Sunday, August 28, 2016

Let mutual love continue

Scripture Lessons: Jeremiah 2: 4-13, Hebrews 13: 1-8, NT pages 227-228 Sermon Title: Let mutual love continue Preached on 8/28/16 I was reading what some of the scholars say about this 2nd Scripture Lesson from the book of Hebrews and as I was thumbing through a book I came across an old comic strip I stuck in between the pages some time ago. This one was an old Shoe comic. Shoe is the one with the birds: one’s the journalist, the other is his publisher, and the journalist is reading the paper and he looks up to ask, “Do you think artificial intelligence will become common in technology?” The one who is the publisher responded: “I’d prefer human intelligence becoming common in politics.” It may be that Christians, like politicians, forget common sense, forget human intelligence, forget what it is that they are supposed to be doing, so the author of Hebrews reminds us in this last chapter of the book. Here in chapter 13 the author summarizes what he’s been trying to say all along. In the plainest language possible we read exactly what it is that we are supposed to be doing and foremost among the author’s admonition is: “Let mutual love continue.” This section of the book of Hebrews is not unlike what happens at the end of our Cece’s taekwondo lesson. Our youngest daughter Cece started taekwondo this year at the place on Trotwood across the street from Columbia Academy. She loves it, but there’s so many kids in there without their shoes on that the smell of feet has taken me a little while to get used to. But to the point – every lesson ends the same way. The Senior Student, the one who has achieved the most advanced rank in the group, leads the class in reciting the six tenants of taekwondo, the six attributes that every student of taekwondo should embody in their daily life: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit, and victory. So what happens is that at the end of the class all the kids line up, and my little Cece is in the back standing there in her resting stance, and the senior student faces the rest of the class and yells out: “courtesy” – and all the kids repeat, “courtesy.” Then “integrity” she says, and all the other kids say, “integrity.” Then “perseverance” – “perseverance.” “Self-control” – “self-control” “Indomitable spirit” – and the little ones in the back say “indom -mmm - ble spirit.” It’s great. It’s all just great – because what could be better than closing the lesson with the core, the essence, the epitome of what every taekwondo student should be and should be doing? The Cub Scouts do the same: “I promise, to do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, to help other people, and to obey the law of the pack.” I haven’t been in Cub Scouts in 25 years, but I still remember that. The Boy Scouts of course end their meetings with the Scout Oath and Law, every day at McDowell Elementary School begins with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and the McDowell School Pledge. Each of the Columbia Dance Academy recitals begins with the Dancer’s Prayer framing the whole big recital by what it is that Miss Millie’s dancers believe about dance, why they dance and for whom – and we do this – we recite the six tenants of taekwondo, the cub scout promise and the boy scout oath, the pledge of allegiance, the dancer’s prayer – all of these summarize – they clarify – it’s by these kinds of statements that we hope to make our expectations clear – so that we don’t stray. And that’s important, because every group strays. Every group forgets. You’ve heard it said, “I’m on the board at such and such and we meet just to meet.” No one wants to meet just to meet. Cece signs up for taekwondo and the first thing I want to know is when she’s going to karate chop a board in half – but that’s not why they’re there – it’s about integrity, perseverance, self-control, and the indom – mmm - ble spirit.” In the same way, Boy Scouts isn’t about merit badges and getting into a good college once you have your eagle. It’s not supposed to be anyway. And how do you keep a group rooted in its true purpose? You make the true purpose plain and clear again and again – “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” That’s Scouts. But what about Christians? You go out into the world and ask around a little bit and you may hear the opposite of what we intend. You may hear that “A Christian is judgmental, closed minded, self-righteous, fearful, so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good.” Like every group in human history we need to keep coming back to the real purpose, the true essence, of who we are and what we should be doing. Or, to put it in the language of our 1st Scripture Lesson from the book of Jeremiah, we go to broken cisterns that cannot hold water again and again, and must be led back to the fountain of living water again and again. We need this passage in the book of Hebrews to stay rooted in what we should be doing. How we should be living. We must stay rooted in the qualities that we must embody, so the author of Hebrews writes: “Let mutual love continue.” “Let mutual love continue” – don’t let it stop. You’ve been loved by God, saved by his grace, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son” so don’t you accept this love and fail to pass it to your neighbor. Don’t put a fence around it so that you love the members of your family who you like and the members of your church who you know – that’s not letting mutual love continue, that’s showing the world that Christian love is for some and not for others. And if you think it’s bad that some people think taekwondo is about breaking legs and that Boy Scouts is about getting a job once you have your Eagle than be disgusted that the Church has lived in such a way that our world is convinced that love is for some and not for others, that God’s love is for some and not for others, and nothing could be further from the truth. “Let mutual love continue, and do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Don’t you know that’s true? I believe it is because it happens all the time. Just yesterday we were at the Farmer’s Market in Riverside. My wife Sara and our oldest daughter Lily were shopping, Cece and I were waiting by the car in the parking lot, when a black jeep drives up right by us – taking up two parking spaces. That’s right – he parked on the line in the middle, taking up more room than any decent person would think of taking, “but that’s just some people” I think to myself. He gets out of his jeep, nearly trips stepping out of it. “Serves him right,” I think to myself, but he nods to me and I nod to him and wish him good morning whether he deserved it or not (I am a pastor after all). The man is dressed a little different – thick purple frames on his glasses. “I’ve been wanting a jeep my whole life” he says to me, “Finally I got one after my spouse died. That’s who the jeep is named after. I trip getting out of it but I love it.” Then I smile. This time genuinely, feeling a little guilty. As he walks towards the Farmer’s Market he sees me looking at my cell phone and asks, “Do you think there are any Pok√©mon around here?” He was refereeing to this cell phone game where you go around and catch cute little monsters, but I don’t know how to play it and kind of shrug. “It’s something how people go crazy over that game. But me, I’m just looking for Jesus,” he says. “I hope you find him,” I respond. Then he points to his heart, “I already have.” Angels are just wandering around this earth, some of them taking more than one parking space, and while I know that they still surprise me, which is a shame because to proclaim the Gospel with its message of God, who from way up in heaven, bent down to notice little old me, we must take the time to notice each human being we share this town with – because if we go around noticing some and not others, if we go around welcoming the rich and not the poor, entertaining the upstanding and not the sinner, we model the behavior of the Pharisees and not Jesus. So “let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (And) Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” – even though it is so easy to forget every last one of them. They put jails and prisons where they do, way out from the road, near the landfill and under the cover of a hillside so that we won’t have to trouble themselves with the thought of them – but listen to what Hebrews says: “remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them” and “those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (And) let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.” Some reflections of scholar and Episcopal Priest, Gray Temple helped me to understand this part better: “You come to resemble what you admire. People who admire money get green and crinkly. People who admire computers grow user-unfriendly. People who admire youth get juvenile.” And I would add that people who can’t stop looking will never know satisfaction. On the other hand, “People who actively and deliberately admire Jesus Christ come to resemble him” and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Isn’t that the point of this whole lesson in Hebrews? And maybe that’s the point of our entire religion – that Jesus’ life is to be mirrored in you and me. May it always be so. Amen.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Our God is a consuming fire

Scripture Lessons: Jeremiah 1: 4-10 and Hebrews 12: 18-29 Sermon Title: Our God is a consuming fire Preached on August 21, 2016 I was standing by the door that most of you entered the church through – the door on High Street. It was last Wednesday morning and Diane Maloney, our youth director walked in. You may know already that in addition to serving our church as our youth director Diane is a seminary student and so she walked in carrying one of her text books: “The Story of Christianity” by Justo Gonzalez volume 1. This is a two volume work that was also my text book in seminary for church history, and the book, being a history of Christianity, begins with Jesus of course, and volume 1 ends with what we Protestants call the Great Reformation of the 15th Century, when Martin Luther initiated a schism that separated the protestant denominations from the Roman Catholic Church. Mrs. Carolyn Fisher was standing at the door with me when Diane walked in, and she suggested that volume two must get us from the reformation to today – “which is chaos.” The Church does find herself in a strange situation these days. Here in Columbia, TN, whereas many can remember Sunday mornings as a sacred time when nothing was open and everyone seemed to be in church, today you can leave this service to see that for many people the Sabbath is just another day. Run over to the Kroger Supermarket and there you’ll see men and women who have been hard at work since 7 or 8 this morning. Used to this pattern of doing business with groceries stories open on Sunday, some of you may be working on your grocery lists now, but this has not always been so. Today our Christianity exists within a culture which is not so friendly to the rhythms of the Church anymore, but not only does our church today exist in a culture no longer so friendly to her schedule, we have heard the reports of numerous shootings which targeted Christians, we have heard of the persecution of Christians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, the Sudan – news stories from places where oppressive but secular leaders have been deposed, and in the power vacuum that was left, terrorists have risen up to oppress our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as moderate Muslims and other religions minorities. So, Mrs. Fisher is right - volume 2 of “The Story of Christianity” gets us from the reformation to today – “which is chaos,” but if you read the book Diane was carrying you’ll come to learn that for most of Christian History, chaos has been the norm and not the exception. Now not everybody thinks like this, not every preacher knows all the stories of our past, and I’m sure that you could walk out of this church to easily find a preacher who would tell you that the history of the Church is pretty much this: Jesus was born, and after a few years of walking the countryside speaking the King James English, some scribes who were following him dictated what he said into the four gospels, and now we can tell his story just as he would have wanted it to be told. Then there are other preachers who will tell you that church history is a little more complicated than that - because pretty much what happened is that in the past 2,000 years since Jesus got things started, he had to suffer through all kinds of incompetence until our church came along to finally got Christianity right. I’m not sure I’d buy that one either, because even in the Bible we read that even within the 12 Disciples, that even within that small group there were arguments and disagreements. Then we go beyond Jesus about 500 years and we come to Marcion – who was so sure that the God of the New Testament was a gentle and loving God compared to the God of the Old Testament that he encouraged his followers to just leave the Old Testament to the past. This widespread belief sparked one of the many great debates in the history of our church. Another learned Christian Leader named Tertullian came forward to take the opposing view convinced that the God in the New Testament is not just the same as the God of the Old Testament, but that if you think the God of the Old Testament is harsh than you haven’t really gotten to know the God of the New Testament. Think about it – Moses said “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” but Jesus said, “anyone who so much as thinks about it has committed adultery in their heart,” and in Jeremiah (our 1st Scripture Lesson from the Old Testament), God calls the young prophet to: “Pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow and in Hebrews (our 2nd Lesson from the New Testament) God is described first as an earthquake and then a consuming fire. These are both images that I don’t really like, but both images describe a God who I need. Let me tell you what I mean. I was thankful to have had to opportunity to attend a leadership conference week before last, and at this conference a man named John Maxwell – this big time famous preacher – he took his arm and with one arm he pointed up-hill and he said, “we all have up-hill aspirations,” and then he took his other arm and pointed it down-hill and said, “but we have down-hill habits.” Knowing this to be the case, the author of Hebrews challenges a church lulled to sleep by the habits of daily living. In chapter 12 the author writes that “indeed our God is a consuming fire,” and like the God of the Old Testament, the God who revealed himself to the prophet Jeremiah, this God came like a wrecking ball to pluck up, pull down, destroy and overthrow – and in Hebrews we read that like a consuming fire our God intends to consume what is not holy and like an earthquake our God will shake up our world so that only those things that cannot be shaken will remain. Now that may sound a little harsh…because it is. It is harsh but it’s also true, so hear this massage from the book of Hebrews: God is at work even when the world feels like chaos. Think about it. Some people call babies little bundles of joy, but I don’t. I think of baptisms that were like trying to baptize a racoon. I think about all this free time that I used to have. Years ago, before we had children, I’d wake up on my day off to watch a movie. Every Friday I’d wake up and would watch a movie and now I can’t remember the last time I saw one. My experience of our growing family has been a lot like that State Farm Insurance commercial – the one with the man who says he’s never getting married in one scene, and in the next he’s buying a wedding ring. Then he tells his wife in an airplane surrounded by crying babies that they’re never having kids, and in the next scene his wife is delivering their first child. As he cleans a crayon drawing off the wall of their house he says, “we’re never having another kid,” to which his wife responds: “I’m pregnant.” The commercial ends with this man who made all these declarations about what he was never going to do, but on the couch surrounded by his wife and children he voices one last never: “I’m never letting go.” “I’m never letting go” to all these changes in my life that I didn’t expect and that I was resistant to, all this chaos that wreaked my free time, forced me to let go of my hobbies – the man who sold his motorcycle because he never had time to ride it to buy a mini-van; who hung up his basketball shoes to become a soccer coach – and like that man and every other one, each time I think about all the chaos that our children brought into my life I thank God and I say – “I’m never letting go” because the challenges in my life have been gifts. The trials of my life have made me stronger. The chaos in my life forced me to choose what I would let go of and what I would hold onto and doing so has made me who I am today. That’s the gift of the earthquake, the fire of life, and I’m not saying that we ask for this kind of chaos – because we don’t. In fact, every Sunday during the Lord’s Prayer we pray that the Lord will deliver us from temptation, that God will save us from the time of trial – we pray that we won’t be tested and that we won’t have to face the storm for while our God is a consuming fire I don’t have anything that I really want to see get consumed. I’d rather live an easy life. I’d rather live a safe life. I’d rather live the kind of life where everyone around me believes what I believe and has the values that I have and teaches those values to my children. Out of such a desire we have many parents here who send their children to one of the fine Christian Schools in our county – only once there, some find that they’re not exactly our kind of Christian. So what happens then? Well let me tell you what has happened and what I hope will happen again and again. Our own Molly Grace Demoss was at a pool party with all her friends, telling them how much she enjoyed the High School Mission trip to New York City our High School youth group just went on when her friend’s dad comes out and he declares: “Oh that’s right Molly Grace. You go to that weird church downtown.” Who would describe us as that weird church downtown? Well, regardless, Molly Grace looked this man in the eye and said: “Yes I do – (yes I do go to that weird church downtown) and my mama is about to become a deacon.” Now listen – we 21st Century Christians who are writing our chapter of the history of Christ’s Church are called to go out into a world where people may very well think that we are weird. The chaos of this current age rages all around us – it’s not easy going out there – so the temptation will always be to fit in or to give up but don’t you forget this – take it to heart and hold it close – even this chaos will advance God’s will. Even this chaos will make you stronger. Even this chaos with all that it tears down, consumes, or destroys – it will help you to have the faith that our Molly Grace has – the faith to tell the world that “yes I do go to that weird church and yes my mama is a deacon.” Yes – I do follow that man named Jesus. Yes – I believe that my sins have been forgiven. Yes – I rejoice, even in my suffering. Yes – I’m faithful. Yes – I’m hopeful. Yes – I am his and he is mine. Amen.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

So great a cloud of witnesses

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 5: 1-7 and Hebrews 11: 19 – 12: 2, NT page 226 Sermon Title: So great a cloud of witnesses Preached on 8/14/16 It’s important to have a church website these days. I want to claim that a person is infinitely more likely to try a new church if they’ve been personally invited by a neighbor or a friend, but many people today who have moved or are moving to a new area will look around for where they might like to go to church by first visiting church websites. For mainly that reason we update our church website from time to time. About three years ago we completely changed it, and we’re thinking about updating it again and in the course of updating our website I got some free advice from Katie Baker who is a website designer and one of the women behind “Off the Duck”, which is a good resource if you want to know what’s going on in the Maury County social scene. Katie told me that the pastor should have as little to do with the church’s website as possible because pastors never want to put on the website the stuff that people actually want to know. What the pastor wants to put on the website is “what we believe”: a statement of faith, a creed, a mission statement, but Katie Baker told me, and I’ve asked around a little bit and 100% of people agree with her that what someone really wants to know from a church website in preparation for attending a church for the first time is, “if I’m going to go, what should I wear?” What should I wear? That makes sense to me, because I hate to be the guy who shows up in shorts and a t-shirt when every man has on slacks and a jacket, just as much as I hate being the guy who shows up in a suit and tie when every other man has on shorts and a t-shirt. A good expression that Rev. Russ Adcox is fond of saying – he’s the pastor out at Maury Hills Church of Christ – is “don’t be a small town boy with a big city haircut,” and I say don’t too – don’t be a small town boy with a big city haircut, because you won’t fit in. That’s what I want to talk about this morning. Fitting in. Every teacher believes that the purpose of school is education but every student knows that the purpose of school is social – making friends, building relationships, fitting in – so mom takes young Joe Evans to the mall to buy shoes and he picks out these bright orange Nike’s that the tennis star Andrea Agassi wears and that cost $100 a pair and mom says, “But Joe, you don’t even play tennis,” as though tennis were the purpose of $100 tennis shoes. As though the lawn that we treat with chemicals and pay a company to maintain had something to do with picnics or walking around in bare feet – no – the goal of the lawn is the same as the shoes: fitting in. Do I have the right shoes, the right clothes, will the neighbors talk about me if I don’t cut the grass (and yes they will) – these questions point to the big question that we all ask far too much, “Will I fit in?” and this is a question that we ask at school, at church, in our neighborhoods, and we go on believing the words to that song Sophia the 1st sings: that “At the perfect slumber party, everybody’s got to fit in,” and if you don’t know Sophia the 1st you need only know that her wisdom broadcast on the Disney Channel is a wisdom that surpasses all understanding. That’s probably because her head is so big. It’s true. If you’ve seen the show than you know they draw the princesses on this show with big heads and tiny bodies. These saucer size eyes and micro feet setting the bar for feminine body type at the level impossible to attain before these young girls watching even know it and we as parents let our daughters watch the show because every other parent lets their daughters watch the show and we want to fit in and we want our daughters to fit in. We all want to fit in, but is that always a good idea? I think of this issue all the time. As children grow they want to play travel soccer or travel baseball or travel gymnastics – the coach says it’s OK, the rest of the team is all OK – but is being gone all weekend so a 12-year-old can play soccer only going to church when there’s nothing else going on sending the right message to our children? We all want to fit in, but is that always good idea? And more to the focus of our 2nd Scripture Lesson – we all want to fit in, but have Christians ever really fit in? Our 2nd Scripture Lesson is the Hall of Fame of faith – the great cloud of witnesses who watch us from heaven cheering us on as we run the race that is set before us. There’s Moses – whose parents would not conform to the model all their neighbors had surrendered to. The rule of Pharaoh said that all male babies must die, but rather than fit in, (and risking their lives in the process) they raised Moses in secret. Then there’s the great mass of Hebrew people who marched around the city of Jericho until the walls fell down. Surely popular belief said that walls don’t fall down just because people march around them blowing horns, but rather than adopt popular belief – rather than fit in according to what everyone else was thinking – they marched and the walls fell down. Then there were others who were mocked, others flogged or stoned, some were even sawn in two. They were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats destitute, tormented – and not a single one of them ever fit in. Not a single one of them ever fit in because, as the author of Hebrew’s writes: “the world was not worthy of them.” Now there’s a powerful statement, which leads to the question – is the world worthy of you? Is the world worthy of me? What each name on the list from our 2nd Scripture Lesson has in common is that none of them fit in – that is, none of them fit in on the earth, because they weren’t trying to fit in on the earth – they were trying to fit in to the Kingdom of Heaven. Certainly they were tempted to worry most about what they’re neighbors thought, what their children’s friend’s parents thought, what their mother thought about her baby boy or baby girl – but what became most important to those of the great cloud of witnesses was – what would Jesus think? But as for me - I spend time wondering what everyone thinks of me - not just what Jesus thinks. It’s true. The food comes out at a restaurant (and this happened just last Thursday) I ordered a BLT and it came out with no tomato. A BLT with no tomato. There was my BL with no T and still I had to muster all this courage to ask the waitress for my tomato because I’m so scared to cause a stink. What if the waitress thinks I’m a jerk? What if the friends I’m eating with think I’m too demanding? I don’t want to cause a stink – I just want to fit in. You feel that. Imagine you’re a man hanging out with a group of guys and one makes a demeaning joke about women – and who laughs? I’ll tell you who laughs – two kinds of people laugh at demeaning and racist jokes – those who are themselves sexists or racist and those who just want to fit in, and while I know that these two kinds of people are different, anyone looking in from the outside can’t tell them apart. How many here have had a job where the culture of the place is to do as little as possible – and the temptation is for you to adopt the same pattern – no one wants to be the one who makes everyone else look bad, but do you really want to be everyone else? Were you created to be everyone else? Did Christ die on the cross for you so that you could just be everyone else? No. So here’s a good question – how badly do you want to fit in? Do you want to fit in so badly that you would you would rather fit in here and now at the risk of not fitting in to the Kingdom that is coming? Do you want to fit in so badly that you would rather be known as a citizen of the 21st Century on planet earth than a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven? Do you want to fit in so badly that you would drag your feet by accepting language that demeans and discriminates, accepting behavior that perpetuates broken systems, would you rather drag your feet holding on to the parts of the past that need to be left in the past or would you rather run the race that we have to run straight into the future that our Lord Jesus Christ has brought us? I am proud to have known some of the members of this great cloud of witnesses – those who live on earth but who aren’t at home here because their home is in the Kingdom of Heaven – but I’ve known so many others who are obsessed with being residents of the 21st Century, so they own the products of this current age, their look is up to date and their behavior is based on what they see on television and what is accepted as normal but I tell you - we can’t look like the world around us anymore, because this isn’t our home. We can’t live like those who are all around us because we are called to something different. We can’t accept what everyone calls normal – because our normal is defined by God and not by the whims of a broken culture. And we can’t dare despair for all around us is the cheering of that great cloud of witnesses encouraging us as we model to the world something different. Amen.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Strangers and foreigners on the earth

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 1: 1, 10-20 and Hebrews 11: 1-3 and 8-16, NT pages 225-226 Sermon Title: Strangers and foreigners on the earth Preached on August 7,2016 Last winter, Tom Long, former professor of preaching at Emory’s Candler School of Theology, came to speak here at our church. He is thought by many to be one of the strongest preachers in the English language, but interestingly, in recent years his books have not been focused on preaching in general, but specifically at funerals. It is morbid to read a book on funerals, but the funeral is something that every pastor wants to do well, and rarely has a book come along to give any kind of instruction on the subject. In one chapter on preaching at a funeral Long gives the following advice: The indispensability of shouting out the good news at a funeral gets highlighted when we realize that there are actually two preachers at every funeral. Death – capital D Death – loves to preach and never misses a funeral. Death’s sermon is powerful and always the same: “I win every time. I destroy all loving relationships. I shatter all community. I dash all hope. I have claimed another victim. Look at the corpse; look at the open grave. There is your evidence. I always win! If Death is preaching at the funeral then the congregation must choose who to listen to, as both preachers there try to tell them how to respond to what they see. Death’s sermon is all fear and darkness, shadow and hopelessness. And then there’s the pastor who struggles to say something that inspires some hope, and the pastor’s message is based in the promises of God in Scripture – he or she will charge the congregation to have faith and to believe that beyond death there is new life. Of course, maybe the pastor is a little bit hesitant. Maybe he can’t quite say it like he means it. Maybe she gets all caught up in the sadness of the moment, maybe the congregation, hearing both the sermon from Death and the sermon from the pastor can’t be quite sure who it is that’s right – and judging from the reality presented, the closed coffin, the dug grave, despite the flowers it would seem as though it were Death who had the final word, but truly we always have a choice in how we understand – and the power to choose what death or anything else means – that is a choice that must not be taken lightly. There are always two preachers telling you what to believe, and fear frames reality in one way while faith frames it in another. Let me tell you what I mean. I once saw a framed copy of a wanted poster for Billy the Kid in a Mexican restaurant and learned that this cold blooded killer was 5 foot 7, 125 lbs, and 18 years old. Now I haven’t seen 125 lbs. since 6th or 7th grade. And it was about that time that I had to run away from a girl named Tawanna Hayes who came after me with her umbrella. I wasn’t intimidating her or anyone else with my 125 lbs. but Billy the Kid was, and it’s important to think about why. A 5 foot 7, 125 lbs. teenager is one thing on his own – but he’s something else altogether if every wanted poster and newspaper is telling you he’s a killer for the whole world can be chilled to the core by what we would normally not take a second look at if Death’s in the pulpit telling you how to see and believe. Just like the coffin or the grave – there are so many things in life that inspire our fear but don’t have to for there are always two preachers at the funeral – we always have an option in understanding what the high points or the low points in life mean. Don’t forget that there is another voice, and sometimes it’s the voice of Jesus who again and again says: “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid,” Christ said. Again and again: “Do not be afraid.” Then there’s the 11th chapter of Hebrews which we have just read: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And Abraham, according to our 2nd Scripture Lesson it is Abraham’s faith that defines him – By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, but he lived as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. [While] he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” According to this description it seems that Abraham, this great hero of our Old Testament, was looking forward to something he had no assurance of – he was looking forward to a city while he lived in a tent. He was looking forward to so many descendants that they would outnumber the stars in the sky or the grains of sand by the seashore while, according to Hebrews he was “as good as dead.” So his wife Sarah laughed when God told her she would bare a son, but there are always two preachers: Death is on one side, faith on the other. Skepticism is on one side and optimism is on the other. Fear is on one side, hope on the other. So Abraham could have looked at that tent and thought to himself – this is as good as it’s going to get – he could have looked in the mirror and in taking in his wrinkles and gray hair been sure that he would never have children – convinced of what he could see he could have forgotten about that promise from God sure that God must not have known what God was talking about, but faith – faith - is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not see – and according to what was promised that he could not yet see he left his homeland, called to set out for a place guided by the Word of God. Faith. This is faith. And faithful Abraham like so many others – died in faith without having received the promises – but from a distance they saw. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth – for people who speak of faith, who see what isn’t there – they make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. That they desire a better country – and that they are bold enough to move from where they are to where they might be. It reminds me so much of those old Presbyterians, who packed their bags in South Carolina, filled their wagons, and planted corn here in Middle Tennessee based on the promise of corn stocks seven feet tall. A preacher named Gideon Blackburn founded this church back in those days – as well as that great big Presbyterian Church up in Nashville, which after four years had grown to 45 members, two or three of them were men. Now that was the church in Nashville, and some say that things are bigger and better in Nashville and if that’s the case than if they had 45 members in Nashville back then how many did they have here in 1818? Now did any of those who were here in 1818 know that 200 years later this would be here? Could they have imagined that the little congregation they assembled in Columbia, Tennessee would become this church? This church - with our organ and our choir and our nursery and our stain glass windows and our ministry to this community – could they have imagined this? Certainly not if they had been listening to the one preacher who goes on and on about how no one goes to church anymore or how young people don’t have any time these days. Certainly if all those old South Carolina Presbyterians would have listened to the preacher whose sermon is all fear and death than they would have stayed right where they were. And in the same way - if these new officers that we will ordain and install today – if any of them had been listening to that one preacher whose word is all nostalgia for the good old days and despair for tomorrow – if any of them had bought into the gospel of hopelessness and decline than when the Nominating Committee made their call they would have hung up before the request to consider serving as an elder or deacon had even made it out of their mouths. But they didn’t. And we shouldn’t either, for this preacher Death is one voice but there is another. We hear the words of that Great High Priest who calls us to run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to him – the pioneer and perfector of our faith. So we need not heed death – because we know the story of the Holy Son of God who was laid down to die only to rise again on the third day. We have heard the example of Father Abraham – who was beyond his years but could see into the future, and knew that God was not done with him yet. What we see now was made from things that were once not visible – and as we step into tomorrow we need only trust the promises of the one who brought life into of all our yesterdays. Like strangers and foreigners on this earth, let us all look forward to that city that has foundations – whose architect and builder is God. By faith and not by sight let us march into the future trusting that our greatest days are yet to come. Amen.