All Posts By

Abbie Holden

Challenging Assumptions

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Challenging Assumptions”

Rev. Art Ritter

March 22, 2020

 

 

1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

 

 

I recall a friend of mine sharing her struggles getting her youngest child out of his crib and into a regular bed.   Perhaps there are some parents out there who can associate with this particular adventure!  I know it brings back some rather unpleasant memories in my mind.  The boy’s new bedroom has a NASCAR theme with the bed itself shaped like a racecar.  The wallpaper is full of brightly colored cars.  His name printed on a car hangs on the door.  All things a little boy should love, right?  Well, maybe.  The first night that the boy was supposed to sleep in the “big bed” he cried and cried.  His parents finally let him sleep in the crib in the nursery.  A few nights later they rocked him to sleep and then carefully placed him in the racecar bed.  They awoke in the middle of the night to find that the boy had somehow crawled back into the crib.  The parents then removed the crib from the nursery.  Dad tried falling asleep with the boy on the racecar bed.  After a couple of hours Dad awoke alone, to discover that the boy was in bed with Mom.  After a few weeks of frustration, my friend told me that she had found something that had finally worked.  They set up the racecar bed in the nursery.  The little boy seems quite content in his new bed, as long as it is in the old familiar spot.

I specifically recall trying to teach my then 19 year old daughter how to drive a car with a stick shift.  It too was not an easy task.  Maren dropped hints that she was not real comfortable with a stick shift.  She asked me about how I would feel if she caused an accident or ruined the car.  She reminded me that her old car in Utah, which we sold when we moved, was an automatic transmission.  I remember our driving experiments down the side roads and in church parking lots.  We ended up buying my wife Laura a new car and my daughter inherited her old car with automatic transmission.

The Scripture lesson this morning is a wonderful story about the anointing of David as the future King of Israel.  Saul, the reigning king, had fallen into disfavor with God because he had failed to follow God’s direction in battle.  So God sent Samuel, the judge and spiritual leader of Israel, in search of a new leader.  Samuel went to Bethlehem, a place that we know quite well from another story later in the Bible.  There he was told to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the future king.

The sons came out, one at a time.  It was like an audition for a part in a high school play.  The first was Eliab, strong and tall and handsome.  Samuel was certain he was the one.  But God said, “Pay no attention to his good looks.”  Another brother came out, then another, and another.  In all seven sons of Jesse paraded before Samuel.  Each seemed capable of being king.  Each was rejected by God.  Finally in desperation, the young David was brought before Samuel.  “This is the one,” God says.  “Anoint him as King of Israel.”  And Samuel did as God asked him to do.

At first reading, we might find ourselves linked with little David.  It is a lovely little Cinderella story.  He is the underdog.  He is at first glance, nothing special.  But he is chosen by God.  We like to think that God does not judge by outward appearance but by the heart.  With that divine logic, we too can be chosen for something special in our very next breath.

But when I read over this story this week, I found myself aligning with the task of Samuel, the one who had to anoint the future of God’s Kingdom.  That was the tougher job.  Samuel was the one who actually had to act upon God’s vision and call.  He had to learn something new, to challenge his assumptions and comfort level, and to put himself in a vulnerable place.  Samuel had to do God’s work in a difficult time.  He really didn’t want Israel to have a king and he knew a king would just cause big problems.  He had actually hoped that one of those big, strong sons of Jesse would be the one God chose and everything would be easy.  But God kept challenging him further and further.   He had to wait until little David stepped forward from the fields to find an option.  Discovering God’s presence in the mess of his prophetic task was not an easy thing to do.

Did you notice how reluctant Samuel was to do all of this?  “How can I do that?  If King Saul hears that I am running around looking for a new king, he will kill me!”  What God wanted him to do was at odds with his own assessment of his strengths and weaknesses, talents and abilities.  Samuel didn’t think he could be the kind of prophet that God wanted him to be in this kind of situation.

Just like Samuel, we are called to anoint God’s intention in our world today.  It is difficult to be called to be the presence of God in the midst of challenges and obstacles of this virus and isolation and fear and worry.  We look for easy answers; we might doubt our ability to do what is needed; we might prefer that such difficult task be given to someone else.  We might hope that our times and our call would be made different, altered to something we can handle with more ease and assurance.  It is hard to be the faithful person we want to be when our lives and our world have been turned upside down.

Samuel’s situation reminds me that there are clearly two different orders involved in the life of faith.  One is faith we can readily see and measure and understand.  This is the faith of anointing the bigger and stronger brothers.  Just as I prefer living in a world where there are sports on television and live trivia in bars and restaurants each night, we would prefer to be God’s presence in a more conventional and more convenient way these days, a way that assures us of our comfort and capability.  But then God reminds us that God can work through the Davids of the world, acting and speaking in surprising ways to bring God’s way into being.  Just as in our time, we wait for game changing cures and miracles- God is working through important but unnoticed things- the brave and tireless service of doctors and nurses; the relentless research of scientists; the words of kindness to friend and strangers; the phone calls and notes to those who are alone; and the smallest act of compassion that we might not think is so important.  And God calls those like Samuel, and like us to anoint times of fear and uneasiness with ways of living that promote light and life, peace and understanding, justice and righteousness, mercy and compassion.

We are people who are called to anoint God’s way in a time that is uncertain and frightening.  We may fear the strength of the darkness.  We may doubt our ability to handle the task.  We may be reluctant to understand how there is anything we can do that might help bring forth God’s way.  Like it did the prophet Samuel, the old demands our loyalty and tries to discourage us from stepping out in faith.  But God’s future awaits in our future.  We are called to anoint with each word and action.

Is God With Us?

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Is God With Us?

Rev. Art Ritter

March 15, 2020

 

Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

I read a couple of interesting recent historical tidbits this week.  On 2005, Pavel Mircea, an imprisoned Romanian serving time for murder, tried to sue God.  The basis of the suit was breach of contract.  Mircea contended, “God was supposed to protect me from all evils and instead He gave me to Satan who encouraged me to kill.”  Just two years later, in 2007, Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers filed his own lawsuit against God.  In a fit of eloquent alliteration, Chambers accused God of “fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, and the like.”  You may be comforted in knowing that both of these lawsuits were dismissed quickly.  Both judges said that since God does not have a legal address, God can’t be summoned to appear in court.

In 1970, a collection of previously unpublished essays and speeches from author C.S. Lewis was published entitled, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.  The title implied that God was on trial, and the title was based on an analogy made by Lewis suggesting that human beings, rather than seeing themselves as standing before God in judgement, prefer to place God on trial while acting themselves as judge.  Where is God?  Why is God absent?  Why did God punish me?  Why isn’t God punishing my enemies?  Why is God allowing this to happen?  It is not human behavior or attitudes or words that get judged.  It is the action or apparent inaction of God that is weighed and ruled upon by humankind.

The setting of this morning’s Scripture lesson is the wilderness of Rephidim.  Newly freed from bondage in Egypt, the Israelites have been traveling from place to place assisted by the direction of God.  God has given them a pillar of cloud or fire as a guide.  God has provided them with manna and quail, raining down from the heavens to ease their hunger.  But now they have camped down in the wilderness and there is a new problem.  Water has run out and dehydration is imminent.  At first they are merely thirsty.  Then thirst turns to panic.  Then panic turns to anger and fury.  The people of Israel confront Moses, and by extension, they confront God.  “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die of thirst?  Give us water to drink!”

Moses went to God with the complaints.  He was tired of being mistreated by these stubborn, complaining people.  At the time, God’s response didn’t seem particularly helpful or practical.  “Go ahead of the people.  Take some of the elders with you.  And take your staff, the one that you used to strike the Nile River.  I will stand before you by the rock at Horeb.  Strike that rock and water will come.”  In a way, God was challenging the people of faith.  Put me on trial.  Assemble your witnesses.  Be ready to judge.  I will be there waiting.

Moses did as he was asked.  He struck the rock and water came forth.  We don’t get a lot of detail about the people’s response.  One can imagine that they were filled with delirious joy and they ran toward the rushing water to get something to drink.  Perhaps they were thankful, taking the time to offer God praise.  Perhaps they were only concerned about easing their thirst and did not take the time to acknowledge God’s hand in the miracle.  Moses must have sighed with relief.  He couldn’t have possibly continued his leadership without some kind of action by God.

Is God with us?  This question was one asked by the community of the faithful as they wandered in the wilderness long ago.  The ancient people of Israel were afraid that they were all alone.  Maybe it was a mistake to leave Egypt, even though they were enslaved.  At least they knew what was there and what was expected of them.  Maybe their Exodus was something done too quickly.  Perhaps they had misread the signs.  Perhaps they shouldn’t have trusted Moses.  Maybe God had simply abandoned them.

Perhaps we are in a similar place as the people of Israel long ago.  We are in a wilderness of pandemic, isolation, closures, stock market collapse, and great uncertainty.  Like them we yearn for the known and seemingly safer places of our past.  We wish things were like they were a month ago, this past Christmas or a year ago.  We wish we were past this wilderness and safely residing in the Promised Land.  We want our God to be a God who takes away the uncertainty, the anxiety, the pain, and strife.  We want our God to be one in control and we want to see evidence of that power.  We want our God to make it easier for us.  When it doesn’t appear to be the case we ask, “Is God with us.”

We know that God is with us.  Our cry isn’t really a question but a yearning of faith.  We reach out and we seek God’s presence in the wilderness and in the darkness.  God call us to go ahead with the promise of God’s faithfulness.  God asks us to take the staff of faith, the reminders of where God has helped us in the past.  God brings forth water from the rock, not as a final solution or victory, but as reassurance that God will provide for what will be needed in the still uncertain journey.

Is God with us?  Perhaps the question is not so wrong when it is less of a question about God’s existence and more of a cry of honest faith about God’s presence.  When we ask such a question, we are in a place where we contemplate our deepest needs and search for the hand of God.  When we ask this question, we might be actually wishing for the presence of a God in the midst of our perilous journey.  When we ask this question in faith perhaps we are really trying to grasp the presence of a God who lives among us now making all things new.  When we ask the question we might find God as the God of the present and future, a God who promises to make all things new, a God who is present when we take the risks of faith to follow.

 

 

 

 

Moving On

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Moving On”

Rev. Art Ritter

March 8, 2020

 

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,
as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Genesis 12:1-4a
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

 

A monastery in Europe was perched high upon a cliff, several hundred feet from the town below. The only way to reach it was to be climb into a basket which was attached to a slender rope moved by a pulley through the efforts of several monks, who tugged and strained with all of their might. Obviously, the ride up the steep cliff in the fragile basket was terrifying. One tourist got exceedingly nervous about half-way up as he noticed that the rope by which he was suspended was old and quite frayed. With a trembling voice he asked the monk who was riding with him in the basket how often they changed the rope. The monk thought for a brief moment and then answered quickly, “Whenever it breaks.”
Playwright Neil Simon once said, “If no one ever took risks, Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor.” What is the biggest risk that you have ever taken? I am not much of a risk taker but I can think of some small things in life that elevated the heart rate and got me considering the sanity of my position. I remember standing at the top of the 120 feet, almost vertical drop at Summit Plummet Water Slide at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park. I almost changed my mind and headed back down the stairs before I realized that such a retreat would be embarrassing and then summoned the courage to take the plunge. I also recall volunteering a few years ago to sing the opening lines in the local production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. To this day I am still not certain what possessed me to accept such a challenge. But I did it. I know some of you were there to see and hear my song. When the house lights dimmed and the music began to play that day, I was about as terrified as I have ever been in my life.
Perhaps the biggest risk that I have ever taken was moving my family to Utah in 1999. I have shared this before with participants at Mayflower Café. It was difficult leaving behind our comfortable life, wonderful church, beloved friends, and my parents to embrace the unknown of Salt Lake City. I had rarely been that far from home much less live far from home. A couple of my colleagues advised against the move, believing it was foolish to take my children to a land where they would live with the consequences of being a religious minority. But somehow Laura and I took the risk and found Salt Lake City to be a wonderful place to live and to raise our daughters.
Commentator John Holbert calls this morning’s Scripture lesson from Genesis “the lynchpin of the Bible.” Here in this brief passage something of crucial importance happens. Abram is called to do the work of God. Rather than speaking directly to the mass of humanity, expecting each person to do God’s will, God now chooses one person through whom God will attempt once again to effect the divine work in the world. That person, called to take the risk of acting for God, is Abram.
God said to Abram, “Go from your country, your kin, and the house of your father to the land that I will show you.” This was a difficult command involving several risks or leaps of faith. Moving to another land. We know the pain of leaving behind the comfortable and familiar for the unknown and the uncertain. Many of us know how hard it is to leave loved ones behind. Many of us know how difficult it is to sever the sacred roots of those whom we have grown to trust and rely upon deeply. We know the anxiety of being called to go into a dark wilderness, to an unknown place. We wonder, “How will we find it? Exactly where are we to go? Will it be a long journey? Will the road to this place be difficult?”
Along with the invitation came a promise. “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” The word “blessing” at its root refers to God’s favor. In the Old Testament blessing was connected to prosperity, fertility, and victory. Yet that favor carries with it a strong flavor of grace. God’s blessing is something that isn’t deserved or created by the person whom God blesses. It is always a gift.
God promised to make Abram and his wife Sarai into a great nation. But even the appeal of that promise didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The goal of their culture at that time was to accumulate enough stuff so that people would never have to move again. The prize in life was sheep and goats and cattle and land and children. Apparently Abram and Sarai had all of the first four that they needed. They probably felt like they could have done quite well staying right where they were. Yet this blessing that God promised the two of them was something totally different. Now their life would be defined by not by possession but by how, through them, the world would be blessed. What Abram and Sarai would do would not yield the security and comfort and that made worldly sense. God was asking them to take a risk. In order for them to be blessed and to be a blessing for others, they couldn’t stay where they were. They had to leave home. They had to depart into the unknown. They had to move on.
Doug Bratt writes that “perhaps God called Abram and Sarai to move on, to strike out on this new and dangerous adventure, because Abram can’t discover all of the blessings that God has in store for him unless he disentangles himself from what he settled for. Maybe God understands that for Abram to recognize the blessings God will give him, he must give up many of the ‘blessings’ he had accumulated.” God does not promise to bless Abram into order to make his life fulfilled or empty of hardship. God does not promise to bless Abram so that he can settle down and raise a large family that God will give him. God does not promise to bless Abram so that he can travel a little, pay for his kids’ education and then save enough to retire comfortably. God promises him blessing so that Abram can graciously show the favor of God to the people around him. Abram and Sarai were blessed so that they could bless the entire world. And the world could not be blessed unless Abram and Sarai left their country, moving on, leaning into the future by traveling toward the land that God promised to show them.
This seems to happen a lot in the Bible. It is full of stories of people asked to move on, to go to someplace different, to a new task or an unknown land. Moses was called from tending sheep to leading his people out of slavery. Ruth gave up her homeland and her people to remain faithful to her mother-in-law Naomi. Jeremiah, feeling incompetent and unprepared, goes to speak God’s word. A young Mary enters the unknown, listening to the messenger of God and trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit. Fishermen and tax collectors leave the world they know and follow Jesus into discipleship. Saul, persecutor of Christians, is blinded and instructed to go to a Christian community where he is despised, to find the source of his healing. Again and again, when we read through the stories of the community of faith we find people who follow God by leaving the places that are familiar and comfortable, almost as a precondition for receiving and being a blessing to others.
The writer of the book of Hebrews defined faith as being sure of what we hope for and being certain of what we do not see. Certainly living by faith isn’t something with which most of us are proficient, or even comfortable. Lizette Merchan-Pinilla writes, “All of this struggling, failing through error, making mistakes, straddling the mud puddles of life, and still missing the mark where faith- and more specifically our faith journey- means danger of the unknown, threatening to most.” Many times our choice is awarded to what is known, rather than to what is too new, too risky, or too foreign. There are elements of life that we just have to take by faith. Sometimes it seems as if God throws us a curve. Sometimes it seems as if God gives us a pop quiz for which we haven’t studied. Sometimes it seems as if God has taken away our road maps or GPS. What is asked of us in life is something that brings us worry and fear. God desires faith. Fear needs security. Faith takes risks. Worry wants predictability. Faith loves hope.
Living by faith is a journey, a process, and Abram and Sarai are the perfect role models. They had to leave home in order to become who they were called to be. They had to take a risk in order to discover the future that God intended for them. They had to move on, to begin a journey in order to become their fullest selves and benefit others in the best possible way. The God who commands and promises is with us on that journey. God is committed to a future with those who faithfully respond.

Broken

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Broken”

Rev. Art Ritter

March 1, 2020

 

Genesis 2:15 – 17, 3:1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

  

We have a few decorative fruit trees that surround our house and deck.  Every three years or so I hire a tree trimming crew to come out and shape up those trees.  Some of their branches start rubbing against the chimney of the house.  The growth on each tree leads to shade that stifles the health of the grass and vegetation underneath each tree.

I recently heard a story of a man who noticed that his neighbor brought in a crew to trim his decorative fruit trees each and every year.  While it made the neighbor’s yard more attractive, the man carried the opinion that such constant trimming was a waste of time and money.  One day he asked his neighbor why he had the trimming done on such a regular basis.  The neighbor replied with a rather surprising and non-utilitarian answer.  He said, “I trim the fruit trees every year to create the space to let God into my yard.”

This week we entered the liturgical season of Lent.  The forty day period began last Wednesday with Ash Wednesday and concludes with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday during Holy Week preceding Easter.  In the ancient church, the time period of Lent was used by those wished to become Christian, to study and prepare themselves spiritually for baptism at Easter.  Later Lent became to be known as a period of preparation for Easter for all believers – through prayer, the repentance of sin, fasting, giving, and the denial of oneself.  Today many Christians give up something for Lent, a certain luxury or habit that helps believers associate themselves with Jesus’ journey of temptation in the wilderness for forty days.  One of my colleagues this week told me that because of the busy nature of the season within the church, she was considering giving up Lent for Lent.  In recent years some faithful have chosen to add a Lenten spiritual discipline, using the forty days to read a daily devotional, set aside a time of active prayer, or take on a habit that brings one closer to God.

It seems to be that the problem most of us have with Lent is that we tend to think of it as a “negative” season.  I spoke briefly on Ash Wednesday about how Lent is a time of saying “no” to things that keep us from God.  We tend to think of Lenten discipline as self-denial.  Just say no.  Don’t do this.  Don’t do that.  But then we have found that life isn’t so black and white.  There are experiences in life in which just saying no does not apply.  There are time in which following the accepted rules doesn’t make sense.  There are moments in which denying ourselves reasonable things produces no sense of wholeness or integrity.

Another colleague wrote that in past Lenten season she had given up meat and wine.  On Easter Sunday she had a steak and a glass of wine to celebrate.  Her Lenten behavior didn’t do anything for her other than to prove she could go without steak and wine for at least forty days.  It wasn’t wrong but it didn’t change her life or begin to change the world.

It occurs to me that instead of seeing Lent as a time of self-denial that perhaps we can come to see it instead as a time of self-awareness or self-knowledge.  Instead of viewing ourselves broken in a stumbling and bumbling and failing way, we are to understand that our brokenness actually occurs when we are people of not our true nature.  We are broken when we failed to live out our God-given worth.

The traditional readings for the first Sunday in Lent include the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  This is the story that is traditionally referred to as “the fall.”  Adam and Eve were living in an absolutely perfect world created by God.  There were no responsibilities.  Then along came the serpent who brought evil into paradise.  “Did God really tell you that you may not eat from any tree in the garden?”  Eve fell into the serpent’s trap and man and woman both succumb to temptation, trying to be like God, eating of the very fruit that God had forbidden them to eat.  Centuries has added to the complexity of the story involving snakes and fruits and which sex sinned the most and the punishment brought on by such a terrible choice.  We have used the story to explain the origin of sin and not perhaps what the original author intended the story to be used for- to explain the reality of what it is to be human.  It is about our human tendency to rebel against God and resist God’s boundaries for us and our desire to be like God rather than thankful creatures of God.

What happened after Adam and Eve ate the apple?  Their eyes were opened.  Before they were seeing with closed eyes, a partial seeing, a blindness.  There was something about eating that fruit that gave them a new awareness and brought them into a new level of consciousness.  They knew good and evil.  They saw it all.  Life in their world got a whole lot more complicated but potentially more real and more beautiful.

I think that the purpose of Lent can be a lot like that garden experience.  But instead of seeing our sin as a failure to say no to temptation, we need to take Lent as a lesson in self-knowledge and a time to find our place in God’s creation.  Can we use these forty days to open our eyes, to be honest about ourselves and to allow the presence of God to shine into our shadows?  How can we see the world and ourselves in a brand new way?  How can we open our eyes to see the places of wholeness and integrity as well as the places of brokenness and pain?  What are the painful places in us that cause us to act out in ways that are not good for us or others?  What are the buttons that get so easily pushed that cause us to react in ways that we really don’t want to act?  What are the ways we have contributed to the pain of others and how can be a part of the healing?  In what ways have we knowingly or through fear lived a life less that who God wants us to be?  Where have we fallen short and missed the mark?  What are the patterns and habits that direct and control our lives?  Do we truly believe that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters and are we living in ways that make that belief authentic?

John Calvin once wrote, “Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.”  Let us use this time of Lenten to examine ourselves truthfully and honestly.  Let use this time not to find our flaws and blame ourselves.  Rather let us use this time to accept our humanness and know that each of us were created to be in relationship with God.  The goal of the life of faith isn’t to escape our limits or to punish ourselves for our limits but to discover God amid our needs and to learn that God’s grace is sufficient for what and who we are.  Lent is a time to trim the trees to let God back into our lives.

 

Sacred Mountains

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Sacred Mountains”

Rev. Art Ritter

February 23, 2020

 

Exodus 24:12-18

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

 

While on vacation in Florida, I had to make a couple of unfortunate but necessary trip to the pharmacy for prescriptions to battle my upper respiratory infection.  On my first visit to the CVS counter, I had what seemed like a rather strange conversation with the clerk, a young man around 30 years of age.  Perhaps it was just me.  I told the clerk that I had a couple of prescriptions to fill.  His reply to me was one word – “Awesome.”  Now I was glad that I had been to the doctor, happy that I had prescription health coverage, and hopeful that that medicine would make a difference in how I was feeling.  But I wasn’t quite certain that the word “awesome” applied that particular situation.   The clerk then asked if I had a photo ID and insurance card.  I opened my wallet, produced both and handed them to him.   His reply to me was again one word.  This time it was “Amazing.”  Again, I feel blessed that Laura’s job provides such excellent prescription coverage and I am rather satisfied with my photo on my new enhanced Michigan’s driver’s license but I wasn’t quite certain that “amazing” was the word that fit that exact moment and time.  Regardless I remained silent and allowed for the young man to do his work as he sent along my scripts to the pharmacists behind the counter.

This past week I read an article about the ten most overused words in the English language.  It didn’t surprise me that both “awesome” and “amazing” made the top five.  The author of the article said that the overuse of these particular words is a method of tempering a wild, mystical experience to everyday terms that we can handle.  The overuse of such adjectives can also be a way of raising up otherwise ordinary experiences so that they appear more significant than they actually are.  The article went on to say that the overuse of awesome and amazing is often a lazy way of saying what we really should say: fabulous, great, wonderful, beautiful, or outstanding.  The word “awesome” is meant to convey something inspiring, a show of majesty and force, something larger than life, something divine, something glorious.  Yet we tend to use it to affirm something quite ordinary.  The same is true of the word “amazing.”  Amazing should point toward something surprising or astounding.  Instead we give the adjective to describe things that are just OK or good.  The author of the article pointed specifically to a Facebook page of over 1000 followers which accents the overuse of “awesome” and “amazing.”  It pokes fun at celebrities like Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, and Ryan Seacrest who use one or both of the words in many of their social media posts.  The author concluded by saying that perhaps the word “awesome” should only be used in relationship to some mystery that cannot be explained by any other word and that we reserve  use of the word “amazing” for the song “Amazing Grace” or describing the 1962 New York Mets.

Perhaps it is appropriate to use both “awesome” and “amazing” in the description of Transfiguration Sunday.  On the Sunday before the season of Lent begins, the church traditionally hears the story of Jesus mountaintop experience with his disciples Peter and James and John.  Transfiguration Sunday draws the season of Epiphany to a close.  We began the season in January, studying Jesus’ baptism and it feels like the transfiguration story provides a perfect bookend as we contemplate the light and mystery of Jesus for us. Although it is the last event observed during Epiphany, transfiguration leans into Lent.  When Jesus comes down the mountain following his transfiguration experience, he is on his way to a different destination, one that will include sacrifice and pain and death.

While on the mountain, Jesus was transfigured- his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.  He was visibly changed.  Moses and Elijah, the two legendary prophets and leaders of the Hebrew faith came to stand alongside him.  In the book of Exodus, we read of Moses seeing God face to face upon the mountaintop.  In the Old Testament, Elijah also heard God’s voice and saw God’s glory while in the midst of a lonely wilderness journey.  Here on the mountain, Jesus had a profound experience that seems to authenticate his identity as God’s Son and points to the glory of God that would be part of his uncertain future.  He found a renewed sense of God’s glory and new insight and strength to fulfill God’s purpose within him.

Peter was so moved by the experience that he thought the proper thing to do was to build a tent for each of the participants, to freeze the moment in time, so that it could be revisited and experienced whenever needed or necessary.  It seemed that Peter wanted to domesticate the moment, tame it down into something controllable and understandable.  But apparently this wasn’t part of God’s plan.  The voice of God came from the clouds, much as the voice that spoke at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!”  For Jesus, transfiguration wasn’t necessarily just an “Atta Boy” slap on the back and affirmation that he was doing things the way God wanted.  Instead it was a reminder of God’s truth in him.  Jesus was transfigured so that we might find the special nature of God in his mission.  Jesus was transfigured so that we as followers could cherish the special nature of our own encounter with the divine presence.  The face of God is not an everyday amazing or awesome.  The presence of God is something that moves and frightens and changes lives.

In his commentary on Transfiguration, Bruce Epperly writes that “one of the problems of our times is ecstasy deficit.”  We have become so busy about our own affairs that we have lost the vision of beauty.  We have tamped down wonder to consume it, prophesy to profit by it, beauty to buy it, and awe to acquire it for ourselves.  The world has become flat.  We focus on the literal words of Scripture as a plan and rule book for life and deny wonder within the stories of the sacred text.  We settle for controlled experiences of God, as Peter wished, for a predictable God, for the letter of the law and not the life-giving mysterious Spirit.”

As we stand on the mountaintop, with Jesus and Peter and James and John, we need to become aware of our how we have done our best to tame the divine.  We prefer to put God in a box.  We tend to worship a “do me a favor Jesus.”  We are more comfortable following a Jesus of our own making, not the unpredictable awe-inspiring God of the mountain.  As we contemplate the wild and majestic and transfigured Jesus, might we prefer a God that we can manage, control, and predict?

Yet the story of transfiguration reminds us that God is not anything at all like that and what Jesus showed us of God is something larger than life.  Rather than trying to tame or tone down God, transfiguration should raise the awareness of our own capabilities, increase the level of challenge in our lives of faith, and inspire us to the potential of God that exists within us.  Transfiguration is a reminder that our journey of faith is not something that leads us to comfortable certainty but challenging actions that transform our faith.

In a National Review this week, author Kathryn Jean Lopez described a program within her Roman Catholic church in Charlotte, NC.  It is called “Hard as Nails.”  The title doesn’t sound very inviting, does it?  The program was a three day mission at the start of Lent which is supposed to resemble the trip of the transfiguration mountain with Jesus.  Participants join hands-on mission projects to help alleviate suffering.  They spend quiet moments in prayer and meditation. They join in meaningful celebrations of the sacrament together.   They contemplate and seek the real presence of Christ.  The purpose of Hard as Nails is to contrasting the truth of what people profess to believe about Jesus with what Jesus actually calls us to say and do.  It is an examination of who we have made God out to be with that which God is calling us to be.  Those who participate are moved by the change that they encounter.  They feel transformed and transfigured.  Lopez writes that it is hard to stay tame and unmoved and comfortable when the Beatitudes are your oxygen and when Christ’s words of mercy are your marching orders.

On the mountain with Jesus we learn that faith is not a safe and certain harbor.  It is not a tame language nor a set of rules set to our standards of reason.  The mountaintop is a place where we become very aware of the divine presence of God, a God who intervenes in our world and perhaps more frighteningly- in our lives.  Our lives have meaning because they were made by and for this loving God.  That is what Jesus experienced on that day long ago.  As we begin our Lenten journey, that is what we need to know.

 

Being Holy

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Being Holy”

Rev. Art Ritter

February 16, 2020

 

 

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

 

A bishop heard that one of his priests had a reputation for spending very little time in prayer and spirituality and too much time enjoying the good things in life.  So he decided he would make a personal visit to the priest.  The priest, suspecting what the visit was all about, embarked on his own strategy.  The bishop arrived in the afternoon.  The priest met him, they chatted for a while, and then he invited the bishop to join him in thirty minutes of meditation ending in prayer.  After that the housekeeper brought them supper which consisted of a fried egg, a slice of dry toast, and a cup of black tea.  After some conversation about the challenges of ministry in the parish, the priest asked the bishop to return to the chapel for Night Prayers, after which they both retired to bed.

At two in the morning the bishop was awakened by the priest summoning him to the chapel for prayer.  He was awakened again at 5:30 a.m. for meditation and morning prayer.  After that, the housekeeper brought them breakfast, consisting of a boiled egg, a piece of dry toast, and a cup of black tea.  Then the priest asked the bishop to accompany him as he visited the local Catholic school and several sick and elderly members of the parish.  They skipped lunch, shared midday prayer, and headed out again, visiting several families till they came back to the church for evening meetings with the parish council.  After Evening prayer and meditation in the chapel, the housekeeper brought them supper, which consisted of a bowl of soup, dry toast, and a cup of black tea.  The bishop told the priest that he was very happy with the visit, encouraged him in his ministry, and said he would now return to his own home.

The next morning the housekeeper scolded the priest.  “We never get a visit from the bishop and then when he finally came, you treated him so poorly!  I could have prepared the most wonderful meals for him, but look what you made me cook – eggs, dry toast, and black tea!”  The priest smiled and answered her, “Ah my dear, did you never read what Jesus said in the gospel?  “Such devils can only be cast out by prayer and fasting!”

I participated in a memorial service this past week in Greenville, MI.  Before the service I was talking with a person who I hadn’t seen since high school, someone who graduated a couple of years after I did.  After checking in on what we were doing in life and the paths we had travelled, my acquaintance said something usual.  He said, “I always resented you when we were young.”  I was somewhat taken aback.  He continued, “You were always such a good kid.  You never got into any trouble.  You always did things well.  Whenever I got in trouble my mother would ask me, ‘Why can’t you be more like Artie Ritter?’  I just couldn’t didn’t want to be that good.”  I felt a little uncomfortable and quickly assured my acquaintance that I wasn’t that holy.  I told him that if he didn’t believe me, he should talk to my wife.  But I wasn’t quite sure whether or not I should be proud or embarrassed to be considered so holy.

You are witnessing a first this morning.  In my 35 years of preaching I have never once preached a sermon from the book of Leviticus.  I’m not sure what drove me to such daring this morning.  Perhaps I just decided that it is time.  Leviticus is one of those books of the Bible that most Christian seldom read or study.  The book addresses the people of God, freed from Egyptian slavery but not yet ready to claim the land that God had promised to their ancestors.  The book of Leviticus looks ahead to the time when God’s children receive that land of promise and it instructs those children in just how God wants them to live in that land.

I wonder however, is there a Biblical book with a worse reputation?  In her commentary on our reading today author Kathryn M. Schifferdecker writes that one of her students once said, “I never realized I could fall asleep on a treadmill until I did so while trying to read Leviticus.”  She adds that many a resolution to read the entire Bible, from cover to cover, has foundered on Leviticus’ arcane details about sacrifice and skin disease.  Even if you’ve never read the book of Leviticus, you’ve heard other people talk about it.  You’ve probably heard what other people said who have read it and because of their opinions you are now positive that you don’t want to read it.

The book of Leviticus contains dozens of very specific prohibitions of very common behavior.  Much of the book has to do with sacrificial ritual and regulations that were emphasized by the temple priests and scribes.  Holiness was a matter of great concern to the priestly writers of Leviticus, not because of a need to earn favor with God but because holiness was an attribute of God.  In order for the holy God to dwell among the people, a certain order had to be maintained to produce holiness.  God created the world with the capacity to be good and goodness is maintained when God’s creative order is sought in our own behaviors.

There is probably something in Leviticus that each of us could use to justify a certain behavior or judgment and there is something in Leviticus that would convict every one of us for doing something that we find perfectly acceptable.

Many of the verses of Leviticus include complicated prohibitions about sexual behavior and dietary restrictions.  But there is a lot more words that tell you what specifically what you can’t do.  Leviticus prohibits trimming your beard.  Leviticus prohibits tattoos.  Leviticus prohibits clothes with two kinds of fabrics – there go all the yoga pants.  Leviticus says not to eat shrimp or lobster or perhaps the scandalous things of all- bacon!  Leviticus scorns any offering made to God that doesn’t include salt.  I’m glad the ushers have already passed the offering plates!  Leviticus prohibits working on Sunday, tearing your clothes, letting your hair go unkempt, and mistreating foreigners.  When the book of Leviticus is used to argue about behavior or to justify condemnation or judgment, it quickly gets messy.  Which verses should we honor and which can we ignore?  What good are all of these rules anyway?

We know that Jesus had a lot of respect for the book of Leviticus.  When asked what he thought was the most important commandment, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy saying, “Love God with all your heart and soul and strength.”  And then he quickly added his favorite verse from Leviticus, “And love you neighbor as yourself.”  I think Jesus understood what the book of Leviticus is all about.  He wasn’t merely lifted verses to support his own interpretation of sin and evil.  He understood that the central message of the book wasn’t about tattoos or eating bacon or getting a haircut.  Leviticus is really about holiness.  That is clear from the first two verses of our Scripture lesson this morning, “Speak to my people and say to them:  ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”   We try our best to be holy because God is holy.  We move toward holiness, not through extreme self righteousness and memorizing black and white rules.  We are holy when God’s holiness shines through us in our words and our deeds.  We are holy when God makes a home with us.

In the book of Leviticus we are taught that God is invested in every aspect of our lives.  Holiness isn’t our own work that earns our salvation and gains for us the approval of others.  Holiness is the transforming work of God within us.  Everything matters.  Every word we speak contains God’s holiness.  Every choice we make reflects God’s holiness.  Every bite of food expresses our oneness with God.  God lives in our relationships and in the patience and sacrifice and forgiveness offered within them.  God is present in our worship and our meditation.  God is present in our daily work and play.  There is no such thing as a sacred part of life and a secular part of life.  Leviticus instructs us that it is all one big communion with God.  God and holiness are in everything we do in life.

The book of Leviticus is not an enjoyable read.  But it is more than that previously described list of sometimes arcane rules and customs.  It is a profound theological statement about life with God.  The laws and rituals of Leviticus are grounded in the reality of who God is and who God wants us to be.  We are to be holy, because God is holy.  We can’t achieve holiness ourselves.  It is the work of God in us, for the sake of Christ and through the power of the Spirit.

 

 

 

The Twelfth Point

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“The Twelfth Point”

Frank Maynard

February 9, 2020

 

Luke 10: 29-37

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen

You may have heard the story of a Chicago publisher who was visiting in London, England after the turn of the last century. He was walking around in the notorious London fog, looking for a particular office building in the center of the city. Nearly at his wit’s end, he stopped a young man to ask how to get to the building he was looking for. The young man not only gave him directions, but led him to his destination to make sure he wouldn’t get lost in the fog again.

Thanking the young man profusely, the man offered a tip to the young fellow to show his gratitude. The young man refused, however, and when asked why he turned down the payment, he replied that he was a Boy Scout and taking payment would violate his Scouting code and negate the good deed he had just done.

The businessman, William D. Boyce, was suitably impressed and had to find out what this Boy Scout thing was all about. Boyce and others back in the United States had a keen interest in youth development, so he sought out the founder of the Scouting movement in England, Lord Robert Baden-Powell of Gilwell. The two made plans to bring Scouting to America. Back at his Chicago office, Boyce started the procedures for the organization and incorporation of the Boy Scouts of America, which took place in Washington, D.C. on February 8, 1910.

Despite some early splintering and disagreement among its founders, the organization grew and expanded nationally over the next decade or so. Young men keen for a sense of adventure and the outdoors joined in towns and cities far and wide.

Around the same time, a woman in Savannah, Georgia, who had also lived in England, met with Baden-Powell and saw what his organization was doing for boys. Descended from a long line of strong and independent women, Juliette Gordon Low saw the possibilities that the Scouting movement could have for young women, since the Scout organizations in both England and the United States were for boys only. Affectionately known as “Daisy” by her family and friends, Low gathered eighteen girls from Savannah to share what she had learned about this new outdoor and educational program for youth. With that, the Girl Scouts of the USA was born two years after the founding of the Boy Scouts. In a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote, these girls blazed trails and redefined what was possible for themselves and for girls everywhere. Besides hiking, swimming, camping and learning about nature, these girls offered a helping hand to those in need and worked together to improve their corner of the world. And like Boy Scouts, the Girls’ movement expanded worldwide, also known as Girl Guides in England and many other countries.

Service to others was a founding ideal and continues in Scouting today. Much like in the story from Luke that Lee related for us about the Samaritan, who stopped to help the man beaten and robbed by thieves while others ignored him, Scouts make it a habit to help others. Learning as youth, these values are instilled, and the joy of helpfulness is carried for life. Indeed, the mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make moral and ethical choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law, which includes “to help other people at all times” and “A Scout is Helpful”, among others. And the Scout slogan, “Do a good turn daily”, helps remind young people to make helping others a daily habit.

Here in the US, Scout Sunday is observed on the Sunday closest to the February 8 anniversary of the founding of Scouting in America. It’s an opportunity to recognize Scouts and the blessings that Scouts bring to our nation and the world. And although Scouting is not a religious organization, Baden Powell emphasized that the whole of Scouting is based on religion in the form of the realization and service of a higher power. Explaining further, he said “I have been asked to describe more fully what was in my mind as regards religion when I instituted Scouting and Guiding. I was asked, ‘Where does religion come in?’ Well, my reply is ‘It does not come in at all. It is already there. It is the fundamental factor underlying Scouting and Guiding.’” Summing it up, Baden Powell explained that religion in Scouting is a simple thing: First, love and serve God; second, love and serve your neighbour.

Members of the Boy Scouts of America are expected to adhere to its Declaration of Religious Principle: “The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them. The Boy Scouts of America, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and the organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.”

In my service on the committee of our Boy Scout troop, I had the honor and good fortune to interview dozens of Scouts seeking rank advancement, the final step of which is the board of review that committee members conduct. I asked many of them about their interpretation of the various points of the Scout Law, especially the twelfth and final point: A Scout is Reverent. There were many different replies. Some would say it meant going to church. Others would pray or say grace at meals, or attend religious education classes. Occasionally, though, I’d get an inspiring response that showed that the Scout understood that being “reverent” meant believing in a higher power and that belief should serve as a guide for how we live our lives.

We also helped Scouts see the distinction between duty and responsibility when it came to religious life. Often on weekend campouts, some Scouts would leave a little earlier on Sunday morning so they could get home in time to attend a Catholic mass, as it is considered an obligation to do so in that faith. For others, the Scouts often held their own worship service. It was usually brief, held around the campfire, and most often consisted of prayers or other inspirational readings, or just impromptu thoughts or stories. We had many faiths in our troop and it was enlightening to hear how other faiths prayed, since whether one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or any other religion, we all worship the same God. Scouts are made aware of how other faiths worship through these “Scouts’ Own” services at campouts, at summer camp, and through observation and celebration of Scout Sunday, Scout Sabbath and Scout Jumuah.

Indeed, Scouting is a worldwide movement, founded in part on the religious principles that help tie the rest of the Scout Oath, Law, Motto and Slogan together. These principles are that a person should be considerate of others, be helpful to all and be responsible to oneself. The first seven points of the Scout Law deal with duty to others – helpful, friendly, courteous – the next four with duty to self – cheerful, brave, clean – and the twelfth point with duty to God – A Scout is reverent. Some have said that observing the twelfth point will also ensure that the other eleven are obeyed as well.

In this day and age, the proportion of young people in America choosing to do what is wrong is alarmingly high. Sometimes even basic values such as honesty and respect for others seem to be the exception to the rule. A poll taken a few years ago showed that half had cheated on homework or a test, a quarter had been drunk or shoplifted and one-fifth used drugs – figures that may very well be higher today. Even adults have morals and values that fall below the ideal. Only one-third strongly agree that helping others should come before one’s own interests, and a quarter strongly agree that being honest is not something that pays off in the kind of world we live in.

Scouting is a powerful force to counter these attitudes, and faith in God is at the heart of the programs. In the Scout Oath, Scouts pledge first to serve God. Why should a Scout pledge a duty to God? Once again, Baden-Powell put it plainly: “Religion is essential to happiness. This is not a mere matter of going to church, knowing Bible history, or understanding theology. Religion means recognizing who and what is God; secondly, making the best of the life that He has given one, and doing what He wants of us. This is mainly doing something for other people.”

A Scout is Reverent. Reverend Ray Trygstad observed that these are important words expressing an important concept that many may never have known before joining Scouting. It is the clearly stated goal of Scouting that every Scout should develop a personal relationship with God and we play an important role in making that happen. Scouts may not realize for a while who has been walking with them and guiding their growing knowledge, wisdom and faith, but one day, they will feel the presence of a greater power in their lives, setting their moral compasses and inspiring them to do a good turn for others at every opportunity, just as the Samaritan stopped to help the less fortunate citizen, not because he had to, but because he could.

 

 

Blessedness

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Blessedness”

Rev. Art Ritter

February 2, 2020

 

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

My friend and colleague Steve Goodier tells a story that he once heard Rabbi Harold Kushner tell.  It was about a bright young man who was a sophomore pre-med student at Stanford.  To reward him for his faithful studies, his parents gave him a trip to Asia for the summer.  While there he met a guru who said to him, “Don’t you see how you are poisoning your soul with this success-oriented way of life?  Your idea of happiness is to stay up all night studying for an exam so you can get a better grade that your best friend.  Your idea of a good marriage is not to find the woman who will make you whole, but to win the girl that everyone else wants.  That is not how people are supposed to live.  Give it up.  Come and join us in an atmosphere where we all share and love each other.”  After years of academic stress, the young man was ripe for this sort of approach.  He called his parents and told them he wouldn’t be coming home.  He was dropping out of school to live in a monastery.

Six months later his parents received this letter from their son:  “Dear Mom and Dad, I know you weren’t happy about the decision I made last summer.  But I want to tell you how happy it has made me.  For the first time in my life, I am at peace.  Here there is no competing, no hustling, no trying to get ahead.  Here we are equal and we all share.  This way of life is so much in harmony with the inner essence of my soul.  In only six months I’ve become the number two disciple in the entire monastery.  I think I can become number one by June!

There is a story about Robert Oppenheimer, the man perhaps most responsible for the development of the atomic bomb that the United States used against Japan at the close of World War II.  Oppenheimer entered Harvard at age 18 and graduated three years later.  He studied theoretical physics at several schools in Europe and taught at California Institute of Technology, known as one of the top ten theoretical physicists in the world.  In 1943 he began directing a team of 4500 men and women at Los Alamos, New Mexico, in a project to develop the atomic bomb.  Two years and two billion dollars later the team successfully detonated the first bomb.  When he saw what he had done, Oppenheimer underwent a radical reevaluation of his values.  He was quoted as offering the Bagavad-ita’s words, “I am become death.”  Two months later Oppenheimer resigned his position and spent the remainder of his life trying to undo the damage of his science.

There are certain individuals, who in a flash, see that all they once valued is really of no lasting value at all.  Their entire life has been turned on its head, everything upside down.  They see with painful clarity that the very things they prized most are in reality worthless trinkets.  A successful life is not always about high achievement.  Sometimes it is about character, about living into a personal mission, about finding a meaningful purpose to organize your life around.  And sometimes it is as simple as learning how to live in peace, happiness, generosity, and love.

According to the gospel of Matthew, early in Jesus’ ministry he taught his disciples and follower from a high place, just like the ancient ancestor of faith, Moses.  From that teaching, known as the Sermon on the Mount, we hear the words of Scripture we call the Beatitudes, the words of our lesson this morning. When I was a youngster, trying to earn my first Bible from my home church in Stanton, I memorized the 23rd Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Beatitudes. A beatitude is from the Latin, a translation of a Greek word meaning to be fortunate or happy.  In the context of religion it means to be favored by God.  Beatitudes were popular expressions in Jesus’ day and not only in religious circles.  Beatitudes were common sayings about the Good Life, accenting the kind of virtues that anyone would be pleased to have.

Jesus’ teaching of the Beatitudes are an instruction in righteousness.  They are not a list of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.”  Sometimes we fall into a trap of reading them as a condition for blessing, of something we have to accomplish or minimal entry requirements that we must meet for God to accept us.  We have to be meek.  We have to be poor in spirit.  Instead of prescriptions though, the Beatitudes are descriptions.  Jesus is describing blessings that are not to be earned but are already found among those who already seek righteousness and live in the way God intends.  The blessedness that Jesus describes is a happiness that comes from a right relationship with God rather than emotional bliss or good fortune.  In other words, the Beatitudes show how you live after grace not how your earn God’s grace.

We know the words, even if we haven’t memorized them all.  We know the categories even if we can’t name them all.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are they who mourn.  Blessed are the meek.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Blessed are the merciful.  Blessed are the pure in heart.  Blessed are the peacemakers.  Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake.  Blessed are you when others revile or persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you.  Jesus is describing those who are blessed by God.

When we consider these words carefully, and understand that they are a description of reality, according to Jesus, we might wonder what world they describe.  It certainly seems like a world unlike our own.  In our world, the meek don’t get blessed, they get taken advantage of.  Mourning may be tolerated for a while but you soon have to pull yourself together and move on in life.  Those who are pure in heart are labelled as hopelessly naïve.  Those who work for peace have their patriotism called into question as our leaders popularly invoke God’s blessing directly upon our nation.  When we view the world, we generally assume that those who are happy and confident and living in abundance are the ones who are blessed by God.  As Lance Pape writes, “Blessed are the well-educated, for they will get the jobs.  Blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will not go unnoticed.  Blessed are you when you know what you want and got after it with everything you’ve got, for God helps those who help themselves.”  If we are honest with ourselves, this world that Jesus is talking about is not the world in which we tend to operate.

Author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor writes that when she was younger, she liked to stand on her head.  She was very short and everything in the world seemed taller than her.  By standing on her head she could liven things up a little.  Grass hung in front of her eyes like green fringe.  Trees grew down, not up.  The sky was the lawn and never ended.  Her swing set was no longer an “A” but a “V” and her house looked like a rocket in danger of leaving the yard.  She liked standing on her head because it made her see old things in a new way.  She liked it because it made life exciting and unpredictable.  In a world where trees grew down and houses will move up, anything seemed possible.

Perhaps Jesus should ask us to stand on our heads when we read the Beatitudes.  After all, that is exactly what he is doing with these words, he is asking us to look at the world upside down.  While the words of the Beatitudes are puzzling and challenging for most of us, they sound a whole lot different for those without power and without resources; those who look up at things rather than down.

What then can we make of these teachings?  How do those of us who find ourselves outside of these blessings embrace them and grow from them?  A world turned upside down is inspiration for some and bad news for others.  Luther Seminary professor Karoline Lewis tells us that “the Beatitudes are a call to action to point out just who Jesus really is.  Perhaps not the Jesus you want.  Perhaps the Jesus who likely rubs you the wrong way.  Perhaps the Jesus that tells you the truth about yourself.  The Jesus who reminds you, at the most inconvenient times and places, what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about.

Perhaps we can concentrate on the theme of these teachings- seeking righteousness.  If we seek genuine righteousness we will be working for the good of others.  If we seek righteousness, we will be answering a call to action to make Jesus present and visible in our relationships, our community, and our world.  If we seek righteousness, we won’t be worrying about what we are accomplishing but rather working toward creating the kind of world that God imagines.  If we seek righteousness, we will be trusting in the words of Jesus who reminds us that we do and what we say and what we believe really does matter.

It is then when we will find that we have been blessed.  It is then when we find ourselves aligned with God’s way of the world.

 

 

Snap Decisions

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Snap Decisions”

Rev. Art Ritter

January 26, 2020

 

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

 

 

Laura and I are just a couple of weeks away from our Florida vacation.  This year we are going a few days later than normal.  And this year we are going to have to watch our spending a bit more than in past years.  I am usually a very budget conscious person, except when I go on vacation.  While away from home I like to eat out, I like to treat myself to food and drink I wouldn’t otherwise enjoy, and I am prone to use the credit card a bit more than I should.  I don’t experience the pain of my impulse buying until a month or so later when all of the credit card bills come due.

I love T-shirts.  T-shirts remind me of the fun and relaxing places I visited while on vacation.  So every year I impulsively buy three or four Vero Beach T-shirts to bring back home.  When I get home, those Vero Beach T-shirts join all of my other Vero Beach T-shirts in a big pile in my closet.  Maybe this year, I will only buy one new T-shirt!

I read an article on the AskReddit website this week.  The question asked was, “What did you impulse buy that you instantly regret?”  My answer to the question is a compact power washer.  One night while lying in bed, flipping through the cable channels, I landed on the Home Shopping Network.  They were demonstrating this new power washer.  It was portable and it didn’t take up much room or make much noise.  And as demonstrated by the host, it removed a lot of dirt and grime from patio furniture, decks, and sidewalks.  So I hopped out of bed, went online and purchased it immediately.  I have owned the compact power washer for three years now.  It sits quietly in the front of my garage.  I have used it twice.  Perhaps I should sell it to buy more T-shirts?

The AskReddit question produced some interesting and rather entertaining answers.  One person bought a pack of 700 various shaped googly eyes to use as an April Fools’ joke.  Many of the googly eyes were smaller than the thickness of a pencil so when he opened the box they went all over the floor.  There were googly eyes everywhere, impossible to pick up.  So he ended up sweeping them up and throwing them away.

Another person bought a drone.  He flew it for five minutes to see how high it would fly.  It was a windy day and he never saw the drone again.

A woman’s uncle was excited to buy a shipping container, sight unseen, filled to the brim with furniture which he planned to sell one piece at a time for the next few months.  He estimated that he would make over $80 profit, per piece.  When the shipping container arrived they discovered they had no place to store the furniture.  They rented a storage locker which to this day is still full of furniture, costing them over $100 a month.

A girl bought $250 worth of skin care products from a mall kiosk.  She was 14 years old and was too shy to tell the sales person no.  She spent the entire summer babysitting to pay off the credit card bill.  And she never used the skin care products.

Finally, a man bought a 1974 Dodge Charger that was partially wrecked and was sitting in a field.  He figured he could fix the body and get it started with minimal effort so he wrote a check for $800, started the car and began to drive it home.  The previous owner failed to mention that there was a hole in the oil pan and a rag had been stuffed into it to prevent a leak.  On the way to its new home, the rag fell out, and the engine exploded.  The project car got towed the rest of the way.

The moral of the story is to think twice before deciding to buy.  It may seem important at the time, or appropriate at the time, or even funny at the time.  But you have to be prepared to live with the consequences of your decision.

We make snap decisions all of the time in life.  At a restaurant, we don’t know what to order but when the waiter shows up ready to take our order we shout out a burger or club sandwich or a salad.  We are at the checkout counter at Office Max with paper and file folders and ink cartridges in hand.  Suddenly we decide that we need some Red Vines candy or Goldfish crackers.  Sometimes we open our mouths and say something quickly or passionately, something we might later regret.  Sometimes we agree to take on a task or do a friend a favor and deep down inside we know that we don’t have the skills or the time to follow through on our commitment.

But sometimes our quick decisions turn out pretty well.  Our decision to see that movie or eat at that restaurant or attend that concert expanded our taste and our knowledge and our experience.  That person whom we didn’t know but agreed to go to dinner with, turned out to be a life-time friend or partner.  That meeting or conference that we reluctantly attended introduced us to another, more beneficial job opportunity.  The task we volunteered for provided us with a surprisingly meaningful experience.  Perhaps you are here this morning because you made a snap decision to get out of bed instead of sleeping in, or many years ago you made the snap decision to visit Meadowbrook Congregational Church and you kept coming back.

This morning’s Scripture lesson describes some snap decisions.  Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee and he calls two brother, Peter and Andrew, who were casting their fishing nets into the sea.  Jesus issues an invitation, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  Matthew says that the men left their nets behind and immediately and followed him.  The same thing happens when Jesus encounters two more brothers, James and John.  He issues a similar request and they drop their nets and immediately follow him.

I’ve often wondered what was going through the minds of Peter and Andrew and James and John.  How could they have made such a snap decision, to leave everything behind and follow somebody who they didn’t really know?  Matthew uses the word “immediately” twice.  This was a choice made quickly.  If I were fishing the Sea of Galilee that day, I would have told Jesus that he had to check back with me in a couple of weeks, after I had used the time to do a complete background check upon him, checked his references, spoke to my trusted friends and advisors, shared the details of my plans with my family, and finally prayed and thought about it seriously.  How could any reasonable person make such a snap decision about such an important thing?

Alyce McKenzie writes that perhaps the disciples’ choice to follow Jesus was not a snap as it is portrayed.  She argues that every decision is made in a context.  The decision to follow Jesus may have been one step in an ongoing process.  Perhaps they had heard of him and were considering learning more about him.  In their quick experience of him they heard more and saw more.  In the light of his teaching and his healings they began to trust him more, making more snap decisions based on that trust.  Instead of a once and for all time decision made on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were put into the position of having to make snap decisions about following Jesus each and every day, decisions about being light instead of darkness, about loving God with one’s whole being, about loving one’s neighbor as oneself.  Sometimes our snap decisions are not so good- Peter chose to deny Jesus three times.  But it was one step in his process of dealing with fear with faith.  McKenzie concludes that our decision to follow Jesus needs to be continually renewed.  One quick decision is not enough.  We have to keep making snap decisions all of our life, one after another, to keep following where Jesus might lead us.

In pre-marital counseling, I like to tell couples that their vows are not a once time statement made in a beautiful ceremony in front of family and friends.  The vows of such a covenant are something that need to be repeated and exercised in so many ways each and every day of a marriage.  While we might make one formal and public decision to join a partner in marriage, we make hundreds of snap decisions each week that confirm or deny our intention to honor that covenant.  Each day is a recommitment to our vows, for the rest of our lives.

Life can come at us very fast.  Sometimes the best decisions we make are snap decisions.  There may be choices to make that take some time and give us the opportunity to mull things over.  But even on the most ordinary of days we have decision that show up at our door without a moment’s notice.  These are the choices that test our character and require us to apply our faith and purpose immediately and continuously.  Author Matt Tullos says, “from time to time God give us a pop quiz.”

Perhaps the disciples weren’t so crazy after all.  Perhaps we are just like them, making a decision to follow this journey with Jesus, opening ourselves to his power and his grace, understanding that our following is not a one-time decision that removes all doubt, but a choice that leads to daily decisions that confirm our identity as his disciples.

 

That Scary Word

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“That Scary Word”

Rev. Art Ritter

January 19, 2019

 

John 1:29-42
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

 

At a memorial service for Walter Cronkite, 60 Minutes reporter Andy Rooney told a story about the famous news anchor. Rooney and his wife were boating in Maine with Cronkite and his wife Betsy. They tied up in a little village and Walter and Betsy got off the boat and walked into a nearby country store. A rather strange looking man walked up to Walter and asked him a question. Now Walter was always very polite to the public and to his fans, and with his wife standing right there beside him, he took great care in attempting to answer the man’s question. Cronkite said, “Oh sure. We’ve met several times. We’re not really close friends but I still talk to him once in a while.” Once they left the store Betsy questioned her husband. “Did you really hear what they man asked you?” Cronkite, who was hard of hearing answered, “No, I didn’t. But I wanted to be polite.” Betsy said, “The man asked if you knew Jesus Christ!”
Perhaps we’ve all been asked those kind of questions a time or two or three. A colleague was telling me that as he went into a college football game this fall, he was confronted by a very large and angry man shouting out Bible verses and carrying a sign warning others about their eternal damnation. Just before he entered the gates, the man asked him if he knew Jesus, if he had been saved. He chose to simply ignore the man’s questions. My colleague said a fight almost ensued moments later when a couple of other spectators, emboldened by their tailgate libations, began to challenge the man about his physical size and the evil of his apparent gluttony. My colleague said he couldn’t walk away from the scene quickly enough, fearing how the whole experience might tarnish the reputation of Christians in the minds of those who witnessed it.
I have a friend from college whom I dearly love. He is a good and honorable man. We have been there for one another through the ups and downs of our lives. But sadly, we are not as close as we used to be. Although he is a very devout Christian, our ideas about the Christian faith differ. We don’t talk about our faith as much as we used to because I have asked him to stop. I wasn’t comfortable with the condescending way that he spoke to me about what I believed. When we talked about Jesus his words didn’t convey much love or respect. He dropped subtle hints that my faith wasn’t quite the right thing, you know, quite like his. It felt like he was more concerned about my eternal fate than what was happening to me on that particular day. I know in my heart that my friend has the best of intentions but his actions come across as coercive, unloving, and even threatening.
Today in the words of the gospel of John, we are to consider our role as evangelists. I would venture to say that most of us within the mainline church admit to a measure of discomfort with the word. When we think of evangelists, we might think of pushy, self-righteous people who confront us within our safe space. We might conjure up images of those religious know-it-alls who stand on street corners quoting Bible verses or delivering fiery opinions. Some of us may hold the conviction that like politics, religion isn’t something that polite people talk about. Some embrace the Congregationalist tradition that values the individual faith journey and our covenant which calls us to support others in our different walks of faith. But many simply do not want to be perceived as being one of those people who we think of when we think of evangelism.
Whatever the reason, we are downright frightened of the word. And our fear cripples our ability to reach out to others with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this season of Epiphany, we recall that we are to celebrate God’s love revealed and made manifest in Jesus. We are to share that good news. We are called to be evangelists.
Jesus walked by John the Baptist and two of his disciples. The disciples began following Jesus and he turned to them, giving them his full attention asking, “What are you looking for?” Perhaps we could rephrase the question as, “What do you want?” or “What are you seeking?” Rather than pursuing a specific agenda that suited him, Jesus’ questions invited a sharing of their stories and an opportunity to reach deeper into the complexities of their life situation.
When they asked where he might be staying, Jesus didn’t give an answer. Instead he offered a very simple invitation. “Come and see.” Follow me and experience what I experience. Be in relationship with me. While John’s disciples were simply trying to observe at a distance, to gather enough information about Jesus to make a decision about who he was and what they should make of him, Jesus invited them to come and see. He didn’t give them books to study. He didn’t offer guidelines to which they needed to adhere. He invited them to come and tag along and see for themselves what a faith filled life could mean for them and for the rest of the world.
Last Sunday night I laid in bed comfortably, just approaching that marvelous point of falling into the arms of sleep. Laura came up into our bedroom, then walked into our bathroom, and then turned and said to me, “Are you asleep?” My first instinct was to ignore her and pretend that I was sleeping. But my conscience got the best of me. I opened my eyes and responded. She continued, “I want to show you something. Come here and see.” I have to admit, I tried to get out of it easy. I wondered if I could experience what she wanted to show me remotely, without leaving the comfort of bed. “What is it?” I asked. Laura wasn’t letting me off that easy. “I need to show you.” Immediately I remembered hearing those words from my daughters when they were younger, right before they showed me an ugly insect, a drawing they had proudly made, or a footprint in the snow. Reluctantly I got out of bed and made my way into the bathroom. Laura stood there, staring into our shower, with a look of great pride and admiration. Earlier in the day she had tried a new cleaning product on the grout between the tiles. She had only cleaned half the shower but there was indeed a distinct difference in the color. What was once dirty was now clean. I was impressed, but I was also tired. I complimented her and made my way back to bed. The funny thing about all of this is that although that trip to come and see didn’t mean much that night, I have remembered it all week. Every time I have taken a shower since then I have noticed the clean grout and think about the hard work that Laura put into that shower. I try to make certain that I am doing what I can to keep it clean.
Come and see. Something happens and you just can’t keep it to yourself. A new restaurant, an exciting play in a baseball game, a captivating television show. We want to share it. Come and see. You want another person to enter into your experience, to see your work or your accomplishment, to know of your struggle and your pain, to participate in your celebration and discovery. Come and see. But before the invitation can be issued, we must experience that something for ourselves. We can’t speak of the beautiful sunset with seeing it. We can’t telling a love story without falling in love. We can’t tell of the wonders of a new land without having traveled there. The first step to evangelism is noticing what God is doing in your life and giving voice to that presence and how it has moved you, inspired you, and changed you.
But there’s more to it than sharing your story. Evangelism is also acquiring a genuine attentiveness to the needs of others, in the longings and needs of the other person. Jesus’ invitation to those first disciples was a tender one, not a harsh assessment. As he shared the good news he spoke it not with empty words and slogans but with the opportunity to enter into relationship, to see “where he lived” and to understand that when people knew him that they would come to know what they needed to know.
Doug Pollack, a YMCA chaplain and minister with Athletes in Action relates an incident that happened to him recently. His article in Christianity Today is entitled “The Confessions of a Recovering Evangelist.” Pollock was riding in a rental car shuttle in Denver when he struck up a conversation with a young man in his twenties. The man had just flown back to the U.S. after a year of graduate studies abroad. When they got to rental counter the young man discovered his license had expired so nudged by the Holy Spirit Pollock offered him a ride to Colorado Springs where the minister was speaking to several churches. The young man was totally taken back by his seemingly small offer of kindness. Their conversation grew more intense when Pollock shared his profession. His passenger remarked that he wasn’t much interested in religion. Pollock then asked the young man what he might advise Christians not to say in speaking with those outside the faith. The young man quickly replied, “I’d tell them if you are not willing to listen to me, I am not going to listen to you. Every conversation I’ve ever had with Christians have left me feeling very disrespected and angry because it’s more of a monologue. All they are concerned about is getting their point across. It comes across as arrogant or rude. I don’t want their Jesus because I don’t want to become rude and disrespectful like they are.” Pollock was stunned by this comment because he felt suddenly felt convicted. God had flipped his “Good Samaritan” act and had used this young man to reach him instead. He thought of all the times he felt called to speak to others but never thought about listening. He since has found that sentiment confirmed in a study by George Barna saying that the number one thing not-yet Christians want but very rarely experience when talking to Christians is to be heard without judgment. Pollock said that in his conversation with others, with his evangelism, he now emphasizes listening with judgment, listening without speaking, caring without worrying about accomplishing his agenda.
Evangelism needs to be offered as good news not as strong judgements. When we bear witness, our witness needs to be as Jesus witnessed, with interest and kindness and compassion. Our faith grows when we experience something and share it in practice with others. We see kindness offered and we apply it ourselves. We receive gifts from others and are moved to share of what we have been given. We learn that we have been prayed for and we remember to pray for others. We hear a call for justice and we join others in working for it. Come and see. As you grow closer to God you will find ways to invite others to come along and see as well.
Long ago, a simple invitation to come and see reached far beyond what those first disciples could have ever imagined. God delights in taking such little things and blessing them and doing something wonderful through them. Even if our initial efforts to share our faith, our story, our church, may seem small and tentative, telling others to come and see is the way God brings light from darkness and raise the dead to life. God can do marvelous things through us. That is the promise of evangelism.