please answer “We will.” That’s what we do. No one ever says, “I will, so long as she isn’t too noisy.” Or, “I will, so long as she never drops a hymnal during the sermon.” Every time we all answer, “We will. Through prayer and example, we will support and encourage her to be faithful in Christian Discipleship.” And it’s through prayer and example, not mean looks and lectures that we’ll do it. We model behavior to children, and when they’re in here with us they learn to worship God as we do. Sooner or later, if they’re sitting in here, they’ll pick it up whether we’re pinching them or helping them color, but if they’re never in here – if they’re always in the nursery or someplace else, they might not. That’s because, in the words of Rev. Joe Brice, the sage of Paulding County, worshiping God isn’t taught so much as caught. You learn to do it, not because someone told you how, but from being surrounded by people infected with the blessing that comes with worshiping God in Sprit and truth. That saying, “do as I say, not as I do.” Doesn’t usually work, does it? So, if your dad sang the hymns, then I bet he never had to tell you to, but if he never cracked the hymnal I bet that even if he told you to sing you learned to do not what your father said to do but what he did. If you heard your mother whisper the words of the 23rd Psalm I bet, you can hear her saying the words with you. If your aunt held your hands when she prayed, I bet it stuck. And if you saw your grandfather serve communion, it meant something powerful before you knew anything about Jesus and the Last Supper. Rev. Lisa Majores told me that she felt a call to preach without ever really having seen a woman do it – can you imagine how much courage it must have taken her to try? To try something that you’ve never seen someone who looked like you do. Now, she might say that her mother preached all the time, just not behind a pulpit, but still - it’s so much easier if you’ve grown up seeing it done. That’s true of sheep too, and I know that because I’ve learned a thing or two about sheep, but not everybody has. Last week Anna Grey Heart, our Preschool Director, arranged for a whole trailer full of farm animals to come to our church. The preschool kids got to pet them and hold them. There was a rooster as big as a four-year-old and there was a cute little pig. Betsy Sherwood told one of her students to stand next to the pig, so she could take his picture, but he looked at her and said, “Ms. Betsy, that’s a hamster.” If you don’t know the difference between a pig and a hamster, you can’t understand the 23rd Psalm, because to get a lot of it you have to learn some things about sheep. I googled “how do you train sheep to follow a shepherd” and here are some interesting facts: Even from birth, lambs are taught to follow the older members of the flock. Ewes encourage their lambs to follow. The dominant members of the flock usually lead, and if there is a ram in the flock, he usually goes first. Isn’t that something. Even sheep have to be taught how to follow the shepherd, and they’re taught by example. We have to show our kids to follow him by following him ourselves, and we have to show them how to follow him, because getting lost is just so easy. From that passage we read in the Gospel of Matthew: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Isn’t that the state of things? Like sheep gone astray, we often look for protection and guidance, and if not from the Good Shepherd, from any cattle thief who comes along. Just as there is the Good Shepherd, there are plenty of bad ones in our world, and I don’t need to name names, you know who all I’m talking about already. There are people in this world who are leading sheep to the slaughter. Treating children like objects of desire, using their hands to strike fear and inspire shame rather than sow love – and these wolves in sheep’s clothes, they are strengthened by our silence. I believe it’s significant that just before Jesus starts talking about people being like sheep without a shepherd, he gives a man back his voice. He helps him to speak again. And I say that this miracle is significant because there are people in this world, whose power depends on us doing nothing. There are men and women who want us silent, powerless, and irrelevant so that they can take whatever they want – but may the Lord give us back our voice. This Sunday, we celebrate the work of the Interfaith Children’s Movement and remember that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. I hope you will notice again the picture on the cover of your bulletin of pinwheels surrounding the statue beside our playground. The Wednesday Night Children’s Program, Mission Possible Kids, put the pinwheels there as a visual reminder that just as a shepherd cares for his sheep, we all play a role in ensuring happy and healthy childhoods for all children. We are all sheep, cared for by the Good Shepherd, and we have an obligation to follow him, so that the children of our church and our community will know who to follow and how to follow. We must use our voices, our power, and our example to show the children of this world that the one who is worth following doesn’t ask you to keep secrets. He doesn’t take from you until you’re empty. And He would never harm a hair on your head. Instead: he restores souls. Leads in paths of righteousness. Provides, safety, comfort, and a path through the darkest valleys. Let us show them. By our example let us show them how to follow the Lord. Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

I Am Going Fishing

Scripture Lessons: Revelation 5: 11-14 and John 21: 1-19 Sermon Title: I am going fishing Preached on April 15, 2018 Last week for Spring Break, we took a big trip to Florida. We spent a few days exploring the Everglades, saw our fair share of alligators, and on our way home we spent some time at the beach outside Ft. Lauderdale, and while we were there we ate breakfast in a little diner and in that diner one of the waitresses had the exact hair style that my grandmother had for all the years I knew her. It was that classic look that requires you to carry a grocery bag in your purse to cover your hair in case of rain. My cousin Eric once proudly reported to his kindergarten class that his grandmother wasn’t some old gray headed lady, which made my grandmother laugh, though she confessed that her red hair came from a bottle. She died just a few years ago but seeing the unnatural color of that waitress’ hair and catching a whiff of her hairspray made my eyes fill up with tears. Now why is that? Maybe you know. Because sometimes you make a connection to people you’ve loved and lost at the strangest of times, but some of those times really aren’t so strange when you think about it. Maybe you feel something like what I’m talking about when you go to a baseball game. You sit down next to your grandson and you remember being his age and sitting next to your grandfather. Or you bake a pound cake using the recipe your mother scribbled out on an index card, corners now dulled, and ink smeared, but you wouldn’t dare throw it away, would you? No – because to touch the card and to use the recipe is to travel to a different time. It’s a link to someone you love. You can think about fishing this way. Here’s a good fishing joke. How do you keep your Baptist friend from drinking all your beer when you take him fishing? Invite a second Baptist friend. I like that joke because it’s about Baptists, but to my point: Fishing so often has nothing to do with catching fish. It has to do with relaxing or connecting. For fathers and sons or old friends, let’s go fishing is really code for, “let’s get away and spend some time together” because men can’t just come out and say that. It’s one of the many things where the relationship between you and the person you do it with is far more important than the results, so when Peter says, “I am going fishing,” just about all of us know it’s not because he’s hungry. Peter goes to throw his nets back into the sea, because he wants to feel connected to the one who taught him how to fish for people. Peter wants to breath the sea air to rekindle his connection to the one who valued and redefined him. Peter goes fishing because he doesn’t want to lose the connection that he has with his friend and his savior. You know what I’m talking about. That waitress with my grandmother’s hair – it took some self-control not to hug her neck. All I did was placed my order, but I wanted more. I wanted her to tell me things that my grandmother never had the chance to say, and I wanted her to tell me things that she had said a million times before. I wanted her to see our girls, to meet the grandchildren she didn’t get to watch grow up. And I wanted to tell her that I miss her, that I think of her, and that I’m sorry for the time when I called her the day after her birthday because I forgot to call her on the actual day. You know, when people die, it feels like any chance you had of righting the wrongs is lost. When people die, to some degree you just have to learn to live with regrets. So, what was Peter thinking as he cast an empty net into the sea? You can imagine. With each toss of his net he was wrestling with the image of his Lord being led away in chains, “and what did I do?” Peter asked himself, “I denied him.” One in a crowd asked me, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you,” and I said, “I am not.” You can just about hear Peter doing what people do when grief and regret assault the mind and the heart: “Just like he said I would, I denied him, I denied him, then I denied him again.” You can imagine. It’s hard enough to lose the people we love, but so often they leave us, not only with grief, but with regrets, and such regrets as these keep us chained to the past, never set free to really live a future that the departed don’t get. So, he cast his nets without his fishing buddy wishing for some forgiveness that the departed can’t give, but not so with Jesus. Peter was out there fishing, and the disciple whom Jesus loved spotted him first. The nets that had been empty were filled miraculously once again, and Peter didn’t see him, but this other disciple pointed him out, so Peter put on his clothes and jumped into the water. Isn’t that interesting. But that’s the classic sign of shame and regret in Scripture. When Adam and Eve were ashamed, they made clothes from fig leaves because they couldn’t stand before the Lord without inhibition. Therefore, it is for shame and regret that Peter covers his nakedness, but he jumps into the water in urgency, and once he reaches the shore he is fed and set free. You heard it: “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Three times he asked him, and three times Simon Peter affirmed his love. In the place of three denials came three declarations of love, and one road map for his future: “Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” Now, consider that, and imagine, what do you think my grandmother wants from me? To keep beating myself up about forgetting her birthday, or for me to remember all her granddaughters’ birthdays? What do you think any of the saints of light want from us? To regret what’s happened in the past, or to charge into the future? And what do you think our Lord wants from us? To beg forgiveness? To cover our shame? Or to feed his sheep? We are all the time drowning in regrets. But did you see what Jesus did with Peter – in no time three declarations of love erased three denials, and immediately the one who escaped reality to go fishing and to polish his regret was sent out into the world with a new purpose. Just like my grandmother would have if she were still here, Jesus fed those disciples and he forgave them. He filled up their nets one last time to get their attention, he prepared a meal for them on the beach, he let them know once again that washed in the water they had been made new, and he put them back to the work of feeding sheep, getting them away from the work of self-inflicted regret. If you go fishing for the same reason that Peter went fishing, I hope you have the same experience. Because you and I need to be feeding sheep, not feeding shame. But don’t let me tell you how to do it. Don’t let me lecture you about what you should be doing. I don’t want to teach you how to fish. You’ve heard it said: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime”? That old expression has been revised by a writer name Roy Blount Jr.: Give a man a fish and he has to clean it. Teach him how to fish, and you’ll just make him mad. But what if you feed him? Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Why? Did he look like the Lord? Did he sound like the Lord? Did he dress like the Lord? Or did he just act like the Lord? Jesus did teach those disciples a lot about fishing, but more than that, he fed them. By this example he teaches us about feeding sheep. Now let me tell you a story. Last week my glasses broke. More accurately, a screw fell out, and I broke my glasses trying to fix them. I went into the optometrist. Georgia Eye Specialists it’s called. They’re close by, but the internet reviews have been hard on them, so I was suspicious. However, as soon as I got in there I was convinced that this was a great place and I want to tell you why. The nice lady who greeted me at the door and who was taking down my insurance information, she was eating skittles, and this other lady behind the desk kept reaching into her little pile, stealing skittles one by one. A little annoyed, the lady taking my information looked at me and said, “You want one too?” I did, so I took a pink one, and then I finished giving her my insurance information, she sent me to the part of the store where they repair glasses. I handed a young man my glasses, told him how I had broken them, sat down a little ashamed, and next thing I know, the lady from the front desk is coming to see me offering me her very last pink skittle. At this point I’ve decided that I have found the absolute best optometrist in the area. Why? I have yet to see the doctor. I haven’t had an exam, but they fed me. They fed me, and that makes a difference. During Holy Week our kitchen volunteers fed at least 700 people who came to worship in our church. Every Sunday morning and every Wednesday Night the same thing happens, and they’re doing a lot more than just feeding bodies – they’re feeding souls. And when I sat at the counter of that diner at the beach, you know what I was thinking about? How many times I’ve been fed by a lady with the kind of hairdo that requires you to carry a grocery bag in your purse in case of rain. How often she looked at me like I was the center of the universe. How she would listen to me when I talked with her full attention. How she drove over for my freshman orientation because she was proud. And how she’d call me darling, even when I wasn’t. Jesus fed them again, as he feeds us every communion Sunday, and then he sends us out to live our lives with purpose: feed my sheep he told Peter. Then he reminded Peter of what’s true: “When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, it will be different.” Don’t spend any more time fishing for regrets. Don’t spend it on shame. The clock is ticking. So, feed his sheep as you’ve been fed. Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

He Will Swallow Up Death Forever

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 25: 6-9 and John 20: 1-18 Sermon Title: He Will Swallow Up Death Forever Preached on April 1, 2018 In addition to being Easter Sunday, today is April Fool’s Day, and I was reminded of that when, early this morning, getting ready for the Sunrise Service at Kennesaw Mountain, I stepped into the shower to see that I was joined by the largest spider I’d ever seen. The spider was plastic, but it’s hard to tell the difference between a real spider and a plastic spider early in the morning. And because it was early, when I was getting breakfast together, I didn’t want to turn on too many lights and I was just kind of feeling around the kitchen when my hand rubbed against a big old cockroach – which also turned out to be plastic, but I didn’t know that at the time. It was still dark. Both the spider and the cockroach were planted by our daughter Cece, and after all the commotion I could hear her and her sister waking up, and decided that I’d just hide their baskets and tell them that the Easter bunny had decided not to come see them this year. I didn’t really do that, but the point was made plane to me this morning: it is easy to be fooled early in the morning. It’s hard to see in the dark, so I can understand why Mary, who saw the stone rolled away from the tomb that first Easter morning so long ago, failed at first to understand what it all meant. You noticed how the Gospel lesson began: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” Now was just that stone enough to convince her that the light was still shining? Was this heavy stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb enough to convince her that hope was alive? That her savior was risen from the dead? As we read, no it wasn’t, and that’s because it’s hard to see clearly when it’s still dark. So, she came to the tomb, saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb, and ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Isn’t that something? Just like a child who wakes up in the middle of the night, sees a shadow on the wall and assumes it’s a monster, Mary saw the empty tomb and assumed someone had stolen her savior’s body. When she first came to the tomb, while it was still dark, she saw the stone rolled away and jumped to the conclusion, not that he had risen from the dead like he told them he would, but that some grave robbers came along and stole her savior’s remains. And why would she think that? Because that’s what we all do, for it’s hard to see clearly when it’s still dark. It’s easy to be fooled early in the morning. As I said before, we went out to Kennesaw mountain this morning, and Libba and Wilkie Shell offered to give me a ride. Of course, I accepted, because that early in the morning I might have gotten lost. I was preaching, wondering if my pants were on backwards early this morning. Why? Because it’s hard to see clearly when it’s still dark. Everything looks different. You make mistakes. You can’t think straight, and everything seems just a little bit worse than it is. Preachers used to tell newlyweds, don’t ever go to sleep while you’re fighting. Stay up and settle it before you go to bed, but the problem is, the more tiered I am, the worse I get. The more illogical and the less kind. If you ever need someone to make a mountain out of a molehill wake me up at 2’oclock in the morning and I’ll be sure to convince you that the world is falling apart. Does it ever seem that way to you? Guns in schools. Self-centered politicians. Bombs in North Korea. Children going hungry. Opium epidemic. Human trafficking. The list to prove that our world is falling apart just grows and grows. And to make it worse, the news comes on in the evening after dark or in the morning before we are in our right minds, so it’s hard to see the world clearly. Things seem so bad some days, that it still feels dark even when it’s noon. But listen to what happened with Mary next. Simon Peter and the other disciple went into the empty tomb that Easter morning so many years ago. They saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. This is an amazing thing to see, but they don’t see it clearly. It’s still dark out, and so they just go on back home. Mary on the other hand. Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; as she wept, tears clouding her vision, she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” You can just about answer this question for her. Because he’s gone, or so she thinks. Because the only man who ever took the time to see her, and I mean, really see her, is gone. Because the one who filled her with hope, who lit up the world with possibility, seems to be like a candle now burned out. Had we been there to ask, she would have said, “I cry because I believed and now my doubts overcome me. Because I was found but now I’m lost again. And because I just wanted to bury him, but “they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” It’s still dark out you see. She isn’t seeing clearly, and that’s understandable because it’s hard for anyone to see clearly when the darkness of grief consumes them. You can understand why she can’t see the light, because it’s still dark out and the shadow hasn’t lifted, but then a man said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, because it was still too dark out to recognize his face, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Then, Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Do you know what that was like? To hear your name called? In the shadow of a dark room, someone calling your name can be as uplifting as had they switched on the lights and all at once you can see clearly the truth. Jesus said to her, “Mary!” and all at once the shadows lifted, the darkness was cast out, because the light of the world called her by name. But there were signs before that, weren’t there? Signs that she couldn’t see because it’s hard to see in the dark. There’s a truck that uses our church parking lot early in the morning and late in the evening. They park out there when it’s still dark because they catch stray cats to spay and neuter them. I’m glad that they do this, but late one evening someone drove up there because they thought it was a food truck. I wonder what they ordered, but my real point is this – it is still dark out there in our world today. It’s still hard to see, but look out on the world, not with fear, but with faith. Look for the stones rolled away, and when you see them, don’t assume that your savior’s gone. When you see his linen wrappings lying there, don’t you dare just go back home giving up on hope. And when you hear a voice, whether from a preschooler or a gardener, listen closely, for God is speaking still – in the midst of so much darkness God still speaks light to our shadow. The Prophet Isaiah said it like this: He will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations. For he will swallow up death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. And I say, he has done it. On this April Fool’s Day the world can call us fools all they want. Still I say: That he is risen. He is risen indeed. Amen.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Here Comes the Bridegroom

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29, and Mark 11: 1-11 Sermon title: Here Comes the Bridegroom Preached on March 25, 2018 In the early service we sang, “What wondrous love is this”, as the hymn to prepare us for those Palm Sunday Scripture Lessons that I just read. We sang: What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul. What wondrous love is this, O my soul. What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul. I hope you know that hymn. It’s a good one, and it’s about the saddest love song that you could ever sing. But sometimes it’s the sad ones that get love right. And rarely is it the movies that get love right. When Sara and I were first married we watched a lot of love movies that she picked out. It seemed like they all starred the same blond robot actors and followed the same plot line. You’ve seen these movies where boy falls in love with girl, boy chases girl, finally girl realizes she’s in love with boy, but by then boy has moved on, so something dramatic has to happen, and then everything ends happily ever after. In these movies there’s not a lot of compromising or arguing about money. No one really sacrifices very much, so I want to tell you that if you are looking for an example of real love, look not to the romantic comedies of this present evil age, but to the husbands who suffer through those movies because they love their wives that much. Real love. Wondrous love – it’s not like what you see in the movies, and if you want a glimpse of the kind of love that I’m talking about this morning, at the next wedding you attend don’t just watch the groom to see if he cries as the bride walks down the aisle. Look at the father of the bride who is definitely crying and has been for weeks. Real love, wondrous love, if full of this kind of sacrifice. The kind of sacrifice where you love her so much that you can give her away even though it tears your heart in two. But that’s not what we make movies about. In movies we invent these fantasies where two people complete each other without any work. Where dreams get fulfilled and where women are like genies who say to men, “Your wish is my command.” You think that’s love? It’s not, nor should it be – here’s love: When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down. When I was sinking down, sinking down. When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul. Christ laid aside his crown for my soul. That’s wondrous love. The kind with sacrifice. And that’s what our world needs today. A few more people who are willing to lay aside their crown, their privilege, their power, their ego, for the ones they love. If you want an example of what that looks like, don’t look to Hollywood, don’t look to Washington DC, and definitely don’t try to find it on the internet. The place you’ll find wondrous love is in the Lord who comes to us this day with a steadfast love that endures forever, riding on a colt that has never been ridden. Now, to slightly change the subject: Did you notice how he got that colt? We read in our Gospel lesson from Mark that “when they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.” To me, this is the funny part, because this is a weird request, but if you love someone sometimes you’ll do just about anything for them, be it sitting through a romantic comedy or becoming a horse thief, so, the disciples go, and he tells them, “If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” I wonder what those disciples said to that. “Yea, that will probably work Jesus. And why don’t we stop by the bank to “borrow” some money while we’re at it?” But if you love someone you’ll do things like this. You do things that you wouldn’t normally do, because sometimes love is both joyful and humiliating. It’s not all a walk in the park. Even a son’s love for his mother requires a little bit of sacrifice. Let me tell you what I mean. I’ve have always loved my mother. So much that I’d even go with her to the grocery store. But you know what she would do to me? First thing she would do is drive around the parking lot looking for a good spot, for as long as it took to find one. Up and down we’d go. Then if someone was walking towards their car parked in a good spot we’d wait until they’d unloaded their cart, closed the trunk, buckled their seat belt. All the while I’m banging my head against the window. I know the memories of that torture are still with me, because when I go to the grocery store today I always park in the first spot that I see. Back then, I couldn’t stand how she’d walk with her friend Cindy Dean for hours around our neighborhood going nowhere in particular, but she couldn’t walk an extra 40 feet to get into the store? It drove me crazy. Then, once we got in there things were good again. She’d let me pick out whatever I wanted, within reason. No sugar cereal, but if I wanted to pick out a frozen dinner to have as a snack when I got home from school I could. And we’d talk walking down the aisles. How was school? How was I doing? And what she was asking was, “Joe, how are you really doing?” This was a gift that I treasured. Even when I came home from college I’d go with her to the grocery store. But then we’d finish shopping. We’d unload everything from the cart onto the conveyer belt at the register, and she’d run off leaving me there because she forgot the milk or something. This sounds like a small thing now, because now I have money to pay for things, but back then the beep of each item being scanned felt like a countdown to my own execution. It felt like the clock ticking on a time-bomb. Then the last item would be scanned, the cashier would look at me. I’d tell her that my mom would be right back, and the cashier would just stare at me, and so would all the people in the line behind me. Real love – you want to talk about real love, then you’re talking about accepting some modicum of the inconvenience that she accepted for me. Real love is about making some sacrifices. Laying down your crown every once in a while. But that’s not how it looks in the movies, is it? Real love is different, maybe even jarring. I remember how shocked Sara was the first time I took her to meet my grandparents. Whether they loved each other or hated each other, I didn’t always know, but I had gotten used to it whatever it was. Sara on the other hand. The first time I took Sara to meet my grandparents, they were already in the midst of a disagreement, and my grandmother was so mad at my grandfather that she looked to Sara to say, “He’s just a snake I tell you. A mean old snake.” That was Sara’s introduction to my grandparents. What was Sara thinking in this moment? I don’t know, but it says something that she’s stuck with me this long. She’s perfect of course, but not everyone is, so marriage is hard. Relationships are hard. Friendships are hard, because loving someone means loving the whole of them, so sometimes the person who you love is also the person who drives you crazy. Ruth Graham, who was married to Billy Graham, is famous for saying: “I never considered divorce, though I often considered murder.” That’s love. And as my grandmother was dying in the hospital I flew down to stay with my grandfather. We’d sit at the hospital all day while a ventilator breathed for her. Then at night he’d just break in half, and would say things like, “I don’t know what I’ll do without her. Joe, I just can’t believe this is happening.” That’s love isn’t it? He’s a snake one minute and Romeo the next. But if you want to talk about love, you have to take both parts. The Book of Revelation says that Jesus will ride like a bridegroom to join his bride who is the New Jerusalem. On this Palm Sunday we rejoice for he comes ridding up to be with us, to take humanity as his bride, but consider humanity for a minute. On the one hand, the Gospel of Mark portrays us as an adoring crowd, cheering, waving palm branches, and laying down our cloaks to pave the savior’s path. What’s not to love? But you know he could see beneath the cheers of an adoring crowd. He had already predicted his death three times in the Gospel of Mark, telling his disciples that he would go to Jerusalem, be rejected, and be killed. He really knew us. He knew exactly what he was riding towards. This bridegroom knew all that hid beneath our bridal veil, for he could see into our hearts. What then did he hear as we cheered: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Could he have smiled knowing that soon enough the scribes, elders, and chief priests would stir us up so that we’d all be calling for his death? And yet he rides on. For us and for our salvation the bridegroom rides on because that’s what Christ’s wondrous love for us is. He accepts the whole of who we are, he knows and understands the whole of who we are, and he rides towards us anyway. That’s wondrous love. And if we are to love that way, we need to make some changes. Maybe like you I read Darrell Huckaby in the Marietta paper, and a couple weeks ago I loved what he wrote so much that I saved the article and recommended it to everyone I saw, but last Thursday morning he made me so mad that I threw the paper on the ground! But that’s what is required. Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem, realize that the place was full of Democrats and turn around. Before riding in to the city he didn’t first ask if any inhabitants were members of the NRA. He didn’t even fire the Disciple he knew was going to betray him, so how can we as Christians allow friendships to fall apart over issues that divide us? If we used Facebook as Jesus would have used it, if in political discourse we used him as our model, if we treated our neighbors the way that Christ treats us, then how would this world look? For he knew us, everything about us, and still he rides towards us. Today we remember that the Savior of the world comes to us like a bridegroom to be married to a people who will soon enough turn their back and call for him to be crucified. Why does he do it? Because that’s God’s wondrous love for you and me. Now, we must go and do likewise. Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Greeks Wish to See Jesus

Scripture Lessons: Luke 7: 1-10 and John 12: 20-33 Sermon title: The Greeks With to See Jesus Preached on March 18, 2018 This last week I was so glad to get to know our neighbors better. I had lunch with Father Roger Allen, the rector at St. James Episcopal Church, and the Associate Rector, Daron Vroon, but before we went to have lunch they gave me a tour of the church. Like us, they've been here for a while, and like us, they've seen some changes. The new sanctuary was built in the 1960's, and the oldest part of the campus is a chapel that predates the Civil War. In it is the 3rd oldest working organ in the state of Georgia, and Father Roger told me that that very organ was torn apart by Union Troops, they filled up the pipes with molasses, then threw it into the street. That night, members of the congregation went out and collected the pieces, so eventually they were able to put the organ back together. A few years after the war ended, the organist was asked to play the reconstructed organ for a wedding. To be married were a nice Marietta girl, and a Union Soldier. The organist agreed to play, but to make her true feelings plain, she wore all black to the wedding, and as the bride walked down the aisle she played Chopin's Funeral March. Isn't that story amazing? Well, after the tour we went and ate sushi, and doing that so casually in Marietta, GA is amazing in and of itself. So, on the one hand, everywhere around here are reminders of two clashing cultures - you can't go anywhere in Marietta without thinking about the war between the states. But on the other, there are the signs of cultures not clashing, but cooperating. Our historic square that's seen so much is also home to diversity, where we can eat food from the other side of the world. And that's good, because Southern culture isn't known for its sushi. Think about all that we have access to because of the diversity of our community. Have you ever had a Mexican popsicle? You can get one down Roswell Road, and you should go try one because their popsicles are better than ours, just like French baguettes from that bakery on South Marietta Parkway (however you say the name) are better than the baguettes you can buy at Kroger. Different cultures bring particular gifts. I think that's true. But to get back to the Civil War, what do the Yankees who come down here do better than Southerners? Nothing. I'm just kidding. Mike Velardi told us last week about the menu he's preparing for when we host our neighboring churches for lunch hour holy week worship services. That he'll be preparing Mutsa-rella sandwiches with basil and tomatoes for lunch to go with soup, and I know that Mike's "mutsa-rella" sandwiches will be more delicious than had they been made with regular old mozzarella. Culture. When you think of culture and our world's history of immigrants, civil wars, foreign languages, and foreign food, you know that culture brings with it particular gifts and particular resentments. That's why you can't just gloss over this week's significant detail in the Gospel of John. It's not by mistake that the Gospel of John tells us that these particular people who "wish to see Jesus" were Greek. And what do you think of when you think of Greek culture? First thing I think of are gyros, or jy-roos, year-os, whatever you call them. But after that I think of this great culture whose influence is still obvious, even today. The gifts of Ancient Greece are Democracy. The philosophy of Socrates and Plato. The literature of Homer. The medicine of Hypocrites. I remember my Greek professor in Seminary telling us that she still believes that the literature of Ancient Greece has yet to be surpassed by any culture, and we were learning to read Greek in seminary because this New Testament that we read from every Sunday was originally written in Greek. Their language was the language of the world. Theirs was the culture imitated across oceans. They were the educated, the refined, and they possessed the great wisdom of the age. Why then do they wish to see Jesus? I've told you for the last two Sundays that the Gospel of John is full of important details, and this one is important. John doesn't tell us that these were foreigners or pilgrims, but specifies Greece, and that means something. It means they're not Roman, and that's interesting to think about. All over Jesus' neighborhood, since he was a kid, were Romans, but how many Romans "wish to see Jesus?" The only one I've been able to think of is that Centurion from our First Scripture Lesson, a Roman soldier, who called to Jesus out of desperation, that his slave might be healed. Isn't that when we're most ready to cross those boundaries of culture and class? When we're desperate for help? Consider the Greeks then. The age of Jesus was the age of Roman power and Roman rule. What was Greece at this point in time but the Rust Belt? The has been? As the Roman star rose, so the Greek star faded, and what does that mean? That means that like the desperate Roman Centurion, the whole Greek nation was full of people who were ready to ask for help. So, "among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus." Why all the back and forth here? I don't know, but when they finally got to him what did Jesus give them? What did he offer these Greeks that no one else could have? What was it that he gave that their own culture could not? He taught them about death. He told these Greeks, whose ancestors built the Parthenon, but that they had seen crumble, that "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Do you know how that radical teaching would have sounded to them? I can't say for sure, but from time to time people will look at me with pity in their eyes, asking, "Joe, it must be a hard time to be a pastor at First Presbyterian Church. We've heard all about it. How the church split, and the membership declined, and the budget got cut. How are you doing with all that?" People who ask these kinds of questions - they don't realize that when a culture or a church has to face a time of desperation, it has been given the opportunity to reconsider her identity. That when a church faces a hardship, her congregation is invited to stand and fight for what matters. When people look on a church with pity, what they don't realize is that sometimes a grain of wheat must fall in order for new life to rise up and bear fruit - and so I tell them, "Every day is a joy and an adventure, because hope is alive, and God is good, and the Holy Spirit is at work shaping our church into something new." And we can say that, because we know that Christ changed the meaning of death. He redefined hardship. Christ flipped the meaning of suffering. He transformed the grave - this dark place that all people throughout history have feared. He made it into the womb where ever-lasting life is born. But no human culture knows anything about that on her own, and only the desperate cultures go looking for such truth. Rome was busy crucifying criminals to preserve their power, because ultimately, that's what human institutions are all about - preservation of what is. I think that's true. Consider the Greeks. In their hay-day, what did the Greek doctors want to do - preserve life and extend it as far as possible. The philosophers were only considering ways to live well while your heart was still beating. Then you had Dionysus, the Greek god who said, "You're going to die anyway, so you may as well drink good wine while you can." What did the Greeks have as the Parthenon turned to ruin and the Romans rose to prominence while coopting their culture? The Greeks were up a creek without a paddle, because it won't do you any good to preserve life or enjoy it when you're looking down the barrel of decline. That's why Christ taught them about death. That's why he told them that through death, comes new life. Now that's a radical teaching for every culture. And the next verse is even more radical: "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this will world will keep it for eternal life." What does he mean - he means that we need to think again about this way of life that we're fighting to uphold. This reckless defense of gun rights. And this foolish idea that only gun owners are to blame. We can't be open to the Holy Spirit if we're so busy holding on to self-righteousness. Do we really want to hold on to the conviction that it's someone else's problem when children are dying? Politicians can't fight for what's right if they're solely focused on re-election. That's why our doctors have to think, not just about length of life, but quality of the life that we have left - for so often when we struggle blindly just to hold on to what we have, we are resistant to what God would give if we would simply let go. Don't work so hard to save this life, that you miss the invitation to something better. C. S. Lewis wrote in his great book Mere Christianity, that we are all like children, making mud pies in some back alley, who are reluctant to accept an invitation to the beach. For too often we fight to preserve the life that we know, rather than accept God's invitation to something far better. Those who love their life will lose it, sooner or later, no matter how hard they fight for it. All of what we have we will lose. That's just the way it is. So, don't ever forget, that that those who are willing to let go of their life in this world, who are working for something better, who are trusting God to provide a New Heaven and a New Earth, all of you will be like the child who leaves the mud pies of this present age for the ocean's bright sun and cool waves. What has to happen for all of us is this - we can't be confined to who we are, and we can't be fighting to preserve what we have now. Neither of those matters nearly so much as who he is and where he's leading us. Amen.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Come to the Light

Scripture Lessons: Numbers 21: 4-9 and John 3: 1-21 Sermon title: Come to the Light Preached on March 18th 2018 As I said last Sunday, the Gospel of John is full of important details, and some of those details are both significant and unique to John's Gospel. The important detail John gives us at the beginning of our Second Scripture Lesson for today is this detail that "a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews…came to Jesus by night." Not in the day - by night. And you know why people choose to do some things at night. No one has to buy a new car under the cover of darkness. No one sneaks in to a Post Office to deliver mail. This Pharisee, Nicodemus, he goes to see Jesus, not when people would have been out and noticing things, but at night when the Mrs. Kravitz' of the world were in bed sleeping. Why then does he go at night? You have that think that Nicodemus goes to see Jesus at night because he doesn't want anyone to see him going over there. He's like the guy you know who parks at the Publix but goes into the liquor store. You know this kind of person. He's like the woman whose husband is drawing unemployment, but she maxes out the credit cards on a big vacation so she can still send out a Christmas card of her family at the beach. Why? Because all of us are interested in keeping up appearances, but so often that's doing us more harm than good. Nicodemus going to see Jesus at night reminds me of Jan Brady when she hid her glasses in her purse so Bernie McGuire wouldn't know that she wears them. Maybe you remember that episode of the Brady Bunch. Jan rode home from the library with her glasses still in her purse and crashes into the garage. Isn't it strange that sometimes we'd choose wreaking our bicycles over being seen for who we really are? Nicodemus goes to see Jesus at night, and you know why. Because we all go to Jesus out of our own version of the night, not sure whether or not we're ready to be really seen. Not sure if we want anyone to know who we really are and what we're struggling with, and most of us feel this feeling so profoundly that we even hide the truth from our doctors, our children, some even feel compelled to hide here at church. We cover up our struggles with Easter Bonnets. It's hard to ask the Sunday School class to pray for you when you're struggling, because we'd all rather brag to them about how well our kids are doing or how we're going to redecorate our kitchen. Everyone is glad to come to church when they're preparing for their wedding day. Meeting with the organist, picking out the flowers, talking about the details, and going in to the pastor's office to discuss the ceremony. But it's so much harder to get here when you're going through a divorce, even though that's exactly what this place is for. This is a hospital. We come here because we're sick and want to be healed, but it's so hard to come to terms with our own affliction. We'd all prefer to be well, so that's what we pretend, and that's the story that we tell ourselves and our friends. Nicodemus is afraid to go see Jesus in the light of day for the same reason that people use Facebook as a giant forum for pretending that everything is OK. But we have to be real to someone. If we don't, hiding the truth will kill us, but telling the truth requires overcoming some serious obstacles. In the words of John Calvin, that great theologian who laid the ground work of our Presbyterian faith: Nicodemus, is of the Pharisees. And "this designation was, no doubt, regarded by his countrymen as honorable. Hence we are reminded that they who occupy a lofty station in the world are, for the most part, entangled by very dangerous snares." And what are those snares? The snares of decorum that keep people from being honest. The snares of familial obligation that push some to uphold a certain image and keeps them from airing their dirty laundry. The snares of appearances that keep the powerful from apology and any semblance of weakness. The snares of ego driven fear that keep the religious from enjoying the benefits of grace, for sometimes even we Presbyterians choose to appear like we have it all together rather than reveal our need for mercy. Nicodemus goes to Jesus at night, because for those who feel inclined to maintain the air of having things under control, words like: "I don't know what to do," or better yet - words like: "I'm lost and need help" are so hard to say that only the bravest among us just come right out and say them. By so many, these words are mostly whispered, and only then if no one is looking. Maybe while in the car - when the one talking and the one listening are both looking at the road and don't have to face each other. Nicodemus goes to Jesus at night, because how else could he say, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Think about those words. "Rabbi," which means teacher - says a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, who is supposed to be a teacher himself. Then, "We know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." What a confession this is - and I say that it is, a confession, an act full of precious vulnerability because Nicodemus had all the credentials, all the certifications - he was by all standards a holy man of Israel and yet this Jesus of Nazareth is the one who is doing all the signs and wonders. You know what this is like - it's like an orthopedic surgeon, going to a chiropractor. Seeking out help from him requires complete vulnerability. For fear that they'll be attacked, some never let their guard down this much. Show weakness - never. Admit that someone else can do it better - no way. Ask for directions? I'd rather drive all night having no idea where I'm going than risk being shamed by a gas station attendant who'd look down on me saying: "You're not from around here, are you?". Vulnerability - even small acts of vulnerability are tough. Someone asks how you're doing. "I'm fine. I'm fine," and I'll go on pretending that I am because taking the risk of being honest is just too painful a thought. And why is that? Many experts believe it is because of shame. In his book, Spirituality in Recovery, a 12 Step Approach, Dr. John Ishee, a good Presbyterian and the retired Director of Pastoral Care at Cumberland Heights Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center in Nashville writes: "There is an important difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is the feeling that we have done something wrong - that we have violated our conscience. Shame is more. It is the feeling that we are wrong - flawed, defective, less than, unworthy, deficient, disgraceful, bad - even evil. Guilt prompts us to think or say, "I made a mistake." Shame prompts us to think or say, "I am a mistake." There are religious groups and churches at work in this world who are so capable of inspiring their congregations to feel shame, that they will convince you that it's not a matter of whether or not you're going to Hell, just how soon. For years, I believed, and some days I still do, that sin is not so much a reality that can be forgiven but a state that I am sentenced to permanently. "Sinner." Shame keeps us resigned to the darkness. Shame convinces us that we cannot be healed as the Israelites were in the wilderness when Moses listed up the serpent and all who looked upon it were saved. Shame convinces us that it's not our deeds which are evil, but ourselves. And shame causes us to misunderstand who Christ is. But listen to what he said: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." A man came out of the 8:30 service this morning and told me that a coach long ago told him not to go complaining about his problems to anybody. "60% of people don't care, and the other 40% are glad you're suffering." But that's not so with my Lord. Our challenge is simply that the road to healing is a road, not of denial, but of vulnerability. The position to receive salvation is one of surrender. Using Nicodemus as our model, we all must step out of the shadow and into the light, not as we long to be but as we are. In need. Weak and broken, ready to receive healing, mercy, and acceptance from a loving Savior. The hymn got it right: we need not tarry till we're better, or we will never come at all. Come to the light - no matter how long you have walked in darkness, the darkness does not define you and you need not be afraid. For anyone can be born again after having grown old - and everyone, no matter how old, is still in need of the Savior who makes all things new. Amen.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Braid the Whip

Scripture Lessons: Malachi 3: 1-7 and John 2: 13-22 Sermon Title: Braid the Whip Preached on March 4, 2018 You might know that last summer our youth group went on a mission trip to Mexico. This was the first trip back there after several years of not going, and when Errol Eckford, the chair of the Family Council, reported at our congregational meeting that last summer our youth group built two houses in Mexico it took me right back to the trips I went on to Mexico as a high school student. These were life changing trips for me, and they continue to be for those who go, but kids are kids, and discipline was an issue back when I was in high school, which makes sense. How do you keep a large group of high school students under control when driving them across the country? Some would say, "Well, you don't." But our leaders tried to keep us in line, and one technique that I remembered during Errol's report last Wednesday Night were these bracelets our leaders gave us when I was a sophomore or junior in high school. It was just a simple bracelet that we all wore, but on it were the letters, "WWJD," which stood for, "What would Jesus do?" Maybe you remember these bracelets. I imagine that we were given them so that before we did something against the rules, like sneak out of our hotel rooms after dark, we'd ask ourselves, "Now, is this something that Jesus would do?" The bracelets made us stop and think: "Would Jesus make fun of his friend?" Or, "Would Jesus conceal ex-lax in a chocolate wrapper and trick his friend into eating it?" We did that anyway, but Jesus wouldn't have. No, Jesus would be nice. Jesus was always nice, is what we were thinking as we wore these bracelets. But Jesus wasn't always nice. I'm not saying that he was ever mean. I don't believe that, but from Scripture you can see that Jesus wasn't just nice, or peaceful, or serene. Last Friday I took our girls to tour the childhood home of Martin Luther King Jr. When looking into the dining room our tour guide told us that Dr. King's father required all the children to quote a verse of Scripture before taking their first bite of supper, and young Martin was prone to quote, John 11: 35, "Jesus wept," the shortest verse in the entire Bible. That verse, "Jesus wept," and another like it, "Jesus laughed," are short, but they tell us so much about this savior of ours whose emotional life we are prone to reduce to a perpetually heavenly gaze. We think of that painting of Jesus by Warner Sallman. He's bearded and looking off in the distance, neither stoic nor emotional, just serene. Then there's the other popular image of Jesus welcoming the little children, which of course he did, but he wasn't just nice. He also wept, he also laughed, and he also got angry. He had emotions, just like we do. He was sometimes sad, just as we are. He often laughed, just like we do. And he sometimes got angry, just like we do. But the difference between him and us is in how he expressed his emotions. That's something we don't all know how to do, even though Mr. Rogers tried to teach us. I saw a video this week where Mr. Rogers walks towards the camera and he says, "I'm angry." Of course, he doesn't look angry. It's hard to look angry in a cardigan. Then he starts singing, What do you do with the mad that you feel, when you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems Oh, so wrong, And nothing you do seems very right. That's life, isn't? We get mad, but what do we do with the mad that we feel? Mr. Rogers has this other song where he plays the piano because he's angry, and he sings this very un-angry sounding song. "I'm angry. I'm angry." He doesn't sound very angry singing this. It's hard to sound angry when you sing, but then he sings, "I'm angry. I'm angry. And I can tell you why." We read from the Gospel of John that Jesus told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" That's one way that Jesus' anger is different from so much of ours. He feels the feeling that we feel, but he can say what he's angry about. Not everyone I know can do that. In fact, I know a whole lot of people who won't even admit that they're angry. I'm one of them. It's hard for me to say that I'm angry, because I think I'm always supposed to be nice. My parents would ask me, "Joe, what's wrong?" I'd tell them "nothing." These days, Sara will ask me, "What are you so mad about?" And I'll say, "I'm mad about you always asking me if I'm mad." That's not true of course, but that's what I say, because just that simple thing: saying what I'm angry about, is hard for me to do. And I'm not alone, so let me say that in taking a lesson from Jesus, we first have to accept the reality that being angry is a part of being human. Then we have to come to terms with the truth that sometimes our anger is telling us something so important that we can't ignore it. That we must say something, and maybe even do something. Let's use the Son of God as our example: What was Jesus angry about? His Father's house had been turned into a marketplace. You can understand why he'd be upset about that. Anger isn't always so unreasonable. Most of the time we are justified in our anger, but we get all messed up in coming to terms with what it is that we're really angry about, and then deciding what it is that we're going to do about it. The most wonderful detail in our Gospel Lesson for today is there in the third verse we read. Verse 15: "Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle." In all four of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life and ministry he storms into the Temple kicking over tables, scattering the coins of the money changers, and setting free the animals, but only in John does he first make a whip of cords. Do you know how long it takes to braid a whip of cords? I don't. And I don't know, not only because I've never done it, but also because when I get angry I don't stop to do anything that might help me calm down or process my thoughts. Instead, I either just start talking without thinking or go silent and brooding. Hardly, if ever, do I stop what I'm doing to sit down to think about why it is that I'm angry and what it is that I'm going to do about it. Jesus is different. Jesus gets angry and then he braids a whip of cords. Do you know how counter cultural that is? There are those among us who get angry and send off a Twitter message. Others who get angry, then yell at the first person they see. There's an old cartoon I remember where the boss yells at dad in the office. Then dad comes home and yells at mom in the kitchen. Mom goes upstairs to yell at their son, who then walks out into the yard to kick the dog. Anger. It can destroy a family like a disease that gets passed on from one to the next. Another thing we do with anger is keep it inside so that it rots our guts and hollows our spirit. Some try to drown it with liquor, numb it with drugs, either of which is destructive, and few take the time to sit down and really think about it. What am I mad about? Then, what am I going to do about it? The knee jerk response to get somebody fired or lock somebody up can do more harm than good, We must braid the whip. Because in our world today we are all angry about something, but we have to stop and listen to our anger for it to do us or our world any good. If you read the article this morning covering Chief Justice Harris Hines' farewell address to the judiciary as he prepares for retirement, then you know that he has worked to fight the old "lock him up" order from the bench to get to a better solution. As a culture. As a nation. We have to learn what to do with anger, because right now anger is tearing us a part, but you know what it's supposed to do? Purify us. Significant background for understanding what it means for Jesus to storm the Temple is found in the Old Testament book of Malachi. You ever read Malachi? I'll give two free tickets to the Talent Show to anyone who can turn to Malachi. Just kidding. But let me remind you of what we read earlier: "the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple." And when he gets there, he won't just be nice, walking around shaking hands and kissing babies. No. According to the Prophet Malachi "he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness." Jesus, fueled by anger, purifies the Temple so that it might no longer be a marketplace, but a Temple. No longer a den of thieves, be a sanctuary for the hurting. No longer a place where money is exchanged, and debts are paid, but a place where debts are forgiven - and how did he do it? Through anger. Through an anger that is frustrated with what is and directed towards that which stands in the way of a better future. Jesus didn't get upset at the Temple only to go home to type a rant on Facebook. He didn't go home to pout to his Mama. Nor did he walk into the Temple with an AR-15. Instead, he braids a whip. And after braiding it. He kicked over tables, he scattered money, he chased off livestock, and no one got hurt. No one died. And through him, and the Temple that was his body, we are given a new relationship with God, and entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. We must learn from him to braid the whip. For in your frustration with this world lies the motivation to make some changes. Braid the whip. Because you deserve better, and your anger, channeled, will help you get there. Braid the whip. Stop and listen, for the Spirit still speaks, calling us away from the ways of death that we have grown used to, and towards new life. Amen.