Sunday, August 13, 2017

Beautiful are the Feet

Scripture Lessons: 1 Kings 19: 9-18 and Romans 10: 5-15 Sermon Title: “How Beautiful are the Feet” Preached on 8/13/17 This has been a big week for me at the Church office – I emptied my last box. I am fully moved in – you are stuck with me. As I unpacked my last box I remember what my friend James Fleming said back in Columbia. He was there as I was packing my books into the boxes I had picked up at the liquor store and he said, “I’m not here to say goodbye because it won’t be long before they send you back up here, showing up looking like you have a serious drinking problem.” James is a wise man, and he was worried about how I might be perceived, which is something that we all are worried about or ought to be worried about, because as we go through life people take a good look at us. They see how we choose to present ourselves, the boxes we chose to pack up our books in, and begin making assumptions. I’m not sure how one would define the word assumption, but I do know that assumptions are important, and while they’re not always accurate, they’re accurate enough of the time that they should be taken seriously. For example – if a restaurant has been given a failing score by the Health Department you don’t need to investigate further to determine the quality of the food, but, if a person has tattoos on her arms or a cigarette hanging from her lips, one might make a completely inaccurate assumption about the quality of her heart. Let me give you an example – I was once driving through Chattanooga on the way to Columbia, TN from a funeral in Stone Mountain. I waited too long to stop for gas so I had to pull off the interstate on an undesirable exit. It was dark, the gas station was not well lit, I noticed a creaky old Buick parked by the convenience store, motor still running. Wondering why someone would leave the motor running in this part of town, I jumped out of the car quickly, hustled to the pump only to realize that I had left my wallet in the car. I had changed out of my suit and into shorts before starting back, and as I was leaning over the driver’s seat to reach my wallet I heard the Buick shift into gear and then a raspy woman’s voice began shouting: “Young man! Young man!” I hoped she wasn’t talking to me, but she was, and I was thankful I didn’t have any cash because by the sound of her voice I knew that I would have given her all of it if she would just leave me alone. I cautiously turned around and the lady says, “Young man! You sure have nice legs.” With that she drove off. Assumptions. Based on my assumptions alone I had prepared myself for a conversation much less pleasant than that one, and that’s how assumptions are – they’re important because sometimes they’re right. But other times they’ll keep you from interactions that bring joy to creepy old gas stations and can sometimes stop meaningful relationships before they even begin. We must be careful about assumptions. Sometimes, what’s required is more research, more data, more investigation. Consider Elijah. Just before the events of our 1st Scripture Lesson take place: “He asked that he might die [saying]: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” That’s a state of hopelessness based on an assumption. Based on his observations he was a failure, abandoned by God. He battled King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, fighting for reform in a time of belligerent governance. He remained faithful in a time when idolatry was convenient. He spoke out in truth in a time when no one wanted to hear the truth, which is the kind of thing that will wear you out after a while. So, having hit a wall, having sunk down into a state of fear for his own life, he surrendered, abandoned his mission, vacated his position, Elijah ran away. You know what this is like. It’s in times of unemployment, infertility, cancer treatment – those dark nights where we knock and knock and knock on a door that no one ever answers. When we pour our days and our nights into the pursuit of something important only to be left empty that we make the assumption that the world would be better off had we never tried. But into his dark night, a voice spoke: “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord; for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces, but the Lord was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. What you need to know about the wind, the earthquake, and the fire is that the Lord had revealed himself in these three ways to the Israelites more than once. From the time of Moses, who knew God in the burning bush and the great pillar of fire, Elijah knew to look for God in the fire. Likewise, Scripture tells us that in the time of the Judges God spoke through earthquakes and wind, so Elijah knew to look and listen for God in earthquakes and wind. But this time – this time the Lord was in neither the fire, the earthquake, nor the wind. This time God came to Elijah in the sound of sheer silence, which is not the place anyone would have assumed that God would be. “When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here Elijah?” Not preaching the truth in Israel, but hiding out in a cave, what are you doing here? Not standing for what is right at the palace, but huddled in the dark, what are you doing here? Not expecting to find me at work in the world, but assuming I had abandoned you and your people, what are you doing here? I know where “here” is. Don’t you? I wasn’t in a cave. For me it was on a subway train in New York City. For a week one summer during college I was able to attend a type of mission trip in New York. We spent our time feeding the homeless in all different types of shelters and soup kitchens. This was the first time my eyes had really been opened to just how many people are living their life without even a roof over the heads, and what hurt my heart the most was how little anyone could do anything about it. All these shelters. All these soup kitchens. All these agencies, but once you’re living on the street without a phone or an address you almost can’t get a job because you can’t be contacted for an interview. It’s just so overwhelming how hard it actually is to get back on your feet once you’re down. All these people, living their lives from one day to the next, and where was God? That’s what I was thinking about sitting on this subway train. I must have looked depressed and the man across the aisle he says, “So what’s going on?” “Nothing is going on,” I say because that’s how I felt. Nothing is getting better. Everything is getting worse. There’s no help, there’s nothing worth doing. I think I’ll just huddle up in the subway train without so much as lifting a prayer to the heavens. I’m done. Then the subway train came to a stop, the man stood up. “Make it happen” he says to me. “Make it happen.” It wasn’t an earthquake or a fire. This wasn’t a blowing wind that swept me up. Just a man on a subway who changed my whole life. That voice dashed my assumptions, and opened my eyes. It happened to Elijah that way. Hope was lost. He was lost, but God tracked him down and asked: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets by the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life to take it away.” Did you hear that – I alone am left. That’s quite an assumption, so the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way, [for there are] seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal.” I’m afraid that sometimes we give up too easily. We assume it’s over when the story has only begun, for it is when hope seems to be lost that God speaks one last word that changes everything. We forget, we assume, we despair, but there it was in Romans: “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart,” and that word spoke to Elijah, that word spoke to me, that word is alive and well here and now finding us, redeeming us, filling us up – and sending us out. “Make it happen” the man said to me. “Go back to Israel” God said to Elijah. And “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” Paul says to us today. “How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?” Once God tracks us down and speaks to us, we are sent right out to speak to the world. But what will we say? Will we say it right? Will they listen? This is my third Sunday here. The first two Sundays I was nervous, but now I’m self-conscious, because I watched myself the other day. I’ve always tried to listen to myself to hear whether I’m speaking to fast or mumbling. But watching myself might do more harm than good, because Melissa up there in the sound booth who video tapes the 11:15 service has this one camera angle that’s like right on this bald spot that I didn’t even know was there. It’s true. And now as I watch myself preach I can also see who in the choir is really listening and who is just making notes on their music. Who’s sleeping. I couldn’t see anybody sleeping, but it is fun to watch you guys. Jim Goodlett’s face made me feel like I was saying some really good stuff up here, which is nice. Then there are some others who start out listening with their arms crossed but then loosen up and laugh a little, which I like seeing, but still, it’s hard learning how you look and considering how you might be perceived, because you might reach the assumption that nothing is happening and no one is listening. But it’s not just our lips and what comes out of them – it’s our feet. You’ve heard it said that 80% of life is showing up, and I believe that’s true. To show up, to try, to be present – that’s most of it, and there’s more Scripture to back that up. You remember what Jesus told his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew: “When they hand you over [to be tried and persecuted], do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time.” So, there’s a difference between actually being there and assuming they won’t listen so you may as well not show up. There’s a difference between showing up at a funeral not knowing whether or not they’ll even notice that you were there, and assuming they won’t notice so you don’t show up. There is a difference between setting foot in the hospital room to sit by a dying friend not knowing what to say, and assuming there’s no point in going. There is a difference between getting to know a teacher by seeing her in action, and assuming that education in this country is failing and teachers are the problem. There is a difference between setting foot in Roosevelt Circle or Juarez, Mexico and seeing our neighbors face to face, and assuming that there’s nothing we can do to fight crime and poverty in our world. And there’s a difference between walking up to someone who thinks differently and plowing into them in a silver sports car. Yesterday it was in Charlottesville, Virginia. A protest ends in murder as a driver speeds into a crowd of people he disagrees with. Is that what God would do? Is that what God would lead anyone to do? In this world of division, hopelessness, ignorance, hatred, racism, and misinformation, Paul writes, “How beautiful are the feet” of those who don’t put their faith in assumptions, but trust that God, who finds us when we are lost and in darkness calls us out to meet our brothers and sisters who are still there. Ours is a God who has drawn near, walked the lonesome valley with us, not looking down from heaven in times of our distress, but coming as near to us to know all our joy and all our pain, taking human form to know us rather than make assumptions about who we are. So, go and do likewise. Go to them. Go to them and do not assume that you already know who they are. Do not assume that they already know what you have to bring, and do not worry about what you will say – for it’s not the mouth, nor the words, but the feet. Beautiful are the feet. Amen.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Come to the Waters

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 55: 1-5 and Romans 9: 1-5 Sermon Title: “Come to the Waters” Preached on 8/6/17 It is such an incredible gift to be here. I have loved relearning this church, amazed all over again at the scope of our ministry. I walked into the Great Hall two weeks ago. The whole back side of that huge room was covered in sack lunches. The members of our church who volunteered must have assembled thousands of lunches for kids in our community. It was incredible. Certainly, I can see that a lot has changed around here. But some things have stayed exactly the same, and our determination to serve this community seems to have stayed exactly the same. Another thing that’s the same: on Thursday, I received a note from Andrea Freund: “Drive by High School to see toilet paper memories.” It took me a second to realize what she meant, but if you drove by the High School on Thursday or Friday or if you saw the front page of Marietta Daily Journal Friday morning you know what she was talking about. Again, I can see that a lot has changed around here, but some things have stayed exactly the same. Marietta High School Seniors are still wasting hundreds and thousands of rolls of toilet paper by throwing it into trees and through arches to cover their High School in soft, white, toilet tissue. But some things change, and what has changed is the administration’s reaction. Did you see that Principle Gabe Carmona, according to the Marietta Daily Journal, called the event, “a great bonding experience for the class of 2018.” And then new superintendent of schools, Grant Rivera, “actually cooked out Wednesday night ahead of [the] rolling party,” and said, “It’s an almost 60-year tradition, something school administrators want to embrace.” This is new. According to the paper, when Mary Ansley Southerland, daughter of the late Mayor Ansley Meaders, was a senior out late at night with toilet paper filling her mother’s Cadillac, she was pulled over by the police – and that experience is much more like my own. At that time, I drove a checkerboard Chevrolet and believe it or not, after seeing the school the night we filled the trees with toilet paper, the police thought my friends and I had something to do with it. The next day the principal had us pick up toilet paper all morning. He made an example of us…not a good example either, so this business of seniors being allowed to roll Marietta High School is new. Some things change, others stay the same. The tradition of High School Seniors decorating the High School with toilet paper is still alive and well, but what has changed is how the administration deals with it, and that change is significant because how we deal with people, how we speak to them, especially when they’re not doing what we think they should, matters tremendously. Consider people who don’t attend Church, ours or anyone else’s. In the time in between serving First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, TN and coming here I had several Sundays off. On one occasion, I was at Home Depot at 11:00 Sunday morning. Now that hasn’t always been possible, but there I was, and there a whole bunch of other people were to. None of us were in church, we were all at Home Depot, which is a strange phenomenon. They say that there was a time when everything was closed on Sunday, because everyone was in church – that’s changed – and all at once we have these people, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, who don’t necessarily think of church on Sunday morning, and might not be able to tell you why they should. The question for Presbyterians is this: what should we do? How can we get more folks out of Home Depot and into a sanctuary? Some would say that this is an issue that Presbyterians have always had a hard time with. There’s a great joke – what do you get when you mix a Jehovah’s Witness with a Presbyterian? Someone who knocks on your door but doesn’t know what to say. What should we say? According to Peter, we must all be ready to “give an account of the hope that is in us.” And, likewise, Paul writes here in the 9th chapter of Romans, not a biting opinion piece raking atheists and backsliders across the coals, but here he offers words of lamentation to his brothers and sisters who do not believe, saying in this morning’s 2nd Scripture Lesson something very close to: “Don’t you know what you’re missing out on?” Isn’t that something? And isn’t that something different from the ways that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are relating to those who haven’t been to church in a while? In the middle of July out on the marquee out front a church right here in Cobb County were the words: “You think it’s hot now?” The church as fire insurance is what it is – the church as deliverance from Hell. Some churches offer that, and consider any who would darken the doors of a Home Depot as on the road, not to home improvement, but fire and brimstone. Others take a page out of the medical profession’s play book, so after worship on Sunday you feel about the same way you do when you leave the Dentist’s office, “You know, I really should do better. I really should be better. I should, I should, I should” and there’s truth in that – we all should be better, we all should do better. Who in this sacred room doesn’t have an area of his life that he’d like to improve, but is that what the Church is? Is that the message we want to send? Sometimes the Church sounds like the angry citizens of our community reacting to a High School covered in toilet paper: “It’s just a shame what they’ve done,” and maybe it is, but shame – sometimes shame does far more harm than good. Paul wrote to his brothers and sisters, the Jews, and this is what he said: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” Isn’t that beautiful? Paul knows the abundant life that they, his own people, are missing out on, and he so desires that they know the joy that he has in his heart, that in Christ like love, he wishes to sacrifice himself for their sake. This is love – not guilt or obligation. Before that we heard from the Prophet Isaiah: “everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” because here we have all that the world is searching for, working for, spending their way into debt in the hopes of finding – here we have the water for the thirsty and the food for eternal life, but all so many churches are advertising to the world is either Hell or guilt. A lot has changed, but some things have stayed exactly the same, and I say that because even though there’s snapchat and Facebook and Instagram, these new technologies are promising the same thing that people have been thirsting for since the beginning: acceptance, love, friendship, and community. A woman named Diane Maloney brought that to light for me. She still serves the church I did in Columbia, TN, and she told me that what technology promises – namely connection – technology cannot provide. You’ve witnessed it – you know someone who has 500 friends on Facebook, but not a single person to call when he needs help moving. There’s another who works so hard to put together the perfect pictures for Instagram, but has no one to talk to about the feeling of inadequacy she just can’t shake. Technology promises connection – but haven’t you seen the couple who sits there looking at their phones, ignoring the human being who sits on the other side of table? This abundant life of connection – to quench our thirst for community and our longing for satisfaction – Apple is trying to sell what the Church has been giving away for 2,000 years. A lot has changed, but some things have stayed exactly the same – this table is the same. The Gospel is the same. The love of God is the same – and we, as Christians, must preach love, hope, community, forgiveness, leaving fear and judgement behind. So, if you find the love and acceptance that feeds your heart here, then I pray you won’t keep such a gift as this to yourself. The deep longing of our human heart has always been the same – it’s as true for me as it is for everyone who is at Home Depot this very minute. What has changed is that so many have forgotten that they’ll only find what they’re looking for in a place like this one. That’s why we must tell them, “come to the waters,” and find rest for your soul. Amen.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Great and Steadfast Love

Scripture Lessons: 1 Kings 3: 5-12 and Romans 8: 26-39 Sermon title: “Great and Steadfast Love” Preached on 7/30/17 I’ve been pretty nervous about this. In the last few days it’s been wonderful to have friends call and wish me luck on my first Sunday in the pulpit. Many of you have asked me how I’m feeling about today. Nervous has been my answer…to everyone. I took Lily and Cece to the toy store on the Square last Friday. The lady who runs the store was really nice. I even told her that I’m feeling nervous about today. I think she felt sorry for me. Or she was just being motherly because she told me about the same thing that my Mom told me. This lady in the toy store, Lynn is her name – she says, “You have a wonderful smile. You just be yourself and stand in that pulpit and smile and the congregation will love you.” That was a nice thing to say. She may have just wanted me to buy some more toys, but it was still a nice thing to say. And isn’t that just what a mom would say: “You have a wonderful smile, so just be yourself and everyone will love you”? Surely some of your parents will be telling that to your children this week should they be nervous about their first day of school: “Honey, you have a wonderful smile. Just be yourself and everyone will love you.” But kids – don’t believe it. Back when I was in Middle School there was this one guy whose mom wouldn’t buy him name brand Oreos and he got called Generic Eric from 6th grade on. Can you believe that? It’s true. I’m sorry to say I was one of them. Kids can be mean. Judgmental. That’s the truth. You can’t just smile and be yourself at school because if they’ll pick on you about the contents of your lunch box you know that they’ll pick on you about everything else. So, it’s important to show up with the right stuff, the right look, but not everyone does. Not everyone can. That’s another reason these drives for school supplies are important. I’m so glad you just took part in one, because some kids are judgmental and they’ll be looking for little shortcomings, and then other kids are self-conscious so while maybe you and I know that it won’t be the end of the world if you don’t have a new box of colored pencils. There are plenty of 3rd graders out there who will feel like everyone is staring at them if they show up for the first day of school without every single item on that school supplies list. It’s not always enough to have a nice smile and to be yourself, is it? You also have to have the right clothes and the right shoes and all the right school supplies and the right food in your lunch box. Maybe you were one of the kids who never had all the stuff that you needed while there were others who seemed to have everything. Imagine showing up on the first day of school when Solomon’s in your class. Imagine it’s many years ago in ancient Israel. Your parents scraped together enough shekels to get you a hammer and a number 2 chisel. Some college rule tablets. Mom put you in your best Sabbath robe and a pair of hand-me-down sandals, but you walk into class on the first day and there’s Solomon, the king’s son who has everything served to him on a silver platter. He has Olympic grade sandals on his feet, the finest linen robes. His dad already called the teacher to make sure that he’s always first in line to take a drink from the well. I like school uniforms because they cut down on this a little bit, but even still there are those who have it all together and then there’s the rest of us, or so it seems. We have to listen closely to come to terms with what it must really have been like to be Solomon. In our first scripture lesson, he identifies himself before God as David’s son, and when people know your back story that can be a good thing or a bad thing, it depends. We moved here to Marietta from Atlanta when I was entering 3rd grade. I was a new student at Hickory Hills Elementary School, and as you know, Marietta is one of those great places where some families have deep roots. Hickory Hills was that way. Some of the teachers had been there for a while, so I was jealous, even two years later, as Ms. Cook, my 5th grade teacher, called role and told Andrew that she had taught his brother and sister. Told Molly that her big sister had been such an excellent student and that she knew she could expect the same from her. I was so jealous of their social capital. But being known can be negative too. Dr. Jim Goodlett chaired the Pastor Nominating Committee who interviewed me. He and the entire committee have been incredible. I could not be more grateful for them and their hard work, but soon after you voted to call me here at a congregational meeting, Jim told me that the “Joe Evans stories are really flowing at the church now. Everyone is talking about what they remember of you from when you were in High School.” It was in this moment that I really got nervous. It can be a wonderful thing to be known. It can be a wonderful thing for people to know you before they meet you. It can be a wonderful thing to be remembered, for people to think well of you because of your older siblings, your grandparents, your mother or your father, so long as the skeletons stay in the closet and everyone keeps their deep dark secrets to themselves. What would it have been like to be Solomon? If Solomon were a new student on his first day of school and if we think of God as a mighty cosmic school teacher then surely as Solomon stood there before the all-knowing creator of heaven and earth who knew his father and knew what David had done, then could Solomon possibly have felt as though he had it all together? Could he possibly have felt as though God would love him if he was just himself smiling his nice smile? To stand before God as he did in our First Scripture Lesson from the book of 1st Kings – what would it have been like, not only to stand before the one who created you, who was there forming you in your mother’s womb, who knows your going in and your coming out, your inward parts and the number of hairs on your head – but not only that – who knows what your daddy did when he looked down from his roof and “saw from the roof a woman bathing.” You know the story too. King David, Solomon’s father, saw Bathsheba, called for her. Her husband was away at war. So, Solomon stands before God in our First Scripture Lesson, and if this were his first day of School, if God were his new teacher what would God say? “Good morning Solomon. I know your father. I remember what he did, so please excuse yourself from my presence.” Some wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. That’s what happens all the time, so that’s what some of us expect to happen. You can’t just be yourself, because yourself isn’t perfect – I’m not, you’re not, and neither was Solomon. The temptation, then, is to hide who we really are, to be like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. To hear God walking, calling our name, but to hide from his presence. This is a great temptation – to hide – for fear of rejection – for fear that our names will be deleted from the Book of Life the way old Bill’s name was painted right over on the front of their restaurant. Last I was here in Marietta, GA I used to go eat at a place called Bill and Louise's. Bill’s name has been stricken from the record – painted right over. Apparently, he died, but I don’t see how Louise can be so upset at him for that. That’s how life out there can be however – they’ll turn your back on you if you don’t have an iPhone 7. If you have generic Oreos. And Louise will turn her back on you if you die. Life is hard this way. People judge you based on your school supplies, your clothes, your past, and your parents, but the question is, while some people will paint right over your name, is that what God does? Let me read again a little bit from Romans chapter 8: “for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Did you get that? Maybe not, because you’ve heard the opposite so many times before. Because you’ve lived the opposite so many times before. But while we stand before God just as Solomon did: as broken, imperfect people who have failed to live up to the standards set by school, work, society, or church – all these places where there is the pressure to do so much more than smile and be ourselves, before God it is something else altogether for before God it is in revealing our weakness that we gain what we need. This morning I stand before you as Solomon stood before God. I can’t pretend. I can’t hide what I’m ashamed of. I’m so thankful today that Facebook wasn’t around when I was in high school, because there are already so many here who I’m going to have to pay off so you’ll keep quiet. No. There’s no pretending here is there? I have to be brave enough to be myself, because you already know who I am, and apparently you wanted me to come here anyway. You already know that it’s just me up here, and still you’ve called me to be your pastor. Still you’re here listening to what I have to say, and once again you’re teaching me what you’ve taught me before – that so much of what makes this church a church is that here I am invited to be honest enough to say that it’s the first day of school for me and I don’t have all my school supplies ready. I don’t have all the right clothes. In fact, all I can do is stand up here and smile my smile and be myself because you know that anything else would be a lie. That’s why I take considerable comfort from Solomon this morning, because here he shows me that wisdom is one of those wonderful things that you only receive when you admit your frailty. You can only become wise when you’re brave enough to confess that you’re not wise already. He said: “And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. [So] give your servant therefore an understanding mind.” That’s a counter-cultural request, because we are all trying to look like we have it all together. Having the right school supplies for the first day of school and keeping the secrets of our past hidden. This week at school, as much as we can, we want our children to walk into their new classrooms with all the right stuff and the perfect outfits – ready to pretend that they’re not the beautiful little messes that we know them to be. So, let us also encourage them to admit that they are not ready, that they don’t know, and that they don’t have to have it all together because no one does – and no one has to. That’s right. Forgiveness, wisdom, salvation – these precious things in this life that we only receive when we stop pretending that we have them already. We are fools if we come into this church pretending, for what is our purpose here if not to bow before the one who helps in our weakness? A Christian who pretends he doesn’t need a savior - that’s like a student who shows up to school pretending he has nothing to learn. But if we are here it is because we know that we are in need – in need of a savior who can bring us the salvation that we could never earn for ourselves. Who can take us, our brokenness and can put us together. Thanks be to God for this great and steadfast love that sets us free from pretending. Amen.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sanctified

Scripture Lessons: Jeremiah 20: 7-13 and Romans 6: 1-11 Sermon Title: Sanctified Preached on 6/20/17 My grandmother, my mother’s mother, was a wonderful person. She died in the first year that I was here, and while we had only been here a few months there were those of you who gave memorial gifts in her honor. I can’t really say how much that gesture meant to me. I remember her fondly, and she was a character. She worked as a labor and delivery nurse for 50 years, and so dedicated herself to her work that she developed no hobbies other than shopping. Her favorite store was a place called Hammricks. It’s a place full of nick-nacks and potpourri. It’s one of the levels of Hell in Dante’s inferno to a 12-year-old boy, and I was there often with her at that age, walking through aisles, trying to understand how my grandmother could spend so much time in a place like that. From Hammricks my grandmother purchased a cat. It wasn’t alive or anything – it was decorative. A little cat curled in on itself for people like my grandmother to decorate their beds with. Before Sara and I were married, when we’d visit my grandmother, Sara was always asked to sleep in the master bedroom in the big, king sized bed, decorated with hundreds of pillows and this one cat curled up like it was sleeping, that Sara would kick onto the floor and bury under the pillows because she was sure the thing was going to come alive at any minute. Sara is smart. Perceptive. And it isn’t surprising that she was pretty much right about the cat. It was front page news in the Summerville paper: Hammricks sells stuffed Chinese alley cats to area residents. As soon as my grandmother heard about it, that these decorative cats of hers, had, in fact, at one time, been real cats, she rushed over to her favorite store and spoke to the cashier. “Good morning,” she said. And that’s all it took for the cashier to start apologizing: “Mrs. Bivens, we’re so sorry about those cats. We’re just mortified. I hope you can see past this horrible mistake. We’ve already packed the ones we had left and we’re ready to ship them back where they came from.” “So, you haven’t sent them back yet,” my grandmother said, “in that case, could you go back there and get me a couple more. I need them for the guest bedrooms.” That’s about my favorite story. And it’s funny, because if you know better, if you know the decorative cats are real cats, you shouldn’t buy any more. If you know better, you shouldn’t. It’s like chitlins – if you know what they are, you shouldn’t eat them, but I do. And it’s like sin – if you’ve been saved from it, forgiven of it, then you shouldn’t anymore, but considering what we’ve learned about justification, what’s to keep us from doing it? Many churches don’t preach the kind of justification that you heard preached last Sunday. In some churches, a warning is preached: don’t you sin or Hell awaits. In those churches, you avoid sin and you do what is right so you can avoid eternal punishment, but we’re not that kind of a church. We believe, what Paul wrote in Romans chapter 5: that Christ has saved us – that we’re justified – and it’s not our work that’s going to get us into heaven, it’s what Christ has done for us. But, without the fear of eternal punishment, what’s to keep us from returning to a life of sin? That’s the question Paul is trying to answer in Romans 6 – if salvation is all about grace, then why live a righteous life? Why be sanctified? Or, in other words, when you take out the fear part – it’s hard to get some people to do the right thing. Think about home inspections. We’ve been getting our house in order these past couple weeks. After having a bathroom renovated we had to have a final inspection, and one inspector came over and he gave me a punch list of 5 or 6 things he wanted done. I wanted to pass the inspection, so it didn’t matter what he asked for – out of a fear of failing I installed something called a Studer valve and a bunch of other stuff. A couple neighbors helped, I watched some do-it yourself videos, made 5 or 6 visits to Lowe’s, spent a handful of money and wore myself out for a day and a half to get all this stuff done. Well, the inspector came back after I finished, but it was a different inspector this time, and she walked into the bathroom, turned on the water in the sink, made sure the toilet flushed and we passed. She didn’t even look at my Studer valve. Now what is the point of doing right and living right if we’ve already passed the test? That’s what Paul’s critics wanted to know, so here’s what Paul told them and what he now tells us: while our eternity is secured by our Lord Jesus Christ – what hangs in the balance is how we will live today, so he asked: “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” One of our county’s finest teachers took me out to Puckett’s last week. He told me that parents call him often about grades. They want to know why their son is failing or why their daughter, who has a 99% doesn’t have 100%. This is frustrating he said, because people call about grades and why don’t they call worried about whether their children are learning? Will we learn anything without grades? Will we keep our bathrooms up to code without inspectors? Will we live righteous lives without fear or eternal punishment? That’s the question that Paul answers here in Romans chapter 6, and that’s what Sanctification is all about – ““How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” If all we want to do is pass the class – then we can sleep while the teacher is talking, but is school not more than grades? Is righteousness not more than just doing what you should? Is the burden of sin not a punishment in and of itself? So much of life is about trying to prove ourselves – and justification takes the struggle away – by what we’ve done and left undone, we’ve proven that we deserve condemnation. But in Christ’s saving death we’ve been redeemed and forgiven – now the struggle is over – by grace you and I have been saved and there’s only one reason to do what is right. Not because we should, not because there’s some great big judgmental Father in heaven looking down and wagging his finger. No. Do what is right because it’s worth it. Floss – not because you should, not because the dentist will get angry, but because teeth come in handy. Be honest – not because you’ll go to hell if you lie, but because those who live a lie are strangers even to themselves. Live in love – not because your mother raised you to be a good little boy or girl, but because hate is too great a burden to bare. This is sanctification – this act of living a righteous life, not because we can earn our way into heaven, Christ has already justified us, heaven is ours because of him – but live a righteous life because there is no better way to live and because there is no better way to thank our God for the gift of creating us and redeeming us than living by God’s great laws of love. You might remember that legendary question and answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. To enjoy him. To enjoy the fruits of a sanctified life. To benefit from a healthy marriage. To rejoice in loving friendships. To live filled up by an abiding peace that guilt nor hardship can touch. We forget that God tells us to love one another, not because we should, but because there is no more miserable person than the one who only thinks of himself. You see – sin is its own enslavement. Sin is death enough on its own. Remember that. I just want to leave here knowing that you know two things: 1. That you are justified, not by anything that you’ve done, but by what God has done. 2. That you must grow in righteousness, you must live the sanctified life, because there is no other way to live. What Christ has done is given this gift of eternal life – you are justified; and by living according to his commands, we can have the benefit of that eternal life today. Be sanctified. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. In 6 and a half years, I’ve never said anything more important than that. And we do so, not out of a place of fear, wondering where we’ll go when we die. We do it because what else could we do? When you think of what God has done for us – how could we live any other way. And that’s what motivates us to do all great things – it’s love, not fear. I want to be a good father to my children, not out of obligation, but because I love them so much. I want to be a loving husband to Sara, not out of obligation, or even because she’s stronger than I am and could probably take me in a fight, but because when I think of her my heart fills up. And I have worked to be a good pastor, not just because you’ve paid me to, not just because I should, but because I love you, and I want everyone who I love to have a pastor who works to preach the truth and to stand by the bedside. It’s never been an obligation to baptize your children or to preach at your weddings. It’s never been a burden to speak at a funeral – it’s only ever been an honor. This is sanctification – living a righteous, loving life, not just because we should or someone told us to, but because love drives us to it. Amen.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Justified

Scripture Lessons: Exodus 19: 2-8a and Romans 5: 1-8 Sermon Title: Justified Preached on 6/18/17 The title of this morning’s sermon is “Justified” - a one word title that I chose deliberately because this is the subject of my sermon today – “justification” or to be “justified”. This is my next to last sermon here, and I’m taking this Sunday’s sermon and next Sunday’s sermon to preach about two essential Christian principles – justification and sanctification – so the sermon title today is “Justified.” The sermon title for next Sunday is “Sanctified.” Clear enough, right? Well, it’s clear enough if you know what being justified means. People use this word. Christians use this word. Maybe you’ve heard it in church or in a court of law, but of course, you know that people use words without knowing what they mean all the time – take for example the word “superfluous.” I used that word in a sermon two weeks ago but Sara told me that I used it incorrectly so I used it again last Sunday just to redeem myself. “Predestination” is a word that Presbyterians are supposed to know a little something about, but I’d rather not be put on the spot to talk about it, and “justification” is another theological term – this one of crucial importance – but you just about have to read a book on the subject to understand what it means. “Justified.” What do I mean when I say “justified”? Or, more importantly, what did Paul mean when he wrote the word “justified”? Our Second Scripture Lesson began: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” You can tell from just this passage that being justified is about Grace, and grace is one that we all know well. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Being justified is about standing before God, not as one condemned, but as one forgiven. Justification is about salvation, how it works, what it means, what it is that Jesus has done for you and me. Justification is the difference between this religion that we call Christianity and a religion that masquerades as Christianity in popular culture that I’ll call moralism. Moralism is all about being good, doing right, following the rules, and doing so enough of the time that you get to go to heaven. That sounds a lot like Christianity. In fact, I’d wager that if you asked most Christians to describe their religion, that’s about what they’d tell you. They might say, “I go to church to learn how to live, so that on judgement day I’m deemed worthy of entrance through those pearly gates”. But Christianity is not about worthy. Moralism is all about being good enough, and Christianity is about knowing that you’re not, you never were, and you never will be, but God loves you still. If moralism is about goodness, then Christianity is about grace. And if moralism is about being good enough to go to heaven, then Christianity is about knowing that heaven is ours not because we are good, but because we’re justified. Moralism is the religion of the school classroom, the courthouse, and the dentist – it’s all about whether you have listened well enough, followed the rules enough, and flossed your teeth enough. Moralism is about measuring up to certain standards – and I don’t mean that moralism is foreign to Christianity, but Christianity is more than that. Christianity goes beyond measuring up to provide you with this Good News: that if you know that you never have, and that you never will, rest in the assurance that what you can’t do for yourself, God has done for you. Speaking of measuring up, or trying to measure up, yesterday I had to drive down to Dalton, Georgia. You might know this – that for a Presbyterian minister to serve a church in a different region, a different Presbytery, he or she must be examined by the pastors and elders of that Presbytery and receive their approval – to see if he or she measures up. I’ve been through the process three times now. Once to begin ministry at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church outside Atlanta. A second time to begin ministry here, and now a third time I’ve been examined so that I can begin ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Marietta, GA. So, I’ve just been examined by a Presbytery who knew me when I was a child… and as a teenager. There, with the right to ask whatever question they wanted, were people who remember me when I was 7 or 8, disrupting Sunday School class. There were people there who knew me when I was 16 years old, driving around Marietta, GA in a car painted in black and white checkerboard and they wanted to know if I was up to the challenge of a new church. This is a hard question to answer, because I’ve never felt worthy of serving the church I serve now. Yesterday there was no pretending: I have not always been a pristine example of being good, nor am I now, nor will I ever be. Yesterday, I didn’t need to pretend that I could measure up to the standards that some put on the office of pastor, because they knew already that I couldn’t. Instead, I stood as another example of one who has been justified by the mighty work of God in Christ Jesus, for I am a sinner who has received God’s grace. The Pope said it best. When Pope Francis was asked to describe himself he said, “I am a sinner.” And knowing that we cannot do any better, what good is it to pretend to be innocent when we know we have failed to measure up? However, while we may have failed to measure up, we do not stand condemned. We stand justified. Justified by faith, because our Lord Jesus Christ, by his death on a cross, gives us peace with God. Through him we obtain access to grace, so if we boast, we cannot boast in ourselves, for what have we done, we can only boast in what Christ has done on our behalf. To use the words of Rev. Diane Givens Moffett, Senior Pastor at St. James Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina: “we cannot win God’s favor. We need only accept God’s grace.” And maybe that sounds easy, but it’s hard. Especially if you’re not used to it. Father’s Day is today, and maybe you have a father who helped you remember just how far you had to go before you measured up. Maybe you had a father you’re still trying to measure up to. You got a part in the play, but he wanted you to play football. The closest he came to saying he loved you was a handshake and a pat on the back. When you graduated High School, maybe you had a father who, instead of telling you how proud he was, asked you why you didn’t graduate with honors. Some of us think of God this way. If God is our Father in Heaven then surely, he remembers that summer when you wreaked his car and is still holding it against you. Preachers preach about that kind of God. I once believed in that kind of God, but there are many ways to be a father, and it’s important to know the kind of Father that our God is. A preacher named Ray Jones told it this way: he was walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. She told him again and again, “Daddy, just don’t make me cry. Don’t say anything that will make me cry at my wedding.” So he kept his mouth shut through the rehearsal dinner. Didn’t give a toast or anything, but as he walked her down the aisle he whispered to her, “I love you, and as long as you live you will never fully know the gift you are to your mother and me.” If God is our father in heaven, is God not this kind of father? The kind whose love for us, in just a few simple words, brings tears to our eyes? What does it mean to be justified – it means that whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, no matter how far you’ve gone – your heavenly father is waiting with open arms to welcome you home. To be justified is to remember that the God of the Exodus is still delivering his people from slavery out of profound and powerful love. To be justified is to know that the price of your imperfection has already been paid by a loving savior who laid down his life that you might know what a father’s love truly is. Now that doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want. That doesn’t mean we should wallow around in sin and debauchery – but that’s next Sunday’s sermon – sanctification. For now, for today, remember this – you might not have been enough, you might never be enough, but God is, and God always will be, with grace enough to cover all our sin. That’s justification. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, June 12, 2017

A wind from God

Scripture Lessons: Genesis 1: 1-4 and 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13 Sermon Title: A wind from God Preached on 6/11/17 I sat down to talk with Mr. Rufus Ross this week. It was last Monday, and he, along with several our church members, lives at the Bridge on James Campbell Boulevard. He told me that he’s said many goodbyes, that he’s been saying goodbye to people he loved for a long time. He grew up in Mt. Pleasant, but was sent to school at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, and while Columbia students can go to school up in Franklin today, coming home to sleep in their own bed every night, back when Rufus was in school it was a long way from Mt. Pleasant to the Battle Ground Academy. And more than that, then, students were only allowed to go home the two weekends before Christmas and the two weekends after Christmas. So, by the time he was 16, Rufus knew that as he said his goodbyes at the beginning of the school year, he was probably saying goodbye to someone, though he knew not whom, who he would not see again. You think about how many times that was true for Rufus. It was true during his time at Battle Ground Academy. Last Thursday was the anniversary of the 58th flight he was on in World War II. 58 times he boarded a plane not knowing which of his friends he’d see again, not knowing if he’d even be landing the plane he boarded. He was a bombardier for a medium sized bomber, a three-man plane, but he trained with a different group of men. For some logistical reason, he was reassigned after training with this group, all of whom died before the war was over, and had he not been reassigned he would have died along with them. You might know already, that in the course of his life he had to say goodbye to two wives and a son, and last Monday, knowing that we’d talk again, knowing that we’d write, knowing that this was not the most final goodbye he’d ever said, still Rufus told me goodbye, and as he did he told me that he knew that God would go with me and that God would not be far from him. Paul was saying the same here in 2nd Corinthians. He was telling this group of Christians, “farewell” and “God will be with you just as God will be with me.” This was a church that Paul loved and that he worried over. This was a church that he had to write to, some scholars say more than any of the others because of their various crises of faith and issues of division, and as he said goodbye here in the final chapter of 2nd Corinthians he gave them this great Trinitarian blessing so fitting for Trinity Sunday today: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” We say “farewell” again and again – but let us always do so as Christians, boldly standing on the promises that we always stand on: -the promise that the Holy Spirit who swept over the face of the water of Creation has been with us since the beginning and will be with us to the end. -the promise of God the Father who breathed life into every one of us, and who watches over us like the lambs of His flock. -and the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose words we remember at every baptism that our church has ever been blessed to witness – “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It’s easy for me to believe that today. Or it’s easier for me to believe that than it was a couple days ago. For one thing, Rufus reminded me of it, but for another thing – I picked this 2nd Scripture Lesson where Paul says “farewell” more than two months ago when I had no idea that we were going anywhere. Now, I am beginning to see what God could see all along, and it’s true what Blair Hickman says, you can all vote for me to stay here forever if you want, but if you let me go you will see what you and I have always known: that this church is faithful, powerful, and filled up with the Holy Spirit because God is here – not because Joe is here – and God is faithful still. Of course, saying goodbye is hard, but Paul didn’t spend any ink on celebrating himself – he used this “farewell” for some final, crucial advice. As he said “farewell” to his brothers and sisters in Corinth he told them again what he’d been telling them for years: “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace. Greet one another with a holy kiss [and know that] all the saints greet you.” “Put things in order,” he told them. It is amazing how knowing that your time together is limited helps to put things in order. When you must say “farewell” you only do and say what counts. No more talk about the weather, no more hurtful words. You say what matters and you remember what is beautiful and true. “Put things in order” Paul wrote, because even when we aren’t saying goodbye some things still matter more than others and it’s the perspective of limited time that makes priorities clear. Paul charged the church to put what matters most at the top – and I charge you to do the same – to put your faith at the top, -because God isn’t who you pay attention to after you’ve satisfied all your other social obligations. -church isn’t the place you go when there’s nothing else to do. -it’s not right to pray once you’re done with your to-do list – you pray first, you give yourself to God the first fruits of your labor, not whatever’s left over, for God doesn’t finally get around to you once he’s free, God laid down his life for you and for me. But for us, there’s soccer. Then there’s dance. Then there’s a weekend at the river, so it’s difficult to put things in order, but if your time at this church were limited, if you were the one about to say “farewell” to this place, then you would see that gifts like this place are precious. Too precious to get lost in the shuffle of a busy life. Do you remember the Sunday when Parkes Hickman ran down the aisle with a bowl full of change? At the risk of being superfluous by mentioning the Hickman family a second time, I’ll remind you of that 5th Sunday when little Parkes Hickman, only 2 or 3 at the time, ran proudly with her bowl of change down the aisle a little too quickly. She tripped and fell and the change rolled all over the sanctuary floor. I’m sure she had some hard words for such a crisis as this: “Ham sandwiches” she might have said, but had you been watching from up here you would have seen this whole side of the church stand to help her find each coin, because picking up the pieces is just what this church does. “Put things in order.” God (first), family (second), then everything else. Because when life falls apart, that boss you’ve been trying to impress won’t be there to help you put life back together. “Put things in order.” Because death, divorce, cancer, war, college, something is on the way reminding us again that change is here and it’s times when we must say “farewell” that we finally see our gifts for what they are. Put things in order. For we all talk too much about getting something out of a worship service, and to quote Erin Hedrick, when we talk that way we have things out of order, we have things backward in fact, for its Christ like to ask what we might put into worship rather than what we might get out of it for the Lord didn’t come to earth thinking he might get something out of his human existence – no – we look to the communion table and are reminded that he came to this earth so that he might pour himself out for us and for our salvation. When we have all the time in the world we can squabble about what time we gather to worship and what hymns we should sing, but when our days are numbered we see worshiping together for the precious gift that it is. And when we live, offering our very lives to the Lord, we learn what it means to truly live. “Live in peace,” Paul said. And “greet one another with a holy kiss,” because as the old hymn goes: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” but what witness is a handshake and a nod, so Paul called for a holy kiss. You have to think of David Locke when you think of getting a kiss in church. Not long-ago Mr. David Locke, another of our World War II veterans, another member of a bomber crew, I overheard him telling a friend, “I can’t hear what Joe says anymore. I come to church for the hugs.” In a culture of isolation, where people are lonely, hurting, and don’t know where to go for community – be a bright light of hospitality and love. Be the bright light of hospitality and love that you have been to me and my family to everyone who walks through your doors. Saying “farewell” to you is saying “farewell” to people who adopted our girls as their grandchildren. Saying “farewell” to you is saying “farewell” to a community we have been knit right into. Saying “farewell” to you is saying “farewell” to a piece of our heart and soul, so do not stray from who you are and what you can do for each other and for the world. Amen.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Would that all the Lord's people were prophets

Scripture Lessons: Numbers 11: 24-30 and Acts 2: 1-21 Sermon title: Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets Preached on June 4, 2017 Last week Bojangles opened in Columbia. The fried chicken establishment officially opened on May 30th. I didn’t make it by until the day after. I wanted to avoid the opening day crowd, but the line was still pretty long the next day when I just couldn’t stay away any longer. Now you might say that another fried chicken establishment in Columbia is superfluous, but this is different – this is Bojangles! I feel strongly about this. The chicken is that good, but my first visit was frustrating. The line was still pretty long, and what irritated me is that even after standing in the line, watching people order again and again – still, the two people right in front of me stepped up to the register and asked the lady, “So what’s good here?” It blew my mind. Not only does this question not make any sense – I mean, it’s a fried chicken restaurant – the fried chicken is good here. The other thing is that they had all this time in the line to figure out their order – but still, I’ve known what I was going to order since I heard that Bojangles was coming to Columbia two months ago. As soon as I got word that Bojangles would be coming to town I knew that the first time I had the chance I’d be ordering a large sweet tea and a chicken biscuit, but this is the human condition – sometimes we just don’t know what to say. Sometimes – when we should speak – we hesitate. Sometimes we freeze up. How many of your regrets have to do with the failure to speak some words like: “Would you go out with me?” “I love you too.” Or, “I’m so excited that you’re pregnant.” But instead, momentous occasions, momentous opportunities, were met either with silence or meaningless words or sounds like, “uh, uh, uh.” Not Peter though. We’ve heard about all the times when Peter waffled – when he tried to walk on water but sank and the time when he could have claimed Jesus as the friend and savior that he was but denied him instead. That’s not what happened on Pentecost. On Pentecost Peter spoke. He walked right up to that register and he ordered. You heard the story from the book of Acts: The Holy Spirit came just as Jesus promised. The Disciples spoke in languages they should not have known. All these people were trying to figure out what was going on. “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” This account from the Book of Acts reminds us that if no one speaks sometimes there’s silence or confusion. Sometimes rumors get started, but more than that, in this instance, one of God’s greatest miracles could have gotten lost without someone to help the crowd understand what this miracle means. Peter’s words are crucial. “Standing with the eleven, [he] raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel – [this is the sign that God is pouring out the Holy Spirit on all people.]” That’s a big difference. When one guy says they’re drunk, another guy says it’s a miracle. So much hinges on who speaks and what is said; how this moment is explained. And thanks be to God Peter didn’t hesitate. He spoke. Now, if only all the Lord’s people were prophets. People like me, preachers – we talk a lot about church attendance. Numbers. Is the church growing or losing ground or what’s going on? More and more people wonder why folks don’t go to church like they once did. Is it that the culture has changed? Is it that the church has lost its relevance? What’s happening? I have an answer: God still provides, but at some point or another we went silent. I remember it well this one morning at the last church I served outside Atlanta. Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. We had a men’s breakfast one morning and the organizer, a guy named Corey Duncan, he says, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had even more people come to this breakfast? Can’t you all think of someone at work or in your neighborhood who would get a lot out of something like this?” We all agreed, so he went on saying, “Well, I know we’re Presbyterians so I won’t ask you to invite someone to the next men’s breakfast. I just challenge you to tell someone about it.” That’s it. I just challenge you to speak. That doesn’t sound so bad – just tell someone what’s going on here – just tell someone about what you see. Here we are in Pleasantville, TN. Do you know how many people signed up to come today? Nearly 200. That’s around 100 more than last year. Why did that happen? There are plenty of explanations, but when you look around this place, who wouldn’t want to spend a day here? So, if you want the number to grow beyond 200 next year, tell someone about it. Today we’ll be confirming 9 fine young men and women. For the past year they’ve dedicated themselves to learning about their faith and what this church is and what we stand for. Wouldn’t it be a pity if all of this, if all of who we are, if the gift of this congregation were the best kept secret in Maury County? I’m not asking you today to go knock on doors (it would be great if you did) but all I’m saying is that you know someone who would benefit from just this kind of miracle – the miracle of what God does here, but a miracle without an explanation gets misunderstood or dismissed. Peter spoke. He had to. And it’s hard to believe that a miracle as profound and magnificent as disciples speaking in languages they didn’t know proclaiming the mighty works of God to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but miracles go unspoken and misunderstood all the time. You can change that. You can speak. You can speak words of hope in the midst of hopelessness. You can speak words of faith in a culture of fear. You can speak words of righteousness in our world of cultural relativism. You can speak, so tell someone about this day and about this place. Tell someone about what God has done in your life, because I’m sure they need something this good just as much as you and I do. Amen.