I am not feeling much of a holiday spirit this year. As usual, I can find many reasons to explain why ‘THIS” year I don’t feel the spirit – but the reality is it’s every year. Christmas is stressful! From what do you want for Christmas; shopping; and gatherings; to shopping, decorating; and gathering….it is all stress!
Yesterday, I said a line I think I say every year “I want to like Christmas!” to which Jenn replied “Yeah, you like the idea of Christmas – reality not so much.”
I saw this video touted as the best holiday video this year, Maybe it is! Although I don’t know what’s Christmasy.
It’s a cute video! With a cute dog (always a bonus in my book). I read it was filmed in Poland in English. I hope it helps you find your Christmas Spirit!
This morning I awoke to outside temperature of about 32 degrees….our first frost of the season. Last nigh, we had turned on our heat for the first time this fall. Over night we had run out of heating oil and the house was about 50degrees…..BURRRRR. Obviously, I needed to get heating oil.
Anyway, I called the company I deal with, Atlantic Coast Oil and Lubes. The owner, Randy, answered the phone. I told him who I was, and that I needed oil, he asked if today or tomorrow was okay…I said sure but I’m out…he said today it is. See you about noon.
Just about noon, I saw the truck pull in my drive…. and oil was delivered! Probably there are many companies I could have called. But Randy had not been here in over a year….but still didn’t need my address (he remembered me). He made it a priority to be sure I got heat (he always does when I mess up and run out).
This is why I believe in doing business with locally owned and operated businesses. Customer service matters!! If you live in Wilmington and have a need for fuel oil, call Randy! He’s a good guy.
In case you missed it, there was an election in the United States last week. It was a particularly nasty run-up to this election; the worst I can remember in my almost 54 years. I’m not sure what was the worst in our history but History.com lists seven as the most contentious US elections (1800, 1824, 1860, 1876, 1912, 1948 and 2000). In my humble opinion, we have a new one topping the list. So since the election I have been trying to find some perspective. And this story keeps rattling around in my head. It’s a story we no doubt know, we learned it in Sunday School.
I must admit to spending time labeling people I know as characters of this story. Who is the man on the side of the road? Who is the Priest or the Levite? Who is the Samaritan? Sadly, I label people in my mind as a way of shaming them. A way of diminishing what they think or what they do (or more often don’t do).
All of us are the lawyer
This week I have come to realize, I am attaching the wrong labels (at least part of the time). In this story, we are, ALL OF US, the lawyer. We know what we should be doing – “loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves” – but we, like the lawyer look for the loophole.
We want there to be a reason we do not have to love someone.
They’re too brown.
They’re too white.
They’re too liberal.
They’re too conservative.
They’re too religious.
They’re not religious enough, or heaven forbid their religion is different from mine.
They’re too straight.
They’re too gay.
Their family arrived in the US yesterday.
Their family fought in the Revolutionary War (or somewhere in between).
There are as many reasons to decide someone is not our neighbor as there are ways we are all individuals, with our own loves and dislikes. God knows, we have our own opinions! But you know, that’s what has always made this country a pretty cool place.
We’re Far from Perfect
Not perfect! Far from it. We have much work to do! There is great injustice. We are overrun with hatred. As a society, we are incredibly self-centered and egotistical. We are seemingly less tolerant of others than we have ever been. The divide between socio-economic groups is widening. There are problems! Major MAJOR problems! But at the end of the day we are all neighbors. And even in this past week, I have had wonderful love and support from my friends on both sides. I’ve engaged in meaningful conversation with those with whom I greatly disagree but the conversation was civil and in the end, I still love them, and they me.
There is Only Love
Which is the point I think Jesus is trying to make. There are no loopholes. There is only love.
A few weeks ago when Shawn asked if I would speak today I immediately began thinking about a topic. I first went to the lectionary to see what the scripture was for today…it’s Luke 10: 25-37 the story we know as the Good Samaritan …. It’s one of my favorite stories and I was excited to speak on a story that holds so much meaning for me personally.
But as time went on, it didn’t seem like where I was supposed to be. I became very stress about what words I was to share….for weeks everywhere I went, everything I did, I was thinking OKAY how does this relate to the Good Samaritan and what I am supposed to take from this to share? But the answers never came.
Last Monday was Independence Day, or as is more commonly called these days, the 4th of July. As is our practice Jenn and I had planned to take our bicycles to South Port via the ferry. As we were preparing our bikes, and thinking about the projected heat index for the day (107) and the number of days last week we needed to be outside and the forecasted heat, we decided (wisely I might add) to nix the bike ride and opt for a trip to Sunset Beach and a show at the Ingram Planetarium. In the evening we went to downtown and watched the fireworks display.
When our day was done and we were headed home, Jenn said ‘”we had a theme to our day” and so I asked “Really, what was it”
LOOK UP she said.
Tuesday, as I took time to meditate on today’s message it occurred to me that the message of look up was where I needed to focus my attention. God put it on my heart to speak about looking up. As this past week’s events unfolded. I have realized why….
As you know….It’s been a tough week. In our land.
It’s been a tough month is our world.
For many of us it’s been a tough year or couple of years in our lives.
But the good news is we walk in faith.
We live in love.
We are loved by and we belong to a God – to THE God that is greater!
Greater than all our problems.
God is greater than all world’s problems.
God labels us (the WHOLE world) only as his children…not black or white… not liberal or conservative….not gansta or goodie 2 shoes….God labels EVERYONE in the world as his children. His beloved children.
We create divisions. We add labels. We join in divisive and damaging rhetoric. This is not of God. We just must remember that we are the reflection of God. If you grew up as I did you’ve heard the saying “you may be the only Jesus people see”. Are you comfortable with that?
I am sure, absolutely certain, that the answers to our world’s issues are not with the ways we separate, protect and insolate ourselves.
The answers are not with politicians.
The answers we need are of God and from God.
We MUST look up! We must look up to God.
I have two bible stories I want to share today. With your indulgence, I’ll paraphrase the back story of each.
The back story of our Old Testament text for today….is about Abraham (whose was still known as Abram at this time – but that’s another story). Abram, whom God had blessed was traveling with his wife and all his possessions as well as with his nephew Lot. Abram and Lot have grown to be exceedingly wealthy men. The bible says they had so many possessions between them that the land couldn’t support both of them. And that they could no longer live together. Conflicts were breaking out between those herding Abram’s livestock and those herding Lot’s livestock. So Abram says to Lot “Hey, we’re family. It’s silly for us to have disputes. Let’s separate. If you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north.” So that where we join the story in Genesis 13: 14-17
After Lot separated from him, the Lord said to Abram, “From the place where you are standing, look up and gaze to the north, south, east, and west, because all the land that you see I give you and your descendants forever. I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth. If someone could count the bits of dust on the earth, then they could also count your descendants. Stand up and walk around through the length and breadth of the land because I am giving it to you.”
Now, I’m not saying that God is saying to each of us….Hey, you can have it all. I seriously doubt any of us have heard God say that our offspring will be as plentiful as the dust of the earth.
However, I do believe God is saying look up and see what he is doing in your life.
Are you listening?
How many times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed and downtrodden and we begin to look at our feet. We begin to see only obstacles to see all the stones that block our path. But God says look up! God is in control and he has great plans for you.
One of my favorite verses comes from Jeremiah 29 when God says to the people of Israel “I know the plans I have in mind for you, they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.”
I am assured this is as true for you here today as it was for the people of Israel thousands of years ago– If you will only search for God with all your heart, God will show you all the good he has planned for you.
We as humans mess up. We run off trusting our own knowledge, believing we have answers.
Thinking we know better.
Through our own vanity we get ourselves in trouble but if we can find our way back to God, if we search for God with all our heart God will show us the good he has planned for you and me.
God wants good for each of us. For all his children worldwide.
Our New Testament text come from the 4th chapter of John. The back story goes like this, Jesus and his disciples left Judea and were traveling back to Galilee. Jesus got tired around noon and sat down to rest near Jacob’s well in Samaria. While his disciples went to get take out.
A woman came to the well to draw water.
He asks this woman for water and they have a discussion. Now there are lots of elements to this story:
One, her gender was all wrong for Jesus to start a conversation with her.
Two, her nationality was all wrong for Jesus to start a conversation with her.
Three, She wasn’t what we’d call a ‘good’ person.
None of those things stopped Jesus (the person we are to imitate) from striking up a conversation and sharing God’s love with the woman.
John 4: 27-38 says “just then, Jesus’ disciples arrived and were shocked that he was talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman put down her water jar and went into the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?” They left the city and were on their way to see Jesus.
In the meantime the disciples spoke to Jesus, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”
Jesus said to them, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”
The disciples asked each other, “Has someone brought him food?”
Jesus said to them, “I am fed by doing the will of the one who sent me and by completing his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘Four more months and then it’s time for harvest’? Look, I tell you: open your eyes (or Look up) and notice that the fields are already ripe for the harvest. Those who harvest are receiving their pay and gathering fruit for eternal life so that those who sow and those who harvest can celebrate together. This is a true saying, that one sows and another harvests. I have sent you to harvest what you didn’t work hard for; others worked hard, and you will share in their hard work.”
This is the word of God for the people of God
Thanks be to God
There are two things I want to point out about this passage. One, once the woman at the well received the forgiveness Jesus offered to her, it was not long before her whole community was coming out to see this man who could save the vilest of sinners.
I read a story recently about a car crash. The vehicle was on fire, trapping the driver inside the burning car. A bystander described what happened. He said, “We heard tires screeching. We heard the bang…It was a huge fire. Flames were shooting a good six feet over the vehicle…I realized there’s someone in the vehicle!’…I saw the [driver’s] hand…reaching up and I heard his voice: ‘Help me. Just take my hand and get me out of here!’” Fortunately, he was able to rescue the man from the car, and save his life. The bystander commented “It was scary. You know you could be burned. But it was scarier knowing that this guy is going to die if I just stand here.” The work of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, is not merely a program or ministry of the church. It is not just a push to put more people in the pews. It is not simply an effort to enlarge the ranks of the Christians. It’s the work of rescuing. It is putting aside ALL fear and hesitance, knowing that we cannot stand by without doing something.
There is so much to be unpacked in the story of the woman at the well (it’s a great story); the second part I want us to focus on the most is what Jesus says to his disciples after the woman leaves.
What was Jesus talking about?
One Jesus is saying he was nourished and satisfied by doing the will of God. Doing God’s will is fulfilling.
In May of 1965, Rolling Stones guitarist, Keith Richards, said he woke up in the middle of the night with a guitar riff in his head, and the words, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” He recorded the riff and the words on a tape recorder, and then went back to sleep. Later, he and band mate, Mick Jagger, finished writing the song at a hotel in Clearwater, FL. By June, the song was released as a single, and became the band’s first number one hit. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Stones fan or not, but most of us can relate to its message. Studies show that most people today are largely disappointed and dissatisfied with their lives. Jesus teaches us that there is true satisfaction to be found. There is a fulfillment that comes from obeying the will of God.
He was saying to his disciples that taking the love of God to the woman at the well was his mission.” Doing the will of the one who sent me and completing his work” And even more his disciples were to do the same….to a world ready for harvest.
Church, I tell you the world is ready for harvest. People are starving….for the love of God!
Jesus pointed to the anticipating faces of the Samaritans coming towards Him, and He told His disciples, “Look, the harvest is ready to be taken if you are ready to take it.” As the influence and size of the church continues to shrink, the problem is clearly not with a lack of people needing the love of God. In fact, within the shadow of most churches there are countless people in need. The problem is not that the fields aren’t ripe, and the souls aren’t ready. The problem is that most of the laborers have found every reason we can to put off entering the field and gathering the harvest.
Any good farmer will tell you, the harvest doesn’t wait for you. When it is time to bring in the crops, you either reap them or you lose them! Jesus said to His disciples, “we don’t have months to stall and wait for the harvest. The harvest is here, and it is ready for us.”
This world in which we live is like the Samaritans – IN NEED. The savior of the world is Jesus and this world needs a savior!
We have lulled ourselves into a passive state where we believe we bare no responsibility for strangers. We expect someone else to be the messenger to the world. But you’re it!
I’m not suggesting we start a door knocking campaign. I am suggesting living your faith out loud. I am saying look for the opportunities to share Jesus, or your’ Church. I am saying don’t be afraid to love radically. Radically love everyone.
Wake up church! Wake up! Grab your candle and run into the darkness. There is no superior cause. There is no allegiance greater. Here at St Paul’s we have a plan for the next 5 years to make disciples….to take the love of Jesus to Carolina and Kure Beach, OTB and beyond.
You, me, we are under a mandate to take the love of Jesus to a lost and dying (literally dying) world.
I’d like us to begin today by having a time of prayer.
I invite you to join in prayer….from where you are, silently or aloud….pray for our world, pray for us to look up and see what God is doing in our lives, Pray for us to wake up as a mighty people and for us to run into the darkness with the light of Jesus, pray for peace through our land and world.
I’ll begin our time of prayer….After a time, when all have had a chance to join as you feel lead, I will close us with a prayer of St Francis.
Pray with me:
God of peace, Help us to see your vision for our lives. Grant us the ability to listen for your voice in a sea of angry words and hate. Hear us as we pray now….
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”