Sunday, January 14, 2018
Scripture Lessons: 1 Samuel 3: 1-10 and John 1: 43-51 Sermon Title: Come and See Preached on January 14, 2018 Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth? What a question. What a human question – and what a relevant question for us to ponder this Sunday morning. You and I know already, that Scripture speaks truth to our world. We get out of bed Sunday after Sunday to hear it. We put the pulpit right here in the center of this great, revered room we call the Great Hall because the Word that Scripture reveals we put right at the center of our lives. That’s why the Beadle carries the Bible in with dignity and respect, because the Beadle knows as we all know that the Bible is not some dusty book passed down from generation to generation, but the most relevant book that we could possibly read. But who would have thought that this book, so ancient and removed from 21st Century America, would lead us to ponder a phrase nearly the same as a statement the President is reputed to have made just a few days ago? Nathanial asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And allegedly claims the President, “Can anything good come out of a place like Haiti? Can anything good come out of Africa? Isn’t it true that the best people come from Norway or someplace like that?” Those aren’t the words exactly, but you’ve watched the news and heard all about it. Regardless of exactly what was said and by whom, this is a very human assumption. We all try to get to know people and one of the very first questions we ask is, “Where are you from?” as though that could tell us something. My grandfather came from a place called the Caw-Caw Swamp. I’ve never been there, but he’d tell us these stories of how they’d catch turtles and would fatten them up in copper pots before cooking them for dinner. How the teacher would come to the house before the school was built, and there was a door to the front that only the teacher was allowed to use. Then when the school was built, my grandfather was the oldest school age child and so he was chosen to drive the bus. How old was he? “Oh, 12 at least,” I remember him saying. One day he fell asleep on his desk and some kid dropped a bb in his ear, and the story goes that because of the damage done to his ear drum he was never again allowed to swim. I told Dr. Jim Goodlett the story and he told me that a bb would just fall back out again. That a bb is too big to do any real damage considering how narrow the ear canal, but Jim is a real doctor and who knows who my grandfather saw out in the Caw-Caw Swamp? The first time he went to the beach, he told me, he fully expected to look right across the water to see Europe, which doesn’t speak too highly for his school system, and as he started out in business in the nearest city which was Charleston, South Carolina, who knows how many people looked down their noses at him when he told them he was from the Caw-Caw Swamp? I can’t tell you exactly where the Caw-Caw Swamp is, but it is definitely not South of Broad. People think that where you live really means something, so they ask about where you’re from to learn about who you are. And that can be good. But to really get to know someone you have to do something more. You have to go deeper. I’ve been interested to know how strategic some people are about using their Kroger Fuel Points. I ran into Wilkie Schell as I was dropping the girls of at school, and he told me he was checking the gas levels of both their cars, because Libba and Wilkie wait until both cars are on empty before they go to gas up so that they maximize their fuel savings at the Kroger. Amazing. I’ve been to a Christmas Party where the conversation completely revolved around tips for gaining a greater discount at the Kroger gas pumps. That tells you something about a person, though I’m not sure what. Getting to know people. Getting to really know people. How do you do it? We once rented a house from a man named Greg Martin who later told me that he always made a point of looking inside a person’s car before renting him or her a house. And that, for him, was a good way of getting to know someone. So, if you want to know someone: how clean is their car? How much do they care about Kroger Fuel Points? I’ll tell you this: you learn more when you know either of those than when all you know is where a person came from. I was in New York City one summer. I told a man I was from Georgia and he said, “I know.” A friend of mine, his name is Will, and he’s a Presbyterian minister down in Savannah. He went to a boarding school up north and when his roommate learned he was from Tennessee he was surprised that Will owned shoes. You ask someone where they’re from, and what do you learn? Maybe nothing. But what do you assume? A lot. You remember Hee Haw? Grandpa comes down stairs: “Well everybody. I’m getting old. It’s time for me to move up North.” “Why grandpa?” Everyone wants to know. “I figure it’s coming close to my time to leave this earth, and it’s better if we lose one of them than one of us.” Philip says to Nathaniel: “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Stop and listen to that. We think we can learn something about someone based on how long his or her family has lived here or whether they’re from Cherokee or Paulding County. But take note. Jesus the Messiah comes from one of those places that people make assumptions about. However, where he was from didn’t tell Nathaniel anything, because getting to know people, and I mean really getting to know them, is valuable and life-giving, but it isn’t easy. Because you have to turn off the part of your brain that relies on assumptions and operates on fear. You really want to get to know someone you have to do more. You have to move in next door. Here in Marietta, we live close to our neighbors, and this new proximity has made us aware of how loud we are. We have two dogs, and one day I opened up the back door to tell one of them to stop barking, only to hear our next-door neighbor yelling: “Junebug, be quiet.” It’s bad when they know your dog’s name, but unfortunately, or fortunately, our neighbors don’t just know us, they really know us. And that’s what it takes. To really get to know someone have to be around them. You have to know what they eat and where they sleep. You have to see what they’re like when no one is looking or when they think no one is looking, so the Gospel of John begins like this as Eugene Peterson translated it: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” That’s what the Lord did – he moved into the neighborhood. He didn’t rely on assumptions or operate on fear. Out of love he came down here to really get to know us. That’s who God is: A Creator who longs to know his creation. To use the words from our Call to Worship, quoted from Psalm 139: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You are acquainted with all my ways.” God was acquainted with Nathaniel, having knit him together in his mother’s womb. But more than that, the Lord saw him underneath the fig tree. Do you know what that feels like? You leave a message on someone’s voicemail, but instead of hanging up properly like you thought you did at the end of your brief message, you start in on your husband once again and the true state of your marriage is preserved on someone’s cell phone. Or maybe you were in the middle of a sensitive conversation in kitchen when your daughter barges in. You don’t know how long she’s been listening or what all she heard, but you wish that the words that just spilled out of your mouth could be sucked back in. It’s a strange thing to know that you’ve been seen. It’s intimate and makes you feel vulnerable. To be known is this incredible thing, but this is God’s reality and we are wise to remember it. God sees so much that we would rather hide. God knows us at this deep and substantial level. All that we would deny or run away from, he sees and knows. But here’s the big deal: even in knowing all that he comes to earth to get to know us even better – and then – and this is the really big news – even after seeing us for who we really are – God invites us to take part in what God is doing. You can see what an honor that is. The difference that this kind of invitation makes in peoples’ lives. Did you see that picture of a Haitian born cadet who wept as he graduated from West Point? Or did you hear about the boy who grew up in the Caw Caw Swamp to set records in insurance sales for Life of Georgia. Then there’s the kid who was left at a Temple by his mother, raised by a blind old man, bullied by the man’s two sons – but was woken up in the middle of the night because God wanted Samuel to crown Israel’s greatest kings. We are all Nathanial’s – we look down on others because we fear we are nothing ourselves. Forget all that. Let me tell you the truth. You might have come from some place that presidents and disciples would call a back-water or worse, but you are precious in his sight. And, God has some work for you to do. God sees in you the potential that no one else ever saw. God sees the worth that you long ago forgot all about. God knows when you are sleeping and he knows when you’re awake – and the greatest gift he could give he has given and the most important news he entrusts to you that you might proclaim it – just come and see. Just come and see who you really are. Just come and see – and take part in the redeeming work that God is doing in our world. Amen.
Sunday, January 7, 2018
Scripture Lessons: Genesis 1: 1-5 and Mark 1: 4-11 Sermon Title: Into What Then Were You Baptized Preached on January 7, 2018 Some would say that the hardest words to believe in the Bible are those in our first Scripture Lesson: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep… Then God said, “Let there be light.” Science tells us a story about a big bang and an ever-expanding universe, survival of the fittest, natural selection, and for generations now, it’s as though faith and science have been battling it out for a right to the truth. Like me you might say that this is no either or, but maybe you’ve had an argument with your friends about this. Some friend who sees the first two chapters of Genesis as the great stumbling block that keeps them from faith in God – but I say these words in Genesis are no stumbling block. They don’t need to compete with the words of science, because science can tell us things that religion never will, and Scripture provides insights that science cannot, but beyond that, these from Genesis aren’t the hardest words to believe in Scripture anyway. No. If you get right down to it then you know that most people wrestle with not the words of our first scripture lesson, but the words of our second. It was just as he was coming up out of the water, when a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Most people can’t believe that God or anyone else would every say that to them: “You are my Daughter, whom I love, and with you I am well pleased.” “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” “You are my husband or my wife, whom I love, and with you I am well pleased.” These words are common enough, but they’re also different from what we’re used to because God’s not saying to Jesus or to us that God has high hopes for who we might become. God’s not saying that once all the laundry is washed or when we get that raise so we can put a pool in the back yard, then God will approve of us. Rather, what God is saying to Jesus in his baptism is that it’s because of who you are right now, that God just has to say, “You are mine. The one I love, and with you I am well pleased.” I know a woman who went on a date set up by one of those match-maker websites. This guy said to her: “You have the exact skill set that I’ve been looking for in a partner.” That’s not very romantic. It sounds more like engineering than love to me, but we hear those kinds of words so often that not all of us are able to let the Good News in. We’re not used to the truth: that in our baptism what God said to Jesus, God says to us as well. That in baptism, God takes us as his own. God loves us as his own. God claims us as his own. With us, even with us, God is well pleased. And Presbyterians, we baptize infants, and we need to stop and think about what that means. What has a four-month-old done to qualify for these words? Nothing, but that’s grace. That’s God’s love, and considering Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, even for Jesus it’s not so different for him than it is for an infant. This morning we read from Chapter 1 of Mark’s gospel – the very first chapter. No miracles precede this baptism. He doesn’t say anything wise to please God so that he deserves this affirmation. Instead, Jesus just walks in the water and God speaks these most important words, because that’s what baptism is. It is undeserved grace and love that some struggle to accept for their entire lives. Like us, he is a child of God. But unlike us, when God tells him so, he is bold to believe it. Like us, God who holds the whole world in his hands also holds tightly this Jesus of Nazareth. But unlike us, Jesus never doubts it. Like us, Jesus hears this Good News, that God is well pleased with who he is. But unlike us these words free him from shame. “You are mine, my beloved, and with you I am well pleased.” Jesus heard these words. He never doubted them. Even as God called him to face the Cross still he knew who he was, that he was beloved of God. But can you and I let these words in? There’s a power in words. That’s the difference between the Creation account in Genesis and the story Science tells. It’s not that one is right and one is wrong – it’s that science tells us that it’s all about molecules and energy and that’s fine and good, but none of that matters to your soul nearly as much as words do. So, in Genesis God spoke and there was light. That’s the truth, and you know it, because it’s not photons but words that bring light to so much of the darkness that we know. But some never hear them and others can’t believe them. Isn’t that the truth? The 17th Century poet George Herbert, in his third poem titled Love, wrote: “Love bade me welcome, but my soul drew back.” That seems to be the natural human reaction. Valentine’s Day is coming up, and over the years I’ve read a lot of children’s books about Valentine’s Day from the library, but they’re all just about the same. In every one a little girl sends a valentine card to a little boy, then on the playground or somewhere she sneaks up behind him and plants a kiss on his cheek. 100% of the time – in every one of those books - the little boy runs away. Little boys are funny about love. It was when I was in second grade that my teacher asked our class to go home and ask our parents about what is essential for life. It was science class and we were learning about what it takes to survive, so I went home. My parents and I decided on water. “Water is essential for life,” I reported to my class, and was proud to find that this was a good and acceptable answer. “Yes, water is essential for life,” our teacher responded. Then a girl in the class answered oxygen, which was also a good answer. Then another said food. The teacher approved and said that food is also essential for life. A boy in the row behind me reported that love was essential for life. I couldn’t get my head around that, so I went home and asked my Mom. She agreed with the boy and told me that no one could live without love which didn’t make any sense to me at the time, so I went to my father and he told me that the boy’s parents must be hippies. Love. It’s essential, but sometimes it’s easier to joke about, so the poem from George Herbert continues: “Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back… But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack… Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning If I lacked anything.” The poet answers: I lack what would make me worthy. There’s the real challenge. Like the poet we say: Surely, I’m not worthy of love. I should have to pay for it, work for it, aspire to one day deserve it. But what if it’s just like the Gospel of Mark says it is? What if all you have do is come up from the water and hear the words? Words are powerful. God speaks them and the earth is created. And God speaks them in baptism and our lives are changed completely if we’ll let the power of the words do their work. So, if your earthly father never said them, or never said them enough, then hear them said to you by your Heavenly Father: “You are mine.” Or if you’ve struggled to believe them, because love showed up and then walked away, know that the God who came to earth to say them through his life isn’t going anywhere, least of all away from you: “You are mine, my beloved.” The God of love, he came to earth, and when he came up out of the water he heard these words, he let them in. And for the rest of his life he poured these words out, saying to his disciples, “Take and eat. This is my body broken for you. Drink. Here is my love poured out for you to take in. You are mine, my beloved, and with you I am well pleased.” May these words free you to stop working so hard to deserve them, because you can’t. May these words free you to be yourself, for until you can you’ll never be satisfied. And may these words create in you a desire for new life, because we can’t be saved from our sin until we accept the truth that we are worth saving. Amen.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Scripture Lessons: Genesis 1: 1-5 and John 1: 1-9 Sermon Title: The One who can turn on the Lights Preached on 12/17/17 Every night our girls humor me by asking me to tell them a story, and last Monday Night Lily wanted to hear a story about when I was her age, so I told her about how when I was 8, my favorite school lunch at Hickory Hills Elementary School was something called a taco boat. You might remember those things. The taco shells were flat, but pulled up on the edges like a square corn pie crust, and the lunch ladies would scoop taco beef into them, then lettuce and salsa. I remember all that because this was my favorite school lunch, and talking about these taco boats reminded me of one day when I was going through the lunch line with my best friend Matt Buchanon. I was new at Hickory Hills in 3rd grade when I was Lily’s age, and Matt was in 3rd grade too but had been at the school longer so he was kind of showing me the ropes. We were going through the line, and right before we got to the cash register he says, “Watch this.” Lunch was 85 cents in those days, and Matt pulled out a dollar, handed it to the lady, and said to her, “Keep the change” and with the wink, he walked to our table. I thought this was the coolest thing I had ever seen. It was like was going through the lunch line with James Dean or something. So, I take out my dollar, hand it to the lady, “keep the change” I say, but she handed me back my 15 cents. The moral of the story: some people have it and some people don’t. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes you just have to stay in your lane, and Matt Buchanon was the Fonz of Hickory Hills and I was lucky to be his less cool sidekick, which was fine because you have to know who you are – and you have to know who you are not. I’m not Matt. I’m also not Sara. There was a month when Sara asked me to take over paying the bills for our family. She gave me instructions, all the passwords. It was still the most stressful month of my life. She’s also who the girls want when they’re sick – unless there’s throw-up involved. That’s me. And when we all leave the house in the morning Lily and Cece both say, “I love you Mama. You’re the best Mom ever.” They love me too, I know that, but there’s something about a mom. That’s just how it is, and that’s fine because it’s good to know who I am and who I’m not. There’s freedom in coming to terms with that, and there’s suffering if you never do – so it is with some joy that I say I’m just Joe. Not Matt, not Sara, not Jesus either, and while that last one may sound the most obvious of all, I’m not the only mortal who attempts to live up to immortal standards. I’m not the only human who has trouble accepting the reality of his human-ness. Consider just the last two campaign slogans for President of the United States. I’m not trying to make a particularly political statement. I just want to say this morning that all those supporters who believe that President Trump is powerful enough to go right up to Washington and “Make America Great Again” are going to be disappointed, because no mortal can do it – especially not on his own. But this is politics. Human politicians promising the impossible. They say they can do these things that they can’t, and we are fools to believe them. You remember President Obama’s campaign slogan? Hope. No human should promise that because hope is not ours. We mortals have to come to terms with mortality. We have to understand the limits of our power. We have to know who we are and who we are not – and that’s why it’s important that we go back to the river this morning – back to the Jordan River to visit John for the 2nd Sunday in a row. And who is John? There’s some descriptive information about him in our 2nd Scripture Lesson, but this passage gives us mostly a description of who he is not: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” So, who’s John? He’s not the light and he knows it. A preacher and Bible Scholar named David Bartlett said it like this: “What Would Jesus do?” the button asks. He would walk on water, give sight to the blind, and raise the dead.” We have to know who we are not – and who we are not is the light of the world. That sounds obvious enough, but it’s not. Or it’s not for me any way. Last Sunday I was nervous, and it was because I was confused about my limits. I was thinking all Saturday after we’d made the decision not to cancel the 11:15 service – that if these people are going to go through all the trouble of getting here on a snow day, I better have a pretty good sermon. That might be true, but you’re not here for me. If I spend all this time pointing to myself, if this church becomes all about me or you or anyone else, if the focus of our attention is on what any mortal has to say and think and do, then we are a shell of the Church that we could be. Because it’s not me or my words that matter. It’s who I’m talking about. It’s who they’re singing about. It’s who we’re praying to. It’s who we honor and thank with our tithes and offerings. The focus of our praise must never be on a mortal. For it is the call of we humans to use our words and actions to point to the One who spoke light into the world. A great theologian, some would say the greatest of the 20th Century, was a man named Karl Barth. From 1921 until his death, over his desk hung a copy of a painting by Matthias Grunewald. In the center of the painting hangs Christ crucified, and to one side stands John the Baptist – one hand raised and pointing to the Light of the World. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light. He himself was not the light” and what we can learn from John is that John the Baptist knew he wasn’t. He knew himself well enough that he knew who he was, the gifts that God had given him, and he used those gifts so well because he pointed to someone worth pointing to. He is, therefore, the very definition of humble. The definition of humble is simple. It’s knowing what you can do and what you can’t do, who you are and who you are not. And John was a messenger, not the light itself. We can learn a lot from just that. After all, this is a time of year when everyone is going overboard. Doing too much. Attempting to make real the impossible. Trying to make someone’s dreams come true. This time of year, we forget who we are and who we are not, and that leads to doomed expectations. Grandma died, so someone is going to try to make macaroni and cheese just like she always made it. But even if it’s perfect, we can’t bring grandma back. And last Christmas Charlie was disappointed, so someone here is going to find the perfect thing in the perfect size, but listen – be realistic – you can’t buy joy. You just can’t. Even if this Christmas you were to wake up to a Lexus in your driveway with a big red bow on it, you’ve shot for the moon without reaching it, because you can’t be hope, you can’t be Christmas Joy, and you can’t be the Light of the World, and if we’re busy trying to be that, not only are we doomed to frustration, but we’re missing out on the blessings that our God longs to give if we just stop trying to provide them ourselves. We’re trying to scrape by on your own while he promises abundant life. We’re trying to fill the table for a feast, but he’s the one who turns water into wine. And maybe we’ve thrown some Christmas lights in the tree, but he’s the light of the world. A preacher named Bob Woods tells a story about the light in a cave. This couple took their son and daughter to Carlsbad Caverns. The tour of this cave is like a lot of them. The guide takes you way down there, to the cave’s deepest point underground, and then turns off the lights, just to show how dark darkness can be. Enveloped in complete darkness, the little boy began to cry. Immediately was heard the quiet voice of his sister who said, “Don’t cry. Someone here knows how to turn on the lights.” You see – this time of year we’re busy talking about remembering grandma through the perfect replication of her macaroni and cheese, while Jesus is coming to make the dead alive. We’re busy searching the internet for the greatest gift money can buy while Jesus is born bringing hope to the world. And up in Washington DC they’re doing very mortal things while promising what only God can give – so do not be deceived. Do not be frustrated. Instead, look to the Manger because the one who knows how to turn on the lights is coming. Our Clerk of Session, Carol Calloway, and I were texting back and forth last Saturday trying to decide what to do about opening the church. I asked her if she had power back yet and she wrote me back, “I am very aware of where our real power comes from. Being without power kinda makes that obvious.” My friends, there are limits to human power, but rejoice in this: the one who knows how to turn on the lights is coming to be with us. Amen.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 40: 1-11 and Mark 1: 1-8 Sermon Title: The Voice of One Crying Out in the Wilderness Preached on 12/10/17 This has been an interesting weekend. It snowed. It’s the very thing we hope for in December, and after enjoying it for about two hours we want it to go away. Isn’t that funny? But that’s life. This week got off to an interesting start for me – it had me really thinking. Lily, Cece, and I were on our way to school Monday morning on our bikes, running a little behind before we had even made it out of the house, and you know how those mornings are – we were late so we became later. Someone had snuck into our house and hid all the shoes and backpacks in places we couldn’t find them. So, after several delays, we finally made it down our steep driveway and we were well on our way when I realized that I was peddling but my wheels weren’t moving. I stopped to see if the chain was off, but it actually seemed as though my chain ring was no longer properly attached to the wheel. That was a problem, and this was one of those frustrating moments – we were already running late; my daughters were ahead of me – their peddles worked you see, and so they had already made it across the street and were on their way around a corner. I didn’t know what to do or how to catch up, and just then, Whitt Smith, who was a year ahead of me at Marietta High School, he stopped in his pickup truck to say, “Ya’ll are running a little late for school.” That was true, but it seemed like an obvious point to make. Then I told him my bike wasn’t working. He told me to throw it in the back of his truck, that he’d drop it off back at our house so I could catch up with Lily and Cece and get them to school safely. I did, and we were only about 15 minutes late for school. Under reason for being tardy I wrote “bike problems,” and then wondered if anyone had ever thought up that excuse before, but here’s the real question that I want you to ponder with me: On my walk from Westside Elementary School to the church, what will occupy my thoughts? Will I spend this quite time walking along the sidewalk stewing in the frustration from a malfunctioning bicycle – or, will I rejoice in thanksgiving for the kindness of an old friend who stopped to lend me a hand with my bike when I needed it? It’s been like this for me all weekend – will I enjoy the snow for the rare gift that it is, or will my cheer be overcome by frustration because the power’s out and so I can’t make coffee properly? I can tell you how it’s been for me – and I don’t like it. I’d much rather focus on how it was for our children who know how to enjoy a gift. We adults – we don’t always see so well. Snow looks like an inconvenience. A friend’s display of kindness gets lost amid frustration. Miracles happen – but we don’t always see them. I’m afraid that it’s always been this way. It’s been this way since the beginning. We just read the opening verses of the Gospel of Mark. The first line there is “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and while this first line seems standard enough, consider all the other news that hit the papers that Monday morning 2,000 years ago competing for attention: It was the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but in addition to that, back in ancient Israel, Herod was the king, and his rule was oppressive and tyrannical. His primary concern being building palaces rather than establishing order and fairness. But not only was their plenty of reason for good people to be consumed with hatred of the local government, Rome was the power that controlled the known world – and Rome maintained that control through public violence, any who rose up in protest were nailed to crosses that marked the major roads into cities. These crosses, they were like our billboards and as you entered Jerusalem they were your warning not to step out of line. Think of that. This good news of Jesus Christ that the Gospel of Mark speaks of – it was first proclaimed in a time when most people believed there was only bad news. Had we been there with them, we would have heard about the Good News among a chorus of government control, taxation, oppression, and poverty – for just as it has been true of us this weekend, so it has always been - in the midst of real, human life – this is when we choose to hear the good news. And I said choose. That’s what I meant. For the Good News is a light – but it’s a light in the darkness. It is a whisper in the cacophony of a city street. The news is good – but it’s good in the midst of bad, so we must be practiced in how we listen and where we focus. Because we have to filter through all the chaos to get to the beauty and the truth. Back in ancient Israel, in order to hear it, some had to leave the city, and they went out to a place where they could listen – they went out to the river to see John. Did you catch those details about John from our 2nd Scripture Lesson? Clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. Who looks like that? Who expects to be taken seriously looking like that? I once had the chance to ask this big time, New York City preacher for advice and he looked me up and down and told me that I need to shine my shoes. That was it. My confusion must have shown because he explained – Presbyterians are respectable people who expect you to look like someone worth taking seriously, and that’s true. I know not to wear my Christmas suit in the pulpit on a Sunday morning, but what do we do with John? What did he wear? A business suit? No. A robe? No. Two articles of clothing did he wear, a camel hair something and you can bet it wasn’t a sport coat, then a belt, nothing more. Why listen? Because that’s what prophets wear – that’s why. And just because we’re used to listening to the news in the paper and the news on TV, sometimes it’s from weird looking prophets that you hear the real truth. But that makes listening hard. That means discernment. Because often times it’s lies coming through a bullhorn while the truth is proclaimed by a man dressed in camel hair. We have to learn how to listen – how to focus our attention, because we’re distracted. I saw a truck advertisement last week. Two little girls in the back seat looking at their IPads: “The new 2018 Ford F-150 with SYNC Connect and available Wi-Fi means you and the family can stay connected.” Connected? What do we mean by connected? How are we supposed to hear with all these distractions? How are we supposed to be a family with all the entertainment? Today is the 2nd Sunday of Advent, and today we are called on to consider peace, and to prepare for peace’s coming in the birth of our savior. But how if we don’t even know what being connected means anymore? To start, I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to choose how you’ll focus. To watch for beauty, and to listen for truth. A Bible scholar named Walter Brueggemann says it like this: It is written in Deuteronomy that the poor will always be with you. It is written elsewhere that there will always be wars and rumors of wars. It is written in the American psyche that the big ones will always eat the little ones. It is written in the hearts of many hurting ones that their situation will always be abusive and exploitative. It is written and it is believed and it is lived, that the world is a hostile, destructive place. You must be on guard and maintain whatever advantage you can. It is written and recited like a mantra, world without end. [But] In the middle of that hopelessness, Advent issues a vision of another day, written by the poet, given to Israel midst the deathly cadence. We do not know when, but we know for sure. The poet knows for sure that this dying and killing is not forever, because another word has been spoken [but will hear it?] There was a lady I once knew. She was hard to visit, because she never had anything nice to say. She was always sick, so I’d go to her home or to her hospital room. She was always cold, and in the summer time she’d bring a toboggan to put on in the sanctuary because she didn’t like the air conditioning. She was huddled up under blankets this one day when I went to see her in her home, and she cried and cried telling me that no one from the church ever called, which broke my heart to hear – but in that moment the phone rang, because Doris from the church wanted to check and see how this lady was doing. My mouth hung open because of the miracle, but this lady hung up the phone and said, “Where was I, oh yes – no one from the church ever calls me. It’s horrible!” It’s like the hymn says: And man, at war with man, hears not The love song which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife, And hear the angels sing. They do sing and they will sing, but we have to be quite and calm enough to listen. We have to be careful with what we pay attention to. And we have to watch our hearts – because you and I can stew all day long on what doesn’t ultimately matter, while ignoring the miracles. They are like the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Listen – because that’s hope calling. Amen.
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Scripture Lessons: Psalm 80: 1-7 and 17-19, and Isaiah 64: 1-9 Sermon Title: Restore us, O God; Let Your Face Sine, That We May Be Saved Preached on December 3, 2017 Today is a special day. All Sundays are special of course. I used to work with a Music Director who said that the most important Sunday of the year is the next one coming up, but today is a special Sunday - the first Sunday of Advent, plus we have these new hymnals, we have communion. I have an early memory of communion here at this church. I was a couple years older than Doug and Andy Miller, who were twins and close friends with Mickey Buchanan, and the first time those three were allowed to sit by themselves in a worship service it was a communion Sunday. I guess they were 8 or 9 and when the bread came they did just what they were supposed to do, but when the cup came, before drinking they all toasted each other with the tiny little communion cups. It’s amazing what kids do without their parents sitting close by, but the truth of the matter is that when no one is watching, all people act a little differently. Even a little bit of freedom can be dangerous for anyone. I remember the first-time wine was served at Sara’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner. It was several years ago now, and when we gathered around the Thanksgiving table with my wife Sara’s family, the adult places at the table came complete with a wine glass, and while that may sound normal enough, this is something that never would have happened if Aunt Ester were alive. While Aunt Ester was alive, all alcohol was forbidden, and every Thanksgiving dinner at her house, a group of us dissenters, we would assemble with sweet tea in our glasses – but we were mad about it. We’d huddle together on the deck or front yard, just out of ear shot from the matriarch – and together we’d dream about the day when prohibition would end on our corner of Knoxville, Tennessee. It did. Wine was served the first Thanksgiving after Aunt Ester’s funeral. That year Thanksgiving was hosted by another member of the family who was excited to take up the torch, and Aunt Janie was not a teetotaler, so not all, but many members of the extended family quietly sipped from wine glasses at that first liberated Thanksgiving, whispering to one another, “This never would have happened if Aunt Ester were still around”. The next year, wine was served more openly, then by the third year everyone was just about comfortable; but by the fourth year after Aunt Ester’s death – the invitation to this big Thanksgiving dinner for the whole extended family never came. The host family needed a year off, and Aunt Janie asked that families celebrate their own thanksgiving, a meal for all the cousins and everyone at her house was just too much. We all understood. And we gave thanks in smaller numbers, around dining room tables in Atlanta, Washington DC, Knoxville, and Spartanburg, SC, all looking forward to getting back together the next year. But another year passed. Then another without the invitation, and now we don’t even look for it, so today, on Thanksgiving we take the wine for granted, but we miss our extended family. Now a Thanksgiving where we don’t all get together - that never would have happened if Aunt Ester were still around. Do you know this feeling? You’re finally free to do what you want, only the freedom is not as wonderful as you thought it would be. Maybe you’ve been like me, unsupervised at Home Depot, shopping for Christmas lights, buying without moderation, only to get home to wonder, “Where am I going to put all these Christmas lights?” Freedom is not always what it’s cracked up to be. Hear again these words from the Prophet Isaiah: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down. Because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” What the Prophet means here is that without God, the people left unsupervised have so lost track of who they are that they call on God to return even if it means punishment. “Because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” According to the Isaiah we are all like kids who come home from school to an empty house. The computer is locked, but we figured out the password, and the liquor cabinet is too, but we’ve had enough time to find the key. No one is there to stop us. As adults, we face the same problems with freedom - we spend what we want on credit cards sent in the mail, because we’ve been given the freedom to take on debt, even debt that we’ll never emerge from. We eat what tastes best, forgetting the doctor’s orders even when it jeopardizes our health. We speak without thinking, act without thought to consequence. Sometimes when I read the headlines of the paper it reminds me of that book I read in English Class years ago: Lord of the Flies. We have freedom, but Piggy’s dead and we need some real grown-ups to save us from ourselves. We’re losing decency and moderation. Even our leaders speak without thinking, take without asking, because no one is around to supervise us. Maybe you saw the political cartoon in this morning’s paper. “More harassment Charges” is the headline and the woman says to a friend – “I used to have coffee with my morning shows, popcorn with my moved…now, I just eat tums.” The Prophet cries out to God: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” because you are the glue that holds us together and if you are gone than things fall apart. “You hid yourself, we transgressed,” because temptation is too much if you are not there to stop us. “You have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.” We have done all this – created a world of materialism where we all rush through giving thanks to get to spending more money than we have. We work and we work, and no one is there to tell us when to stop, so tension rises in our homes. There is no rest, even on the Sabbath, because who is there to speak over the loud voice of our culture that never stops telling us to produce and spend? And so, we are entertained, but seldom happy. Our bellies are full without ever being satisfied. We keep going at a fools pace, but where are we headed? “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Deliver us Lord, from the hand of our iniquity. Come, Lord Jesus, we cry, for we are like grown children home from college, sleeping on God’s couch, lulled into the illusion that we own the place and can do what we want. But he’s coming back. We anticipate his birth during this season of Advent, preparing for his arrival as a precious mother’s child. May your prayer and mine this Advent Season be a simple one: Restore us, O God; Let Your Face Sine, That We May Be Saved from our selves. And in His face, see the abundant life that can be ours. Amen.
Sunday, November 26, 2017
Scripture Lessons: Ezekiel 34: 11-16 and 20-24, and Matthew 25: 31-46 Sermon Title: All We Like Sheep Preached on November 26, 2017 The book of Genesis begins our Bible, and tells us that out of an outpouring of love, God created the heavens, the earth, and the living things who inhabit the earth. On the earth, the Creator set a garden, and in this Garden, among other things, there was notably a man, a woman, a serpent, and a forbidden tree. You know the story – you know that the Creator said to the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” This was clear enough instruction, drawing the line between obedience and disobedience, but of course, the serpent suggested to the woman that they eat from it, and she did. Then she took some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. This was wrong, but it gets worse for after they ate they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” They were hiding, because that’s what people who have been disobedient do. Years ago, we were 10 or 11 and had the great idea that we’d explore the great big storm drain running beneath the Charlton Forge neighborhood where we lived. I don’t remember that we were explicitly forbidden from doing so – maybe our parents never imagined that we’d do such a thing, but we didn’t want to risk missing out, so without permission we explored the underbelly of our neighborhood and when I went back home my parents asked me what I had been doing. Assuming that they didn’t want me exploring the sewer, I told them I had just been over at Matt Buchanan’s house, which was sort of the truth, though it didn’t explain why I smelled so bad, so I was then grounded for two weeks, not only because I had disobeyed, but because I lied about it too. Such a two-fold ethical failure is what Church history calls the Fall of Man. And since the beginning, since the 2nd chapter of Genesis, we have been falling and falling again – first with an act of disobedience, then the cover-up which always makes things worse. This is the human condition. All we like sheep have gone astray. That chorus was in my mind this week as I read two of the many passages of Scripture that describe God’s people as sheep. This morning we have two Scripture passages where humans are personified as sheep, and so the song that was in my mind reading this last week was that great chorus from Handle’s Messiah: “All we like sheep, have gone astray.” That’s true. And what’s worse, is that once we’ve gone astray, we lie like Joe Evans or we hide like Adam and Eve – and why would we hide? We hide, because we misunderstand love, assuming that the natural result of going astray must be rejection, but that’s not so with a loving God. Here’s another familiar Bible story – a young man asks for his inheritance before his father has even died. Then he takes the money and squanders it on loose living – and loose living is exactly what you imagine it is – all the money’s gone, spent on things that nice people don’t spend money on. Assuming that he’ll be punished by his father for losing everything he’s afraid to return home. So, instead, he works as a laborer for so little that he winds up jealous over the pigs, who at least have pods to eat in their slop bucket. Only in desperation does he return home. Realizing that his father’s hired hands live better than this, and hoping to become one of them he goes back – but upon his return his father rushes out to embrace him, and treats him like a long-lost prince. Why? Because this is who God is – this is who the Bible describes God to be – not just the one who created us and legislated the great commands to guide our behavior, but the God of Scripture is also the Father who so deeply longs for his son to return home that he is full of forgiveness – the God of Scripture is a husband who’s love for his wife can never die – the God of Scripture is a Shepherd who goes after the lost sheep even after they’ve gone astray, then become trapped in the brambles of fallen-ness. All we like sheep – have gone astray – and the great God of heaven and earth longs to gather us in – “For thus says the Lord God (from the book of Ezekiel): I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep.” That’s God. That’s Scripture. Can you believe that? I hope you can – because it’s hard for me sometimes. Sometimes I go back to that image of God that I remember from fiery, manipulative preachers – who convinced me that the question was not whether or not I’d be going to Hell, but how soon. However, the message of Christianity as recorded in Scripture – is not condemnation for the imperfect. The Bible is not a record of continued abuse on the fallen. No, in the pages of Scripture are the magnificent stories of grace for the lost, and so that great hymn goes like this: 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 All we like sheep, have gone astray, and the Shepherd longs to bring us home. That’s Christianity. Not perfection, not condemnation, not self-righteousness, not judgmental legalism that calls some good and some bad – no – this faith of ours is all about the Great Good News that Jesus Christ, Lord of all, created you and redeemed you, and now wants you to come home, and if you’re too ashamed, the Good Shepherd will even go out to find you so that he can bring you back. Here’s again what we read from the book of Ezekiel: I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep…I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak. But there’s a catch. The catch is in the next verse from our 1st Scripture Lesson: “but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” And our Second Scripture Lesson put it another way. In this last parable of the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the separation of the sheep and the goats, we hear that there will be no entry into the Kingdom of Heaven without a recommendation from the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the least of these – for if you believe that all we like sheep have gone astray but are welcomed home, if you’re ready to accept that kind of grace and that kind of undeserved salvation, then the requirement is that you remember that once you were lost – that once you were blind – that once you were wretched - so how can you not offer your kindred lost sheep the same grace that you have received? If you believe that all we like sheep have gone astray but are welcomed home, then you have to be ready to pass grace on to some other people who don’t deserve it either. And that’s hard – because once you’ve made it, it’s easy to forget where you came from. Think of Middle School – she was our best friend one minute, but the second she got caught picking her nose in class we all pretended we’d never met. Now we know that’s wrong, but it’s easy to keep doing it. If all we like sheep have gone astray – then we all have to remember who we were. So, life of a redeemed sheep has to look different too than that of the self-righteous. Those who won’t even speak the word divorce. Who pretend like their houses are always clean. That relative who makes you feel insecure when she asks about your children because you know what she’s really listening for. You know this lady – you probably saw her at Thanksgiving. There are too many like her – and there are far too many who call themselves Christians but who rejoice in pointing out the speak in their neighbor’s eye, blind to the log in their own, having long forgotten that all we like sheep have gone astray – and even they were once lost but have been found. We, who have received grace, cannot disassociate from those who need it. We cannot operate according to the rules of middle school or proper society. Because while many are mindful of being seen with the right kind of people, who you are seen with matters to Jesus too, but he expects you and me to be seen with the lost. His law is so different from the law of Middle School, for according to Scripture, the hand extended with dirt under the nails and no shoes on his feet is the one who holds the Keys to the Kingdom. The voice that’s dry and raspy, lips cracked – “sir, if only I had some water to drink” – it is this one who shows us the way to Eternal Life. The stranger who walks into town with a name that no one recognizes from a place that no one has ever heard of – she has an opportunity to offer you and me. For some who sought salvation asked: ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ These are questions that the condemned ask, because they failed to offer their kindred lost sheep the same grace that they once received. May these words guide your behavior: ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ All we like sheep have gone astray, and we can’t forget it. Because the lost sheep who has been found is obligated to share the same grace that she once received. Amen.
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Scripture Lessons: Micah 3: 5-12 and Matthew 23: 1-12 Sermon Title: They Were Stewards of their Lives Preached on 11/12/17 I heard a joke at a Kiwanis meeting last week. Andrew Macintosh and I were proud to be the guests of Margaret Waldrep, and after lunch the speaker was introduced. Buck Rogers is his name. He’s the president of the State Bar of Georgia, and he gets up there and he says to the group, “Do you know how many lawyers there are in the state of Georgia?” And some smart Alek in the back shouts out: “Too many.” I like lawyer jokes, and I like them a lot better than preacher jokes. A group of kids were standing around having a lying contest, and the preacher over heard them. Offended by the idea that they’d compete in telling the biggest lie rather than practice being trustworthy and honest, he marches over there and tells them, “You boys should stop telling those lies and should be more like me. I always tell the truth.” They look at each other, and then shout: “You win pastor! That’s the biggest lie we ever heard” This morning Scripture demands that we come face to face with the reality, that the Church is not nearly so unlike Wall Street or Washington as I would like. That those many politicians, so self-serving as to be completely ineffective, that those business executives, so cutthroat as to worship the might dollar, are not so unlike a lot of clergy I know. And I went through college and seminary preparing myself to be different. That I would be real, faithful, and honest, but every day I face the same reality of being human, and spearing far more like a Pharisee than I would like. Jesus’ warning to them – it could be directed at me just as well. Jesus said that, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” And last Wednesday Night, there I was, finally in the kitchen, cooking for Wednesday Night Supper, so proud of myself that I put my picture all over Facebook, because I love to have all my deeds seen by others too. Did you see me posing with that pot? Jesus said that the Pharisees “do all their deeds to be seen by others,” and I have to be careful about that. Jesus also said that “They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues” and have you seen where I get to sit in here? Right up front. And then those Pharisees – Jesus said that, “They love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them Rabbi,” and maybe we don’t have a marketplace and maybe no one calls me Rabbi, but watch me walk through Kroger, scanning the aisle for who I might know. Unless I’m in the beer aisle that is. I am a sinner. There’s no doubt about it, but this is a reality, not to run away from or hide, this is a reality that I have to come to terms with, because here I am up in this pulpit. I have on this fancy robe, and this microphone that makes me feel like Madonna. But every time I put the stole around my neck, do you know what I think of? This stole represents the towel that Jesus used to wash the disciple’s feet. We preachers need to remember that. Because the model of Jesus is a different model than the world of business or commerce, politics or power. I’m not the CEO of First Presbyterian Church of Marietta, GA. No – to quote the Psalms: “I’m a doorkeeper in the house of my God.” That’s what I am. A sinner who can write a sermon and lead you in prayer, invited to help keep the doors of this mighty house of God open. Don’t let me forget that, because bringing honor to myself, falling down that trap that the Pharisees fell into, it will lead to the kind of self-serving misery that I long to avoid, for there is no more miserable person than the one who seeks only to honor himself. There’s a better way to live, and Jesus shows us how. Think about him – the Creator of the Universe, who comes down from heaven to wash the Disciples Feet. The all-powerful God – who takes on human sin and dies a criminal’s death. We know that he is full of mercy and truth, that he all divinity and majesty, but he lived a human’s life to proclaim a mighty Gospel. “Live this way,” he says. Not like those Pharisees who teach one thing and then do another – no – remember that “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Think about that. And remember – there’s no more miserable person than the one who always tries to get ahead without thinking of her neighbors. Joanne and Jim Taylor are different. You might know Joanne and Jim. They don’t live far from here – just over the railroad tracks and off Maple Street. Joanne and Jim Taylor were sitting on their porch one evening, talking about the lot across from their house, thinking that if the lot every came for sale, how they’d like to buy it. Well, two weeks later it did come up for sale, and Jim was out of town so Joanne called him and told him that she was ready to make an offer. Jim asked her what she’d like to do with the property. She didn’t want to fix up the little house that was on it; she’d rather just tear the house down, plant some flowers and turn it into a little park for the neighbors – that’s what she told her husband. Jim thought that sounded fine, just so long as she didn’t put any tacky yard art out in it. Well, you might know, especially if you live somewhere along Maple, that Jim relented on the tacky yard art. In fact, the 6-foot cowboy boot that sits out there is his doing, and he just ordered his wife Joanne a life size cow statue to put out there for Christmas. These two bought a park, and I wanted to understand why they did it, so as Marti Moore and I were talking to Joanne last Tuesday (Marti and I, we like to patrol the neighborhood every once in a while) and as we were talking with her you could just tell that Joanne loved her park, and she didn’t even mind it when other people use it. In fact, she was on vacation and her neighbors called to tell her that someone was having a wedding out there and did she know anything about it. She didn’t, and she doesn’t mind at all, because the park, it doesn’t make her any money. It doesn’t do anything in particular that she can put her finger on, it just makes her happy. That’s a big deal, and she’s not the only one. Herald is like that. A lady named Dawn Taylor told me his story. She wrote about it and it appeared in the local paper back in our town in Tennessee. She’s the lady in charge of the Family Center, an organization there that’s a lot like our MUST Ministries, so people who need something to eat go there, homeless people who need a shower go there, and every year there’s a big drive to raise money for Thanksgiving turkeys, so that every family in Columbia, Tennessee has a big, happy, Thanksgiving. Well, Herold heard about it. Herold sleeps in his car and every month he receives a disability check, so he has money to eat, but he sleeps in his car and he uses the shower at the Family Center, and last week he walked right in Dawn Taylor’s office and gave her $23.00. “I saw you were collecting turkeys form the newspaper. I want to help, I want to buy someone a turkey.” That’s what he said. Dawn wouldn’t take the money. She said, “Herold, you’re homeless. You can’t give me any money. You need that money.” But he insisted saying, “I saw the article in the paper. I want to help. It’s not Thanksgiving unless you are eating turkey and watching the ball game, I want to help someone do that.” Can you imagine? Where’s he going to watch the ballgame? Where’s he going to cook his turkey? Why is he giving away his last $23.00? Because it is better to give than to receive. Because there is something there in our hearts. We’ve been preprogramed to think of the needs of others. We stop being who God created us to be when we become self-consumed like the Pharisees, and so Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. And Herold wasn’t giving until it hurt. No, he gave and as a result there’s this joy that just oozes out of him. Don’t you want some of that? You can have it. I know that so many of you already do. Because you gave it to me. One of the most wonderful things that’s happened since coming here is introducing my two daughters to my 3rd Grade Sunday School teacher. Mrs. Florrie Corley – for years she did that. And then there was Tim Hammond who drove me back and forth to Mexico beginning when I was about 14 years old. This was back when he was about 10 feet tall. He’s still doing it, and there are plenty of people who would like to know why. Why would Jimmy Scarr show up here every Sunday night to feed our youth group? Or these days - what is Mike Velardi doing with an apron around his neck every Wednesday by 1:00 in our church kitchen and why does he stay from then until the last pot is clean? Why does Melissa Ricketts work 60 hours every week and then sit up there with the cameras for two services every Sunday morning? Why? Why? Because it feels good – that’s why. Our Stewardship theme this year came from 2nd Corinthians: “Share abundantly in every blessing,” and I want you to know that I’m not talking about sharing abundantly in every burden. Sharing abundantly in every bill. Or sharing abundantly in every grueling task that it takes to keep this church going – I’m talking about inviting you to share in the blessing of living out your life for a bigger purpose. Thinking of others besides yourself. Knowing the true joy that giving brings. And finding out that when you do – God takes what you offer, and does far more than you could ever imagine. Think about Mike’s pig. Think about how God used Mike’s pig. You see – some would say, “But I’m just a regular guy. Or I’m just a little old lady. Or who am I to be used by God for some great big purpose?” But that’s the strength of our Scripture Lesson for today – we clergy are tempted to think that we know everything and that God can use only us, but again and again experience teaches me that the Church is the sign of God doing miraculous things through you. I remember the first Sunday our Lily got to sit in big church with her friend, McKennon Jones. They were 3 or 4 and I walked in the sanctuary and got up to the pulpit, and McKennon looks to Lily and says, “What’s Joe doing up there?” And Lily says, “I don’t know.” A long time ago I knew that I wanted to give my life to ministry. When I meet my Maker I want to hear, that sure I binge watched the 2nd Season of Stranger Things on TV, but for the most part I used my life to do some good. How much more will that be said of each veteran who stood this morning – they who have given their lives for a higher purpose. Have not they been Good Stewards of their lives, setting an example for us to follow? They were Stewards of our lives, and their example calls us to do the same, because our church today and our world out there – it needs our voice and our example now more than ever – and if you look into your heart you’ll know that you need it too. Take your pledge card – consider your gift – and use your life, your treasure, your time to make this church stronger – to make the witness of this Church louder so that our world in need will hear some good news. Be a Good Steward of Your Life, and Share Abundantly in Every Blessing.