Monthly Archives

February 2019

Loving People You Don’t Like

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Loving People You Don’t Like”

Rev. Art Ritter

February 24, 2019

 

Luke 6:27-38

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

 

A truck driver was sitting in a crowded roadside diner, ready to eat his lunch.  It was not just any diner and any lunch, it was his favorite diner and it was the meal he loved the most from that diner- meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and gravy.  Just as the waitress brought him his meal, a motorcycle gang swaggered into through the front door.  They walked to near where the truck driver was sitting and most of them piled into the booth directly behind his.  But not all of them would fit.  One of the gang members still standing turned to the truck driver and barked, “Move!  We need to use that table!”  The truck driver looked up at the motorcycle gang member and calmly said, “I haven’t finished my meal.”  With that the gang member took his dirty finger and swiped it directly through the mashed potatoes, green beans, and gravy and then licked his finger off.  Another of the motorcyclists took the truckers cup of coffee and poured it over the remaining food on the plate.  He then snarled, “You’re finished now!”  The trucker stood and without comment, wiped his mouth with his napkin and walked to the cash register to pay for the meal.  He then silently exited the diner.  All of the bikers began to laugh.  One of them shouted, “Ain’t much of a man, is he?”  A waitress who walked by then pointed out to the parking lot and said, “Apparently he isn’t much of a truck driver either.  He just backed his rig over your motorcycles.”

How do you react to people who make life more difficult for you?  Perhaps there have been times recently where you wished you had a big rig to drive over a few things that belong to those who have insulted or aggravated you.  In these divisive times, how do you handle those whose opinions and values differ from your own?  How do you suffer through the social media posts that get under your skin, the fellow drivers who show no common courtesy on the shared road, and the co-worker who treats your space as his or her own?  How do you treat the so-called “jerks” in your life?  Who pushes you to the breaking point?  Who would you regard as your enemy?

Sadly, most of us go through life, for better or for worse, no matter how hard we try, with a few people whom we just do not like.  Perhaps in most cases, the word enemy is too strong but these are people whom it is extremely hard to love.  There are people who hold a grudge against us for mysterious reasons.  There are people whom we have offended who cannot forgive us.  There are people who are jealous of us and people whose good fortune we envy or do not understand.  There are people whose words and actions offend us.  There are people who opinions and beliefs run counter to what we hold dear to our own hearts.  There are those who challenge us and even wound us, whose words point out our weaknesses and our faults.  And there may even be those who have bitterness in their hearts for us and seek anything but the best for us.  How can you love someone when that someone is not just a difficult co-worker or crotchety next door neighbor but someone who would literally destroy your life if only given the chance?

In the sixth chapter of Luke, Jesus gives what is known as the Sermon on the Plain.  Many of his teachings here are the same as what he taught in the Beatitudes, or the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew.  Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  He then goes on to offer some specific advice about turning the other cheek, offering your shirt as well as your coat, and giving to anyone to begs from you.  Jesus closes by saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.  If you love only those who love you, what credit is that for you?  Love your enemies and expect nothing in return.  Be merciful, just as God is merciful to you.”

I think of an internet meme that I have seen several times in which Jesus is pictured teaching a large crowd of people.  On top of the picture are the words, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  On the bottom of the picture are the words, “No, seriously.”

A colleague wrote of passing a church in New York City.  The sign out front indicated that the title of the upcoming sermon was “Following Jesus is Loving and Practical.”  My colleague contemplated the message of the sign for a moment and quickly decided that he disagreed.  Following Jesus may be loving but it certainly isn’t very practical.  He instantly started making up a list of all of the impractical things that Jesus called us to do but didn’t get too far past these demands in the sixth chapter of Luke to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.

I don’t know if I can offer any life-changing advice in this short sermon time.  I don’t think that I can give you a step by step practice to follow to love difficult people.  But I will try to share a bit about what I think Jesus was getting at in the hopes that his words at least move our hearts and hence our wills just a little bit.

First of all, the word used for love in Jesus sermon was agape.  Agape is not the romantic love.  It is not even friendship love or liking love.  What agape means is whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other.  Loving enemies or those who have done us harm does not mean we support them or agree with them.  We simply try to put ourselves in a place where we end the cycle of hate and anger.  Loving those who don’t like doesn’t mean we might become good friends.  Instead of wanting to drive your semi over someone’s motorcycles, or responding to their stupid Facebook posts with words of condemnation, you express your dislike and offer your desiring of what is best for them.

In fact, Jesus even gave us some suggestions for how to love those with don’t like with agape love.  Again, it is not an easy step-by-step process but suggestions to keep in mind and to move the needle of compassion.  Do good.  Do what is right and just and honorable. Sometimes what is right and honorable and just is nothing, the complete opposite of what our anger and passion are driving us to do.  Bless.  Speak well of the other person, find something for which to praise them.  Focus on something positive about the person, perhaps a positive shared experience of the past.  Pray for them.  Lift up something to God on their behalf.   Ask God to bless them, to speak to their needs, to melt their hearts, to move them to understanding your pain and your frustration.

Secondly, Jesus gave an example of one who loved despite not liking.  That was God’s love for us.  Jesus is recommending no more and no less the same thing that he has seen all along in the love of God.  God witnesses our ungrateful nature.  God sees us when we strut about as if we have done it all ourselves.  God forgives and carries on with us in love, despite the fact that often we really don’t change very much and sometimes repeat the same hurtful behaviors.  Jesus wasn’t asking us to be suckers and chumps and let the world take advantage of us.  He was simply asking us to try to be more like God in our relationships and in our understanding of others.  Still not easy, but perhaps more easily understood.

Finally, Jesus taught us to love those whom we do not like because such love has a certain redemptive power.  If we continue to hate and to speak in anger nothing will change.  This is the attitude that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. embraced and taught in sermon delivered at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama on November 17, 1957.  In that sermon King wrote, “You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you.  Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that.  Just keep being friendly to that person.  Keep loving them.  Don’t do anything to embarrass them.  Just keep loving them and they can’t stand it too long.  Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning.  They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that.  They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at first, but just keep loving them.  And by the power of your love they will break down under the load.  That’s love, you see.  It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love.  There’s something about love that builds up and is creative.  There’s something about hate that tears down and is destructive.  So love your enemies.”

In the sermon, King offered the example of Abraham Lincoln who appointed someone he didn’t like, Edwin Stanton to be his Secretary of War.  Stanton had previously made several derogatory statements about Lincoln, making fun of his appearance and his intelligence.  But Lincoln believed that he owned the best skills for the job.  In their association together, Stanton and Lincoln grew very close.  Their relationship was transformed.  Upon Lincoln’s death, Stanton issued a memorable eulogy ending with the statement, “Now he belongs to the ages.”  Both men could have gone to their graves not liking, perhaps even hating one another.  But through the power of love, they were both transformed.

Love.  Loving those who don’t like.  That doesn’t mean giving a free pass to those who wrong you or that you are required to support actions of leaders with whom you disagree.  It doesn’t take away the responsibility to seek justice and resist evil.  It means that what we do in response must be rooted in desiring what is good for the other person also.  Resist the temptation to dehumanize the other person.  Pray for the other person.

Theologian Walter Brueggeman imagines Jesus telling his listeners and telling us today, something when we are tempted to lash out, strike back, or even things out with our words and actions.  “Think ‘larger’ than that.  You know more and you know differently, and you have the freedom to act differently.  You know about the larger purposes of God, and you are called to act concretely as though the purposes of God really did make a difference in your life.”

Mother Teresa said, “Love, to be true, has to hurt.  I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, do good to them.  This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts.  Otherwise there is no love in me and I bring injustice, not peace to those around me.”

Perhaps that in itself is the bottom line.  Love your enemies.  Love those whom you don’t like.  It isn’t just an ethical thing.  It is much harder than that.  It is a way of being.  It is a way that reflects God way in our world.  It reflects the same love and mercy and compassion God shows for us.

 

 

Trees By The Stream

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Trees By The Stream”

Rev. Art Ritter

February 17, 2019

 

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse— who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.  

In the devotional guide, Our Daily Bread, David Egner writes about some friends who planted two trees of the same kind and age.  The first was set in level ground in the middle of the yard, where its roots went deep into the ground to soak up the water.  The second was planted at the bottom of a steep bank.  When it rained, the water rushed past it to the street.  Both trees appeared to thrive.  Then a strong windstorm came.  The tree in the middle of the lawn stood firm, while the other one toppled over.  Why?  The root systems were different.  The tree in the lawn had deep roots, while the other one had shallow roots.  At the base of the bank, the water always passed swiftly over the top of the soil, so those roots stayed shallow.  That tree, therefore, could not withstand the force of the wind.

A few years ago I decided to do a neighborly thing and block the view of my air conditioning condenser unit by planting a few small trees.  Although I seldom see it because it is located on a back corner of my house, I was aware that one of the neighbor’s windows looks out directly upon the large metal device.  So I purchased a couple of smaller juniper trees and placed them so that they would effectively camouflage the condenser.  It worked quite well for a couple of years.

Three years ago, when my daughter Maren and her husband Max were living in our basement, Laura and I hired a contractor to put in an egress window.  Following news of some tragic incidents, we wanted to have an escape exit from the basement in case of fire.  Early one summer, the contractor did a beautiful job of installing the window, although he had to move one of the junipers near the air conditioning condenser unit to get his machinery close enough to do the work.   Following the completion of the job he replanted the juniper as close to the original site as he was able – close enough that I forgot the tree had even been uprooted and replanted.

Soon the hot and dry days of summer moved into Michigan.  This was the same summer that some of us here at Meadowbrook planted a pine tree to block a neighbor’s view of our new electronic sign.  If you remember correctly, we took great pains to water that tree regularly.  I know that I carried quite a few buckets of water across the lawn myself that dry summer!  The little tree stayed green while the rest of the lawn turned brown.  But I am not one to water my own lawn much, thus the surrounding trees and shrubs at my home got only a few waterings besides those provided by Mother Nature.  A couple of months later, while mowing the lawn I noticed that one of my junipers was turning brown rather quickly.  At first I thought it was some kind of disease but then I recalled that the tree had been replanted.  I had neglected to give it the water and special attention it needed.  While the sister tree was surviving and thriving, despite the drought, the transplanted tree was beyond help.  It died from neglect.  That fall I had to dig it up and remove it.  I should add that it came up very easily!  The root base, because of the lack of water, was very small.

The text from Jeremiah this week compares a shrub in the desert to a tree by the water.  The prophet Jeremiah often provided an insightful witness to the complex reality and difficulty of the human experience, as well as the experience of God who enters into and participates with us in the complexity of life.  Jeremiah wrote at a time of great political upheaval.  The nation of Judah and its capital Jerusalem were threatened by the powerful Babylonian war machine.  The prophet warned the people and leaders of Judah not to bend to the easy way of fear, compromising the covenant of God to trust in armies and alliances.  He said that trust is to depend upon God and not to fear in the outcome, maintaining strong roots of faith which can tap into the life-giving nourishment of God’s love.  Jeremiah told the people that faith in God will sustain.  No matter what happens, when the drought comes, those who live in God will have nothing to fear.

Specifically in these verses we read this morning, Jeremiah spoke of the way of wisdom versus the way of folly.  Each way has its own predictable and corresponding set of outcomes.  The way of wisdom is one of trust in God who blesses through a troubled present and leads us to a future of hope.  The way of folly is one that trust more in personal control, in schemes and deals and compromises and alliances.  It creates a false sense of security which leads to short term success and long term failure.

Jeremiah said that those “who trust in man, who depend on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away the Lord” are cursed.  They are like that neglected, transplanted juniper.  They are like a bush in the desert, where there is no regular water supply.  Such a person will live on the edge, always thirsting for water.  Refreshment might come in the form of an occasional storm, but it won’t lead to bounty or abundance.  Life will be parched and unfruitful at its core.

In a commentary on this passage Calvin Seminary professor Stan Mast says that this passage reminds him of the old song from the Kinks entitled A Well-Respected Man.  I won’t sing it for you but the chorus goes something like this, “Cause he’s oh so good and he‘s oh so fine, and he’s oh so healthy in his body and his mind.  He’s a well-respected man about town, doing the best things so conservatively.”  But the song describes a man who is trusts only in himself, who is greedy and lustful, who can’t wait to get his hands on his father’s money or the girl next door.  This is the kind of person Jeremiah says will be like a bush in the desert, trusting in self and dying due to lack of water.

Jeremiah was not saying that those who trust in God will not suffer times of heat and drought.  There will be times when the future is uncertain, when the pieces of the puzzle just don’t fit, when worry and anxiety flood the mind and bring low the soul.  But he said that those who trust in the Lord will continue to flourish and be fruitful even in times of trouble.  Self-reliance, pride, boastfulness, deceit, justification, and selfishness will leave us empty and barren and cursed.  When we construct our lives on easy answers and black and white solutions, we are bound to crumble when things get complicated.  Jeremiah warned the people of his time that when they worshiped at the altars of the world, placing allegiance to self-interest, political thought, or security before the ways of God, they made the ways of God seem frivolous and self-serving rather than holy and responsible.  We do the same when use our faith to suit ourselves and don’t seek the refreshment and life-giving teachings and vitality God’s way supposed to offer.

John Deschner, retired professor at Perkins School of Theology said this:  “Remember, the church has only a few things to offer the world:  word, bread, cup, water, and light.  How we handle these precious gifts of God makes all the difference.  We treat them with all the love and reverence we can muster.  People will see the way we handle holy things and infer from that how we will handle the holy ones… God does not call us to trivialize the holy.”

Perhaps Jeremiah’s wisdom can be framed in a couple of questions:  do we trust and delight in God like a tree planted by streams of water or do we trust in worldly things and our own priorities to take care of all things?  Can we be at peace where we are, finding the things God has placed here for us to serve and thrive, or are we always looking ahead to the next place or thing we can simplify, accomplish, and conquer?

In a reflection upon Psalm 1, in whose words the Psalmist almost echoes Jeremiah wisdom, Silvia Purdie writes:

I was out walking a farm track
one late summer’s day
long since the rain had fallen
long since, grass had faded to gold
I passed a field of crops
as the dry wind whipped the struggling plants
tossing away earth as dust
the plants collapsed and withered

I walked on as the path went down
winding through willow trees
roots deep in search of water
Hidden at the bottom of the gully
under a small strip of green
I found a flowing stream
and as I followed it
there were fruit trees
sheltered from the wind
drawing on the water
apples hanging bright and full
crisp and tangy sweet

I live that my life may be
surrounded by love
inspired by truth
sustained by Spirit
bearing fruit season by season
What does it take?
What choices must I make?
What advice must I ignore?
What paths must I avoid?

The Lord watches over the way of the righteous
but the way of the wicked will perish.
The way of the water
is the way of delight
delight in the way of the Lord.
I choose to sink roots into living water
to rest my mind, my heart and soul
in stillness, in waiting, in resting
(easy to say on holiday, harder to do in a busy week!)
day and night, night and day
I belong in the living Lord.

 

Net Prophet

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Net Prophet”

Rev. Art Ritter

February 10, 2019

 

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

 

In the year 1577, Sir Francis Drake, English sea captain and privateer, went to the docks of Plymouth, England, looking for a crew for his next expedition.  He gathered a group of sailors and told them that if they came with him that they would see some of the most marvelous things they eyes could ever behold.  They would discover sandy white beaches; they would taste juicy fruits; they would experience foreign peoples; they would find priceless treasures; and they would see gorgeous landscapes.  All of this could be theirs – if only they would come with him upon the next expedition.  Not one of the sailors enlisted for the journey.

The next day, still in need of a crew, Drake came back to the docks and once again gathered a group of sailors around him.  Drake told this group that if they came with him they would encounter storms that would terrify them to tears; winds that would hammer them and blow them off course for months; and danger that would be their constant companion.  He concluded by declaring that if they could handle those things, the joy of exploration would exceed their wildest dreams.  This time every sailor enlisted for the journey.  They were eager to follow.

We might wonder – what made the difference in these two groups?  Why did the first group of sailors turn down the mission while the second group jumped at the chance?  Was the second group of sailors more daring and more adventurous than the first?  Or perhaps it was not the men themselves who were different.  It was the message that changed and therefore its power to persuade.  Drake’s first message spoke of rewards.  His second was one that described challenge.  His first invitation offered comfort.  The second promised hardship.  The first tempted the sailors with enticing things.  The second message offered them a test unlike any other they had ever known.

Perhaps Sir Francis Drake discovered with these sailors on the docks at Plymouth what Jesus knew when he spoke with Peter and James and John along the shore of the lake of Gennesaret or the Sea of Galilee.  The Scripture reading tells us about it this morning.  Jesus borrowed a boat that belonged to a fisherman named Simon and from that boat he taught crowds of people along the shoreline.  When he was finished speaking, Jesus asked Simon to go out into the deep water and put down his nets for a catch.  Simon answered, “Master, we’ve been fishing these waters all night but have caught nothing.  But if you insist, I’ll give it one more try.”  Simon did so and there was a great catch of fish, so great that others from shore had to be called out to help them bring the fish in.  The story then identified the Simon as Simon Peter and the two men with him as James and John.  Following this miraculous catch, Jesus offered to them the challenge of leaving behind their nets and following him and catching people.

I am struck by the invitation that Jesus offered that day.  Like Sir Francis Drake, Jesus promised a challenge, an admission that the task to which he called people would be difficult.  Yet he also offered possibilities beyond their present reality.  Jesus told Peter and James and John that they should no longer settle for a dream whose boundaries are limited by the Sea of Galilee.  If they would follow him, they would be catching human beings all over the world.

This is Luke’s version of the call of Jesus’ first disciples.  It is fitting for this Epiphany season, a time in which we in the Christian church celebrate the gift of Jesus the Christ as the Light of the World.  It is a time in which we are to consider what his mission was and what our mission as the church is supposed to be to the world today.

There are some elements in this story that speak beyond the literal aspects.  For example there is the metaphor of depth.  Jesus asked the fisherman to row out into the deeper water.  Even though they had failed to catch any fish some four hours earlier, Jesus told them to let their nets down into the deeper water and try again. Unsuccessful in their previous attempts, the disciples found the energy and the courage to try again, to go out into more challenging water, and there they were rewarded for the catch of a lifetime.

Many of you know how I feel about water.  I prefer being beside water than in it.  Deep water is just about the biggest fear that I have.  I am more comfortable in water shallow enough to put my feet on the bottom of the pool.  I am at ease when I see the solid sand beneath my toes.  When I am called to venture out into mysterious water I get uneasy, uncomfortable, and even a little bit afraid.

Each summer when I have a reunion with my college friends, we take a pontoon boat out to a sand bar in the middle of Higgins Lake.  All of my buddies jump out of the boat swim over the sand bar and stand upon it, an interesting sight in the middle of such a large lake.  But I remain on the pontoon, not wanting to risk the depth of the water, content with watching my friends from a safe distance.

When I read this story I wonder, perhaps like many of you, have the waters I’ve been working in lately been a bit too shallow?  Am I hesitant to take the risk of following Jesus because the things he asks seem a bit unnecessary and too demanding?  What if Jesus’ challenge to his disciples to cast nets into deeper water is also true for me as a disciple of Christ today?

Maybe like me, you too are prone to sit in the boat in shallow waters even when there are no fish there worth catching.  In the quiet and placid waters, we might find ourselves rather bored, dissatisfied, discouraged, maybe even depressed.  Could it be that fulfillment lies in some deeper water that we’ve never fished before?  Perhaps there are resources that we haven’t used, skills we haven’t yet developed, dreams we haven’t risked following, assets to which we’ve clung too securely, and possessions we have not dedicated to any great use.  Could it be that all we need for fulfillment is the courage it takes to take our boats out into the deeper waters of life- to break out of our sameness- and to encounter a new way of finding meaning and purpose?

The deep water in this story is a metaphor for how we invest ourselves in discipleship.  Are we timid or bold?  Are we careful or courageous?  Are we reticent or eager?  Are we comforted or challenged?  Michelangelo once said, “The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark too easily.”

I am reminded of the story of Tom, a young man who grew up attending worship regularly in a mainline church.  Religion really didn’t mean anything to him until one day he heard a famous evangelical activist at a youth group meeting.  He was so moved he signed up for one of the evangelist’s projects in the inner city.  That morning he arrived at an inner city church where the large group prayed and then heard an inspirational sermon by the famous evangelist.  Everyone was in a frenzy similar to a ball park or a political rally.

The young people then left the church and got on a bus.  They went from a bad neighborhood to the worst of the worst neighborhoods.  The building appeared to be abandoned.  Windows were out.  There were rusting hulks of cars in alleys.  At the beginning of the bus ride the students were singing about Jesus.  But as they got deeper and deeper into the city, the bus grew quiet.  Tom was scared.

The bus finally pulled up in front of one of the worst blocks of tenements.  The evangelist stood, motioned for the bus door to open and shouted, “O.K., let’s go witness for Jesus!”  Tom gulped back a few tears, shuffled off the bus and headed out.  He walked into a terrible looking apartment building.  Everything was dark and it smelled bad.  He walked to where he heard the sound of a baby and knocked on the door.  “Who is it?” a loud voice called.”  The door cracked open.  A woman, smoking, holding a naked baby, peered out from behind the door.  “Hello,” Tom said, “I want to tell you about Jesus.”  Immediately the woman started cursing Tom and chased him down the hall, down the stairs and into the street.

Tom was now stunned and scared.  He sat down on a curb and wept.  Asking God for help he looked up and saw on the corner a rundown grocery store with boards over the windows.  He walked in and looked around.  Remembering the baby and the woman, Tom bought some disposable diapers and a carton of cigarettes.  Back up to the apartment he went, knocking on the now open door.

“Who is it?” the voice called again through the open door.  Shaking all over, Tom walked in with the diapers and the cigarettes.  “Come in,” the woman said.  She took a diaper and put it on the baby.  She smoked one of the cigarettes and offered one to Tom.  Although he didn’t smoke, he did that day.  He spent about an hour in that apartment, playing with the baby and talking with the woman.  Shortly before he left, the woman asked, “What is a boy like you doing in a place like this?”  Tom told her what he knew about Jesus and how he felt called to serve.  As he got up to leave, the woman said, “Please pray for me and my baby.”  Tom prayed.  He left.  He got on the bus.  And he thanked God for the courage to be a worthy witness of Jesus’ love in a deep place where he made a difference.

The dangers of our routines is that they develop into shallow comfort zones.  We can get so comfortable in how we serve God that we dare not venture out of past and preferred practices.  Yet Jesus calls us into a deeper place, to cast our nets in waters and ways that we had never considered before.  He challenged the early disciples to break their routine, to see beyond their self-constructed world, and to try fishing again in a different way.  He challenges us to cast our nets in deeper and stranger places assuring us that we will find a catch that will profit the Kingdom of God and our part in it.

I began the sermon with Sir Francis Drake and I will close with a prayer he wrote many centuries ago.

Disturb us Lord when we are too well pleased with ourselves

When our dreams have come true

Because we have dreamed too little

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too closely to shore.