Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Susie Told Me

During the summer of 2001, I began to seriously explore the call to ministry.  At the time, I couldn't believe that I was even thinking about it!  After all, I had been a teacher for more than 20 years, I enjoyed it, I was pretty good at it, I was at the highest level of earning that I could manage, and I still loved my job.

So why was I even considering that mysterious thing known as a "call to ministry?"

Because I was pretty uncertain, I did what any good Presbyterian would do: I formed a committee.

Actually, it was an unofficial committee, and it never met together.  However, I contacted each member, discussed the possibility of ministry, and asked their opinion.

One of the members of that committee is my friend, Susie Croes Barone.

Susie is like my third sister.  I have known her for more than 30 years.  She introduced me to my wife on Valentine's Day, 1981.  She was the maid of honor at our wedding.  She knows my family, and she knows me.  She is also a righteous, beloved Christian woman whose opinion I value.

She and I spoke about many things that day, and she strongly encouraged me to pursue ministry.  But I asked Susie a question that no other member of the committee heard:  "What do I do if I cry at funerals?"  Susie knew that I was pretty "tender-hearted" and that funerals were hard for me.  Yet I knew that if I went into ministry, I was very interested in being a pastor.  That means funerals - no way around it.

Susie gave me some terrific advice; she said, "If you are going to cry at funerals, then go ahead and cry.  The people will see how much you care."

Since that day, I have attended lots of funerals, I have officiated a few, and I have spoken often.  I also remember what Susie told me.  I am not embarrassed at my tears; they show how much I loved that person.

Today I am going to the funeral of a dear friend, Lisa Doran.  I am not officiating the service, but I am speaking.  My heart is very heavy, and I may cry as I speak.  But her family and friends will all know how much I loved her.

Thanks, Susie!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Avoiding the Quick-Fix

[Note: I usually post my sermons on our church's website for one week and then replace it with the next one.  However, Ash Wednesday is a special day - the beginning of the Lenten season.  That calls for something different.]

Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Scripture: Matthew 6: 1-5, 16-21
SERMON:  “Avoiding the Quick-Fix”

At first glance, the reading from Matthew’s Gospel might be seen as a lecture from Jesus.  It’s not a lesson.  It’s not a parable.  It’s not a thought-provoking story that makes sense to the simple and the wise.  It’s a lecture. 

If we heard such words from someone in our lives, it would certainly come across like a lecture.  Why…we might even roll our eyes or say, “Okay, OKAY” like we do when we have heard suggestions given to us by someone who truly cares about us but wants us to change what we are doing.

Yet Jesus seems to be taking it for granted that his followers would perform religious, faithful acts such as prayer and almsgiving and fasting; he just wanted to make sure they were done solely for his sake and for the sake of his kingdom.  After all, worship is simply meaningless unless it is performed solely for the right reasons.
That is an excellent place to begin our study of Lent.

So let’s do it right.  Let’s avoid the shallow, the superficial, the “sacrifices” that somehow make us feel more righteous without actually accomplishing anything!  Lent is a time for going deeper; it is not a time to settle for the bumper-sticker answers, the cheap slogan, the smiling condemnation of others who don’t fit our mold of Christian life.  Let's avoid the easy, the short-cuts, the quick-fix.  It is a time for us to have a serious conversation with ourselves and with our Lord.

Let’s start with just five suggestions.

The first suggestion I would like to offer is to not limit ourselves to the season of Lent.  If you choose to fast or to give up something for Lent, challenge yourself to do it beyond the season of Lent.  Keep in mind the reason you are doing it – to sharpen yourself for the study of the death and resurrection of our Lord.  If fasting helps your own discipline, that is a good thing; if it only gives you an excuse to whine, you might as well not do it at all.  And if you announce it loudly and dramatically to all who surround you, then you are seeking their approval rather than the approval of your Lord and Savior.

Next: “wrestle” with your own devils.  In our modern time, it seems that everyone has an opinion about everything, and if you disagree, you are opening yourself up to withering criticism.  So many of us adopt a combative stance about our opinions that leads us to hardening our views like concrete.  No chance to grow and change.  Just dig in.  I would like us to challenge that type of thing.  Read blogs, articles, or even books that you know you are going to disagree with.  Choose those materials that will directly challenge all that you believe.  In doing so, you open yourself up to new thinking and possibly new insights into what others truly believe.  No one is asking you to change your mind; just listen to others.  Choose your topic – wow…there are plenty of them.  Perhaps avoid watching them on television because the emotion is too easy to get into.  Try reading and examining what is going on.  Wonder about statements and opinions you don’t agree with.  See what happens.  Wrestle with that devil.

Third: Welcome the Samaritans.  In fact, go to Samaria and see them for yourself!  In the news, we always hear reports of “Good Samaritans” who stop and help others.  I always chuckle when I heard this term because it is supposed to represent someone you wouldn’t get near on your worst day doing the unbelievable – actually helping someone he or she should hate.  Who are the Samaritans in your life?  Welcome them in.  Invite them to church.  In fact, go and see them!  You might find that they are seeking the same Lord that you are.

Fourth: Let Jesus restore your eyesight.  Many times when Jesus healed people, especially the blind, there was some conversation about faith.  The people who saw Jesus heal the afflicted believed it – but they were also astounded when it happened because Jesus spoke of sins being forgiven and faith that makes us well.  Perhaps we are not seeing things as they truly are.  Is our eyesight failing us because we can’t see things differently?  Are we so stuck in the past – with all its failures, triumphs, sadness, joy, and influence over our current lives that we cannot see?  If so, then we need Jesus to restore our eyesight.  Because there is so much he is showing us!

Last one: Quit wiggling and let the Master wash your feet.  When Jesus did this just prior to the Last Supper, can you imagine how uncomfortable his disciples were?  Their master, washing and drying their feet?  That was work for a servant.  And that’s exactly what Jesus was trying to get across to them: they were leaders by being servants.  It is uncomfortable.  It makes us uneasy at times.  We would all rather that Jesus takes the lead and we can just follow and glorify.  But Jesus the Master calls all of us to, not only get our feet washed, but to be servants of one another...to do some foot washing, in other words.  If we can truly do that in some form or fashion, then the lessons and mysteries of Lent will not be lost on us.

So let the season of Lent begin this evening.  Let us prepare our hearts and minds for this amazing time.

A New Christian In Town

Several years ago, a preacher from out-of-state accepted a call to a church in Houston, Texas. Some weeks after he arrived, he had an occasion to ride the bus from his home to the downtown area. When he sat down, he discovered that the driver had accidentally given him a quarter too much change.  As he considered what to do, he thought to himself, 'You'd better give the quarter back. It would be wrong to keep it.' Then he thought, 'Oh, forget it, it's only a quarter. Who would worry about this little amount? Anyway, the bus company gets too much fare; they will never miss it. Accept it as a 'gift from God' and keep quiet.'

When his stop came, he paused momentarily at the door, and then he handed the quarter to the driver and said, 'Here, you gave me too much change.'

The driver, with a smile, replied, 'Aren't you the new preacher in town?'

'Yes' he replied.

'Well, I have been thinking a lot lately about going somewhere to worship. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change. I'll see you at church on Sunday.'

When the preacher stepped off of the bus, he literally grabbed the nearest light pole, held on, and said, 'Oh God, I almost sold your Son for a quarter.'

Our lives are the only Bible some people will ever read. This is a really scary example of how much people watch us as Christians, and will put us to the test!  Always be on guard -- and remember -- You carry the name of Christ on your shoulders when you call yourself  'Christian.'

Pay Attention When The Game Is On...

"For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." 1st Thessalonians 5:2 ...