A Eulogy for Karl

My friend died.  We had been the closest of friends since we were 12 years old. His name was Karl. He was one of the brightest people I have ever known. He was a musical genius.  I was the best man at his wedding. I feel a sadness that he is gone too soon.

We came of age together. We drank before we were old enough. He used to drink in the backyard. We would cough when we opened our cans of beer so that his mother wouldn’t hear us. I suspect she knew what we are up to anyway.  We lied about what we thought we knew about girls.  We slept over many nights. In the summer we would camp out in his backyard or mine. That’s when we did most of our serious talking about life and dreams and love.

Sometimes we would “late date”our girl friends, then meet at a tavern for a few beers before turning in. Karl only ever loved one woman. He was totally devoted to her no matter what. We got into more trouble than we should have.

We laughed; a lot. We laughed at Chiller Theater and Monty Python and Woody Allen books.

Karl loved his family. He worked at a job that was not really fulfilling for 30 years to support them.

He enjoyed fishing and camping and the Pirates and the Steelers. He loved jazz and good books. He was an interesting guy. And I loved him. I am pretty sure I never told him that. I would have had to surrender my man card to say the words out loud. Maybe we didn’t have to say it. Maybe we just knew.

When he told me he had liver cancer I did not know what to say. No clever pastoral lines came to me. I think I just said, “shit.” It was Karl who talked about a solid faith from which he had never strayed. He served his church faithfully and put his musical ability to work there. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s in God’s hands now.” He was ministering to me. Now he is in God’s hands and for him all is well.

When the call came, I sat and had a good cry. Then i opened a can of Iron City Beer as I coughed. I said, “Here’s to you and the good life you lived. Thanks for being the best friend I ever had. I love you buddy.” I hope he could hear me.

Two quotes and a funny story

The quote  is from President Jimmy  Carter. He said, “If you don’t want your tax dollars spent to help the poor, then you don’t want  America to be a Christian nation.”

The second one is from James Forbes.  “No one gets into heaven without a reference letter from the poor.”

JOKE OF THE DAY

An atheist lived next to a woman who was faithful, but poor.  With windows open, he would hear her pray, “O Lord, please bring me some food.” Night after night it was the same thing. So one day he decided to trick her. He went to the store and bought several bags of groceries. He put them on her door step and hid in the bushes. When she came to the door and saw the groceries she cried out, “O thank you Lord. I KNEW you would not forsake me.” Just then the confirmed atheist jumped out and said, “Ah ha!, God didn’t give you these groceries, I DID!”  There is no God and your prayers didn’t do anything.” The woman paused and then cried out in a loud voice, “O God you are so good. Not only did you bring me some groceries, but you made the devil pay for them!”

A sermon from Hebrews

I made a resolution to lose 30 pounds this year. I only have 40 more to go.

Here is a sermon about the believers who have gone before us and now encourage us to run the race of a faithful life.

RUNNING IN THE CLOUD

HEBREWS 12: 1, 2

AUGUST 18, 2013.

RUNNING WITH PERSEVERANCE

A.Two men are walking in the woods when they come upon a grizzly bear. One man starts to put on his running shoes saying, “That bear is going to eat one of us.” The other says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear.” And the first man says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear.” (Running Shoes) The writer of Hebrews uses the image of running a race to talk about the experience of faith. I’m not sure what kind of race she is referring to in this case.  It seems like it must be a marathon because the word perseverance is used. I’ve talked to some people who run marathons.  I asked them if they ever wanted to quit in the middle of a race. One man said, “All the time.”

B. So then I asked, “What keeps you going?” What is the motivation for running over 26 miles? I get tired driving 26 miles.  What is the motivation for persevering through the grueling painful experience of running that far? The Kenyans are known for being great marathon runners.  When asked what made them so good at it, one said it was the road signs at home.  “What kind of road signs?” “The ones that say Beware of Lions.”

C. The motivation to keep going in a long race is varied. Some run for health Others for the endorphin high they experience. Still others only run to avoid danger. There are not too many beware of lions signs here. Or they run to avoid inconvenience. If I don’t make that train I will have to wait another hour for the next one. One man said that one of the things that keeps him going is the crowd that cheers him on; that and the vision of the finish line when they will say well done.

II. CLOUD

A.Ann read the scripture that tells about the faithfulness and bravery and perseverance of Gods people who went before. And then in Chapter 12 it says THEREFORE!  Because of what the writer calls the cloud of witnesses, we are encouraged to run with perseverance the race of a lifetime of faith.  That’s a helpful image for me. Anyone who has ever tried to remain consistent and persevere through tough times will understand that it is not easy. For me, knowing that the ones who have run the race before me are now cheering me on is crucial.

B. Anyone involved in sports will tell you that a crowd cheering for you is a significant boost. They call it home field advantage. In football they call it the 12th man. It makes a difference. Who can help being motivated and energized when a group of people are cheering you on and encouraging you to persevere?

C.And so Hebrews has spent a lot of time telling us about the heroes of faith. The list starts with the Old Testament characters who demonstrated faithfulness to God. Then it tells us about the martyrs who died horrible deaths rather than quit the race of faith. But when you take a closer look at the list you realize that all of the “heroes” were flawed Abraham lied about being married to Sarah to save his own skin and cast Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert to die. Jacob was a habitual liar. Moses murdered a guy. Sampson was an incurable skirt chaser. Jepthah killed his own daughter to keep a silly oath. David was an adulterer. You get the point. These were not perfect people. That’s not why the writer holds them up as part of the cloud of witnesses. It was that they remained faithful to the end. And they know how hard it is for us imperfect people to keep going and not quit the faith race.

D. But there is another part of the cloud of witnesses that are more personal for us. That part of the cloud is made up of those people that we have known who have kept the faith and are now in the stands cheering us on. They are people like Charlie and Swiss and Terry and Mary and Susan. They are the pastors who have served faithfully throughout the years. My dad is my biggest fan. And Mrs. Sye and Mrs. Meeder and Mr. Meckey and Mrs. Sanders and Rev. Meanor are all season ticket holders. I’m sure you have your own list. Nobody can fully understand that cloud of witnesses the communion of saints until someone that they have loved is in heaven. They cheer us on and offer us encouragement because they have run this race before us. They know how hard it is. It is amazing to run the race of faith in that cloud.

III. PAST IS PRELUDE

A. But there is a little twist to the cloud of witnesses. We need them to show the way and to cheer us on. But they need us too. You see it matters to them how we run the race. Hebrews says that they are perfected in our life of faith.  You might call it a A man builds up a business from nothing. His son then takes over the business. And it matters a great deal to the father that the son is successful, even when he is gone. That same sense of legacy exists for the faithful ones who are gone

.B.They are cheering for us out of love for us. But they also have a vested interest in us persevering in our race. Do you remember the scene in Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi when the Emperor has been killed by Darth Vader to save his son Luke? Vader, who had been the ultimate villain, has repented of his involvement in the dark side because of the love that he has seen in his son. And now Vader lay dying. Luke tries to help him up and says, “I have to save you.” And Vader says, “You already have.” Maybe the image of marathon is blended here with the image of a relay race. One generation passes the baton to the next and the race goes on. The one who runs the first leg does not win until the anchor man finishes his race.

C. Those Old Testament characters never saw the salvation that we have seen. But they believed in it through faith and watched and cheered with great interest because that faith is perfected in what they see in us. Our loved ones and past faithful members of our church have lived out that salvation. But it is not complete without them knowing that we have carried on that

IV. THE PIONEER

A.Running the race of faith with perseverance is everything that church is   Bible study is being in touch with the promise that the ones who have died are still with us. Mission is what we are doing that lets them know that we are still running the race and not quitting. Christian education is passing the story on to the ones who will be running the race when we are part of the cloud of witnesses. Prayer is the fuel that gives us perseverance.

B. And worship is our acknowledgement that we have a pioneer that leads the way. Jesus was the only one to run the race perfectly. He is our model. He endured even the shameful death of crucifixion and still he kept the faith. He kept his eyes on the prize. And that is what we are called to do when the race gets tough, when spiritual muscles cramp; when our commitment lungs burn and our flawed feet beg us to quit. We keep that vision of the finish line in our hearts. We hear that crowd cheering for us. KEEP GOING. YOU ARE DOING GREAT.  KEEP RUNNING

.C.Then we know what it means to lay aside the weight of sin that makes it so much harder to run the race. And not just personal failures, but also the corporate sin and the sin of passive indifference to suffering that builds structures that make it hard for anyone to run the race of faithfulness. Jesus is the one who leads us to something better.   I gathered a group of kids for a children’s sermon once and said, “We are going to play follow the Go!” They didn’t do anything. Finally one child said, “We can’t play that game unless we have a leader.” Well, we have a leader who is running and inviting us to follow. Are you ready? (Put on Running Shoes)

So you are one of those Christians?

i met a man at the community College once. He found out I was a minister. He said with some disdain in his voice, “So  you’re one of those Christians?”

I knew immediately what he was asking. He equated Christianity with those who are narrow-minded, bigoted,politically conservative, anti gay, anti science, closed minded people who have checked their brains at the door of their belief systems. To him  that was the only kind of Christian there was.

Well I’m not one of those kind of Christians. I have sometimes thought about trying to be called something else; like a follower of Jesus.  I am ashamed of being classified as one of those described above.

But I don’t want to be exclusive. Even if some of those Christians are. We are all Christians. I just want let the world know that I am not narrow minded, bigoted, politically conservative, anti gay, anti science, and pro gun. But I am a Christian.  And from my way of looking at it, my views are closer to the views that Jesus professed than the other kind.

Still, I don’t want to exclude them because of a difference of beliefs. I will simply pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead us all into all truth. That means I will stay open to change and hope that the other variety of Christians will do the same. Whether you are one of “those” Christians or some other kind, we are all doing our best to follow Jesus.

In the mean time, please don’t lump us all into one category.

JOKE OF THE DAY

On our 27th anniversary I thought of a joke about a couple who had been married 60 years. They were in pretty good shape except that their hearing was almost gone. At the party, the husband stood and raised his glass toward his bride and said, ‘After 60 years you are tried and true.” To which his wife responded by standing and saying to her husband, “And after 60 years, I am tired of you too!”

I’m not tired of Prudy. I have a hard time  understanding how she is not tired of me.

Random thoughts

The picture at the top of my blog was taken by my wife from the top of Mauna  Kea on big island of Hawaii.   You can see the top of Mauna Loa jutting out over the top of the clouds.

I like to think of it as a visual parable of theology. We can study our whole lives and never know most of the truth. Our clearest concept of God is still clouded in mystery.

It is still important for us to study and think and pray about things spiritual. But I have to remind myself once in a while that I will never know the whole story or see the whole picture in thins life. And I am OK with that. In fact, I am glad that there is still mystery. We have been shown what we need to know by a loving God who does not expect us to see the totality of God or God’s truth.

it’s another reason for righteous anger at those who claim to know the whole truth of God enough to kill people who disagree with them. I think if God were to send just one message today it would be, “STOP KILLING PEOPLE; ESPECIALLY KILLING THEM IN MY NAME! JUST STOP IT.” This includes ISIS and the KKK and the kid who murdered people in Charleston and anybody who believes that hate is a good motive for anything; especially the taking of another human life.

Since none of us can see the whole mountain clearly, we need to live out our faith and let our neighbor do the same with t heir faith or even their lack of faith. God will sort it all out someday. We don’t have to.

ANOTHER RANDOM THOUGHT

Moving is a giant pain. In the past we would have friends gather and help us load and unload a rented truck. for the price of pizza and beer and the promise to help them move when they needed us. Then the churches would pay for professional movers. But now it’s all us. And our friends are all like us; too old and decrepit to be lifting heavy things.

It feels like wilderness time. The boxes and mess around us and the pictures off the walls make it feel like wilderness time.

To make it ever worse, my back pain is severe and persistent. Surgery will take place as soon as we relocate. So Prudy has had to do most of the packing herself.  We have paid crews who will load and unload the truck. That helps.

But if you think about it, say a little prayer for us until we are once again home.

JOKE OF THE DAY

A minister was visiting a farmer. He came up behind the farmer just as he started a vicious segment of foul language.  Then he saw the preacher and he said, “Sorry Reverend. I cuss a little and you pray a little and God knows neither of us means anything by it.”

movies as parables

I’m a big movie fan.  I generally like all genres of film except the ones that are about blowing stuff up and wrecking cars and shooting people. I’m not against having some of that in the movie, but there are too many movies like that that have no substance.

Turner Classic Movies are great because they didn’t have the special effects to hide behind. So there had to be a story.

I also like movies that have a meaning that may not be immediately detected.  I have found that movies can be great illustrations for sermons if you are looking for lessons in what are otherwise “secular” movies. Here are two short examples:

THE WIZARD OF OZ.

This beloved children’s classic was MGM’s attempt to compete with the success that Disney was having with films for children. But the story by Frank Baum is deceptive.  Her are a few scenes to think about.

The Wizard, powerful and mysterious is a symbol for God. But when Toto pulls back the curtain, the Wiz is a common man who got lost and establish power over a city with smoke and trickery. He has no power beyond the people’s false belief that he is all wise and all powerful.

When he gives out the gifts to the pilgrims who have risked much to see him, he really does not give them anything that they didn’t already have. ( See the song, “Tin Man” by America)  All of the things that they desired, wisdom, compassion and courage were already theirs. They only needed to discover those “gifts.”

I don’t want to ruin the movie that generations of children have enjoyed. It can still be viewed as a children’s classic. All kinds see are witches and flying monkeys and a happy ending. But if you look a little deeper, you see a manifesto for humanism. God is a fake perpetrated by people’s fears. And everything good in the world is to be discovered within with no need for a god.

GRAN TORINO

This movie is about a grumpy bigoted old widower played by Clint Eastwood. He hates the fact that his neighborhood is now populated by Asian families. The ones who move next door to him are especially irritating to him although they continue to be nice to him.

Gradually Walt gets to know them and begins to care about them in spite of his preconceived bias. This family is  being terrorized by a gang of thugs who do everything they can to make life miserable for this family. After they brutally rape the daughter, Walt decides to act. We expect him to go and gun down the bad guys. But instead he taunts them into shooting and killing him. He knows that they will go to prison and the family that he once thought of as “gooks” will not be safe. The final scene shows Walt laying on the sidewalk while the thugs are arrested. His arms are stretched out as if on a cross.

A figure who dies for the ones he cares about. Does that ring any bells for Christians? This is for sure a secular film. But there is a powerful spiritual image in it that is unmistakable for those who are paying attention.

Preachers are wise to look for illustrations in things that don’t seem religious at all. There are burning bushes all around us.

JOKE OF THE DAY

A man says to his wife, “When we argue, you never get mad. How do you do that?” She says,  “When I get mad at you, I just clean the toilet.”  ” How does that help?” the husband replies. “I use  your toothbrush.”

A sermon from the past

This is a sermon from my days at New Vernon. There is nothing unique about it except that New Vernon was the wealthiest church I ever served.

BIGGER BARNS

LUKE 12: 13-21

AUGUST 4, 2013

I  ME, MY SELF AND I

A. A man could see that his friend was distraught. “What’s wrong?”  “Three weeks ago a long lost uncle died and left me $10,000. Then two weeks ago a cousin I never knew died and left me $100,000. Last week my grandfather passed away and left me a million dollars.”  “Why so glum?” “This week, nothing.”

B. To listen to some preachers money is evil. But it is not. Money is morally   The Bible has a lot to say about money. So it seems that money matters to God. But it is not money itself that matters to the Lord. The question is, “What does God expect us to DO with our money?” And the warning is what having money might do to us.

C. The unnamed man in the parable, we will call him Mr. Bigger Barns, is wealthy. He might admit that he was fortunate. But he would not use the word blessed. For that would be to give God credit for his abundance and he believed that he did this all himself. When Bart Simpson was asked to say grace before a meal he said, “Dear Lord we would thank you for this food, but we paid for all of this stuff ourselves.” That was the attitude of Mr. Bigger Barns.

D. He believed that his wealth guaranteed his future well-being. He has more crops than he can store. So instead of sharing with those in need, he builds bigger barns to store all of his wealth. Listen again to his speech to himself “I will do this. I will pull down my barns and I will build bigger ones and I will store all my grain and goods. I will say to my soul eat drink and be merry.”

E. Was there any particular pronoun that stood out in that reading? No thought is given to what God expected him to do with his money. No thought is given to meeting the needs of others less fortunate. (Which is what God expected him to do with his money.) It’s all about me.  But as he knelt at the altar of his god, which was not money but self, something happened which he didn’t account for in his long term financial planning. He died.

II.  BANKRUPT

A. David Schlafer paraphrased God’s comments to Mr. Bigger Barns this way. “You soul is bankrupt. Foreclosure is imminent. You’re dead fool!”  This passage is at its core not really about sharing. It is about God’s intrusion into our lives with a different pattern for living and a different version of success. Sure the man never thought of using his surplus to help hungry people. But that was a symptom, not the disease. The disease which is rampant in our time is called selfish materialism. But in the end we lose every possession that we ever buy and every dollar that we ever earn.

B. Here is a news flash from God. You are going to die. It’s not a question of if, just when. D. Rockefeller was asked once how much money is enough. He said “Just a little more.” When he died, someone asked his accountant, “How much did Rockefeller leave?”  The accountant said, “All of it.”

C. God says that one who invests only in self is a fool. That’s because the materialist has forgotten one crucial part of the equation; Death. Tillitson wrote “One who invests in this life and not the next is wise for a moment and a fool forever.”  I think is must be hard to be rich and be a disciple of Jesus. It’s not wrong. It’s just John Wesley visited a huge plantation owned by a church member. After riding for a long time and still not covering all of his land, the man asked Wesley what he thought. He said, “I think it will be hard for you to leave all of this.”  In more colloquial terms, the preacher told a Texan, You can’t take it with you.” And the Texan replied, “Then I ain’t goin’. But everyone goes. And everyone leaves everything behind. So where is your treasure? Can you imagine it having any value to you in 1.000 years?

D. Materialism in our time has morphed into abstract materialism. We buy things not because we need them or even necessarily want them. We buy them because we can. I was in the home of a very rich man who had famous and tremendously expensive works of art on the wall. He said, “They tell me they are valuable. To be honest, I don’t even like them.” When God intrudes into our lives we are asked to live radically different We are asked to take “self” off the throne so there is room for God.

III.  MATERIAL DISTRACTION

A.The problem with Mr. Bigger Barns was not that he succeeded. And it was not that he planned for his retirement. It was that in his pursuit of security he was so distracted that he forgot about the only lasting security, which is the love of God. It turns out that materialism is not just wrong, it is stupid

.B.Sometimes scripture is comforting. Bu this passage is   We live in a culture that if we were honest, this symbol would not be a cross. It would be a dollar sign.  You are judged successful by how much you have accumulated. And the most disturbing thing is wondering if we as a church are different than the culture around us. Is this the symbol of our lives?  (The Cross) Are we ready for the radical intrusion of God into our lives that defines a successful life based not on what we have, but what we do with what we have?  Life is a gift. God is not concerned with how much you have. God is concerned with your level of trust in God and how you meet God’s expectations of what you do with your wealth.

C. Be on guard, Jesus says, of pleonexia. The Greek word for greed translates into the constant yearning to have more. The man who sparks this parable wants Jesus to stop talking about God and the poor and tell his brother to give him ½ of his father’s money. He has pleonexia. He is missing the point of what Jesus teaches. He would fit right in in 2013 where money is so often the true Lord.

D. When our priorities are wrong the value of life gets lost. Pleonexia leads to pride and anxiety and elitism and deterioration of the soul. Wealth can be a spiritual liability.  Our economic system is capitalistic.  Some ask if there is such a thing as Christian capitalism. I say But only when we remember what is of ultimate importance.

 

IVDON’T BE A FOOL

A.It’s hard to be a rich Christian. I admire some of you who have found a way to live faithfully and understand what God expects you to do with your wealth. Others still ignore the ultimate statistic, which is death. It is one out of every one. To ignore this is to be foolish. When we understand that life and everything we have is a gift of God to be used to forward God’s agenda then we begin to be rich towards God. That’s the guidance that Jesus gives at the end of his parable. Mr. Bigger Barns was But he was broke when it came to God.

B. It’s easy enough to fall into a pattern of more and lose sight of the concept of   A man found a lamp and a genie appeared and granted him three wishes. First I want 10 million in a Swiss bank account. Done. Next I was a red Ferrari. The car appears. Finally I want to be irresistible to women. And the genie turns him into a box of chocolates. “ ..Just a little more.”

C. So what does it mean to be rich towards God? It’s not asceticism which is just self-denial for its own sake. Jesus didn’t live that way. The redistribution of wealth in and of itself is not God’s plan. But when one who has much refuses to share with one who has nothing, God is not happy.

D. The great preacher, James Forbes said that “nobody gets into heaven without a reference letter from the poor.

 

 

 V.  HOW?

A.Here are a few ways I think we can be rich towards God. 1 Share, don’t hoard.  2. Begin to really trust God. You can’t give it away faster than God can bless you with all you need.  3. Reassess what your needs are. Many of the things we say we need are really luxuries that we could live well without.  A woman working at the soup kitchen was talking about the downturn in the economy and she said, “I don’t know if we will be able to keep our third house.” This as she stood in the midst of people some of whom live in a cardboard box. 4.  Don’t be legalistic about giving.  I have been asked more than once if tithing is on the gross or the net. That misses the point. Giving is of the heart. It is a reflection of the health of your soul.  5. Change your language from me, myself and I to God and others and me. Here is the bottom line. Learn to live simply, give generously and trust God

.B. I knew a man once who got it. His name was Norvel Christie. He was an eye surgeon who went to Pakistan during the partition in 1947 for a six month assignment. He stayed there his entire career. He performed 100s of 1,000s of eye surgeries giving sight to people who could not afford it. They made a film about him called The Lion of Taxilla. The interviewer asked Dr. Christie if he missed all of the money he could have made in the states as an eye surgeon. He was genuinely baffled by the question. He said, we have a home and the kids went to school and we have plenty of food and health care. What would we do with more money?” He was not in the business of building bigger barns. He was rich towards God. We can be too. Live in such a way that you are forwarding God’s agenda of peace and justice by learning to trust God for all that you really need. And don’t be a fool for Christ’s sake

 

JOKE OF THE DAY

The policeman pulled over a car that was going 10 miles an hour.  He asked the elderly lady driver why she was driving so slowly? She said, “I saw a sign back there that said the speed limit was 10 miles an hour.”  “No” said the cop.  “That is the route sign. You are on Route 10.”

Just then he looked in the back seat and saw two other older women who looked terrified and white as ghosts. “Are you ladies OK?” One of the ladies said, “Yes officer we will be fine. It’s just that we just got off of route 202.”

What is a preacher to do with politics?

I bristle at preachers who use the pulpit to tell people who to vote for. The pulpit is not a place for partisan political opinions.

But what is a preacher to do when the entire country is talking about the events in Virginia and other places around the country and the responses of our President?

I guess you could ignore it. You could say nothing about what all of the people in the congregation are thinking about. But silence is an ally of evil.

You realize that people are not interested in the preacher’s opinion. They are searching for truth in a world where truth is beginning to have little meaning. The math teacher says that two plus two equals four. And some of the students say, “That’s just your opinion.”

The answer is to preach what the Bible tells us. That is a truth that we will not compromise. We may have disagreements as to how the Bible is interpreted. But if you are afraid to preach Biblical truth in love, then you should not be in the pulpit. When there is a moral crisis the preacher is not free to ignore it. Few would claim that a moral crisis now exists in our country.

So it would be wrong to call for the impeachment of Donald Trump. And it would be wrong to condemn the responses of one party or the other. It is imperative that we preach truths like the value and dignity of every human being. We should preach truths like Jesus saying that we should love our neighbors without limits or restrictions. Love your neighbor; your black neighbor, your Muslim neighbor, your Jewish neighbor, your gay neighbor. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR! The Biblical truth is that there can be no “them” and “us,” We are all us.

If the President cannot act on and speak that truth then it is appropriate to call him on it; not because of your political stance, but because of Biblical truth.

As followers of Christ, we must stand up and speak the truth. Hate and division and violence are wrong. That is not a political view. It is a Biblical view.

Some of the Neo-Nazis and and the KKK claim to be Christians. It is not our place to judge them. But it is our responsibility to say that their behavior is anti-Christian.

I for one will continue to pray for them. I will pray that God’s Spirit will open the eyes of their hearts to see the error of their ways. I will continue to pray for the President, that he too will seek the wisdom of Jesus and speak and act accordingly. As repugnant as we may find them, they are also children of God. If there is judging to do, that will be God’s work, not ours.

It’s tricky these days to not sound politically partisan in the pulpit. But if you preach Biblical truth, you will be on solid ground. Then ask them to pray for our nation and our world, that we may one day put hatred aside and find the peace that is beyond understanding.

NO JOKE OF THE DAY

Sometimes it is hard to laugh.

How to Listen to a Sermon

I have written an outline about how I write a sermon. So I thought it might be helpful to write a brief guide on how to LISTEN to a sermon.

I would not fill this out until the sermon is finished. Then before too much time goes by, answer these questions:

Did the beginning of the sermon let you know where the preacher was headed?

Could you hear and understand the words without too much strain? Did the preachers voice sound like his or her normal voice?

What illustrations were used and how did they help your understanding of the point being made?

Was the sermon true to the text? That is, was the sermon really about the scripture read?

Did the sermon hold your attention throughout?

Was the preacher trying to inspire  you, inform you, encourage you or scold you?

Was any humor used in an appropriate way?

Can you tell what the point of the sermon was in one or two sentences? Was it focused?

How did the sermon make you feel?

Was anything said in in the sermon that you did not already know?

Give the sermon a grade as to how it impacted you.

 

JOKE OF THE DAY

A few stupid things heard on TV news.

The long drawn out rubber workers strike ends

This album was recorded before Michael Jackson died.

HEADLINE:  Union, School Board butt heads.

Finally, the weather man reported that the snow fall had caused some damage but, “there were no serious fatalities!”

FLAWED

GENESIS 29: 15-2                            
ST. ANDREWS 7-30-2017

I. IMPERFECTIONS

A. The wife stood looking into the full length mirror as she and her husband prepared for bed.  She said, “Just look at me. I have wrinkles. Everything is sagging. I’ve gained weight. My hair is gray.” She turned to her husband and said, “Please say something positive about me.” He replied, “Well there is nothing wrong with your eyesight.” He is expected to be out of the hospital soon.

B. Do you have any flaws? That is like asking if you are human. Imperfection is universal.  If you have no flaws whatsoever, then you really don’t need to be here. The church is just for us imperfect people who love the only one who was ever perfect. That’s why I am glad that the Bible is full of characters who are flawed human beings.  Adam wanted to be equal to God. Noah was a drunk. Abraham tried to pimp out his wife to save his own neck in Egypt. Moses was a murderer, David was an adulterer. The list goes on and on. And the Bible writers don’t try to hide these imperfections. They don’t white-wash them. Maybe that is so we can relate to being part of God’s plan without being perfect.

C. Abraham Lincoln was having his official portrait painted. He looked at the canvas when the artist was done and said, “Where are the warts on my face?” The painted said, ‘Well Mr. President, I didn’t paint those in.” Lincoln said, “Paint it again. This time with warts and all.”

 

D. Jacob fits right in to that rogues list of Biblical characters with major flaws. His name means supplanter or deceiver. He tricks his dim witted brother out of his birth right. He deceives his blind old father to inherit the family blessing. Jacob is a first class con man.

 

II. WHAT A MARRIAGE

A. Now back in Chapter 28 Jacob has an encounter with God and it seems to have changed him.  And God smiled.But like all of us, he is still a work in progress. But in todays’ text, he gets involved with the family of his Uncle Laban. Laban has two daughters.  Jacob runs into Rachel first and it is love at first sight.  He goes to live among his Uncle’s people. He also meets Rachel’s older sister But she doesn’t do it for him. The writer tells us that Rachel was beautiful, but Leah had dull eyes. The Hebrew word is RAK. Its meaning is unclear. Some versions translate it as lovely or tender. Bu it is clearly meant as a negative comparison to Rachel’s beauty. So along with his other flaws, Jacob was incredibly shallow.

B. Jacob tells Laban that he wants to marry Rachel. Apparently marrying your first cousin was OK then. So Laban says, “Tell you want I’m gonna do. You work for me for seven years and you can marry my daughter.”  Who would be crazy enough to take that deal? Someone who was in love. It’s not unheard of for people in love to pay a great price to be married.  The Prince of Wales gave up being King Edward the 8th of England to marry Wallace Simpson, a divorced American commoner. . My Irish friend said once, “Being in love will do in your head.”   (Book of poetry) So Jacob takes the deal and he works the seven years. Then Laban throws a big wedding party with lots of wine. Then in the pitch black night he sends the heavily veiled Leah into the wedding tent.  The marriage is

C. Jacob wakes up in a rage. It was like that Willie Nelson song, “Last night I got in at 2 with a ten and woke up at 10 with a 2.  “How could you trick me like this?” He is outraged.  Laban makes some lame excuse about the oldest has to marry first which he forgot to mention when making the bargain. But Jacob is stuck. So Laban offers a ”After the honeymoon you can marry Rachel too.  And then work for me for seven more years.”

D. What kind of marriage arrangement is this? It is outrageous. Jacob is married to two sisters, neither of which had any say in this arrangement. Leah and Rachel become antagonistic rivals with Jacob caught in the middle. It’s kind of ironic that the trickster was tricked. There’s a little bit of justice in there.   One wise psychologist said that a “perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up.” I don’t know what he would say about 3 imperfect people.

E. A couple was celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. They were in pretty good shape, but their hearing had gone bad. The husband stood up at the party and raised his glass and said, “To my wife. You are tried and The wife stood up and said, “Well after 60 years, I’m tired of you too!

III. DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES AND CHURCHES

A. But now Jacob is a part of a very dysfunctional family. I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “ALL families are dysfunctional.” But this one was a doozy! You see, everybody in this sacred story is flawed. Laban and Jacob were especially dishonest. The dysfunctionality is rampant.  The women in the story are Their feelings and needs are not even an issue. They are like possessions to be bartered.

B. I don’t know if you have read Margaret Atwood’s book or seen the Hulu production of “A Handmaid’s Tale.” It is a story of a dystopian future in which women are cast into functional roles over which they have no control .The handmaids are there solely for the purpose of bearing children. There were two things that I found interesting in the story. One is that the men use stories like the one we read today to justify their abusive actions. And the other was that nobody is happy. The men who run things are not happy. The women who are little more than slaves are not happy. It is a perfect example of societal dysfunctionality.

C. Then, as I re-read this passage about Jacob and the others it struck me that God is not mentioned once in the entire passage. This is a group of flawed human beings trying to do things that will be to their advantage and they made a dysfunctional mess of it all. You have to wonder if anybody is happy in Laban’ family. Laban might have been happy for a while, but then Jacob, up to his old tricks takes Laban’s two daughters and most of his good livestock and hits the road, leaving Laban holding the bag.

D. The church is like a family And sometimes it is hard to find any evidence of anybody being really happy. I was at a church on vacation on a communion Sunday and the preacher stood at the table and said, “This is the joyful feast of the people of God.” Really? I think God loves to hear us laugh. Ann Lamott said that laughter is “carbonated holiness.” Some churches are fortunate or blessed to not have any conflict. Some churches are destroyed by it. And some just let the dysfunctionality simmer under the surface.  One of the Executive Presbyters that I worked with in another Presbytery said to me, “Some churches are like Noah’s Ark. If it wasn’t for the severity of the storm on the outside, you couldn’t stand the smell on the inside.”

IV. GOD LOVES FLAWED PEOPLE: THANK GOD 

A. Why is it so hard to make families and congregations work sometimes? It is because both are filled with flawed people.  When I worked with PNCs I would always tell them, “Let me save you the trouble. There are no perfect pastors. AND there are no perfect churches because we are all human which means we are all flawed. (Pop psych book I’m OK you’re OK- I’m N OT Ok and you’re not OK, but that’s OK.)

B. Just like in the Jacob story, God has a way of using imperfect people to be about God’s work. Thank God. If only perfect people were allowed in church the pews AND the pulpit would be

C. God uses flawed people in lots of different situations. The movie Gran Torino is not a religious film on its surface. It’s about a grouchy bigoted older man who hates his Asian neighbors until he comes to know them. They are bullied by a gang of teens with weapons.  Walt confronts these gang members and allows himself to be gunned down by them causing them to be imprisoned and freeing his friends from their terror. He is a flawed character who becomes a Christ figure.  Oscar Schindler was a selfish war profiteer who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. He was an imperfect man who provided a miracle of

D And God doesn’t ask us to be perfected before God uses us. God knows all of the flaws in us better than we know them ourselves. Ann Lamott is one of my favorite writers, She wrote in Hallelujah Anyway,

 E. ”The ancient Chinese had a practice of embellishing the cracked parts of valued possessions with gold leaf, which says, ’We dishonor it if we pretend that it hadn’t gotten broken.’ It says we value this enough to repair it. So it is not a denial or a cover-up. It is the opposite, an adornment of the break with gold leaf, which draws the cracks into greater prominence. The gold leaf becomes part of the beauty. Somehow the aesthetic of its having been cracked but still being here, brought back not to baseline but restored brings increase.

F. And it is the same with God’s people. In our families and in our churches and in every aspect of our lives, God accepts us warts and all, flaws and all. In a small village in Scotland there was only one church. (Presbyterian Kirk of course) Everyone in the town attended there and everyone knew everyone else. One young woman had gained a bad reputation as being immoral. She had not been in the church for years. It was the practice in those days that before a person could take communion, they had to go to a preparatory service and receive a When communion was served, they had to have a token or they didn’t get served. One communion Sunday the young woman burst through the door crying. She sat in the front pew with her head bent low. Then the senior elder went over to her with the tray of bread and said, “Tak is lass, tak it. It’s fer sinners.”  And God smiled.