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"Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus.  In Jesus, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God's Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident.  God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting God's Yes within us."  -  II Corinthians 1: 20-21



“Teach Reach”

THEME:  Stewardship

Matthew 25: 14-30


A couple moved to a small town and began to search for a congregation in which to worship and serve.  Just outside of their town was a pretty country church.  Following the gray limestone walk, and massive block steps that led to the red brick building itself they saw on the cornerstone dates that indicated the church had had that address for a little over a century.  They probably would have guessed that given the mature orange, red and yellow maples that surrounded the building.  As they looked up at the bell tower they noticed the slate roof.  Three large, stained-glass windows formed the arc of the gospel story:  an infant Jesus and mother Mary; Christ crucified; and a risen Jesus against a bank of white lilies.  To the south was a manicured cemetery with some leaning stones dating back those hundred-plus years.  An old pump in front of the church squeaked and gushed water for everyone needing it.  Oddly, there was no sign or marquee to be seen naming the congregation or telling times for service.  The church was on a busy county road.  The couple wondered who this mystery congregation was and how, if at all, it was reaching the community.


Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.”  His master said to him, “well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”  

Matthew 25: 20-21



In this story Jesus teaches reach:  the ability and willingness of individuals and congregations to stretch out of ourselves toward God and others.  Jesus’ parable models this reach, this stewardship, in at least three ways.



First, Jesus asks us to be spiritually productive.  Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.


Being spiritually productive means using our gifts (whatever they may be) to do the work of the Lord.  Sharing who we are and what we have always multiplies the gift and accomplishes Jesus’ purpose of reaching out to others.  Traditionally, this is called stewardship, a believer’s spiritual duty to used his or her gifts to serve and glorify our Creator.


One elder of a congregation once organized some friends who spent one Saturday morning a month in the fall giving a free car wash at their church.  As cars streamed into the parking lot the men, as appropriate, spoke with the drivers.  Out of those casual encounters, some turned into relationships for testimony or a ministry of listening and reflection.  A handful of those drivers who came to the car wash began to attend worship or support ministries of the congregation.  As those men reached for soap, they also were moving toward God’s plan for welcoming new neighbors into the church.  


A woman in a congregation once told her pastor that she would love to make lasagna to serve at the congregation’s homeless shelter held every Friday night during the winter, but she couldn’t stand for the hour it took to serve supper to the visitors to the church.  Eventually they discovered that if she could use a bar stool, she could sit and serve comfortably.  Before long a stool with a plush, blue cushion seat was secured and the woman to this day serves, speaks with and listens to underserved folk who attend the free dinner and sleep over.  This marvelous cook was able to reach hungry neighbors for the Lord with a tool as simple as a stool.    



Jesus calls us to serve others in his love.  When we begin that service with the giftedness and abilities we have in our own hands and hearts, we are reaching others with true worship.   



Second,  Jesus calls us to reach out with one motive:  the life-changing love of Jesus in our hearts.


Well done…you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.


We have many different gifts and abilities.  We have manifold ways of serving.  BUT all Christians practice being trustworthy.  Being trustworthy means, first, being honest; morally centered.  The man who doesn’t steal the company money; the woman who won’t falsify the business records; the one who can be counted on when no one is looking to follow the rules:  This is trustworthy.


Along with honesty, trustworthiness means being dependable.  Can Jesus count on you to obey his call?  Is your love genuine in sacrifice or is it about self-promotion?  Jesus is looking for stewards of the gospel to model trustworthiness in simple things:  Can I count on you to use what you have to help? Jesus asks each of us.


A pastor of a growing church once realized the congregation’s need for screen and projector.  Worship, Christian education, youth programming, congregational gatherings would all be enhanced by this simple and long term investment.  Some people balked at the six thousand dollar price tag. But the pastor and a small group of elders prayed and persisted in looking for the needed funds.  In short order, two members of the congregation came forward with the needed funds.  As they met with the pastor they said, “You can count on us to help our congregation to grow with the times and serve Jesus!”


Can Jesus count on you?  Is your love for Christ constant in service as is His love for you?  Robert Edwards hymn, “God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending” describes God’s trustworthiness in love for us.


God, whose giving knows no ending, From Your rich and endless store,

Nature’s wonder; Jesus’ wisdom, Costly cross, grave’s shattered door;

Gifted by You, we turn to You, offering up ourselves in praise;

Thankful song shall rise forever, Gracious donor of our days.


As we practice reaching out with our minds and hearts, we become consistent, trustworthy in living and being the good news to neighbors.  When others can count on us, we are truly modeling the way of Jesus. 



Last, reaching out of ourselves toward God and others gives us both joy and wholeness in that connection.  Enter into the joy of your master.


Jesus’ parable describes people who work hard and unselfishly for their master.  In turn, those workers are rewarded.  Jesus does not ask us for sacrifice which accomplishes nothing.  Our Savior does call us to unite with him in accomplishing his purpose.  That unity of purpose translates into our joy.


Joy (Chara) in the Greek text means calm delight or to be well-off.  While Jesus is no doubt delighted that this or any servant is obedient, joy as used here invites us to a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in planned and sacrificial reaching out.  The joy of the master is happiness at the success of others.  This joy is a status, a realization that no one and nothing can diminish who we are!  No jealousy or worry can diminish our part in Jesus’ plan.  The joy of the master is to take on Jesus’ perspective which rejoices in the advancement, healing, growth or prosperity of another! The reward Jesus offers each of us is to receive his same heart that smiles when the gifts we give hit the mark! 


When a volunteer reading tutor hears the student she has been working with sound out the word on her own without help: That’s the joy of the master.


When a grandfather sees his granddaughter reel in a two pound bass after teaching her how to bait a hook:  That’s the joy of the master.


When a mother receives a text from her son at college telling how much his roommates enjoyed one of the recipes she taught him to make the summer before:  That’s the joy of the master.


When an adult stops a teacher in a grocery story and speaks a word of thanks and appreciation for the lessons she taught him years before:  That’s the joy of the master.


When a child walks next door to her friend’s house and sits with that youngster for a few minutes, holding hands or telling a story, even though the friend cannot get out of bed for the tubes, needles and machines surrounding his bed:  That’s the (quiet) joy of the master.


There is a Baptist church with an active men’s group.  Many of the men meet informally every Wednesday in good weather to shoot nine holes of golf and then eat lunch together.  At one of those luncheons, one fellow suggested that interested men in the group take on a pre-teen boy from the local Big Brothers-Big Sisters program and teach them golf from May through August:  a short-term mentorship.  The men prayed that very day and a week later thirty out of thirty-six men volunteered to meet once a month with boys they would be matched up with through the program.  The matches were made and out of those thirty couples, all of them not only learned something of how to play golf, but those thirty couples all agreed to keep the mentor/mentee relationship for the rest of the year! Many of the men commented that the sacrifice of one morning a week to golf was far outweighed by the joy of seeing a young man grow not only athletically, but socially, intellectually and even spiritually!


In conclusion, that couple who saw the mystery church eventually attended worship and even joined the congregation.  After a while they suggested to people that they consider putting up a sign in front of the church to let people know who and what was meeting there on Sundays!  As you might imagine there was a little bit of carping about such a change, but several people and groups raised some funds and a neat sign was erected.  Soon, new people began to visit the congregation’s worship.  Several newcomers were overheard to say, “I never knew you were here until your sign went up. Then I wanted to see what was going on.”  


When you give of yourself or give an opportunity you teach reach; the willingness to get out of your self and into the realm of God’s spreading good news - Jesus Christ.  That giving may be time, or talent or the wealth at you disposal which helps move someone or some project forward.  Be assured that when you give you will know the joy of your master - the feeling and assurance that the results of your work and sacrifice do matter - to Jesus and to those who you touch in the master’s name. Amen.  



“Watch Out!”

Isaiah 2: 1-5

Matthew 24: 36-44

Advent 1  Year A


We are watching everything these days!  At airports TSA officials look at your identification card, and view screens that monitor your true form as you pass shoeless toward your gate.  You and I are urged by health advocacy groups to watch for signs of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Heart attack, stroke, and lower respiratory infections.  In this season of eating and drinking festively we are advised to keep an eye on caloric intake.  And of course, we must survey the calendar carefully for shopping dates left before Christmas which brings us to surveillance of parking lots for spaces that facilitate the loading of our cars with gifts that have been chosen, scanned and checked out.


Almost every year, a political or religious broadcaster suggests that THIS year, God will bring the end of time.  Recently, one radio voice said this in my hearing:


“I believe we’re approaching a last call:  All aboard God’s train!  Buckle up because trouble is coming.  The message I feel I’m supposed to give you is get behind the shield of God.”  (Glenn Beck)


We are a watchful culture.  Eyes, cameras, microphones, Instagram:  everywhere.


Living in an age of political surveillance himself, Jesus suggested that his followers refocus their watchfulness.  Look for God’s coming AND for the opportunity, in preparation, to live in obedience of our Creator’s love.


“For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day  Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.”  Matthew 24: 37-39  


Jesus is speaking about the close of the age (in Biblical Greek, the Parousia) when he, as ruler of the age would return to earth and judge the living and the dead.  Advent is the time in our liturgical year when we remember Jesus’ promises of return, and renew our hope in God’s justice and peace through Christ.  This is the good news we watch for and work toward through our faith in Jesus.


The John Wesley hymn beautifully describes this age to come:


Finish, then, Thy new creation; Pure and spotless let us be.

Let us see Thy great salvation Perfectly restored in Thee;

Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place,

Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise. 


In the meantime, Jesus’ reference to Noah’s time urges us to watch for this new age in two ways.


First, we live the gospel as we watch for opportunities to meet and serve the God who loves and believes in each of us.

In the days of Noah Genesis notes that “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and filled with violence.” (Genesis 6: 11)  People then (and now) lived as functional atheists:  not disbelieving but living as though God exercised no claim upon their lives.  Yet, in spite humanities’ indifference to the Lord of lords, Jesus persists in asking for a moment of our time to consider what it means to serve him in love.


One embodiment of this opportunity to meet and serve God in Christ Jesus happened in a congregation’s decision to serve homeless folk in their community.  


A group of members felt called during the coldest months of December through March to host homeless folk one night a week at their church campus:  offering a hot meal and a warm cot to sleep on.  They prayed, drew up a specific program informed by experts in their community, and asked the governing body for permission and funding to proceed for one winter season.  The governing body recognized the authentic faith expressed in the request but were literally afraid to say “Yes!”  The elders called a congregational-wide forum on the question,  secretly hoping that many negative opinions would “shoot down” the project.  That evening the mission-minded group asked an experienced social worker of faith to present the details of the homeless outreach ministry.  After the presentation, hands raised, one by one.  Negative questions were asked and prejudicial comments made.  One retired nurse, choking back tears, concluded the barrage of gloomy doubts by declaring:  We could all contract tuberculosis if we let these people into our church!


One by one, members of the mission group answered the questions as best they could.  There was more give and take when the social worker calmly offered his testimony, “It was Jesus who commanded his disciples to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison - to care for the least of these among us.  Because of Jesus, I’ve spent a good deal of my life advocating for the underserved.  In doing so, I’ve met Jesus many times; He always seems to confirm my decision to serve.  If you would like to meet Jesus, hear his voice, look him in the face and feel his touch, I hope you’ll invite your cold and hungry neighbors into your church for a warm meal and dry place to sleep.”  


The meeting closed shortly after that, and the governing body met.  One member of the board, adamantly against the new ministry said, “I don’t like it, but I think we are hearing the voice of God in this.  In obedience to that voice I vote for the ministry and am writing a check for one thousand dollars to support it for one year.”


The support was unanimous.  This ministry continues, in an expanded form to include a network of congregations in that community to minister to people without homes or food during freezing weather.  The ministry doesn’t solve every problem or answer every need, but it was a recognition of the Lord’s advent:  Jesus’ asking you and me directly for our obedient love and service. 


Second, In watching for Jesus’ return Christians will awaken to their being unlike the world in significant ways.


In the days to come…Many peoples shall come (to the mountain of the LORD) and say, “…Let us go up to the mountain of the LORD…that God may teach us his ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.”  (Isaiah 2: 2-3)


The prophet tells God’s people then and now, that we watch to learn from our Creator, just how to live.  God’s people are learning to act today, ostensibly, as they will live and act in the age to come.  They will live as though Christ had already returned:  The teaching we take from Jesus is our witness to the world.  


Isaiah’s 4th verse (second chapter) describes the vision for a specific conversion:


God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; 

nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.


Waiting for the Prince of Peace leads to living peaceably in this age.  How does that happen?


When we teach a child to pray and develop the habit of laying out her fear to God that she might be consoled and encouraged.  We are teaching Jesus’ way of peace.


When we forgive and wipe another debtor’s slate clean, we are living the peace of Christ.


When we visit the bereaved and sit with them, without offering theological bromides, and simply receive their suffering, we are modeling the peace that passes all understanding.


When we pray for peace let us lift up Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Portland and Ferguson  as well as Jerusalem, Baghdad, Kabul, and Damascus.  It is then that our vision has changed.


When we put our opinions aside long enough to listen to another, differing view, we wage peace instead of lesser wars in family, church and community.


When we are less demanding of those serving us and demonstrably more appreciative in our tone and demeanor we are the peace of Jesus.


When we appropriately hug another in tears we are sharing the peace of God in Christ Jesus who is to come.


In conclusion, when Jesus returns to earth what will he find you watching?



          Your iPhone?

               A neighbor?


Or will he find you as one of many lights showing Jesus’ way of peace?  


As in the days of Noah the way of Jesus, the way of saving peace is open to all those who are looking.





“Asleep at Basking Ridge”

Mark 13: 24-37

Advent 1   Year B



It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come....


He sat in his dressing gown, night cap and slippers although it was well past daylight!  His blue coat, cream-colored pants, black boots and black three-cornered hat lay in a crumpled heap at the foot of his bed.  General Charles Lee held his head but smiled at the memory of the party the night before!


Fifteen officers and men had left the main body of Lee’s four thousand troops of the Continental Army and headed to Widow White’s Tavern; about three miles outside of Basking Ridge, New Jersey (about an hour northeast of Trenton).


There had been the usual fiddle music, and platters of roasted meats, heaped high.  Candles blazed brightly into the night of blue-black cold as Tankards clanked and throaty voices sang together.  There were women in beautiful long dresses of green and blue and gold; and then in no dresses at all.  While Lee’s men bivouacked in tents, some barefoot, this party at White’s Tavern was a welcome respite from the war for Lee. 


Three weeks earlier General George Washington had written to Lee ordering him to come at once to Philadelphia, and help defend the city.  Lee would also, then, help plan a new offensive Washington envisioned.


But Lee dallied.  He moved at a snail’s pace largely out of jealousy for Washington’s command.  A year before, the Continental Congress had appointed Washington Commander of the colonial army over Lee.  It was Lee who had the courage to begin the successful siege of Boston which ultimately, drove the British out of town!  It was Lee who was a trained professional soldier with a life-time of experience in the British Army!  It was the experienced Charles Lee who had thrown in with the young revolutionaries.  Yet it was George Washington elevated over Charles Lee with at best, a dubious background as a leader of men into battle.


Now, on the morning of Friday, December 13th, 1776, with the future of his fledgling nation depending on General Lee’s following orders and marching directly to Washington’s aid, he dawdled.


Lee leaned over his desk, in no apparent hurry, and took time from the usual paperwork to complain in a letter to General Gates:


A certain great man is damnable deficient.  He has thrown me into a situation where I have my choice of difficulties:  if I stay in the province, I risk myself and army; and if I do not stay, the province is lost forever....In short, unless something which I do not expect turns up, we are lost.



It was just after ten o’clock when a swarm of red-coated British cavalry appeared at the end of the lane to White’s tavern.  Informed by loyalists that Lee had been carousing at the tavern the previous night, soldiers surrounded the building and opened fire through the windows.  Shots were traded and eventually the commander shouted that he would burn down the tavern if Lee didn’t come out and surrender himself.


In a few minutes, clad still in his night gown and slippers, with no cap, General Charles Lee surrendered to the British and was taken away on horseback to the sound of victorious field trumpets!  He never entered the war again.


...Keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.


Jesus’ words to his disciples, then and now, teach us to wait for his return in power and glory.  When Jesus returns he will “come to judge both the living and the dead.”  It is our duty to live the prayer Jesus taught:  Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  


But keeping awake also helps us in this interim time of waiting.  What do we do until Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead?  We stay spiritually awake.


Jesus meant for us to do this by, first, looking for God’s activity in our lives.  God’s saving work, through Jesus of Nazareth, touches people through agents of grace.  Recognizing and joining in with that agency is for us spiritual wakefulness.  To miss a chance may be us taking too much rest.  


Pitching coins into the red kettle or ringing a bell as a sponsor is a beginning of moving toward that grace.  Visiting the lonely or imprisoned or feeding the hungry throughout the year is another way to stay awake.  Praying for those around us as we notice their need for healing, encouragement, forgiveness or guidance is evidence of spiritual stirring, too.   


John Wesley described spiritual wakefulness in this way:


I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.


When we act out Jesus’ intentions for your life and mine, we are spiritually awake and waiting faithfully for Jesus‘ return.


During the shooting at White’s tavern Lieutenant James Wilkinson sneaked out the back door, hid behind the outhouse for a bit, and finally escaped into the woods, unseen.  Running three miles back to camp Wilkinson informed Lee’s second in command, General John Sullivan of Lee’s capture.  Sullivan immediately ordered a rescue party to recover General Lee.  Eventually, that party returned with an empty verdict.  


Sullivan, ready for the unexpected, assumed command and put his troops into action.  Marching that Friday night, Lee’s former army reached the the Delaware River, crossed over and met Washington’s forces in Philadelphia by Sunday night!  With that city secured, Washington launched a surprise attack, overwhelming British mercenary forces encamped in Trenton, New Jersey on December 26th!  That stunning victory would cement Washington’s army as a force to be reckoned with for the duration of the Revolutionary War.


Keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come....


“If Christ Returned….”

Isaiah 11: 1-10

Romans 15: 3-9

Advent 2  -  Year A


If there should be a second coming of Jesus; would there not soon be a second crucifixion?  This time not by the Romans but by those who call themselves Christians?  


The militarists among us would call him a cowardly pacifist since he would urge us not to resist evil but to return good for evil.


Nationalists would call him a dangerous subversive because Jesus has said that we are of one flesh.


Liberals might deride him as a dreamy visionary since he would urge us to take no thought for the morrow and lay up treasurers upon earth.


Church officers and leaders might call him a ranting heretic because Jesus would certainly cut through ritual and tradition, commanding us to love God and our neighbors.


Sentimentalists would brand Jesus a cynic as he might warn us that the way to salvation is narrow and difficult.


The puritans among us would despise him since he would again eat and drink with sinners.


The sensual would scorn him because he fasted forty days, valuing God more than his own needs.


All the proud and powerful will laugh at him as he would teach his disciples that he who would be first should take the role of the least among us, and serve all.


The worldly wise and educated would be aghast to hear that we cannot be saved except we become as children, and that a little child shall lead us.


If Jesus Christ returned to earth on Christmas Day it would begin an awesome challenge to each of us.  Yet in that very time we would find hope to live on:



“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”  Romans 15: 4 


In this passage Paul is writing to a church that is expecting the end of time.  Jesus will be here almost any time!  The believers, many Jewish-Christians are naturally concerned about what is the right thing to do.  The laws and doctrines of their recent past are still in force, including those rules about associating with impure people.  There is a lot of resistance to receiving gentiles as believers.  


But Paul reminds these believers that Jesus Christ is an ingrafting of ALL people into His body which is the church.  Paul’s vision of the church is like heaven itself:  sinners and saints, all races, women and men, rich and poor, powerful and weak are all welcomed and invited by our Creator as we know the Creator in Jesus of Nazareth.  The peace of Jesus is realized, actualized in this cooperative and welcoming association.


One example follows:


The Peaceable Kingdom (about 1833), by Edward Hicks, American 1780-1849


Edward Hicks was a Quaker preacher and painter who supported himself by painting coaches.  His mother died when he was seven years old.  Shortly thereafter his father abandoned him and his brother.  A distant cousin and a black slave raised Edward at this point in his life.  At fourteen years of age Edward was apprenticed to a coach maker outside of Philadelphia where he learned, among other things to paint coaches.  He was also exposed to the adult excesses of “drinking and carousing” to the point of addiction.  At age twenty-two Edward had a conversion experience to Jesus Christ which led him to join a Society of Friends congregation, and to marry Sarah Worstall.  At this time, around 1824, he was also healed of an unknown disease.  Grateful for this salvation, Hicks began to work as, what we would call today, a tent maker:  supporting his preaching and teaching ministry as a painter of houses, signs, farm implements and coaches.  


Encouraged by friends, Hicks began to paint on canvas one image in particular: The Peaceable Kingdom.  Inspired by our reading from the Hebrew scriptures today (Isaiah 11) Hicks makes over sixty copies of Quaker praxis in living Isaiah’s vision.  


The picture contains:  

  • A foreground of Isaiah’s vision where domesticated and wild animals are relaxed together;
  • Note the animals’ expressions represent the human condition:  Lion is pensive, but the (Christ?) child is guiding and comforting him; sheep and wolf are calm in the presence of the Christ child; other cats are also sad which communicates Hicks’ own sadness about his sin or shortcomings as a Christian where he had a violent temper, was argumentative and drank too much. The cow in the is obedient and peaceful and looks directly at us, the viewers, calling our attention to the scene;
  • children playing among animals ordinarily recognized as dangerous;
  • one little child playing directly with wild animals who submit willingly to those infantile energies;
  • a background of William Penn meeting the Delaware Indians and making the Treaty of 1682 which purchased land for the colony, made peace with the indigenous people, and recognized the relationship between indigenous and colonists as human and God inspired;
  • Note the bolt of cloth offered as payment for the land, and William Penn’s arms spread wide open signifying and celebrating the Quaker and indigenous attitude of peace, cooperation and acceptance of neighbor;
  • The light in the picture indicates the “Inner Light” of Christ within each person that leads him or her to live the gospel.  All living beings show this light which communicates Hicks’ hope personally and communally for Jesus’ saving grace to realistically play out.


If Christ returned, what would he find on earth?  Edward Hicks, though this image wanted to communicate his imperfect but faithful obedience to the gospel.  Hicks also wanted to share the good news that the grace of Jesus was being realized every day - Quakers at this time manumitted their slaves and did not exterminate the indigenous people they met. Hicks himself grew to lead a peaceful life in Christ which welcomed the power of God over his addiction.  Isn’t that the hope we all seek in Jesus - the unseen becoming manifest - Immanuel, God is with us in very practical ways?


As we look at Hicks’ picture of The Peaceable Kingdom, where is your place in the picture? 



Why Bother?

Matthew 11: 2-11

Advent 3   Year A


Two boys were playing ping pong in the basement of their home in mid-December.  As one bent over to pick up an errant ball in the corner he glanced at some empty cardboard boxes stacked along the wall.  Behind those big brown boxes were a more glossy kind; the kind one finds in toy stores and department stores!  Waiving his brother over, the two peered behind the stack of boxes to find the motherlode of unwrapped Christmas gifts:  shirts, toys, books, candy, and two bicycles!  


Just then, their mother came down the stairs, saw the boys spying “Christmas”, and fairly screamed!  Their father jogged down the steps, sized up the situation and, distraught, cried, “Why bother to wrap or even give these gifts?  Christmas is ruined!”


Why bother?  It’s a question that comes up not only at Christmas but in every season where a happy time is set in sharp relief to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”  


John the Baptist asks this question from his prison cell as he hears about Jesus’ emerging ministry.  John didn’t deserve to be imprisoned.  After all he was the product of a miraculous birth which set the stage for high spiritual expectations.  And John did not disappoint!  


John seemed to be directly connected to God as a messenger.  He inspired the people of Jerusalem to come out to the Jordan river and listen.  Not only did the people listen, but they responded.  First, the crowds submitted to a baptism for the new age to come.  God had expectations for justice in the world today, John preached!  Second, people began to follow John’s instructions on how to repent!  Soldiers should stop defrauding citizens;  Pharisees needed to cease charging crushing interest on their loans to poor farmers; the temple establishment should understand that attendance at temple worship was meant for all people because YHWH was not interested in ritual sacrifice as much as in the heart’s true turning.  John even called out King Herod in his talks, criticizing Herod’s shameless taking of his brother’s wife, Herodias.  John was speaking the truth to power, and told the people of a coming messiah who would bring this new age, where all lives would matter.


But before that new age arrived, John was arrested and jailed.  Herod didn’t like the uncomfortably accurate story John was telling.  So the king had the Baptist stopped.  John knew that his days were numbered because no political prisoner can pull Superman’s cape and expect to live.


So, John sat in prison and thought long thoughts and prayed long prayers.  Then Jesus came along, baptized by John himself, and began to not only talk about that same new age, but to live it!  John heard the good news of Jesus’ healing touch, his feeding of the masses, miracles on land and sea, and his stories about the power of the God’s rule which brought together young and old, rich and poor, foreign- and native-born in peace!  


From a dark, stone cell, the Baptist wanted to know if he should bother to even think about that new age.  He sent two trusted disciples of his own to Jesus with this question, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  Should we bother to believe? Why bother to act out any further hope?  Tell us why, please?


Jesus responded to those disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the leapers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who take no offense at me.”


Jesus is telling John that even though death’s disappointments may overshadow our lives for a moment, God, in Christ, will stand with us always and prove the good news!


Thomas Troeger, in his hymn “The Least in God’s Kingdom is Greater than John”  put it this way:


The least in God’s kingdom is greater than John

for God is not founding the kingdom upon

the standards we use to determine and gauge

who ranks with the greatest and least of our age.


The world in which people and nations are classed

and property, privilege, and profits dispersed

according to wealth and its systems of caste

will be in the kingdom completely reversed.


A shift in the world has already begun

through wonders and healing that Jesus has done

among those not favored by riches or birth

yet bearing God’s image of infinite worth.


Christ, topple the ladder of arrogant thought

we climb in our struggle for status and gain

that we may embody the kingdom you brought

through love that transfigures injustice and pain.


Why bother?  Because it is Jesus who persists in living and empowering God’s new age.  Even today, Jesus is not finished in that redemptive work and calls you and me through Isaiah’s voice to believe and live the good news that “(God) will come and save you.”



Why bother?  A baby boy was born to a couple who was crushed to learn that their son had cerebral palsy.  Initially, the parents’ grief led them not to bother with the usual happy announcements or purchasing of educational toys and games.  Why bother with any happy hope, after all, since their boy could not live up to even quiet expectations?  


Their pediatrician suggested that the couple learn and teach to their son sign language which could help overcome their son’s difficulty with speech.  The mom and dad learned, and patiently over years taught their son to sign.  Today they enjoy loving, spirited and deep conversation with their teenager.   They saw in the Jesus who stood with them that no disappointment could make the Lord quit, so they trusted in His creative power.


Imagine the heartache of an indigenous fisherman in Alaska or Louisiana or any coastal region which has suffered a catastrophe of an oil spill?  Why bother to earn a living from the sea and exercise stewardship of that resource when powers beyond our control ruin it?  And yet, communities band together to literally clean the sands, wash and clean the birds, stones and vegetation, and slowly but steadily revive fishing in a region that was once colored and smelled oily death?  Part of the answer is the faith of the community in the Creator of heaven and earth who is at work today in the world for good.


Why bother to cook a meal if I live alone?  Why bother to go to school if I’m a nobody?  Why look for a job if I’m going to be laid off?  Why seek a relationship if it may break up later?  Why care about my neighbor if they don’t care about me?  In each instance where disappointment looms, listen for the voice of Jesus who says, “I’m not finished yet.  Join me and let’s break out of this prison cell so that we might see what the new life provides!”


In conclusion, those two boys who spied Christmas in the basement later sat down for a talk with their parents.  Mom and dad explained their disappointment in having their surprise spoiled.   They talked over ways that everyone might get over the hurt.  One of the boys suggested that they give the bicycles away to children who might need and like them for a Christmas gift.  The parents agreed and before the weekend was over the four found new recipients for the gifts.  That night, after the table grace the supper table was quiet.  The younger son broke the silence:  I hope you won’t quit on us mom and dad.”  Dad replied, “Not in a million years, son, I’m very proud of you both today.”  “I will always love you two!”, chimed in mom.  


Why bother?  Because it is Jesus Christ who is present with us and is still at work changing the world, one day, one life, one opportunity at a time.  Just ask Jesus….



“He Almost Missed It!”


Matthew 1: 18-25

Advent 4   Year A



It had stayed in his attic for years after World War II:  an old oil painting.  It was two feet by three feet and consisted of thick globs of yellow, red, blue, and white paint with little green dots.  The man of the house couldn’t tell if the green dots were mold or part of the painting!  He had saved the burlap bag the painting was first wrapped in when he had bought it as a flea market on a romantic whim, years ago.  


He took the painting fully out of the bag and wondered at the artist’s signature in the bottom right corner:  Vincent.  He chuckled to himself at the faintest possibility that it could be, somehow, a valuable painting.  Should he pitch the dirty old thing out or try to sell it?  With a slight smile and shake of the head, this unknown Frenchman dusted off the picture and put it in the box marked “sell”!  That box was hauled to an antique shop in Zurich, Switzerland.  The rest was put out on the street for the trash man to take away the nest day.  


The dealer warily picked up the dirty canvas by two fingers on the top while the burlap bag slipped off.  He immediately recognized the picture as one of a series of still life paintings “Flowers in a Blue Vase” by Vincent van Gogh.  Vincent had done this subject several times while living in Paris around 1886-1887.  It turned out to be worth millions of dollars and hangs today in the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam!


At the time of the auction the Frenchman who had been cleaning out his attic told reporters that he didn’t know the value of what he had because he hadn’t recognized the famous signature on the painting.  


He almost missed it!


“When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”  Matthew 1: 18-19


Joseph almost missed it!  God planned out and announced to Mary the beginning of the means for salvation.  Mary (a young and simple woman) would be blessed of child by the Holy Spirit.  Eventually Mary was engaged to Joseph.  But Joseph didn’t get the memo.


No one could blame Joseph for being angry, or disappointed or hurt or certainly concerned in a face-scrunching, forehead-wrinkling kind of way!  Many of us might advise him to “put her away quietly” and congratulate him on being quiet about it all. And he THEN would have missed it - God’s plan for salvation!


That is when God is most likely to break in to our lives with good news about the saving, healing, encouraging love of Jesus Christ:  when we expect it least.


We might miss the Creator’s good news to us except though a dream which shows us in imagery that we might overcome a certain obstacle.


We might overlook God’s message of hope for us if we didn’t attend to a particular conversation we recently had with a stranger that, looking back, was an encouragement to hope in love for a different outcome.


Dutiful as we are in prayer, it would be easy to disregard our God’s answers to us of renewal and strength unless we reviewed the way things have gone lately in times of need.


In the midst of our grief, we might ignore the help the Holy Spirit offers to lift us out of our anger, or depression or worry.    


We might miss the peaceful way God calls us to address our particular concerns for our community if we focus only on what is wrong with the abuse of power in our midst.  


But in all of these normal and natural circumstances it is God in Christ Jesus who speaks, invites, touches us so that we might not miss the particular way God intends to save us and the world in the good news of Jesus’ love, forgiveness, hope and redeeming grace.


The story tells us that eventually Joseph got the memo, saw the point and claimed the prize:


“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had burned a son; and (Joseph) named him Jesus.”   

Matthew 1: 25  


We remember that name above all names as one not to miss; as one that stands out against every other back drop of human care.


I remember a saintly woman named Gladys.  She was a worker and helper in her congregation.  Whenever someone needed food, Gladys was there first with a basket of fried chicken and corn bread to share.  When someone had lost everything in a fire she was the first to donate with a check.  When the kitchen needed cleaning Gladys had her blue bucket and yellow sponge at the ready, the first worker there.  When the nominating committee needed to fill a leadership spot, one of the names on the short list was often Gladys because she could get things done.


But Gladys almost missed the gospel of God in her own life.  You see she was the biggest, meanest gossip in the church and, probably in her little town as well.  She knew ALL the personal histories of her neighbors.  Not only could repeat she them accurately with times and place names but she could reflect on the depth of the depravity involved, too.  So not only could she tell you that A and B had had an affair but that little C (now a grown man) was a bastard from that illicit union!  When Gladys was a greeter at church she would always comment when someone showed up who was not regular inn their Sunday attendance:  “Look what the cat dragged in” or “Look out, the roof is about to fall down now that you’re here!”  Naturally, Gladys seemed to erase with one hand the good she shared with the other.  It seemed as though she had missed the point of the salvation of Jesus Christ.  


But something happened.  I don’t know if it was her failing eye sight which prevented her from driving, or the death of her only kin, a beloved sister.  But suddenly, one gray, lenten March day, Gladys confided to me that she was forever fasting from criticism of others.  Her goodness, which was considerable, had caused her to miss her own sins and the value of all her neighbors which God alone gave.  She would fast from criticism and silently do good works to honor the Lord.  And from that day until her death a very few years later, she kept her word. She had nearly missed it, but did eventually see Jesus’ good news of salvation and grace.


In conclusion, perhaps the name of Jesus has been consigned to a dusty attic in your life.  


Perhaps you’ve been a very good picture of our Lord’s work in this world but have failed to truly notice the name written on you through your baptism? 


Don’t miss God’s gift of Jesus Christ; open your heart to God’s power.  Open your eyes to the gift of love:  our new born Savior Jesus.




“Christmas in July”


Christmas Eve/Christmas Day

Luke 2: 1-20


“And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered and she gave birth to her first-born son.  And she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”


It would go down that year as the hottest day; the kind of day old timers opine about under shady oak trees while holding cold cans of soda (or stronger) up to their foreheads:  Ya could a’ fried an egg on the sidewalk!


Bill mopped the sweat from his forehead as he pushed the front door open.  In the kitchen he banged the wooden sashes upward, swollen from the humidity, and felt a little breeze roll in.  After turning on the fans upstairs and down he said with mock seriousness to himself, “Who needs air conditioning?!”


Summer heat or no, there was a softball game tonight!  Bill’s Country Christians were playing First Baptist Church in a City League church softball grudge-match for first place.  He held up his blue, number eight jersey, and sighed.  Bill’s favorite player was Albert Belle, also number eight. Bill sometimes thought of himself as a slugger, like Belle, who had patrolled left field for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.  Bill, occasionally, would hint at certain similarities of power or strength.  When this happened, Bill’s teammates just laughed, saying they were both out in left field!


Bill also thought of himself as a Christian.  He and his wife were members of the Presbyterian church in their town and had both held offices of leadership.  Bill and his wife participated in the hunger ministry at their church.  They volunteered on a monthly basis for an ecumenical outreach of congregations to feed and house homeless men and women.  They attended worship about every single week, but when pressed, Bill would admit that he attended worship because of the “two Sunday rule” in the softball league.  Bill knew the Lord Jesus, but he really loved softball!


Bill had finished pulling on his blue socks and gray sweatpants which he wore, regardless of temperature, to pad his legs when he slid into bases.  As he was reaching for his black cleats a knock sounded at the front door.


     --Who’s there?!


The knock sounded again as Bill bounded down the steps, hopped the last two and landed in his green-carpeted living room, squarely in front of his front, screen door.  There he saw through the mesh a man standing on the front porch.  He wore a white T-shirt which was soaked with perspiration around the collar and underarms, but nonetheless tucked neatly into belted, khaki work pants.  He wore white socks and dirty, blue running shoes.  


The man had pushed his cap high up on his forehead.  The cap was a chocolate brown plastic mesh.  The beige foam front, above the bill, read:  Williams Lumber Company, Wheeling, West Virginia.


Bill opened the door and stepped out onto his front porch.  The man stuck out his hand, smiled, and spoke in a drawl, without a hint of irony.


     --Hi!  My name’s Joe.  I’m a rough carpenter from Wheelin’.  This here’s my wife, Mary.


Bill looked past Joe to Mary who was standing, head bowed, in the full sun on the sidewalk.  Like her husband, Mary wore a white T-shirt which was soaked with perspiration.  Unlike him, however, it had soaked through to her faded jeans jumper which hung loosely down past her knees.  Even Bill could see that Mary was, in the parlance of the King James Bible, great with child.  Mary wore yellow flip flops; the kind you might buy at the local drugstore for sixty-nine cents.  Her ankles were swollen and her face was burned a bright red.


     --I was wonderin’ if ya could give us a lift out to the state highway.  We’re travelin’ to Dayton so’s I can find work.


Bill sighed inwardly with relief.  That was an easy request to fulfill!  He could drop this wholly incredible family off at the interchange as he drove on to the softball fields.


     --Stay here and I’ll bring my car around.


Bill pulled the screen door shut and locked it; trotted into the kitchen and grabbed his glove, bats and wallet - gingerly picking up his cleated feet so as to not scuff the linoleum.  He jumped out the back door, running to the garage.  


Bill fired up his yellow VW bug, backed out of the white, pealing paint wooden garage, turned left, out of the alley onto Argyle Lane and left again onto Springfield Street where Joe and Mary were standing.  Scanning carefully, Bill made a big U turn and skidded to a halt on the gravel in front of his house.  Throwing open the passenger side door, Bill motioned for Joe to get into the back seat.  Mary then climbed into the front passenger’s seat, closing the door demurely.


Bill popped the clutch and the old bug laid a patch, as they say, on the gravel.  Springfield Street leads directly west out of town and takes a slow but steady rise toward the state highway.  Loaded though it was, the car chugged steadily.


     --Your car is sure nice.  Mary and I thank ya for the lift.  Say, I was wonderin’ if ya could help us find a little supper?  We haven’t eaten since breakfast.


Bill’s heart sank.  It wasn’t so much from coming face to face with truly hungry and desperate travelers but from knowing that if he helped get them anything to eat, he would miss all of warm ups and probably, the first inning!  Looking over his shoulder, Bill rolled his eyes at Joe.


     --Why didn’t you say something before?!


Bill pulled up to the interchange.  Mary rolled out and Joe followed, partly stumbling out of the back and into the tall grass by the side of the road.  While they made their way to the shade of the large green sign which read DAYTON 55 MILES, Bill turned the car around, scrambling on the gravel back toward town.  He held out hope that he could both make a meal and still make the first inning.  The Country Christians were the home team.


Bill steamed down Bray’s Hill and onto Springfield Street.  He prayed that Barney, the town constable, wasn’t out to give him a speeding ticket.  Bill made the big U turn again and parked in front of his home, ran into the house and back into the kitchen.  


Bill took out the bread and laid out four slices on the counter; put baloney on two and spread mayonnaise on the others.  Then the horrible thought struck him that they might like mustard instead.


     --Too bad!


Bill put lettuce on and then closed the two sandwiches; wrapped them in wax paper; found a grocery bag; put them in; found apples and put them in; took two quart jars and filled them with ice water; screwed on the lids and packed them as well.  Grabbing the bag like a football, Bill ran back to the car and chugged up to the interchange at the state highway.


As he was pulling up to the interchange, a big flatbed truck was also pulling up toward Joe and Mary.  They were getting up out of the tall grass to climb in the cab when Bill parked the car and met them.  Joe reached out for the bag, and patted Bill on the shoulder


     --Thank you very much!


Mary already had one foot on the bottom rung of the ladder to climb up into the cab of the flatbed truck.  Joe and Bill stood behind Mary, shoulder to shoulder, and placed one hand each on her bottom.  Bill apologized:


     --I’m sorry Mary, I’m going to have to touch your butt!


She laughed.  Like a booster rocket at a Cape Canaveral launch, Joe and Bill pushed Mary with the greatest of ease right up into the cab!  Bill could hear the driver ask Mary where they were going.


     --Dayton; to find work.

     --Good enough; we’ll get you there before long.


Bill shook hands with Joe, wished him luck, and heard the door slam as he shaded his eyes and watched the truck lumber down the ramp into the orange sun.  


Bill returned to his car and looked at his watch.  The second inning was surely under way.  He may as well just go home.  Bill cranked down the driver’s side window and roared back to town.  


As he drove toward Bray’s Hill, rocking the steering wheel back and forth, Bill reflected on what had happened.   Joe and Mary; carpenter and expectant woman; long trip on foot; Hhhmmmm?  Maybe his spirit could have been a little more Christmas-like even though there were no wreaths up or snow falling.  Maybe the Christ child had come early and given him a gift - the gift of patience and compassion; the gift of understanding as a practice of real faith.  Joe and Mary hadn’t asked to come into his home for a week, just to come into his heart for a moment.  At least Bill had finally gotten the hint, cared for them, and helped them on their way.  Bill smiled; it felt pretty good to give a baloney sandwich as a Christmas gift.  That’s what love is all about; forgetting the self and meeting a need with Christ. 


Later that night, one of Bill’s teammates called; they weren’t pleased that he had missed the game.  Bill explained that he had been out Christmas shopping.  


     --You never know when a good sale will come along!  You have to watch for them.


“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men and women with whom he is pleased!"  



Stray Dogs and Hobos

I John 4: 7-12

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day


Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.


Mike opened and folded his magazine, and stared at the picture in the December issue of Dog Catcher’s Monthly.  A brown-uniformed man was kneeling with a guide dog; a dark-golden retriever, sitting erect, tongue out slightly.  This city worker in Kansas City had seen the dog struggling in an icy river, dove into the turbulence and pulled the dog to safety.  As a post script, the dog’s license had expired.  The dog catcher had paid the fine and fee for the license renewal!  


Mike chuckled, “If they don’t have a tag, I don’t save anything!”


Mike reached for his 7/11coffee which had been sitting on the dashboard.  Steam form the cup had condensed on the windshield.  It was a cold day in Charlotte; snowing slightly.  Mike was going to take one more sip of coffee before he began his morning rounds.  There had been a couple of complaints about stray and potentially dangerous dogs in the area.  He was getting into his lookout mode.


Of course, Mike did other things.  He had pulled furry kitties out of trees.  More than once he had laid under a bathroom sink opening up the P -trap to retrieve gold fish.  Once, he had even caught parrot smugglers selling birds behind a Piggly Wiggly.  


But most of all Mike loved to catch dogs!  Truth be told he liked to see the owners squirm when he told them, “Your dog is going to jail!”


Mike put down his coffee and turned the key in the ignition; then jerked his truck to a halt.  Through the steamy windshield, across the parking lot of 7/11 a brown collie mix had just scurried around the corner of a dumpster.


“No collar!” Mike thought; his favorite kind.


Mike got out of the truck, and picked up his pole with the rope clasp at one end.  The clasp was augmented with a strip of beef jerky which lured his “catch” in while he opened and shut the device.  He fairly jogged toward the woods next to the 7/11.  


Even with the dusting of snow the dog left tracks.  Mike followed those tracks past trees, through underbrush and onto a dirt path which led to an old shed.  The stone foundation was covered with moss.  The door hung from the top hinge and covered part of the entrance.  The tin roof was rusted dark brown and contrasted with the paint-less gray, rotting walls.  The collie mix trotted up to the door and slid through the partly open door.


Mike had him now!  He’d scoop the dog up and lead him back to the truck.  One less mutt!  One less problem on the street.


He crept up to a dusty old window and peered through the broken pane.  There in the shadows of the morning was the dog curling up against a thread-bare, green army blanket.  Next to the blanket was a small pile of apple cores, banana peals, pop tart boxes and yellow cartons of Yoohoo chocolate drink.  Mike was puzzling out how the dog could possibly like strawberry pop tarts when he saw the blanket move!  A bit of steam rose up from under the blanket to reveal a gray old man.


He had long, greasy hair which spilled out from under his black stocking cap.  He wore a blue “Duke Blue Devils” hoody and jeans which were caked in dirt.  The man pulled the dog in under the blanket and the dog nestled next to him.  They began to snore as one.


I don’t know what got into Mike that morning, but he didn’t end up catching the dog.  Mike was a man of duty and law, but what he fulfilled instead was a vision of love.  


“…Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”


Mike had a conversation with the old man and learned that the collie mix (Bub) was his only family.  Mike also learned that he and the old man had not only served in the U. S. Navy, but that they had (a generation or so apart) served on the same aircraft carrier!


“…If we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.”


Mike took the rest of that day off.  He and the old man and Bub went first to Home Depot where Mike bought the materials to hang that old door, fix the windows, calk the cracked wood, clean up the debris, put out rodent poison under the shed.  


Then they went to the local vet who made time to check Bub over, update his shots and put some new tags on him. All the while, Mike and the old man talked and chuckled about a couple of old salts they both knew.  


As he made two new friends, Mike’s heart began to change; even soften.  He wasn’t so mean, even to mean dogs, anymore.  He spoke more kindly to humans, too!  For you see, Mike had seen love on that frosty morning in a shed in uptown Charlotte; the same kind of love that came down to a shed in Bethlehem, surrounded by nothing in particular save a woman and man huddled together and keeping an infant warm under some blankets they had.  


That holy family, just like Mike’s new family, includes everyone who bothers to stop and look in on what’s happening inside the shed.


Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  Amen.




Famous Betrayals

Palm Sunday 

Matthew 21: 1-11


It was so still you could hear the snow crunch under their feet!  It was so cold the condensed breath of the column of men and horses formed a cloud of fog that snaked through the woods.  


And yet they came in the blue-black cold of early dawn at Valley Forge.


Two weeks earlier Chief Shenandoah led this procession of warriors south from (what is today) Syracuse, New York with an estimated six hundred bushels of corn for Washington and his troops.  The Oneida people were going out on a limb in doing this.  In aiding and fighting with the American Army against the Mohawks, Senecas and British, Chief Shenandoah knew his people were risking their entire future.  Lose this fight and they would forfeit their six million acres of upstate New York, Pennsylvania and parts of Canada.  The lives of his best fighting men were almost secondary to that.


The Americans promised peace after the war.  There would be total security for their hunting grounds!  Given that, Shenandoah entered the civil war within the Confederacy of the Six Nations in direct violation to the wisdom of the Peace Maker:  If your Chiefs sit around the council fire and throw ashes at each other you will perish.


Earlier that year, on August 6th, 1777, The Americans and Oneidas had won the Battle of Oriskany (New York) over the British, Mohawks and Senecas in brutal hand to hand fighting; thus proving their great courage in that turning point of the American Revolution. 


That past autumn, Oneida warriors had also helped to defeat the British coming out of Canada; capturing General Burgoyne and his army.  On the strength of this victory, France was convinced to enter the war on the side of the Americans.


Now, in the depths of January’s blast of cold, the Oneidas were winning perhaps the greatest victory for the Continentals - keeping them alive.


The procession of Oneida men was surrounded by blue coats waving their hands and muskets in the air!   As they unloaded baskets brimming full of corn those same thin and starved blue coats reach out hands eager to eat substantial food.  Cheers went up again and again:  Thank God for the Oneidas!  The Oneidas were helping to save the war effort!


As Chief Shenandoah stood in the snow, surveying the swirl of soldiers scooping up the kernels that had fallen from the baskets of maze, he hoped that the price of saving the Americans wasn’t too high.  The chief wondered if the Continentals would remember and appreciate the sacrifice in the end.



Like the Oneida procession at Valley Forge, Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem was marked by cheers of the crowd!  Hands raised up in a spontaneous demonstration that caused a small riot.  People paved the way for Jesus by putting their coats on the road and tore palm branches from trees to do the same!


Jesus was going out on a limb.  In a land dominated by Roman swords, spears and whips, he taught his followers to live as though God ruled their lives.


In a society divided by class and race, he appropriately touched and healed everyone that came to him.


In an age that judged by clean and unclean, Jesus ate and spoke with anyone who wished to join him:  sinner and saint.


In an age of scarcity, where estimates range to 85% of the populace being poor, landless and hungry; Jesus, literally fed people.


In a time when the temple was thought to be the actual center of God’s love and presence to the nation; Jesus demonstrated and diverted God’s gracious love into the street to children, foreigners and people generally thought to be expendable.


People had flocked to see and hear Jesus everywhere he went.  Now, in Jerusalem at Passover, they were crowding in again.  The crowds chanted: This is the prophet Jesus of Nazareth!  God save us!  Son of David, save us!


By the end of the week the chanting, palm-waving crowds had vanished.  Jesus wondered, like Chief Shenandoah, if the sacrifice was worth the struggle?  We know because he prayed as much in the garden.  Lord, take this cup from me....


In the meantime:


One disciple ran away and reported him to the authorities.


Other disciples fell asleep while on guard duty.


One disciple pretended not to know him.


Other people made up lies about him.


Still more called for Jesus’ death.





People betrayed Jesus of Nazareth.  They had found that it is fun to watch a parade from the sidelines.  It’s exciting to call out Jesus’ name and praise him.  But when the column halts; when the parade is over; when the march has ended - the call for sustained action is all that remains.  And you know how people are about sustained action.


By the time Jesus‘ procession had reached Calvary, he was all alone; the man and his teaching, denounced.  From the cross he must have wondered if the sacrifice was worth it; and yet he came to Jerusalem.



No one remembers with certainty now, but after the corn and other supplies were unloaded, General Washington made a speech.  He said to Chief Shenandoah and the Oneida people that their saving gift of food would be remembered forever with gratitude in the history of his people!


The Colonials and Oneidas stood together and faced the common enemy.  The Oneidas captured a British Fort and kept forces in Canada from coming south to join in other battles.  They enabled Washington to wage the guerrilla war of attrition that ended at Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris.


After the Revolution, the new Confederation Congress showed their appreciation to Revolutionary war soldiers with land sales of thousands of acres in what would later be called Ohio.  Congress negotiated the treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784 with the Oneidas and other nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, guaranteeing the security of their lands around Lake Ontario, eastern Lake Erie and parts of Pennsylvania.  By the end of 1785 the new Americans trampled the treaty as white settlers poured into all the region of the great lakes.  


In 1820, Chief Shenandoah and the Oneida people formed another procession.  They were forced to move to Wisconsin, giving up all claims on their great lakes homeland which had been guaranteed through their heroic participation in the American Revolution.  Shenandoah’s questions about the risk of siding with the Americans were finally answered.


Famous betrayals - we think of Delilah tricking Sampson; David betraying Uriah; Brutus killing Caesar; Judas turning on Jesus; Benedict Arnold; Quisling; Rush Limbaugh and his anti-drug views; and there is Bill Clinton.  It is easy to think of famous betrayals.


But you know people, they always think of someone else.  They love parades, but won’t join them; welcome heroes but soon forget them; offer public praise, but respond with inaction; see suffering and scurry away.  


On that donkey, in Jerusalem, Jesus saw all the betrayal - yours and mine, and yet he came.



Peter’s Prayer

Matthew 14: 22-33

First in the series, “Famous Prayers of the Bible”


A fast acting Massachusetts mother saved a sidewalk full of children from a runaway bus.  Lori Aliano from Methuen, Massachusetts had just dropped off her son at an elementary school for a trip to the zoo when she looked up and saw an empty bus rolling down the driveway.  She jumped into the driver’s seat of that bus, grabbed the wheel and stepped on the middle peddle, praying it was the right one.  The bus came to a stop against a curb along a sidewalk where children were gathering.  The school principal, Richard Bashera said, “She is a heroine.  I don’t think the average person would do what she did.” (from the Washington Post, June 24th)


We sometimes pray like the heroine of our story: not knowing which pedal to push but knowing that God can help us just the same if we push.  


Peter’s prayer is instructive in this way:  “Lord save me!”  This is the first of three great prayers of the Bible that we will study.  Why is it great and what do we learn so that we might grow in our own prayer life?


First, the prayer is great for what it says.  There is only one who can hear and act on the prayer; it is Jesus Christ, our Savior.   Prayer begins with the fundamental building block and foundation of life:  Christ is Lord.  This prayer is great because it is directed to the Lord without hesitation.  Whether in a moment of crisis or a life-time of ups and downs Jesus Christ stands with us, listening for your prayer.  Christ is listening; Christ is with us.  He was sent for this purpose, Immanuel, God with us - Listening.  That’s good news!


President George Washington established a practice honored by Presidents though Abraham Lincoln of receiving the general public on particular afternoons.  Washington opened his Philadelphia home every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.  Martha made little tea cakes and punch, and people who had lined up outside the executive residence came into the parlor in small groups and talked with Washington!  By Lincoln’s time the practice had been whittled down to Thursday afternoons from one to three o’clock.  It is hard to believe any President ever took time to listen to ordinary citizens.  Obviously, for reasons both good and bad, the practice was discarded.  But it is not so with our God in Jesus Christ.  You do not need an appointment; you do not need an agenda.  You do not need a time:  every time is good and is welcomed by our Savior to listen to you directly.  You are the most important person to our Lord now and always!


Peter, in distress, cries out to Jesus.  Jesus hears Peter over the thunderous waves and howling winds, grabs his hand and lifts him up.  Instead of drowning, Peter is saved.  It doesn’t matter that Peter’s prayer isn’t properly addressed, theologically speaking.  It doesn’t matter that months later Peter would sleep through Jesus’ agony of prayer in the garden.  It doesn’t matter to Jesus that Peter would sin against him, denying him publicly.  Jesus died on a cross so that Peter, you and I might not be weighed down by our sins any longer.  Jesus’ grace upon us is his receiving of every prayer regardless of our health or lack of it, regardless of our purity, our standing in the community, regardless of whether or not re recognize Jesus, he receives us and our prayers.  


That’s the first thing that makes this prayer great:  Jesus is the one who hears us.  And it is only Jesus and truly Jesus who will follow through the listening  and respond to that prayer.


Second, Peter’s Prayer is also great for what it doesn’t say.  In this story, Peter shows his need to grow in relationship with God in Christ.  Prayer isn’t simply about words, but about who we’re speaking to.  


Of course, prayer is a conversation.  Of course, prayer is a time of listening. Of course, prayer is a time of openness to God’s communicating with us.  Of course, prayer is a time to admit to God feelings that range from praise to despair.  Prayer is the indicator of the fruitfulness of our relationship with Jesus.  To pray is to change; to grow toward Jesus as plants grow toward the light.  Prayer is the practice of our friendship, the practice of our relationship with Jesus.


And this is what isn’t said in the prayer.  Peter has no history of prayer with Jesus.  The gospel writer of Mark sets this irony up deliberately.  Peter is in the boat with Jesus and wants, then, to follow Jesus out in the sea.  He wants to do what the Master does but hasn’t been a disciple, a learner, a servant, long enough to do and be what the Master is about.  


“Lord if is you bid me come to you on the water.”, says Peter.  This isn’t prayer, this is wish fulfillment.  Of course, it IS Jesus out on the water.  If Peter knew Jesus, he wouldn’t need to set up contingencies to his getting out of the boat, he would simply get out of the boat.  Mark’s irony for us to consider is that Peter thinks he knows Jesus, but doesn’t really.  What Peter’s prayer doesn’t speak of is the depth of Peter’s ignorance of Jesus.  


Yet, whether Peter recognizes Jesus’ voice or not, Jesus still wants a relationship.      


Once, I asked my Dad for a quarter to buy a popsicle from the ice cream truck.  My Dad declined, reminding me of the desert that was to come later on that July 4th evening along with the fireworks.  Desiring an answer different from “No”, I sneaked into the kitchen, took twenty-five cents out of my Mom’s purse, tracked the truck’s music through back yards, barking dogs and mosquito-infested woods, and bought a sky blue popsicle.  I ate the popsicle with haste never thinking that my blue tongue would give away my theft.  When I wandered back to the family cookout I answered my Dad’s challenge:  “Well, I stole the money out of Mom’s purse.”  He answered, “Well, you’re grounded. Go to your room.”  I watched everyone eat ice cream and cake, illumined by fire works, from my bedroom window.  We ask for things and then don’t listen to the answer because we think we know what the voice really wants for us.  I grew as a son as I practiced truly talking with my Dad:  listening, questioning, negotiating, obeying his voice.


What does Jesus want for Peter?  An ongoing conversation that will help Peter grow in understanding and help Jesus share his love for his disciple.  There are times to get out of the boat and times to stay in.  There are times to act and times to wait.  It takes time for us to understand Jesus’ voice and intent.  The great prayers of the Bible and the great prayers we pray are not necessarily and expression of inspired language or spiritually deep insight but are our obedience to Jesus’ words which issue in patience, forgiveness, generosity and love on behalf of the Lord.  This is what Jesus wants for Peter and for us:  to habitually reflect with Jesus on life’s needs and challenges.


In conclusion, let me share a brief story about what God wants for us in prayer.   A man was once driving across country in a moving van.  The trip had spanned two full days already passing corn fields and then prairie.  Now along side a wide, blue river, and in the shadow of purple mountains he was just a day’s drive from home.  Taken with the scenery the driver failed to check his gas gage.  The red needle was squarely on EMPTY!  Not quite panicked, the driver looked at the milage sign ahead of him and saw that the next town in his western trip was nine miles ahead on the highway:  Arlington!  It was at that time that the warning buzzer sounded:  low gas!


Being panicked now, the driver adjusted his speed to forty-five miles an hour and put on the flashers.  He also began to pray.  “Lord,” he thought, “This is totally my fault for not paying attention; but could you please get me to Arlington.  I don’t want to run to of gas on this highway.!”


Traffic now roared passed the plodding van in the slow lane.  The next sign read Arlington five miles.  As the van inched down the highway, passing trucks honked and the van itself shook now from the tail winds of the big freight carriers.  The little van began a gradual ascent of a mile-long incline.  The van sputtered once but kept on going.  At the top of the incline the sign read, Aarlington three miles.  Naturally, the van had a welcome down hill ascent into a valley, but the exit ramp was not yet in sight.  The driver prayed again as the van sputtered a second time, “Oh Lord, Please get me to Arlington!”


The warning  buzzer sounded again as the “one half mile” to the exit sign appeared.  The road was level but the driver was barely touching the gas pedal for fear of running out of fuel.  


Three things then happened at once.  The driver signaled and steered the van onto the exit ramp.  The van sputtered an died as it coasted down the ramp and made a steady but blind turn into Arlington.  And the man wondered, “Lord, is there any gas in a town this small?”


As the driver made the final length of the curved ramp, he saw a gas station across the intersection.  Amazingly the light was green for him to slide through and into the empty bay of the service station!  As the truck’s brakes squeezed the vehicle to a stop, an attendant came out and asked those glorious words:  “Fill ‘er up?” 

The driver responded, “Regular, please!”  The driver prayed silently, “Thank you, Jesus, I won’t be so neglectful again!”


If prayer is partly conversation, then it is spiritually productive as we keep up our end of the talk.  Not just thinking of things to ask for, but living in the circle of Jesus’ love and power in our lives.  Sometimes, the answers to our prayers are simply warning buzzers or red needles pointing somewhere.  But nonetheless, Jesus stands with us in every emergency and calm time, asking to be heard; listening for our praise and petitions.  It is in that regular conversation with Jesus that we join with those in the boat who said of Him, “Truly you are the Son of God.”