Monday, June 22, 2015

Too big to fail?

1 Samuel 17: 1-11 and 32, OT pages 260-261 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim. Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines, a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Sermon You’ve heard this story before. Everybody has. It’s one of those stories that stands to defy the notion that the church is losing influence in this country, that Biblical illiteracy is running rampant, because there are few more well-known sayings in the English language than, “it was a battle between David and Goliath.” You might have heard it during the NBA finals last week. For the Cleveland Cavilers was LeBron James at 250 pounds, 6 feet and eight inches – that’s nearly “six cubits and a span” according to some Bible Scholar’s conversion charts, and that’s a full five inches taller than the star for the Golden State Warriors, Steph Curry. Assuming that these NBA finals would essentially be a battle between these two basketball stars, NBC couldn’t help but call it a “David and Goliath showdown,” and how else would it be described? Every time there is an underdog the image of “David and Goliath” is evoked by our culture, probably because it is the perfect image to describe a situation where one side has the upper hand when it comes to size and strength. The original Goliath of scripture is a giant of a man. Out he comes from the camp of the Philistine army, down into the valley of Elah, but not only did he stand over 10 feet, in addition to his bronze armor, the tip of the spear that he carried weighed 15 pounds. Our scripture lesson describes the first time he stood before the Israelite army, but he offered this same challenge every day for forty days. Again and again he taunted them saying, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together,” and day after day, when Saul and all Israel heard these words of “the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” Of course, this part of the story that describes the Israelite’s fear is easy to relate to. I played baseball growing up, and while it might come as a shock if you’ve ever witnessed my extraordinary athletic skills during the church softball season, when I was 8 or 9 I almost always sat the bench. The ball just moved too fast, so I’d lean down to scoop up ground balls, but then would close my eyes, or worse, jump out of the way, because I was terrified that the ball would hit me in the face. Standing in the batter’s box was worse. As I did some practice swings it looked like I knew what I was doing, but once I stepped up to the plate, the pitcher would throw the ball – I couldn’t hit it, I could barely stand there long enough for the catcher to catch it. My dad was worried. He bought a bucket of baseballs and he’d take me out to the park to pitch batting practice. Ironically, the only time I actually got his by a pitch was when my dad nailed me out there at the park pitching batting practice. So when that didn’t do any good he started to drive me across town to take private hitting lessons in a batting cage with a specialist. Who knows how much that cost, but even the private lessons didn’t do any good because the problem wasn’t that I didn’t know how hit the ball, the problem was that I was too afraid to swing. It’s Father’s Day today, so it seems appropriate to say that I am very thankful for my dad, who then agreed to coach the team thinking that might help after him pitching at the park and the private lessons didn’t do any good, and I remember it like it was yesterday – he was coaching third base and I was walking into the batter’s box. There were two outs, the game was tied in the last inning, and there was a runner on third. He called me over and he said, “Son, you can do this. In fact, I know that you can do anything you set your mind to. Visualize it and you’ll do it.” It was truly inspiring, but I walked up to the plate and promptly stuck out. That’s right – I struck out – because it’s not his height, his helmet of bronze, his coat of mail, the bronze on his legs, or the javelin slung between his shoulders that’s so dangerous – it’s the fear that he inspires. I was scared of the ball – too scared to believe my father’s words – and that’s the difference between David and me – that’s the difference between David and every troop in the army of the Living God who waited up on the mountain looking down on the valley of Elah – if fear blinds us than the enemy has us right where he wants us – but David, David said, “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” He looked on that giant with the eyes of faith and when he did he saw that this tank of a man had just as many weaknesses as he had strengths. While King Saul tried to give David his armor and helmet David removed them and took his staff in his hand, “chose five smooth stones from wadi and put them in his shepherd’s bag.” His sling was in his hand. When Goliath drew near to David with his shield bearer in front of him, the Philistine “disdained him” and said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks? Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field,” but David said to him, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand.” With that, “David ran quickly toward the battle line, put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.” So you see – David, who had struck down the lion and the bear had all the skills that he needed to strike down the giant – and he struck that giant down because he had faith while everyone else was governed by fear. Fear is the strongest weapon that they have. Danger often demands that we think, and think creatively, but fear stifles our minds, it stall our thinking – all we want to do is huddle in fear. Therefore, facing the enemy first requires that we live in faith freeing our minds from fear. For David, it was the words of his Father in heaven that resounded in his mind, not the words of his fear, but for me, for the disciples in the ship during the raging storm, it was fear and not faith that dominated. So Christ asks us just as he asked those disciples in the midst of the storm, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” There are reasons today for us to be afraid, for today, just sitting in a church pew takes courage. As you know, last Wednesday a young white man sat down for a prayer meeting at Emanuel African-Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, only to stand and open fire. I’m sure he thought as all terrorists think, that his actions would instill so much fear that his agenda of white supremacy would find a foothold, but oh how he underestimated the faithful at Emanuel AME. A man named Denmark Vessey founded that church, and in 1822 he was tried and convicted for organizing a slave revolt. A mob hung him, burned down the church he built, to intimidate that congregation into submission – but still they went to worship, still they rebuilt, still they remained faithful – so do you think a 21 year old white boy is going to shut them down? Dylann Roof is his name, and we know now that his weapon was a gun. It’s a fear inducing thing, a gun, especially in the hands of an angry young man whose mind is rotted out by frustration and hate. And a gun is not so different from bronze armor, a spear with a tip that weighed fifteen pounds, for these things inspire fear. But Goliath has been killed once more on a day like today, for you are here, not mastered by fear, but guided by faith. We have been prepared for a time such as this one. Just as David had been prepared by God to defeat that giant, so our God has prepared us to stand in defiance of that looming monster of racism that has terrified this nation for generations. Fear would keep us silent, but with eyes of faith I want you to know that our enemy is vulnerable. By faith the Goliath of racism will be defeated. That’s why I’m calling on you to join me this Tuesday evening to join the faithful at St. Paul AME where white and black believers will join their hearts in prayer. Fear will tell us to stay home, some will tell us that it won’t do any good, but if we listen than Goliath has done his job well. Faith, on the other hand, can help us see that our enemy is weak. Every friendship that crosses the line between black and white causes the giant of racism to stumble. Every time our community unties the giant becomes weaker. In faith, out of love, in defiance of fear – join me. Amen.

Monday, June 15, 2015

We walk by faith

1 Samuel 15: 34 – 16: 13, OT page 259-260 Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel. The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the hart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of the oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah. Sermon People have expectations. We all do, it’s just a part of living life, so based on experience – based on what we remember from the past or from TV or the stories that we know – we form these expectations that are either re-enforced or called into question by reality. People have expectations about their doctors. I read in a magazine once that doctors should always be mindful of their appearance, and especially they should always wear socks; no one expects much out of a doctor who doesn’t wear socks. People have expectations of children. Some of these expectations of children are too high and kids never get permission to be kids from those adults who keep these strict expectations, but some expectations are too low and so some children learn to run around like Labrador retrievers let off the leash for the very first time – they chew and slobber all over everything in sight. And people have expectations of pastors. Someone will ask me what I do for a living and it’s hard to judge how they’ll react when I tell them, but at least 50% of the time the reaction is the same: “Aren’t you a little young to be a pastor?” Someday people won’t react that way anymore and I’ll miss it, but the reaction is a good illustration of human expectations – in your mind’s eye is the image of a doctor, a child, a pastor – and the doctors, children, and pastors you come across in your lifetime either re-enforce that image or call it into question – so you learn to adapt to reality, though that’s not the case with everybody. For some people the picture in their minds eye, the created expectation is confused with reality, and so some who will rise to greatness are passed over or pushed aside in favor of the one who looks like he will rise to greatness according to a set of preconceived notions – for our world is so mindful of the physical that it forgets about the divine. That’s why as the prophet Samuel goes to the house of Jesse looking for a new king of Israel, the Lord warns Samuel saying, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” You’ve heard stories about mortals judging based on appearance. Steve Jobs was trying to get his start in computers, so as a young man he called around and asked for help from some who had already established themselves in the field. He called on a friend of my mother and father in-law years ago and asked him if he’d like to be a partner in this new company he was starting called Apple Computers. Young Steve Jobs didn’t look like much then, not in the eyes of the world anyway, so this friend of my in-laws, he passed on the deal and has been regretting it ever since. You know stories like this one – and these kind of stories teach all of us an important lesson – be mindful of your expectations. Be mindful of times when you judge by appearance. You are looking for little clues and making judgements based on certain factors but your judgements may mislead you – so the Lord warns Samuel not to choose the son of Jesse who looks the most like a king, the one who looks the part is not necessarily the one who should play it, so while Jesse first brings out the oldest son, the oldest son is rejected. In fact, all the oldest sons are rejected – not one of them is the right one – the right one is the one who is so young that Jesse didn’t even bother calling him in from keeping the sheep. I can imagine him out there. I’m sure you can too, as pictures of young king David have been displayed on the walls of Sunday School Classrooms for generations. He’s out there picking flowers and counting the number of petals on the dandelions. His older brothers were busy practicing with their swords, preparing themselves to do battle with the Philistines or whoever else, and what’s David doing? “She loves me, she loves me not, she loves me, she loves me not.” Eliab and Abinadab ask for a new spear and a new shield for their birthday – but what does David ask for? A harp. It’s true – you know who he is. Out of all of these sons of Jesse, he looks so unlike a king that no one sends for him when the prophet Samuel comes to town. At first, when the neighbors saw him approaching, they thought surely Samuel was bringing some bad news, surely he was coming to town bringing with him divine wrath or governmental taxation, but instead the prophet is coming to town to make a sacrifice he says, so Jesse and his sons go with him, but not one even thinks to call David in from the fields. Do you know what that’s like? Some are invited right away, some are an afterthought so the invitation comes a little later, but then there are a few who aren’t even an afterthought, who aren’t considered at all. Now that is a hard thing. I remember in high school there was this girl I liked. She called me and told me that her father was having a party and at those words I immediately assumed one thing, but then she continued, “My father is having this party and he needs some people to help clean up after, do you think you could help him out?” Some people. Some people get invited as guests. Some people get asked to clean up after the guests – and in the eyes of Jesse and Samuel, in the eyes of the world – there were some sons who looked like king material but there was one who no one even bothered to call in from the field and do you know which one would rise to become the greatest king of Israel? There are some, there are some who everyone always knew would make something great of themselves. They always had the right clothes, the right hair, drove the right car. The newspaper would drop by the school during lunch wanting to take a picture for some special article and the teachers would hand-pick a few of the schools finest students for the picture, call them out from the lunch tables and leave others behind, but don’t you remember the fairy tales? Prince Charming comes to the house looking for his bride – so the step mother tries to clean up her daughters the best she can. Parades them through the formal living room, has one of them play the piano for just a little while, only to find that the one he wants to marry is Cinderella who no one even bothered to call up from the basement. We live in a world where appearance is everything. Where first impressions count. Some are chosen and some are rejected based on how they look – but “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Today we will celebrate communion once again, and we are invited by the one known to the New Testament as the stone that the builders rejected who has become the cornerstone of our faith. Not only was he left out in the field when the prophet came to choose a new king, he was crucified as a criminal. Called an enemy of the state and a heretic by the religious, but we gather around his table today because we know that God does not see as mortals see – and we – we walk by faith and not by sight. Take and eat this bread, drink from his cup – and know that the ways of the world are not the ways of God – for the one who was rejected by the world is the grounds of our salvation. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.” Amen.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Where does my help come from?

Psalm 121 I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. The lord will not let your foot slip – the one who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, the one who watches over Israel will not slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm – the Lord will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Sermon We Presbyterians aren’t always on the cutting edge of technology, we aren’t always utilizing innovation to the fullest – we tend to value timeless things like black robes and dead dark wood rather than blogs, tweets, and Facebook and that’s OK. You know what to expect out of traditions that have stood the test of time – but you don’t always know where technology is going to take you. I do have a blog, however. I use it to post my sermons. You can go to it to read old sermons of mine if you want to. Some years ago I went to this blog site to upload a recent sermon of mine and I noticed that someone had left a comment in a language I didn’t understand – I think maybe it was mandarin. I was surprised at first, but then my high-self-esteem problem kicked in and I began thinking to myself – “people in China reading my sermons… well of course they are! Why should I be surprised at that?” I scrolled across the comment with my mouse absent-mindedly and noticed that there was a link there in the comment, something I was able to click my mouse on. My imagination was starting to get the best of me, and in those few seconds between clicking on the link and the link materializing on my computer screen I was already assuming that the comment went something like, “Dear Reverend Evans. We love your sermons so much we would like to invite you to China to preach at our church. Here is the link to the church website.” So I clicked on the link. I clicked on the link only to find that I had in fact mistranslated this blog comment – rather than this link in mandarin taking me to a church’s website, I clicked on the link, now mind you I was in my office at the church, I clicked on the link and suddenly my computer screen was flooded by pictures of women in bikinis, for apparently someone was using my sermon blog to promote something besides the Gospel. I went looking for one thing – and I found quite another – and often it is the case that you go looking for one thing but you end up finding something else altogether. Our scripture lesson for today day is from the Psalms – and is certainly an occasion of looking for one thing, expecting to find it in one particular place. “I lift up my eyes to the hills,” the psalmist writes, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence commeth my help” the King James says. I like that translation because it seems to say clearly the author’s intent – we go looking to the hills as though the hills were where our help came from. I lift up my eyes to the hills looking for help, as though God lived up on a mountain. This is part of the human condition, I suppose, we know we need something, but we don’t know where to find it. We go looking for God and so we look to the hills. But when we go looking for God in the hills we might just wind up finding something else altogether, quite possibly finding ourselves farther from finding God then when we first began. But it’s not just true for God – we go looking for all kinds of things in places that may take us farther away from what we were looking for in the beginning. We go looking for community, and to some degree or another we find it on facebook. Bored with our lives, we go looking for something to do, and on Farmville we grow virtual corn. And looking for a way to be more connected we attach cell phones to our belts, look at them constantly even though being connected to our work while we are at home prevents us from being connected to our families. We go looking for community, a 2nd chance, a connection – but the places we expect to find these things may in fact take us farther and farther away from the thing that we seek. We lift up our eyes to the hills – but what is up in those hills – and do the hills bring us closer to the help that we need? Our scripture lesson, from the New International Version, says it like this: I life up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from – and here it is clear that the Psalmist doesn’t make a statement, but asks a question because whatever the psalmist was looking for won’t actually be found where the psalmist was hoping to find it, but can be found somewhere else: I life up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from – my help comes from the Lord. We do go looking for community, because we need community, but we will not find it to the degree that we need it on facebook. We do go looking for a chance to start over because we are sinful creatures, but re-inventing yourself on-line won’t change who you are the way true confession, the assurance of God’s grace, and the opportunity to repent and start again will. That’s why this camp and conference center matters. We want to be connected to other people, we need to be connected, but is it any wonder that when we finally turn off our I-phones that we regain the ability to connect to our families and to our God? There is an epidemic, an isolation epidemic in our culture. We are drawn to each other, but human inhibition makes real community, real intimacy, and real encounter with each other and the divine difficult. So we are tempted to go looking for these things in places that offer cheap substitutes – not real community, computer community where I can hold others at arm’s length - not real intimacy, internet intimacy where I gain satisfaction without putting my own feelings on the line – not real gospel then, because where these technological substitutes may well supply us a piece of what we want, we are also drawn farther and farther away from the thing we are trying to find. It’s the same as looking to the hills for help while the real thing meets us face to face. There were two leaving Jerusalem. I don’t know that they were running for the hills, but they were certainly leaving a place where they thought they would find something but didn’t find it there, when they were met along the road by someone they didn’t recognize at first – but in the breaking of the bread their eyes were opened. It is at a place like this camp, places where people look to each other face to face, break bread together, face to face, remove themselves from enough to actually listen – they encounter the divine as they encounter each other. We don’t want to believe it’s that easy, but we don’t need to go looking to the hills, at the table, in the family, where there are two or more gathered together – Christ is there still. So take time today to see him. Amen.

Your sin is blotted out

Romans 8: 12-17, NT page 158 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. Sermon I am thankful to people who drop by newspaper clippings, magazine articles, or books to the church office. When it comes to sermon preparation, inspiration comes from all kinds of places so reading a variety of things really helps. And this week I was inspired by Dear Abby. The title of the article was “Husband’s caring ministry doesn’t extend to his wife,” and the letter from “Reached my limit” went something like this: Dear Abby: I have been married to the same man for 20 years. He likes having people around all the time, and because he is a minister, we often can’t avoid it. I have tried to accommodate his friends and hangers-on, but lately it’s becoming unbearable. He will say “yes” to people who have been evicted, and I find myself sharing living quarters with perfect strangers or church members without prior notice. I have tried over the years to make sense of his attitude toward me (also toward those he’s offered to help). I feel he cares for others and what they think of him more than what I feel or think. When I complain about his latest live-in’s attitude – or when I complaign about anything at all – he brushes every issue aside and basically tells me to be a good Christian. Right now, we have a family of three sharing our three-room house with us and our three boys. I’m thinking of leaving him when the youngest one turns 13. This letter from Dear Abby came to me with a note from Joan Jackson which said, “I was wondering when we could move in with you, and whether or not you and Sara could accommodate our two dogs Mercedes and TJ.” This letter to Dear Abby seeking advice for dealing with a pastor and husband who can’t say “no” has real application to the life of faith, not just to the life of pastors, for going over-board isn’t uncommon, due to the reality that it’s hard for many of us to know when we’ve done enough, when we’ve been enough, when we’re kind and compassionate enough and when we can finally stop trying so hard to prove that we are good. I was fortunate to have lunch with a pastor who works with an organization called Search – if you’re familiar with the ministry called Young Life that’s now active out at Central High School then Search is kind of like Young Life for adults, and a few weeks ago we were discussing this issue – how hard it is to know when we’ve done enough. The goal of both organizations (Young Life and Search) is to reach people who have not grown up in the church. They don’t own buildings or spend too much time talking about the Bible or hymns, the goal is to provide an introduction to Christianity in easy to understand terms for a group of people who have never set foot in a place like this one. And as these people who are unfamiliar with the church, they’ll tell this friend of mine when he asks them about Christianity, they’ll say, “listen, I’m a pretty good person. I work hard, I pay my taxes, and I even give a little bit of my time and money to make a difference in the community. Now maybe I don’t call myself a Christian, but I don’t need to go to church to live a good and moral life.” It’s not a bad argument, but my friend always asks a follow up question to this claim, “So you’re a good person,” he says, “but are you good enough? Are you good enough to make it into heaven?” he asks them. Some people are sure that they are. Michael Bloomberg is one example. The former mayor of New York city is pledging to spend 50 million dollars this year to push gun control, and for this and other deeds (such as taking on obesity and smoking), Bloomberg believes he is going to heaven. He told the New York Times last April, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” Some people are like that. They have so much self confidence that they are ready to walk to the Pearly Gates with a resume of great accomplishments, a legacy of good deals so substantial and outstanding that there will be no need for an interview – but I am not so self-confident – and neither was the Apostle Paul who wrote the words of our second scripture lesson. Before he wrote these words from the book of Romans Paul was a Pharisee, and not just a Pharisee, Paul was a Pharisee’s Pharisee, an elite among the religious elite. He wrote in his letter to the church in Galatia, “I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors;” then in Philippians he wrote that “if anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss.” But why? Why would all this work, all these achievements, all this glory gained by his determination and self-discipline, why would he render all these gains he had as loss? Maybe because he knew the feeling – that empty feeling – that goes away with a victory or two but comes back again and again. Maybe even though his mother and his teachers were telling him that he was by all accounts a good person, he still wondered if he had been good enough. The men and women on the magazine covers know this feeling. People tell them they’re beautiful, but no matter how hard they work they still have some details that need to be airbrushed away. Our small towns empty out with people who rush off to make something of themselves in some place big – as though they weren’t something already. The Pastor works to make something of himself – but how many people must he help? We are like some who sit on stools peeling potatoes as though self-worth depended on how full the fill the bucket. Like women who walk down hallways knowing their value based on how many heads turn. But the pastor ends up alone in a house of strangers. The potato peeler is replaced when his arm goes out. The woman fights a losing battle against a body that ages – so then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die – for the grass withers and the flower fades – and the flesh is dying just the same. I got a haircut last Wednesday. Been depressed ever since. The barber spent five minutes on one side, five on the other, about 30 seconds on the top. He told me there wasn’t anything up there to cut! We work so hard. But the flesh is dying and if we’re not careful we’ll die right along with it. And it has been this way since the beginning. Since human hands tried to construct a tower to the heavens to make their name great – we are always trying to earn by the work of our own hands what our God has always offered to give us freely. No matter how eloquent your words, no matter how bold your deeds, no matter how famous your good works you are still “lost,” like a “man of unclean lips” who lives among “a people of unclean lips” – but it is the power of God, not the power of human goodness, that we are called the children of God. I know why “Reached my limit” wrote to Dear Abby – because even the preachers of the Gospel misunderstand their adoption – even the preachers of the gospel lean on the strength of their flesh to make something of themselves - so hear these words again from the Apostle Paul, “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father! It is that very spirit bearding witness with our spirit that we are children of God. And we are God’s children, not because we’ve let so many people sleep in our houses that our wives and children left us behind, not because our bloodline is so pure and our family so good, not because we look and act perfect, loved and admired by all – but because the God who created this universe claimed us, made us heirs with God “and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” There is suffering involved in our salvation. That part of ourselves that works for glory and admiration must die, and the pain of this death of self and ego is a trial indeed. We are slow to confess and quick to defend our innocence trusting more in our flesh than in the Spirit of God – but salvation comes to those who know that they need it, it is provided to all those who cry out. Life, and life everlasting, is provided, not to the ones who are sure about all the good they have done, but to the ones who know firmly the good that our God has done for them. Amen.