Monday, May 21, 2018

Prophesy to These Bones

Scripture Lessons: Ezekiel 37: 1-14 and Acts 2: 1-21 Sermon title: Prophesy to These Bones Preached on May 20, 2018 On this Pentecost Sunday, I am reminded of my Aunt Beth’s fear of snakes. My Aunt Beth once told me that she’s deathly afraid of all kinds of snakes – live snakes, dead snakes, and sticks that sort of look like snakes. And you could try to tell her that a Rat Snake isn’t venomous, or you could hold up the black piece of hose to show her that it’s just a hose, but it doesn’t matter. That’s because we interpret reality based – not just on what’s actually there, but on what we think we see. Sometimes fear colors our vision, other times it’s anxiety, sometimes love that us from seeing clearly what’s actually there, and that’s why, on that Pentecost Day long ago, the Holy Spirit came to the Disciples, but not everyone saw, not everyone reacted to it the same way. We just read: Divided tongues as of fire appeared among [the Disciples]. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other language as the Spirit gave them ability. If ever there was an obvious miracle, an obvious encounter with the divine, this was it, but listen to how the people who saw it responded: “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” You see, we are a people who mistake sticks for snakes and disciples for drunks. Sometimes its fear that colors our vision, other times anxiety blinds us to everything but our worries. Sometimes a kind of pessimism or heartbreak keeps us jaded and far from seeing a miracle that appears right before our eyes. That’s true today, and it’s always been true. Think back to Moses leading the people across the Sea on dry ground. Was there anyone among them who saw the waters part and said, “I’m not walking through there. Leave me with the Egyptians.” Did anyone who watched David defeat the giant Goliath sneer and say, “That’s the luckiest kid I ever saw.” The answer is – of course they did. Miracles happen every day, and people walk right past them. If my Aunt Beth can mistake a stick for a copperhead, then of course, we can mix-up a miracle and a coincidence, scoff at a movement of the Spirit. Miracles happen, but are our hearts attuned to see them? Not always. Back in Tennessee there is a homeless man named Melvin. Columbia, TN is a small town, and everyone there knows Melvin. He would sit out in front of the church, waving to cars that passed by. People would honk and wave. More folks than you’d imagine would stop and give him money or food, and all that was fine with the people of First Presbyterian Church because Melvin was outside. The problem came when Melvin started coming into the church. Now these are good Christian people, and they welcomed him with open arms, but you get too close to a homeless man who hasn’t had a bath in weeks or months and hospitality gets demanding. At some point in the summer, when sweat compounded body odor, someone said to me, “Joe, either he takes a bath, or I have to stop coming to church. I just can’t take it.” That sounds like a simple enough request – to ask a man to bathe before he enters the Lord’s House, but there were legends about Melvin. That he was scared of water because his parents drowned. That no one could get him to bathe because smelling bad protected him from thieves who would steal his money. There were all kinds of stories, so when I went over to ask him about taking a bath, I thought I knew already what he was going to say. Still, I said, “Melvin, you know I love you coming to our church, but I need you to do me one big favor. I need you to take a bath.” So sure was I that he would say no, that when he said “yes,” I didn’t know what to do. I had just spit the words out and expected that that would be that – my plan went no farther. When he said, “Sure Joe, I’ll take a bath,” came the problem of what next – and despite my surprise at his willingness, I was smart enough to want to strike while the iron was hot. I suddenly remembered that the Methodist Church across the street had a shower, so I ran over there, asked Valarie at the front desk for access to the shower, not knowing what she’d think, but fully expecting her to say no. Instead, she handed me a key to the church, and out from under her desk she just happened to have a bag with clothes, a bar of soap, and shampoo, as though she had been preparing for this exact moment. How do you explain that? Coincidence? Dumb luck? If among the crowd that Pentecost long ago were those who sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine,” then today we are wise to remember that our entire culture is poised to reinforce the cynical assumption that nothing is getting any better in this world and that to believe differently is foolish superstition, but listen to this. There’s a little girl in Club 3:30. Club 3:30 is the after-school program that meets here at the church, and this little kindergartner came to our afterschool program from a region in Central America so remote that she had never before sat in a chair. Not only that, this region she was from was so remote that she didn’t speak English nor Spanish, but an indigenous dialect. That was the beginning of the year. Last month the Kiwanis Club of Marietta gave medals to the teachers of our city schools, charging them to recognize students for whatever accomplishment might not typically be recognized, so this little kindergartner came to Wednesday Night Supper wearing a medal that she told me was for “most improved English speaker” in her kindergarten class. Now there’s a miracle. One that happened right here, in this room, but it won’t tell itself. In our world today – this fear filled, prejudice prone, fake-new kind of world – where everyone, it seems, is tailoring facts to protect their agenda – we Christians must be prepared to stand and speak with feet planted firmly in the truth. On that Pentecost long ago it was Peter, standing with the eleven. [He] raised his voice and addressed [the crowd], “these are not drunk as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.” That’s what Peter did, and if we don’t get in the habit of doing the same, so many will just walk right by, focused on the next worry that comes along. For everywhere there are people looking out on the world, taking in what they see through a lens of fear. People who hide from the world, drowning under the weight of headlines. The defeated who allow death to have the final world; treating hope like a fairy tale. Then, in desperation so many put faith in the makers of empty promises, forgetting the power of God who breathes life, into to dry bones. In our 1st Scripture Lesson we read: The Lord said to the Prophet [Ezekiel], “Mortal, can these bones live?” He answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then the Lord said to the Prophet, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” Christians – we are called to see the world through the lens of faith – remembering the power of God that gave dry bones new life. The power of God that turned Moses’ staff into a snake, divided the waters, and who still sets slaves free. The power of God that gave the boy David a strength greater than the giant, who granted the king victory, and gave his son wisdom. The power incarnate in Christ who walked out of the grave conquering sin and death, defying the authority of empire, entrusting fishermen with the most important news ever heard. Whenever we read the paper or watch the news, too often it is a different message, an empty message, that causes us to retreat in fear and react in apathy, but God is still at work in our world, and Satan, that liar, cannot change this reality. He can only shape our perception of it, causing us to see drunks rather than the mighty prophets of God, coincidence rather than his mighty hand, decline and defeat rather than triumph and victory. Prophesy to the bones then. In a world in conflict over issues of race – point to the gospel choir who sang for a prince’s wedding and remember that regardless of those who fight it, change still comes. In our world of violence, prophesy words of hope, reminding teachers and students, parents and grandparents, that no matter how many shootings there are, death will not have the final word, for born within each graduating class is hope for a better future – and those who stand against it might as well get out of the way. We, the church, we must prophesy to the world – for our world is quick to forget that the Holy Spirit who was alive on Pentecost so long ago is at work still, is alive and awake still. So as we go out into the world, armed with pizza boxes, let us be bold to see it and celebrate it. Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Lifting Up His Hands, He Blessed Them

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 93 and Luke 24: 44-53 Sermon Title: Lifting Up His Hands, He Blessed Them Preached on May 13, 2018 Today is a significant day on the Church Calendar as well as the family calendar. I hope you remembered that today is Mother’s Day, but in addition to today being Mother’s Day, today is also Ascension Sunday, and what we just read from the New Testament book of Luke, is how Jesus said “goodbye” to his disciples as he ascended into heaven. We read: “Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” It sounds as though no one remembered exactly how he blessed them – what kind of blessing it was – just that as he said goodbye, as he was carried up into heaven, he wasn’t leaving them with one last instruction, one last piece of advice, but with one last blessing. I’ve known people who left me with a blessing. One is a man named Jim Hodges. He was the chair of the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee who interviewed me for my first position as a pastor. It was Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church out in Lilburn, and after the committee that Jim chaired interviewed me and picked me out of the bunch, I was honored to serve that church by preaching about once a month and trying my best to be a pastor while making a whole lot of mistakes. And there were plenty of mistakes. One Sunday, moving through the liturgy, I skipped right over the children’s sermon. On occasion I’d ask everyone to stand when they were supposed to sit down. Regardless, every Sunday I preached I’d give the benediction, would walk out of the sanctuary by the center aisle, and as I walked, to my left there was Jim Hodges giving me a “thumbs up” as though I had done a great job. I had served that church for about two years when Jim was diagnosed with lung cancer. I went to visit him – and those visits were like many where I was the one being comforted rather than providing the comfort. For a long time, I watched him fight, but finally, the doctor told him he was near the end. He called and told me. The next day I walked into his hospital room. His wife Carol left to give us privacy, and I asked Jim if he was scared. His answer: “I’m not sure Carol has a good understanding of the heating and air maintenance contract. Other than that, I just don’t quite know what I’ll do when I see him.” “See who Jim?” I asked. He kind of stared off and said, “Will I laugh? Will I cry? When I see Jesus, I don’t know quite what I’ll do.” In the next day or two, stuck in his hospital bed, he took a picture of his thumb, had Carol get it developed, and gave it to me. It’s framed and on my desk. Jim telling me that, regardless of how I’m actually doing, he thinks I’m doing just fine. Now, that’s a blessing, isn’t it? But not everyone says goodbye with a blessing. Today is Mother’s Day, and ideally, what we celebrate today are our mothers who loved us and blessed us, but not everybody’s mother was like that. Some mothers are abusive. Others neglectful. At the very least, I think most of us have felt at one time or another as though our mother’s love language were “criticism” rather than praise. Do you know what I mean? Maybe it was your wedding day. You were about to walk down the aisle, and your mama came to see you. “You look beautiful honey, but I can’t help thinking, if you just would have lost 5 more pounds.” On the day of graduation, maybe you remember, that there were plenty of mothers who just cried. Out of joy or pride, they couldn’t even speak, but maybe yours could: “Congratulations,” she said, “But I can’t help but wish you had graduated with honors like your friend Peter. Isn’t he a smart one.” Last week I heard from a little league baseball coach. A good friend of mine named Davis. And Davis told me that at the coach’s training they were presented with an interesting finding. That when polled a majority of major league baseball players, when asked the question, “What is your worst memory of sports from your childhood,” a majority of players say, “The ride home from the game.” Most parents want their children to succeed. Most mothers want their children to be successful, but too many of us believe that for our children, the road to success and independence is paved by criticism and advice rather than blessing. As a preacher I’ve received my fair share of critique. It hasn’t all been thumbs ups, that’s for sure. In my third year of seminary, the development office sent a group of us to Jacksonville, Florida to promote the school. I was proud to have been asked to go and rode down with the group. Stayed with my mother’s cousin who lives down there. I preached at this Presbyterian Church and as the congregation left I received many handshakes and encouraging words, but the last man in the line. I remember he was wearing a three-piece suit. “What year are you in the seminary?” he asked. “I’m in my third-year sir.” I answered. “Nearly three years?” he said, “Well, they should have taught you something better than that by now.” And he was on to something. But men in three piece suits, mothers and all the rest of us; we need to remember, that as Jesus ascended into heaven he didn’t say to his disciples: You’ve been a Christian for how long now? You sure ought to be doing it better by now. That’s not how it ends. Those aren’t the last words – the last words are a blessing. A blessing from God to you, because regardless of what your mother said or failed to say – the words you heard in your baptism are trustworthy and true: “You are mine,” says the Lord, “My beloved, and with you I am well pleased.” Too often we Christians walk around like we’ve just been to the dentist: I should be better, I should do better. I should floss more, but today we remember the truth – that as the Lord ascended into heaven, he left giving an imperfect group of disciples his blessing – and today it’s no different for me or you. Consider how the service ends. This service today and every service here ends with a reminder of the main thing: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you. We leave this place as those disciples left Bethany – knowing that the Lord Ascended into heaven giving us his blessing and that matter because you can’t change until you know you’re worth it. You can’t be redeemed until you believe that you’re worthy of redemption. You can’t be saved until you know it in your heart – that you are worth saving. No mother is perfect. None of us had the mother that said everything we need to hear. And those of us who are mothers today will take comfort in this truth as well: we all have to allow Christ to fill in what others left empty, to heal what others broke or left broken. So, these are good words to end on and these are good words to remember: May the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and give you peace, and give you peace. Amen.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

His Commandments Are Not Burdensome

Scripture Lessons: Deuteronomy 5: 1-21 and 1st John 5: 1-6 Sermon Title: His Commandments Are Not Burdensome Preached on May 6, 2018 There are some places in this world where I don’t feel 100% comfortable. Where I feel out of place; like I don’t belong. One of those places is Michael’s. I used the restroom in Michael’s and I’ll be it is among the least used men’s rooms in Cobb County. But that wasn’t the first place where I ever felt like I didn’t belong. Right outside Montreat, North Carolina is a place called The Town Pump. Right away you can tell it’s not for everybody. Sit at the bar, and it takes a while before someone takes your order. I was in The Town Pump with a pastor friend from Columbia, South Carolina. Amos Disasa is his name, and he was born in Ethiopia. I said to him, “Amos, I feel like I don’t belong in this place.” He looked around, “Joe, do you see anybody else from Ethiopia in here?” This place, on the other hand. I’ve always felt at home in this place. And that’s the idea. This church isn’t for some and not others. It’s not for some genders and not others. This church isn’t just for locals; it’s a place for everybody because that’s how the grace of God that this place stands on works. No one can earn welcome into God’s house. None of us deserve it, therefore all are welcome. That’s how it’s supposed to be, and that’s how I know so many in the Confirmation Class feel. Many of you were raised here. Maybe you never felt new here because your parents have been bringing you here since before you can remember. And here, you were taught as I was, that God welcomes us with open arms and you don’t have to do anything to earn it. You just have to accept it. But then one day, at the beginning of this school year, you showed up for Confirmation Class and we told you that in order to be a member of this church you had to do a whole bunch of stuff. Bates Clarke asked his Mom about that. “Why is it that you’ve all been telling me that God accepts me as I am, and then all of a sudden, I have to memorize the books of the Bible, write a statement of faith, and go to all these Confirmation classes?” That’s a good question. And I’m glad Bates asked it months ago, so I’d have time to come up with a decent answer by today. He’s right, when you look at it that way I can see how Confirmation would seem like a sudden change. An abrupt shift from free welcome to fine print. It's like when new members join the church and first thing we do is hand them a pledge card. That can feel like an abrupt change of pace – like we’ve invited you for dinner, then handed you the bill. That’s not the intent of course, but it can feel that way. In my mind this shift from “free welcome” to “now come pitch in” is something like the difference between celebrating the 4th of July and Cinco de Mayo. You might not know much about Cinco de Mayo. In this country it is a holiday celebrated mostly by margarita enthusiasts, a majority of whom I have a feeling have no idea what Cinco de Mayo even means. Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday that celebrates not Mexican independence from Spain - that’s celebrated on September 16th. What Cinco de Mayo celebrates is what happened after Spain was kicked out and Mexico gained independence. Mexican Independence was defended on May 5th, 1862, when the French who sent a massive army attempting to take over and the fledging nation of Mexico were defeated. I looked all that up on the internet. Now most people aren’t real big on Cinco de Mayo - the 5th of May, but there is beauty, not just in celebrating the gift of independence given by our forbearers. What also matters is celebrating our role in defending it. The Apostle Paul says it well in his letter to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” but we do. Sometimes we take for granted our freedom and forget that even today we have to fight to defend it. We are called – not just to accept this Presbyterian Faith, but to become a part of it. Our scripture lessons makes such a concept plain. From 1st John: “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” That might sound strange, because so often we think of being able to do whatever you want as freedom, but that’s not really freedom, for those who lie are strangers even unto themselves. There’s a Mark Twain quote on the wall of Mary-Mac’s on Ponce de Leon, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Telling the truth – it’s no burden when compared to the alternative. And in the same way, what could be so heavy a burden as hate? You want to see misery – think of the grimaced faces of the cold hearted. Think of the way withholding forgiveness destroys families. What is required of all of us who follow the Savior who called us to love even our enemies could hardly be called a requirement, for our path is the road to joy. Therefore, while on the one hand, we Presbyterians preach a message of grace. A salvation that comes free, and the love of God that you can’t earn, it is hard to understand a pledge card or the requirements of a Confirmation Class, but like the 10 Commandments, the commandments written down by Moses are intended for us – not as a means to earn anything but as guidance for how to live a joy filled life. “Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” and here is a commandment that is more defiled than any other. We defile it because we don’t believe that our salvation is contingent on our obedience to it, and indeed it is not – instead what is at stake is the condition of our hearts - literally. Think about it - No – God will not strike us down for going into the office on a Sunday; God will not need to, for the 80-hour work week brings with it its own punishment. “His commandments are not burdensome,” especially compared to the weight of sin. And as God did our ancestors, so the Lord calls us now, to live the Christian life and to participate in the work God is doing. In Deuteronomy we read: “The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors. But with us who are all of us alive today.” God gives the gift to us, it’s ours, but we can’t just accept the gift – we have to defend what we’ve been given and make it our own. We, who feel at home here, are invited to make others feel welcome so that this church never feels like Michael’s nor the Town Pump, but like the Master’s Table where all are treated like honored guests. For while we all are honored guests at the Master’s Table, too often we are only mindful of our own comfort or discomfort, forgetting what it’s like for the friend sitting next to us. He invites us, but remember, we are also disciples, called to serve, making this faith our own. The knitting you saw out in the Gathering Area – it will go out into the world, because we don’t just receive God’s warmth and welcome, we can give it. Called, equipped, as friends, as Stephen's Ministers - is to be the listening ear after we, ourselves, have been heard. Think of that and know that on the one hand is free grace, on the other is joyful obedience. Neither are burdens. Both are gifts. So, Bates Clarke, Confirmation Class, congregation, Joe Evans, remember that we are not only defined by the gifts we received freely. We are defined also by our response – how we live – what we fight for. And this faith, this church, this is worth fighting for. Amen.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

As He is, so are We in this World

Scripture Lessons: Psalm 22: 25-31 and 1 John 4: 7-21 Sermon Title: As he is, so are we in the world Preached on April 29, 2018 I was invited by a neighbor to go to a Braves game last week. He’s a Met’s fan, but that was OK. I can’t say that I’m much of a Braves fan anymore any way. Dansby Swanson is the only player I can name. But there’s more to a baseball game than the game, anybody can tell you that. And now that the area around the new SunTrust Ballpark is so nice, there’s plenty to do and plenty to spend money on, even if you’re not a big baseball fan. So, we bought a drink and a $20.00 hamburger. Sat down in our seats, and even though I didn’t know the names of the players on the team, even though I’d never been in this nice new stadium before – I immediately felt comfortable, because the rhythm of the baseball game is still the same. Organ music plays before the game starts during batting practice, just like always. The first pitch was thrown. We stood for the National Anthem. And when I heard the drum beats – it took me a second, but I remembered how to tomahawk chop and felt instantly at home, even in a new place. In a church like ours, we call that kind of rhythm a liturgy. At certain times we stand up, sit down, bow our heads, give our offering. At no point do we do much of anything like the tomahawk chop, but my point here is that in this church, as it’s true of so many places, there is a certain order to things, and in this place, the order matters. However, I’ve heard it said more than once of our worship service, “I like the music and the sermon, but I don’t really get all the other stuff.” That’s important to say. It’s important to be honest, because walking into a Presbyterian Worship service can feel like walking into hockey game or something. You don’t want to ask someone what “icing” is, but when you do you find out that no one really knows, so let me tell you that the order we go by matters. Every Sunday, first we are called to worship God. We don’t gather here to be comforted or corrected, to learn or be entertained – while hopefully all those things happen, what is of foremost importance is gathering here to worship God – that God calls us to worship, so we emphasize that in the Call to Worship at the beginning. Right after that we sing, and then, we Confess our Sins, because coming into the presence of perfection, makes all mortals aware of their imperfection. It was that way with Moses, Jeremiah, all the others and so it’s true of us, but after we confess our sins we hear again God’s words of forgiveness. “Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ – he was born for us, he lived for us, Christ died for us. He rose in power for us, Christ prays for us.” Consider all that and be reminded that God is much more interested in forgiving us than we ever could have imagined. Scripture makes it even more clear. We don’t read 1st John much, but it’s words are so beautiful and so clear: “God’s love was revealed among us in this way; God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Did you hear all that? Thinking of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Puritan Prayer Book say the same thing: I am always going into the far country, And always returning home as a prodigal, Always saying, Father, forgive me, And thou art always bringing forth the best robe. That’s some Good News, isn’t it? But let’s go back to our Sunday Worship Liturgy. You know what happens after we receive the forgiveness of God? We sing our thanks in the Gloria, and then we are invited to Pass the Peace of Christ. If ever there was a misunderstood bit of worship liturgy, this was it. Pastor invites the congregation to Pass the Peace of Christ and I run off to make sure the Beadle has his prayer ready. One of the Deacons makes sure there’s water in the Baptismal Font, and everyone else makes lunch plans for after the service. Those are all important things, but we’re missing the point. 1st John says it this way: “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” We have a role to play; a role we are obligated to play. Now, as a rule, I don’t like it when someone tells me what I ought to do, but 1st John is right. If I’ve been loved and forgiven by God, how can I accept such grace without letting it flow right out of me and onto my neighbor? If I have such a keen grasp of just how imperfect I am, how can I reject another because of his imperfection? And if no one has seen God, how then can we Christians make God known? With our love. That’s the Passing of the Peace is about. The peace we receive – we pass it one. Mrs. Stephen’s taught us church kids to sing it in this church not so long ago and Anne Massen uses her song books still today. It’s song number 55 in those little books they use: We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand. And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land, And they’ll know we are Christians By our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Isn’t that wonderful? But these are bold words. And while they are back in our hymnal now, they haven’t been in a Presbyterian Hymnal for long a while, two editions or so. So, back in Tennessee at the church I served, the church secretary asked Mr. Lacy Coleman to carry all the hymnals to her desk so that she could paste the words to that hymn inside the front cover. Mr. Coleman had been the church custodian for 40 years, and he knew the congregation well. As he handed the church secretary the hymnals he looked at the words to the hymn she was pasting, and he said, “So they’ll know they are Christians by their love, huh? Well, you’re sure not going to know these folks are Christian by how they talk or how they act.” That’s not a good sign, is it? But it is an indictment of us all. Certainly, preachers have tried to encourage their congregations to do better. Christians have been encouraging each other to get out there to be a light to the world, but it’s hard. Years ago, I was a part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Marietta High School. Billy Graham was coming to Atlanta and was preaching the message of “true love waits.” We were handed these “true love waits” cards, and were sent into the school, armed with this message, and I went right up to this table of girls I hardly knew, handed out the cards, one of the girls pointed to her pregnant belly and said, “I guess it’s kind of too late for me.” I threw the rest of the cards away after that, feeling like I had been sent out as a sheep to the slaughter, to say nothing of how I made that poor girl feel. It’s hard to know how we are supposed to be in the world, but back to our liturgy. At the end of the worship service we follow the acolyte out into the world as she carries the light of Christ who leads us out there, and that’s different from saying – we go out into the dark world to take the light with us. A group of young missionaries was at the airport with t-shirts that said, “Taking the light of Christ to Haiti.” That’s one idea, but here’s the thing, what makes us think he’s not there already? The song I love so much says it different: And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land. And 1st John says it like this: “As he is, so are we in the world.” That’s what the Bible says. That’s what the liturgy reinforces, but sometimes I am afraid, we Christians, we think of God as being more in here than out there. I led chapel for the preschoolers last Wednesday. I asked them about the baptismal font. If they knew what it was, and one little boy said, “Jesus was born in there.” It’s true that we gather to worship God in here. We sing God’s praises here. We follow the liturgy in here. We read from Scripture, but Jesus wasn’t born in here, nor is God confined to this place – and it’s important that we get used to thinking that way. The ancients were a little better about this than we are. The picture on the cover of your bulletin is a 13th Century map of the world. We’ve sung before: “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” and if you look closely, to the East and the West you can see his hands. To the South, his feet, and at the top, his face. Somebody looked at this map and said, “Where’s the Big Chicken?” It’s not on there. According to the New Testament professor who showed it to many of us a few months ago, this map reflects the medieval world view, that Christ is a part of this world – that God and God’s creation are hardly separate, and just as we go out into the world following the Acolyte’s flame, so Christ, already at work in the world, already a part of the world, will meet us out there and we Christians have to get better about not be confined to the four walls of our sanctuaries. I know that things have changed. Sporting events used to begin, not only with the pledge of allegiance but also with a prayer. Even school used to start with prayer, and some Christians have raised up in protest: “bring prayer back to schools,” but I heard someone say, “as long as there are tests in school, there will be prayer in school.” I like to go eat at Gabriel’s Restaurant, and we were there a few days ago, saw Wanda Reese walk in with her niece. I watched as Wanda took her niece’s hand, and they bowed their heads to bless the meal. “You can pray just as well at a restaurant as you can at home,” Wanda told me last Thursday, and she’s right. “As he is, so are we in this world.” That’s what Scripture says, but we have to live that way, for to quote the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 8: “We are not as sheep led to the slaughter, but we are more than conquerors.” The Psalms say it too: “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it,” but too often we Christians live like maybe he hasn’t. We walk around with our heads low and our faith hid beneath our coat as though our faith were something to be ashamed of. Sometimes we treat our sanctuaries like bomb shelters – the place we go for protection – while treating the world like a trash can, as though the God who created this earth no longer cared about it. I’m not talking about “evangelism” this morning. At least not the way we’ve been thinking of it, because the only person who wants you to go knocking on doors less than you do, is the person whose door you’re about to knock on. Instead, what I’m talking about is the love that we know about, the love of God that we witness and hear about, it is running loose in our world. And he is calling us to join him. “As he is, so are we in this world.” I heard a story about a church in Syria this week. Paul Phillips and I got to have lunch with a man who supports churches all over the world, and he told us about this church in Syria. They have a preschool, that serves families in the neighborhood, and late one night the city was falling into chaos, troops moving through, planes in the air, the pastor rushed to the church to see it surrounded by armed Muslim men. One approached the pastor, and he said, “Go home pastor, we will protect the church. Our children were students here. Go home, we will stay to protect the church.” God is at work in our world, changing and transforming lives. And as God has transformed our lives, we are now invited to join God at work. As you go out into the world today, remember the liturgy, and may it make you comfortable in an ever-changing world, reminding you of the thing that will never change: “As he is, so are we in this world.” Amen.

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.