I didn’t want to miss but they say, “If you are sick stay home.” So I did. I didn’t feel that bad but on Thursday I started coughing. On Friday I called my doctor. I have an allergy history and she said she thought it to be allergies. I agreed. Since she thought it was (and I still do) allergies, she started treatment for an upper respiratory infection and gave me antibiotics and cough medicine. Saturday I was no better and conferred with church leadership and because I was displaying a symptom of Covid, we came to the consensus that I wouldn’t preach today and I would stay home as recommended. I am still not better but not worse either. The cough is still around and my abdominal muscles are pretty sore. Hopefully, with the holiday tomorrow, by Tuesday I will feel well enough to go back to the office Tuesday. My thanks to Richard Locke for pinch-hitting with very little notice. I appreciate you Richard. Since I didn’t preach today, this sermon is something I pulled out of my files. I plan to resume the new sermon schedule next week.

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, New International Version).

A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of World War II, was called by many New Yorkers “the Little Flower” because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New Your City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward in the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.

Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, effused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.” The man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”

LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions – ten dollars or den days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his hat saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

The following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

Here is my question for you. Did the elderly lady in the story get what she deserved? Clearly the answer is, of course not. She had stolen a loaf of bread. Yes, she may have had good reason, but stealing is stealing and regardless of the reason, punishment would seem to be the order of the day.

What we see in the story is called grace. Grace is when one in superior power shows kindness or mercy to one in a lesser position. Mayor LaGuardia, rather than demanding punishment of the woman herself, paid the fine and then further helped her cause with the collection of the fifty-cent fines and gave them to her. It was more than she deserved. It was grace.

That is what our lesson this morning is all about too. Today we conclude our series “Principles from Parables” as we look at the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. In this parable Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner that went out and hired workers for his vineyard. Some he hired early in the day, telling them that he would pay them the usual daily wage. He went back at various times of the day and found more workers waiting to be hired. Each time he hired those that were there, telling them that he would pay them what was right. We are not told why some had not found work or if they had shown up at the marketplace late or any other details.

At the end of the day came to pay the workers. He began with the ones most recently hired and he paid them the usual daily wage. That excited the ones who had been there all day. They thought that surely if he paid the late ones that much he obviously would pay them even more for all their hard work. Their excitement was short lived. In fact, they were pretty upset when they got the same pay working all day as what people got who only worked an hour.

When the landowner heard them grumbling, he tried to explain that he wasn’t unfair at all. He gave them what they had agreed upon, but it was his money and he could be generous if that is what he chose to do. We aren’t told how the workers responded to that.

It is very apparent that the landowner didn’t live in our time. It also would seem that the landowner didn’t know much about business. Next time he went out to hire help none would probably go until the last hour of the day.

What the landowner did know about, however, is grace. The workers that came at the end of the day didn’t get what they deserved they got mercy. That is grace.

Of course in the parable the landowner is God, the workers are us, and the pay is the kingdom of heaven. And, as we study this parable, we can quickly see, it’s about grace.

First of all, the parable says that grace is to be received, not deserved. For all of us who are people of faith, we know that we do not deserve God’s grace. Nothing that we can do will put us in a position of deserving God’s grace. All we can do is receive the gift that God offers to us.

David Seamands ends his book Healing Grace with this story. For more than six hundred years the Hapsburgs exercised political power in Europe. When Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria died in 1916, his was the last of the extravagant imperial funerals. A processional of dignitaries and elegantly dressed court personages escorted the casket, draped in the black and gold imperial colors. To the accompaniment of a military band’s somber dirges and by the light of torches, the somber group descended the stairs of the Capuchin Monastery in Vienna. At the bottom was a great iron door leading to the Hapsburg family crypt. Behind the door was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna.

The officer in charge followed the prescribed ceremony, established centuries before. “Open!” he cried. “Who goes there?” responded the Cardinal. “We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz-Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Defender of the faith…” the officer continued to list the Emperor’s thirty-seven titles.

“We know him not,” replied the Cardinal. “Who goes there?” The officer spoke again, this time using a much abbreviated and less ostentatious title reserved for times of expediency. “We know him not,” the Cardinal said again. “Who goes there?” The officer tried a third time, stripping the emperor of all but the humblest of titles: “We bear the body of Franz-Josef, our brother, a sinner like us all!” At that the doors swung open, and Franz-Josef was admitted.

No matter who we are, what titles we have, or how much we have, none of it can open the way to God’s grace. Grace is given freely, what is left for us is to openly receive that grace.

Second, God’s grace is about mercy, not about fairness. What would have been fair would be to pay the later workers less that the daily wage or pay those who had worked all day more than the daily wage. That would be fair. When we talk about grace, however, it is about something different than fairness. It is about mercy. God loves us and mercifully gives us more than we deserve.

Christian financial consultant and author Larry Burkett tells in Business by the Book about going the extra mile, going beyond fairness. In 1984 he leased an office in a building that proved to be a nightmare. The foundation had not been properly constructed, and the office building was literally sinking several inches a year into the ground. After more than three years of putting up with assorted problems, including power failures and several weeks without water, Burkett moved his business to another location.

Two months later Burkett received a call from his former landlord who demanded that Burkett remodel and repaint his former office space. Burkett said no, feeling he had already been more than fair with the landlord, but the former landlord continued to call with his demands. Burkett consulted an attorney who agreed that Burkett had fulfilled his responsibility and should not do anything further.

Burkett went on to say that his son offered him some different counsel. The son reminded Burkett that the landlord and his wife had lost their only child a few years earlier and still suffered from that tragedy. Burkett had often commented that he would like to help them. The son suggested that this might be an opportunity to do just that by not doing what was fair, but what was merciful. Burkett said he considered that and had to agree with the conclusion. He decided to commit several thousand dollars to restore a virtually non-usable building.

That is going beyond fair, to merciful. It is exactly what God’s grace is all about.

Third, God’s grace is for the last as well as the first. It is easy for us to say that we deserve more because we are the people who have been faithful. God doesn’t work that way. Today and everyday God wants a relationship with everyone, from those hired first thing in the morning to those that only managed to put in an hour at the end of the day. That is what Grace is all about.

I read a story this past week that I think illustrates this point well. A woman told how her father sexually abused her as a small child. She grew up, overcame the emotional damage that had been done, became a Christian, and eventually married. Years later, after her children were fully grown, she received a letter from her father telling her he had become a Christian and had asked God for forgiveness. He also realized that he had sinned against her and was writing asking for her forgiveness.

Feelings she didn’t know were there suddenly surfaced. It wasn’t fair! He should pay for what he had done, she thought bitterly. It was all too easy. And now he was going to be part of the family of God! She was sure her home church was busy killing the fatted calf for father and that she would be invited to the party! She was angry. She was hurt. She was resentful.

Then she had a dream. She saw her father standing on an empty stage. Above him appeared the hands of God holding a white robe. She recognized it at once, because she was wearing one just like it. As the robe began to descend toward her father, she woke up crying out, “No! It isn’t fair! What about me?”

The only way she could get past it all was to realize that her earthly father was now the same as she. They were the same in God’s sight. God’s grace was for him just like it was for her. Realizing that, she was finally able to forgive her father.

God’s grace is a free gift that is available to all of us. It is a free gift that we receive but it isn’t what we deserve. It is about mercy, not fairness. And, it is for the last as well as the first. Thankfully, what we can all say is, It’s about grace.

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.

(On the Spiritual Trail Series)

Sunday Worship from Perritte Memorial United Methodist Church-Nacogdoches, Texas

  

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew,[a] it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”

Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”

Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ God’s Spirit[b] blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”

10 “Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? 11 I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One.[c] 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One[d] be lifted up 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.

19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.” (John 3:1-21, Common English Bible)

Several years ago, before I went into ministry, Cindy and I decided we wanted to cook out on the grill. Then, I decided that I didn’t want to put any store bought barbecue sauce on the meat we were cooking. I’ve never been much of a fan of any of the off the shelf barbecue sauces. So I went into the kitchen and made some of my own. It was some of the best barbecue sauce that you have ever put in your mouth. It tasted wonderful.

I don’t say that to tell you that I make the greatest barbecue sauce in the world. I say that because I made the greatest barbecue sauce in the world once. A month or so passed and we wanted barbecue again. Back to the kitchen I went to recreate that wonderful barbecue sauce. There was only one problem, I created this really great sauce and I didn’t write down the recipe, not even the first ingredient. Even the ingredients I could remember, I didn’t remember anything of the quantities. That wasn’t the brightest thing I never did do .

Still I could recreate the sauce from memory, or so I thought. I started with tomato sauce. I added Brown sugar and honey. There was also garlic, oregano, pepper, and dried onion. I mixed all the ingredients together, let it simmer for about 1/2 hour and then tasted the result. Something was missing. I looked through all the kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator. If memory serves me correctly, I tried a little bit of a lot of different things. I would pulled out a spoonful, tasted it, and add some salt. That wasn’t it. I washed off the spoon and repeat it again with some other spice or mustard or something.

No matter what I tried that night, I couldn’t recreate my special barbecue sauce period. To this day, I know something was missing. I still don’t know what it could have been. I know it had to be something minor. After all, it wouldn’t be like forgetting to put flour in a cake. If I had done that it wouldn’t have worked at all. You can’t make a cake without flower, can you?

I left out some important, but seemingly minor ingredient, leaving my barbecue sauce with less than the desired taste. It was so disappointing to look forward to a special tree and then get something less than what I had anticipated. As far as I can remember, I have never again tried to make barbecue sauce. I’ll just live store bought, it is just far less frustrating.

As I think back on that night, it seems clear to me now that those minor ingredients aren’t really that minor at all. When something is missing, it is important to the mix for taste, texture, or appearance or it wouldn’t be needed in the recipe.

When I was a kid and my mother would make pimento cheese. I always said that I didn’t like it because of the pimentos. Our response would be the pimentos were just there for looks. They had no taste, or so she wanted me to think. Now, as an adult, I think pimento cheese is OK. However, my mother still can’t convince me that pimientos have no taste. A pimento cheese sandwich taste different than a cheese sandwich. If they have no taste, why make pimento cheese.

Pimientos are necessary for making pimento cheese. Without them, something is missing. For many things to be whole and complete, you must have all the pieces of the puzzle in place. Flour is necessary to make a cake. Garlic is important to spaghetti. Pimentos are important or it wouldn’t be pimento cheese. And whatever was in my barbecue sauce was important too.

The Bible is necessary to a sermon. Without the Bible, a sermon is nothing more than an emotional speech, and may or may not have anything to do with God.

Today we’re continuing the sermon series, “On the Spiritual Trail.” Today is the second sermon in this series. We are looking at the tension existing between religion and spirituality, and the difference between the two.

Last week, our focus was on the idea of working and thinking and how if we are truly to be the spiritual beings God calls us to be, both are necessary. Thinking, at least for the most part, would fit on the spiritual side, while working, would fit on the religious side. We are spiritual when we pray and read our Bibles and even to share our faith with others. We are more religious, when we come down and spend time at a church meeting and that type of thing. Both of these are important. Both are necessary.

Today, we’re going to look more at the idea of being religious or spiritual. Some might ask, what is the difference? I think that’s a very easy to be religious without being Spiritual and opinion polls show that many believe you can be spiritual without being religious. I think it’s easy to see both positions.

Religion, to my way of thinking, is the rules and structure that govern our life with God. Our religion helps us see and understand God. On the other hand, spirituality is our relationship with God. Some might argue that I am splitting hairs, but I don’t think so. In fact, I think those who believe they are spiritual without being religious are just plain wrong. I think everyone has a religion, even if it is a religion of his or her own personal creation. They make their own religious rules and structure. They have their own way of seeing and understanding God. These things govern their relationship with God and therefore become their religion. The biggest difference is, their religion lacks formality and fellowship with others and so, lacks full spiritual meaning.

On the other side of the coin, I can easilly see how one could be a religious person without being spiritual. A person who shows up for Sunday school and/or church on Sunday morning, who prepares meals when needed for funerals or for fellowships, who comes down and lends a hand when people are doing work around the building, but at the same time has no personal relationship with God is religious without being spiritual. They’re dotting all the “I’s” crossing all the “T’s,” they are following all the rules, but their lives fall short of being whole and complete. Something is missing and it is something of great importance.

There was a term in Jesus’ day for those who were religious without being spiritual. We actually have the same term today, a hypocrite, a person who goes through the motions of living the faith, claims the faith, but God isn’t really part of their life.

That, however, is not the term I was thinking of. I was thinking more of the term Pharisee. In its day, this wasn’t a bad term for most of the folks around Jesus. The Pharisees were men of great importance to the Jewish faith. They were very religious and pious men who lived their lives by the letter of the law. They knew what was important and it was the law of Moses and everyone was expected to live by the letter of that law. This was especially true of one called a Pharisee. And, for the most of them, they lived by that law or at least thet tried. Further, because they were not and could never be successful, there was always something missing from their lives . The only thing was, most of them had no idea what it was or where to find it. The worst part was, most never realized anything was missing and if yhey did, more often than not, they just didn’t care.

This wasn’t always true. In our lesson this morning, is one Pharisee who seemed to know something was missing from his life. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, wanting to know how Jesus could perform so many great miracles.

Jesus tells Nicodemus, no one can understand what he is doing without being born again. As the conversation continues we can see that Jesus means by being born again is to be born of the spirit, unless you become spiritual, and not religious only, you will never understand the things Jesus is doing.

As I read this story, it seems to me, Nicodemus is struggling. I think he realises something is missing from his life and now he is searching for the missing ingredient. The only trouble is, he doesn’t understand. I think he has too much religion in him, too many rules, to see through them and find what he searches for, to find the missing ingredient for his life.

Like all of those who are religious and not spiritual, and even some who are spiritual but not religious, those who are of faiths other than Christian, Nicodemus needed to hear Jesus words both here in our lesson this morning and in other sayings. If Nicodemus was looking for meaning and wholeness, if Nicodemus was looking for spirituality, he needed to hear the words that are now the most famous verse in all of scripture, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him wouldn’t die, but would have eternal life.” Nicodemus needed to hear Jesus’ words from later, in the 14th chapter of John, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through Me.” to be spiritual means to hear these words and live them out in everyday life.

I also think there is a tone of Christian faith and religion in this beyond Jesus’ famous words. This tone is for those who are spiritual without being religious. Even Nicodemus, I think recognized its importance. No one is an island unto himself or herself. God did not intend that we should be alone in most any aspect of our lives. Sure, we should have some private time, but being with others to teach us, guide us, and fellowship with us, is also important. Nicodemus came to Jesus for guidance. As United Methodist Christians, we are religious because we believe that God calls on us to be together for precisely this reason.

I think when we are religious without being spiritual, we are like that cake without flour. Something important is missing. The most important ingredient is not part of our lives. Just like you can’t make a cake without flour, we cannot have faith without God. Rules and structure will not save us. Only through the grace of God, in our lives, can we find forgiveness and reconciliation with our maker.

Also true, however, when we are spiritual without being religious, we are much like my barbecue sauce. The stuff may be edible, it may even taste good, but it isn’t as good as it could be. Something important is missing. It may seem like a small thing, but it is still vital for a whole and complete life in the faith.

If we are to be the whole and complete creature God intends us and calls us to be something can’t be missing. It takes both the religious, a guide to understanding God and it takes the spiritual, a relationship with the one who gave us life and promises us eternal life.

Next Sunday we will continue our series on the spiritual trail as we look at how we communicate with God, next week will be about prayer .

Be Blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

The Declaration (Summer Sermon Season)

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid[h] on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit[i] on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

20 Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-20, New Living Translation)

When I was a student at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, I, as did many students at Sam, here at SFA, and many other college campuses across the country, spent a good chunk time on school days at the Wesley Foundation (The United Methodist Student Center). Living 40+ miles away didn’t lend itself well to going home between, classes, so I went to the Wesley Foundation between classes.

One week, on Tuesday or Wednesday, then campus minister, Max, came up to me and said, “Keith, you’re in my sermon Sunday night.” Trust me friends, unless some kind of explanation goes with those words, you might start to worry. I’m a preacher, Max was a preacher. Maybe he was going to make me the punchline of a joke.

In those days, my church had a Sunday night service every week. It is the only congregation I’ve served having a Sunday night service every week. I went back and aftering other options that they turned down, convinced them to cancel worship that night so I could go to worship at school. They rejected my options but said they thought I should attend worship and not preach occasionally. That service would work.

All four of us, Cindy, me and the boys made our way to Huntsville. I was in his sermon.

I will not lie either. Most of you are in my sermon directly. For those who were hoping I would give it away, you are out of luck. You are going to have to wait a few more minutes.

Have you ever looked into you name? Why do you have that name? Is it an old family name that’s passed from one generation of the past to a new one, whether they like it or not.

There are also many families with traditions surrounding the naming of a child. When I was a kid, the little boy next door who was at least six or eight years younger than me. I got an invitation to Freddy’s birthday party. It invited me to join in celebrating the birthday of Freddy Smith XVIII. I can’t imagine having all those Roman numerals as part of my name. That is 18 generations and had to cover 200-300 years.

That isn’t the only “tradition.” I have a preacher friend whose family tradition is, the oldest male child gets the father’s first name and the mother’s maiden name. Instead of Keith, my name would have been, Johnnie Seale Broyles.

I go by my middle name. My name is James, after my dad’s oldest brother and Keith because my mother liked the name.

Wayne, is Michael Wayne, named after my mom’s oldest brother and my hero as a kid, the man I have more respect for than any other man alive. Cindy and I liked “Wayne.”

Christopher is named after my father John. and Cindy and I liked the name “Christopher.” I’m not sure of my motives but it would appear they are done. Wayne has three boys, and all go by their first names. Christopher has three girls and there are no traditions for girls’ names in our family.

In some cultures, a name is everything. Getting a name was a right of passage. A name meant something, related to who you are. For the Algonquin a common name Aranck means Stars. For the Dakota Nation, Tokala means fox. Our word “Sacred” translates to Wahkan in the language of the Sioux.

Of course these are a few of many from the various tribes around the United States. Meaning Similar traditions happen in Africa and Central and South America.

When I started working on this message I learned that many people here in the United States want their child’s name to have meaning beyond what it might mean to their families. At one point I searched Google for and discovered there were in excess of 1.9 billion results for baby names and meanings. That many results indicates a demand for such services.

When Cindy, our boys, and I got to the Wesley that night, Max’s sermon told us many, including yours truly, the meaning of our names. When there is more than one possible meaning, he usually took the one that was most embarrassing. The only one I remember was my own. There are six meanings for “Keith”. “Brave and Courageous, “Keeper of the Forest,” From the battlefield,” “Man of the woods,” “Wood,” “Wind.” Max used Wind. Pointing out that as a preacher I am full of hot air.

That made me think about some of your names. Does anyone know the meaning of their name? Well, I have a list of them I thought I would share with you. For those that already know, see if what you know matches what I found.                           

We don’t have to look far to know the meaning of Peter. Jesus gives us the meaning when he gives Peter the name. Jesus says, “You are Peter…” or “You are Petra” meaning rock or rock man. Jesus goes a bit further with what Simon would do as Peter but we are going to leave that on the table for another couple of weeks.

Santa Cruz, California, in the 1970s, was a very different sort of place. What made it different was a group of people who lived there in great numbers.

They were hippies — or, you might say, has-been hippies. The Summer of Love had long since faded into a psychedelic sunset. San Francisco’s infamous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood had gentrified. The “flower children” who’d once inhabited its “crash pads” now held down regular jobs. Many of these has-been hippies had moved out to Santa Cruz, where the rents were cheaper.

This population of former flower children had a certain impact when their children hit the public schools. One of the things the teachers found difficult was the names of the kindergarten students.

Those classes had their share of Michaels and Lisas and Margarets, but there was also Sunbeam, Time Warp and Meadow. One teacher thought she’d seen about everything when it came to names, until the first day of school came round, and she met a boy named Fruit Stand.

The teacher felt sorry for little Fruit Stand, having to go through life with a name like that, but she decided there was nothing else to do but make the best of it. All through that first day of school it was: “Fruit Stand, can you bring me the chalk?” and “Fruit Stand, are you ready for your nap?” But this little boy seemed oddly distant. He participated in all the classroom activities, but he didn’t seem very happy.

Finally, at the end of the day, it was time for the children to go to their buses. “Fruit Stand, do you know the name of your bus stop?” the teacher asked.

No answer. That wasn’t so strange, the teacher thought, because the boy hadn’t said much all day. One of those shy kids.

But no matter. The teacher had a trick up her sleeve. All the parents had been told ahead of time to write the names of their children’s bus stops on the reverse side of their name tags. The teacher simply turned over the boy’s tag. And there, neatly printed in block letters, was the word “Anthony.”

Names are important. They’re the labels we bear through life, the invitations we offer up to other people so they may know us better. Should somebody forget our name, or somehow misuse it, we feel hurt, even abused. That’s probably how little Anthony felt, after spending his entire first day of school as Fruit Stand.

There is one more name to deal with in this story. Jesus asks the Disciples who people say that I am. As we talked about last week, it is a pretty easy question to answer when you are surrounded by people with the same understanding as you. There answers were things like, Moses, Elijah, one of the prophets. Nobody said anything about what Jesus’ name actually meant. The two most common understandings are Yeshua and Joshua. The Yeshua understanding defines Jesus as, “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.” That Jesus has roots in the name Joshua and means “Jehovah is generous” or “Jehovah saves.”

If anything, the research and all the other stuff I found that I’m not going into or we will be here all afternoon. I picked these specifically because we do know that God is generous to us and Jesus saves, that Jesus is salvation. Some of the other may or may not be accurate, but we know those meanings are true.

We all are in a position to answer Jesus’ question. We know who Peter is but more importantly, regardless of the many definitions we know about for Jesus’ name, we know Jesus came to save. We know Jesus is the way to salvation. We know those meanings are true.

One of the most endearing features of the animated film, Toy Story, is the way the cowboy toy, Woody, has a name written on the bottom of his foot. The name is “Andy” — the name of the boy who owns Woody and loves him. When the astronaut toy, Buzz Lightyear, is dejected at learning that he’s not a real spaceman, but only a toy, he’s a lost cause until he learns that he has the name “Andy” written on his foot, too. This knowledge empowers Buzz to put his depression behind him, then get up and do what needs to be done.

We have a name written on our hearts, in our baptism. The name is “Jesus.” If we learn to trust that name, to rely on it, to allow it to propel us into a living relationship with the One who is Lord of all, we will find our lives immeasurably fuller and richer.

From creation moving forward, what God wants from us is a relationship, an eternal relationship. Some scholars say the only reason for God to create at all was that God wanted to have a relationship. A relationship is what God wants from us now.

That starts with knowing the name. Names are important. What is your reaction when your mother called out both your first AND middle names, or even worse, your first, middle, AND last names? It got your attention didn’t it?

My last semester of seminary I witnessed something I found amazing. On the first day of my moral theology class the professor called the roll from his class roster. He made sure to tell us to raise our hands when he called our names. We all did, but didn’t think much about it then. That was on a Thursday. He didn’t see us again until after the Labor Day holiday. On that day, he began at the front of the room, pointing at each person one by one and calling our names. When we left class that day the discussion wasn’t about the lecture, it was about a man who knew the importance of names and somehow learned the names of over 45 students (there were about 45 in that class and I know he had at least one more class) over a long weekend. He did more to endear himself to his students than most professors did in a semester, all because he mastered the power of names.

I may not know your names yet. I am working on it. Our masks certainly don’t help.  But, even if I don’t know your name, I know one who does, one who wants a relationship with each of us. Do you know that one’s name?

Today, July 19, 2020, with this post, is my 900th post on the WordPress platform. To celebrate, five people, chosen at random who comment “Average Joe for 900,” here AND email me your contact information using my author email jkeithbroyles@gmail.com will receive a free copy of my book Average Joe with an Extraordinary Story. Entries (Comments AND emails) must be received by 6:00 PM CDT Friday, July 24, 2020. YOU MUST COMMENT AND email your contact information in order to win. Winners will be drawn at random from entries.

Be Blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

This morning I began a new sermon series. I had planned to title it, “The Declaration (when we declare Jesus Lord). I forgot and titled it, “Who Do You Say I Am?” I know, that is real creative.

The attached video is worship from today, July 12, 2020. The Scripture lesson is Matthew 16:13-20. The sermon title is, “Who Am I?

Next week our series “Who Do You Say He Is?” continues. For the entire series the Scripture lesson will be Matthew 16:13-20. The sermon title will be “Who Is That Man?”

I hope you will join us Sunday morning, 11:00 in person or on demand here of the congregation Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/perritteumc/).

Be Blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved (Sermon Only)

Who Do You Say I Am?

13 Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Human One[a] is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. 18 I tell you that you are Peter.[b] And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. 19 I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered the disciples not to tell anybody that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20, Common English Bible).

       I am a Broyles. I have always been a Broyles. I always will be a Broyles. No matter what I will ever do I will always be the son of Johnnie and Janice Broyles.

       At times in my life, not usually for long, but at times, I have wanted to be anything but a Broyles. At other times in my life I had someone specific I wanted to be. At one time, I wanted to be the son of the late Harold Reid, the bass singer for the Statler Brothers. I have said many times, if I could do anything I wanted to do and had to take nothing else into consideration, including talent, I want to be a bass singer in a Gospel quartet. I do sing bass but not in a quartet. Something about a joyful noise with noise being the optimum word.

       I could go to the courthouse, go before a judge and legally have my name changed. I could even have my last name changed to Reid. There are, however, two things about that change. First of all, hanging my last name to Reid would not make me any more of a talented bass singer than I am right now. Second, I may have the last name Reid, but I am still a Broyles. Changing my name does not change my genetics. I cannot change the fact that I was born a Broyles, whether I like that or not.

       Who am I? I am a guitar player and bass singer who isn’t as good as he would like to be. I am a guy who likes to tie knots in paracord and make things out of it. I am a pastel artist. I am an author of a book. I am a pastor. I have been a teacher. I was a programmer/analyst for a while, a data processing manager, a movie operator, and a sailor.

       Who am I? I am the grandfather of six, the father of two, the husband of one, the son of two. Sir Isaac Newton and I shared a grandfather but for me there are several greats in front of grandfather. And, I am pretty sure, but haven’t proven it conclusively, that I am a direct descendant of John Newton, lyricist of “Amazing Grace.” There are also a couple of kings way back there in my family history.

       All this is to say, if I go and try to change who I am, I can’t do it. I can change my life, but I cannot change who I am. Even if I were to change my name, all the stuff I just said would remain true about me. At best I could ignore it and deny it, but it all would remain true.

       We cannot change who we are. If you look at a picture of me and my father, you probably would not make the mistake of thinking we didn’t belong together. If you look at our oldest son, Wayne with me right there, it is pretty obvious that we are from the same family. Other than height, and my hair and beard are much shorter than his, we look pretty close. Our youngest son Christopher, perhaps you would miss it with him. He is much taller than his brother, who is also taller than me.

       If you look at Kaleb, our oldest grandson, you know he is Wayne’s son and my grandson. It is pretty obvious.

       None of those things are going to change no matter what I do. It is who I am, and nothing will ever change that.

       Nothing can change that because it is who God made me to be.

       You have the same issue. We all are, who we are. We can’t be someone else. Even to try, it seems to always catch up with us.

       Such is the case of Walter Miller. Miller, the youngest of eight children, says he was in trouble with the law from an early age. He attended a Sam Cooke concert and when Cooke got angry with the behavior of people and walked off stage after his second number, Miller got angry. He was arrested, charged and convicted of disorderly conduct, landing him in the Morrison Training School, a state school for troubled youth. He was a smart kid who watched around himself. He saw how the guards checked beds and took roll call. It wasn’t long before he knew their routine and took advantage of it. That state school was the first place he ever, “broke out of.”

       He made his way to New York but maintained contact with group of friends, some bad guys back in his home state of North Carolina. Somehow, the article I read didn’t say how, Walter end back in North Carolina. He ended up with a group that was robbing banks. He found himself in prison.

       He vowed to turn his life around and he did but his mother never saw it. She died while Miller was in prison. It had a great impact. Before she died, despite his vow, he still lived on the edge, even in prison, finding creative ways to get into trouble. Afterward, he became the model prisoner. His behavior became so good, he got moved to a minimum-security unit he said was more like camp than prison.

       But there was one guard who seemed to have it in for Miller. He kept pushing him, until one day Miller pushed back. Before guards knew there was a problem, Miller grabbed his things, including a set of civilian clothes he had gotten somewhere, leaving nothing behind they could trace, he was gone.

       He had a little over $100 in his pocket. He made his way to the Greyhound bus station where he convinced someone to buy him a one-way ticket to New York.

       For a month he lived in a fleabag motel on hotdogs. When his money ran out he lived wherever he could find a place.

       He had a copy of his birth certificate, scratched out his name and typed in a new one and then copied it so many times you couldn’t tell it was faked.

       He convinced someone at the DMV to give him a driver’s license and Bobby Love was born. That was in the late 1970s. Bobby Love got a job at Baptist Hospital in Manhattan. There he met his wife, Cheryl. They were married in 1985.

       Fast forward 30 years. Bobby Love is sleeping in one morning. There is a knock on the door. Even though she saw the police outside the door, she said she wasn’t worried. She figured they were only there about her crazy neighbor.

       When she opened the door, law enforcement pushed her aside and rushed to the back of the house where they woke Bobby Love, a.k.a. Walter Miller and arrested him.

       Cheryl and their four children all said, they had no idea about Love’s past. They only knew him as a hardworking and loving husband and father.

       They extradited him to North Carolina. He landed back in prison but served less than a year before receiving an early release in 2016. Since then, he has stayed out of trouble.

       Walter Miller tried to be someone he was not. Eventually the past caught up with Bobby Love and he became the man he truly was once again, Bobby Love.

       This morning we are beginning a sermon series on our Scripture lesson this morning. This passage will be our lesson over the next several weeks.

       In the lesson Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say I am?” That really isn’t a hard question to answer. In fact, it’s pretty easy really and the disciples jump right in with, “Some say Moses. Some say Elijah or one of the prophets.” It’s an easy question. If you have listened to people at all, you know what they are saying, and you answer accordingly.

       Jesus, however, didn’t let it die there. He asks, “But what about you, who do you say I am?” Do you remember when you were a kid playing the children’s game “Who Am I?” You picked someone and you gave clues as to who you were until someone could get the right answer. You might here, “I was a disciple, I was a fisherman. I was with Jesus throughout his ministry. I was always quick to jump into the middle of things. I ran away after Jesus was arrested. I walked on the water with him. Who Am I?

       Of course, we are talking about Simon Peter. Whoever guessed it right then took there turn to try to, while being truthful, stump everyone else.

       After the twelve answer that question Jesus drills down a bit deeper and asks a question much more difficult to answer. “What about you. Who do you say I am?”

       If I polled the room this morning asking that question, I feel certain that, while I might get a variety of answers, they would likely be faithful to the traditional Christian understanding of the Church. I would probably hear things like “Savior,” “Christ,” “Messiah,” and such. They would be much as Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

       Much of the time when Peter jumps in like this, he is just flat wrong in his answer, but not this time. And Jesus, for his part, gives a faith response to the answer Peter gave though when he gave it, for another few seconds he wasn’t Peter, but rather Simon.

       “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Simon said,

       Jesus responded by saying, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

       Simon is blessed because he knew who Jesus was, really who Jesus is, and had that answer ready.

       If Jesus asked you, “Who Am I?” what would your answer be? If your answer is as I suspect, I think you might hear something like, blessed are you, Brandi, daughter of Bill and Nita. Blessed are you, Cindy daughter of Mearl and Juan. Blessed are you, Richard son of David and Susan. Blessed are you Tom, son of Ray and Linda. Blessed are you Mark, son of Frank and Betty. Blessed are you Susan, daughter of James and Anna Lee. Blessed are you Karen, daughter of . Blessed are you, son or daughter, child of God.

Be Blessed

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Sermon: Where in the World is Elwood?

12 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
    those who curse you I will curse;
        all the families of the earth
            will be blessed because of you.”

Abram left just as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. The Canaanites lived in the land at that time. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants,” so Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him. From there he traveled toward the mountains east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped in the Lord’s name. Then Abram set out toward the arid southern plain, making and breaking camp as he went. (Genesis 12:1-9, Common English Bible)

Perritte Memorial United Methodist Church

Phone (936) 564-8427
Email info@perritteumc.org

Mailing Address

638A N University Dr # 255
Nacogdoches, TX 75961-4617

Physical Address

1025 Durst St
Nacogdoches, TX 75964-5063

Sermon:
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

12 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
    those who curse you I will curse;
        all the families of the earth
            will be blessed because of you.”

Abram left just as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. The Canaanites lived in the land at that time. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants,” so Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him. From there he traveled toward the mountains east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped in the Lord’s name. Then Abram set out toward the arid southern plain, making and breaking camp as he went. (Genesis 12:1-9, Common English Bible).

It was almost lunchtime one day in May, 1991. I was in my office at Fondren and the Southwest Freeway in Houston. I was a programmer/analyst with the FDIC. I was working on some random computer code when my phone rang.

It wasn’t a call I got at work. My calls usually were about a program I had written and someone managed to find a way to break, doing something they weren’t supposed to do and the program wasn’t designed for.

Occasionally a Scout leader would call to talk about some activity. We were very involved in Scouting then. Our boys were young and very involved.

Cindy called to talk about kid stuff and if any of us had anything in the calendar that night. It might be what was on the dinner menu.

I wasn’t used to calls about church work. I was, after all, an employee of the Federal government. They wouldn’t have had much positive to say about church.

It was a surprise then when I heard, “Keith, this is Asbury Lennox.” The late Dr. Asbury Lennox was then the District Superintendent of the old Houston East District. I had anticipated a call, but I assumed it would come one night at home. I never thought he’d call during the day the workday.

Dr. Lennox said, “I have called to talk about an appointment. The cabinet met with Bishop Oliphant and we want to appoint you to Elwood.

Before I realized it, the words tumbled from my mouth, the title of this sermon, “Where in the world is Elwood? I hadn’t said it. I knew Texas pretty well, but have learned not as well as I thought. I hadn’t heard of Elwood and and many other places in the Lone Star State. While it is on some state maps, Elwood isn’t even a town! No wonder I hadn’t heard of it.

Elwood is a rural community about 12 miles northeast of Madisonville in rural Madison County. The closest real town, if you can call it that, is Midway, named that because it’s located about midway between Crockett and Madisonville. Midway’s population at the time was 333. Today it has declined to 229 as of the last census.

The only store closes at 6:00. The Walmart in Madisonville closed at 8:00. Our closest neighbors, other than cows were over half a mile away.

At one time, Elwood, then named French was a thriving town and the county seat for Madison County. That was before anyone thought about Madisonville.

Today Elwood consists of a few residences, ranch land, and the Baptist church. I am sorry to say, the Methodist church closed a few years ago. The building is there but belongs to the Elwood Cemetery Association today.

That was a culture shock for a city boy used to 24 hour Walmart stores and convenience stores that never closed, even on Christmas Day. Elwood took careful planning. To get something after 8:00 PM required driving an hour each way to Huntsville, or doing without. Only something important made that drive.

The title of today’s message, “Where in the World is Elwood?” is because of that phone call 30 years ago. I could just as easily titled it after a good number of the places like, “Where in the world is Lovelady, Kennard, Mt. Sylvan, Van or Grapeland. I thought I knew Grapeland but I was talking about Grapevine. I’ve heard it from many since then. “Where in the world is…” Groveton or Huntington. I did know where Prairie View is but it isn’t the same one.

I had heard of Canton, but I didn’t know where it was. I had to look for it on a road map in the days before most any of us had a GPS in the car.

I knew where to find were Tyler, Freeport and Diboll. I made trips to Tyler when I was younger. I went fishing a few times in Freeport. And, my mother’s family used to have a family reunion every year in a little community a little larger than Elwood, named Central, just north of Lufkin.

I could have titled the sermon, “Where in the world is Santa Fe?” and no, not New Mexico. This Santa Fe is in Galveston County, on the mainland. I hadn’t heard of it before a UM ARMY.

I couldn’t have titled the message, “Where in the World is Sweeny?” I knew where it was long ago. But I did hear the question many times when I would tell people I had been appointed there. Much like Tyler, nobody questioned me on. “Where in the world is Nacogdoches?” when I told people about this appointment.

The point of all this is to say, for all of us, there are places in the world we know little, if anything about. Yet often these are some of the very places where God calls us to go and most needs us to go.

Such was the case for one of the great heroes of the Bible, Abraham, or Abram as he was called in our lesson this morning. God spoke to this 75-year-old man and told him to pack up all his stuff and move, only God didn’t tell him to move to Elwood or Nacogdoches or Grapeland or some other named place you might find on a map or with your GPS. God told Abram to move to the land God would show him. Friends, God was asking Abram to take a great leap of faith.

But, God didn’t ask Abram to take a walk on the wild side. God made Abram some promises too. The biggest promise was, God would be there and that Abram would be blessed.

Abram went packing and God made another promise, Abram, descendants would inherit the land where he stood. Abram never saw that promise fulfilled, but he knew God would keep the promise.

If we continued on in Genesis we would see God’s faithfulness in those promises. God blessed Abram in virtually everything. God promised land to Abram’s descendants. God saw to it. In time, those descendants grew in number as promised. If you keep reading, in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, as promised, Abram’s descendants inherited the land God promised.

God gave a faithful man a task. The man did as instructed. God made promises and kept them, including a promise of blessings on a faithful man.

Blessing is a recurring theme throughout Genesis. Really it is a recurring theme throughout Scripture. When people remain faithful, they receive God’s blessing.

The same is true for us. God asks us to start a faith journey together. It is something that in many ways will be different. But, we don’t travel alone. We travel together as the people of God in this time and place. Further, we don’t just travel with each other, God travels with us.

Friends, if we are faithful to God’s call, we will be blessed.

Someone emailed me a little clip I thought I would share with you as I close the message.

At first I thought God was my observer, my judge, keeping track of my wrong doings to see if I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was sort of like the President. I knew the picture but I didn’t really know God.

Later, I recognized God, and life was like a bike ride, but a tandem bike, and God was in the back helping me pedal. I don’t know when God suggested we switch but life hasn’t been the same since.

When I had control, I knew the way. It was boring but predictable. We took the shortest route. When God took over there were delightful long cuts, up mountains and rocky places and fast speeds! Sometimes I could barely hang on. I was scared sometimes, God reached back and touched my hand.

I met people with gifts I needed: gifts for my journey, our journey, God’s and mine. Then we were off again. Then God would say, “Give those gifts away, extra baggage, too much weight.” So I gave them to people we’d meet.

I learned then that in giving we receive. Our burden was light. I didn’t trust God at first, being in control of my life. “What if God wrecks it?” But God knows, “bike secrets,” how to make it bend in sharp corners or jump high rocks or to fly through scary passages.

I’m learning to shut up and pedal in strange places. Now I enjoy the cool breeze on my face, with my delightful companion. And when I’m sure I can’t do any more, God smiles and says,”Pedal.”

We have work to do. Let’s be faithful like Abraham. If we are, God will bless us to be a blessing. Oh, and don’t forget, pedal!.

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

20 “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion,[a] he sent them into his vineyard.

“Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went.

“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’

“‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.

“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’

13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16 So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16, New International Version).

A story is told about Fiorello La Guardia, who, as mayor of New York during the Great Depression and World War II, who many New Yorkers called “the Little Flower.” He stood five foot four and always wore a carnation. He was a colorful character who rode city fire trucks, raided speakeasies with the police, take orphanages to baseball games, and when New York newspapers were on strike, he went on radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One cold night in January of 1935, he turned up at the night court serving the poorest people in the city. La Guardia dismissed the judge took over the bench himself.

It wasn’t long before an old woman appeared, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told La Guardia her daughter’s husband had left, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. The shopkeeper refused to drop the charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor.” The man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach people around there a lesson.”

La Guardia sighed, Turned to the woman saying, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions – ten dollars or ten days in jail.” He wasn’t finished. He reached into his pocket and pulling out a bill, tossed it into his hat saying, “I remit the ten dollar fine; and furthermore I fine everyone here fifty cents for living in a town where a person steals bread to feed her grandchildren. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

The following day the newspapers reported $47.50 was turned over to an old lady who stole bread to feed her grandchildren, fifty cents contributed by the grocery store owner, while seventy petty criminals, traffic offenders, and policemen, having paid fifty cents to do so, applauded the mayor.

Here is my question for you. Did the elderly lady in the story get what she deserved? Clearly the answer is, of course not. She had stolen a loaf of bread. Yes, she may have had good reason, but stealing is stealing and regardless of the reason, punishment would seem to be the order of the day.

There’s a word for what La Guardia did, grace. Grace is when one in power shows mercy to less powerful people. The mayor, rather than demanding punishment, paid the fine and helped her with the collection of the fifty-cent fines she received. It was more than she deserved. It was grace.

Our lesson is about that too. The lesson is the wonderful story of the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who hired workers for his vineyard. Some he hired early, telling them that he would pay them the usual daily wage. He found more workers to hire, telling them he would pay them what was right.

At sunset it was time to pay the workers. He began with the last hired, paying the usual daily wage. Those working all day got really excited. Surely they would get more for all day.

The excitement didn’t last. Ill feelings arose when they got paid the same working all day as those only working an hour.

He heard grumbling and explained he was fair. He paid what was promised. Couldn’t he pay everyone whatever they wanted with his money?

The landowner didn’t live in our time. He also didn’t seem to know much about business. When he next hired help none would until the last hour.

The landowner did know grace. Workers at the end of the day didn’t get what they deserved they got mercy. That is grace.

In the parable the landowner is God, we are the workers, and the pay is the kingdom. Studying this parable, we see, it’s about grace.

First, the parable says grace is received, not deserved. We all should know we do not deserve grace. Nothing we do will leave us deserving grace. All we can do is receive the gift God offers.

David Seamands ends his book Healing Grace with this story. For more than 600 years the Hapsburgs exercised power in Europe. When Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria died in 1916, his was the last extravagant imperial funeral. Dignitaries escorted the casket, draped in the black and gold. A military band played dirges and by torches light, as the party descended the stairs of the Capuchin Monastery in Vienna. At the bottom an iron door lead to the Hapsburg family crypt. There was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna.

An officer followed the ceremony. “Open!” he cried. “Who goes there?” responded the Cardinal. “We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz-Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria…” the officer listed the Emperor’s 37 titles.

“We know him not,” replied the Cardinal. “Who goes there?” The officer spoke again, this time using a less ostentatious title. “We know him not,” the Cardinal said again. “Who goes there?” The officer tried a third time, using the humblest title: “We bear the body of Franz-Josef, our brother, a sinner like us all!” The doors swung open, and Franz-Josef was admitted.

Whoever we are, whatever our titles, how much we have, it can’t open God’s grace, given freely, left for us the undeserving.

Second, God’s grace is about mercy, not fairness. Fair would be to pay the later workers less than those working longer. That would be fair. Grace isn’t fair. It is merciful. God loves us and gives us more than we deserve.

Christian financial consultant Larry Burkett tells in Business by the Book about going the extra mile, beyond fairness. In 1984 he leased an office that was a nightmare. The foundation was faulty and was singing several inches a year. After more than three years of problems, including power failures and weeks without water, Burkett moved his business.

Soon the former landlord called demanding Burkett remodel and repaint his former office space. Burkett said no. He had already been more than fair with the landlord. The demands continued. Burkett got an attorney who agreed Burkett fulfilled his responsibility and need not do anything more.

Burkett saud his son offered him different counsel reminding Burkett of the landlord’s family, who had lost their only child a few years before. The still suffered. Burkett had commented he would wanted to help them. The son said this was an opportunity to do more than what was fair, but merciful. Burkett considered and agreed. He spent several thousand dollars to restoring a virtually unusable building. That goes past fair, to merciful. It is what grace is about.

Third, God’s grace is for the last and the first. It’s easy to say we deserve more. We’ve been faithful. God doesn’t work that way. God wants a relationship with all of us, those hired early and those who worked an hour. That is Grace.

A woman was abused by her father when she was a small child. She grew up, overcame the damage, became a Christian, then married. Years later, her children grown, she received a letter from her father saying he was a Christian and asked God for forgiveness. He realized he had sinned against her and wrote asking her to forgive.

Feelings surfaced. It wasn’t fair! He should pay. This was easy. Now he was part of God’s family! Her home church was killing the fatted calf and she was invited to the party! She was angry, hurt, resentful.

Then she had a dream. Her father stood on an empty stage. The hands of God held a white robe. She recognized it, she was wearing one. As the robe descended toward her father, she awoke crying , “It isn’t fair! What about me?”

She moved past it by realizing her earthly father was now like her, the same in God’s sight. Grace was his as it was hers. With that, she was able to forgive her father.

God’s grace is a free gift and available to all. It’s a free and more than we deserve. Grace is about mercy, not fairness. Grace is for the last and the first. Thankfully, it is about grace.

Be blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.

By: Keith Broyles

It is time once again for the Sunday Sermon. Because I am not preaching this week I went searching through some old sermon manuscripts and pulled this one out. Unfortunately, there is only the manuscript. I wrote and preached this sermon back in 2007 when I was pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Santa Fe, Texas. I hope you enjoy the read.

13 That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore.

He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.” (Matthew 13:1-9, Common English Bible)

Most of you know, Cindy, Christopher, and I spent Fourth of July weekend with my parents. My father has some hearing difficulty, but his greatest hearing difficulty is convenient hearing and not paying attention to what is being said around him. That can be said of many of us.

Most of you know, we spent Fourth of July weekend with my parents. My father has some hearing difficulty. Four years of running around the boiler room and the engine room on an old ship. He went from the Navy to working construction. His best argument for not getting his hearing checked was expense. But his greatest hearing difficulty is convenient hearing and not paying attention to what is being said around him. That can be said of many of us.

Sunday afternoon he and I were watching baseball games on television. When the Astro’s game was over we turned on the Ranger’s game. Kenny Rogers was pitching. For those few people who are totally oblivious to the sports world, Kenny Rogers went after two television photographers a week and a half ago, jerking the camera from one’s shoulder and then kicking it several times. I don’t know if the camera was damaged or not. Following this tirade, Major League Baseball suspended him for 20 games and fined him $50,000.

When we turned the Ranger’s game on, who was pitching, but Kenny Rogers. We talked about how Rogers had appealed his suspension and was allowed to play until the appeal was heard. My Dad even said that he hoped Rogers would be picked to the All-Star team so that he wouldn’t be able to play.

As the game went on, one at a time, Cindy, my mother, my brother-in-law, my sister, and then Christopher and his girl friend walked into the room. As each came in and saw Rogers on the mound they said, “I thought he was suspended. How can he be playing?” And, each time patiently at first, not so patiently toward the end I explained that Major League Baseball rules allow a player to appeal his suspension and keep playing until his appeal is heard. So Rogers was allowed to play.

Monday morning my dad hears on television that Rogers had pitched the day before and exclaims, “I thought he was suspended, how could he have pitched.” My question is, how could he have not heard it any of the six times I explained it and even worse, he watched almost he entire game, how could he have not seen Kenny Rogers pitching the day before? He was even the one who had turned the game on.

II I guess my words to my dad were like seeds scattered on a path that the birds came and ate. I don’t think that they could be seeds scattered on the rocky places that sprung up but were scorched by the sun. I don’t think that they were like the seeds scattered among the thorns and were choked out by the other plants. That would mean that he at least heard a little bit and probably chose to ignore it. He certainly wasn’t the seed scattered on good soil because he just didn’t get it at all.

I have learned over the years that such is all too true. And, it isn’t just true with my father. There are many of us with hearing that is convenient at best. I know, and I understand that there are those without hearing and even those with hearing loss. I am one who has some moderate hearing loss. And, I know my dad is too. Still, if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, at least for many of us our greatest hearing problem isn’t a physical problem. For many of us anyway, we hear much of what we want to hear. Many things that are said to us or around us, we tune out or we don’t pay attention to. Such was the case during the Rangers game last Sunday afternoon.

III We live in a society that just doesn’t want to listen or maybe has lost much of ability to listen. Perhaps it is selective hearing on many of our parts. Perhaps it is too much noise going on around us, distracting us from what others may be saying. Maybe we think that we don’t have time to listen.

The lesson we read a few minutes ago closes with Jesus saying, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Yet all too often, we just don’t want to listen or we don’t have the ability to listen to one another. And, it seems to me that such inability would also inhibit our ability or desire to hear when God is speaking to us.

This morning we continue our series, “Principles from Parables” as we look at “The Parable of the Sower.” In this lesson Jesus says that a farmer went out in the field to sow his seeds. Think for just a minute about someone who goes out, and by hand, broadcasts seeds onto a field or even a yard. As you scatter the seeds they can go everywhere. Some go to where you want, but others go to places that you don’t, even places that have no real possibility of growing anything. Jesus said that some went on the path where the birds ate them up. Some went to rocky areas, places where there wasn’t much soil and the plants couldn’t get much in the way of a root system. When the heat came they burned up and died. Some fell in the thorny places and were chocked out by the other plants around them. But, some fell on good soil, and produced a good crop, many times the amount of seed that was planted.

I understand that idea. When we moved to Lovelady, we moved into a brand new house. With a brand new house comes a brand new yard. Before we moved in a member of the church came by to plant grass seed. He broadcast the seed. I am sure that some went onto the sidewalk and the birds came and ate it. There weren’t any rocky places so that wasn’t a problem, but there were flowerbeds and some of the seed went there. Do you know what grass is when it is in a flowerbed? It is a weed, but we will deal with “The Parable of the Weeds” next Sunday. The point is, when you scatter seed, some of it goes where you want, but some of it goes into and maybe even takes root in places that you don’t want.

This parable would be difficult at best to understand if it stopped where I stopped reading this morning’s lesson. Without question, it would be cryptic. At times, it is difficult to get the real point that Jesus is trying to make when he used parables. That would have particularly been the case here except that after verse 17, verses 10 through 17 deal with the disciples asking why Jesus speaks in parables and Jesus’ response to them. But, then, in verses 18 through 23 Jesus explains “The Parable of the Sower.” Read 18-23.

With this explanation we now have a much clearer picture of what Jesus was saying to the disciples and others who were gathered to hear him. All of the seeds that went to the places the sower never intended, are people who use their selective hearing or ignore all together what God may be saying. We may hear about the Kingdom of God, and yet we don’t hear. The seeds may be planted within us but they never really take root deeply in our hearts.

On the other hand, there are also the seeds that are scattered on the good soil of the heart. They are seeds that take firm hold because we are not only attentive when the Word of God is spoken; we use what we hear to help cultivate the faith that is growing inside of us. God is speaking. Are we listening?

V I think that when Jesus says, “He who has ears let him hear” he is saying to us; “You have the ability to hear the voice of God calling you into a relationship. Take the time; stop what you are doing and listen. God may be speaking to you.”

When we live with the idea of now you hear it, now you don’t, our faith becomes the seeds that fall in places where it is difficult to impossible for it to survive. Yet when we open our ears and we listen to the word of God, the seeds of faith are planted in good soil. We hear the word of God when we read the words of Scripture, when we pray, from the things that we see in nature and the world around us. We hear it sometimes by God speaking to us from the words of others that share our world. We can even hear it through the still small voice of our conscience. But, we have to be listening or we might miss it.

Now you hear it, now you don’t is selective hearing and if we heard at all, before long it is gone away. What we really need is “Now I hear it… Yeah I still hear it.” Then the seeds of faith are growing in the richest soil of our lives.

I understand that idea. When we moved to Lovelady, we moved into a brand new house. With a brand new house comes a brand new yard. Before we moved in a member of the church came by to plant grass seed. He broadcast the seed. I am sure that some went onto the sidewalk and the birds came and ate it. There weren’t any rocky places so that wasn’t a problem, but there were flowerbeds and some of the seed went there. Do you know what grass is when it is in a flowerbed? It is a weed, but we will deal with “The Parable of the Weeds” next Sunday. The point is, when you scatter seed, some of it goes where you want, but some of it goes into and maybe even takes root in places that you don’t want.

This parable would be difficult at best to understand if it stopped where I stopped reading this morning’s lesson. Without question, it would be cryptic. At times, it is difficult to get the real point that Jesus is trying to make when he used parables. That would have particularly been the case here except that after verse 17, verses 10 through 17 deal with the disciples asking why Jesus speaks in parables and Jesus’ response to them. But, then, in verses 18 through 23 Jesus explains “The Parable of the Sower.” Read 18-23.

With this explanation we now have a much clearer picture of what Jesus was saying to the disciples and others who were gathered to hear him. All of the seeds that went to the places the sower never intended, are people who use their selective hearing or ignore all together what God may be saying. We may hear about the Kingdom of God, and yet we don’t hear. The seeds may be planted within us but they never really take root deeply in our hearts.

On the other hand, there are also the seeds that are scattered on the good soil of the heart. They are seeds that take firm hold because we are not only attentive when the Word of God is spoken; we use what we hear to help cultivate the faith that is growing inside of us. God is speaking. Are we listening?

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V I think that when Jesus says, “He who has ears let him hear” he is saying to us; “You have the ability to hear the voice of God calling you into a relationship. Take the time; stop what you are doing and listen. God may be speaking to you.”

When we live with the idea of now you hear it, now you don’t, our faith becomes the seeds that fall in places where it is difficult to impossible for it to survive. Yet when we open our ears and we listen to the word of God, the seeds of faith are planted in good soil. We hear the word of God when we read the words of Scripture, when we pray, from the things that we see in nature and the world around us. We hear it sometimes by God speaking to us from the words of others that share our world. We can even hear it through the still small voice of our conscience. But, we have to be listening or we might miss it.

Now you hear it, now you don’t is selective hearing and if we heard at all, before long it is gone away. What we really need is “Now I hear it… Yeah I still hear it.” Then the seeds of faith are growing in the richest soil of our lives.

Be Blessed

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoice[c] in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:6-13, New Revised Standard Version).

A little girl and her mother sat in church one Sunday. The preacher was about 10 minutes into the sermon when he said it, “And finally…” and he kept right on preaching. About five minutes later he said again, “And finally…” and the sermon continued. About five minutes later, he said for the third time, “And finally…” then the little girl turned to her mother and asked, “Mama what does that mean?” her mother whispered to her quietly, “Absolutely nothing.”

this morning I am going to use those words several times throughout the sermon. When I do, don’t think that because I say, “And finally,” or “And finally beloved,” the sermon is about to end. You may be pretty disappointed.

I use the words today because those words, “Finally beloved” are the words Paul often used to close his letters. Those words coupled by certain themes at the ends of the letters dealt with matters of Supreme importance for Paul. Many of Paul’s most important priorities are in those last few words at the close of his letters.

This morning, as we close our time together, that we would share some of those thoughts, and also a few thoughts of my own. We will refer to several of Paul’s letters today as we think and reflect a bit on these things that were important to Paul.

“And finally beloved, rejoice in the Lord.” in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” A christian’s life should be characterized by happiness. We are people who know the answer period we are people who have the answer period we know that we live by faith in Jesus Christ. That is the answer to a whole lot an complete life. And, when you have the answer to life’s primary, most important question, there is always reason to rejoice. The christian’s life should be characterized and marked by happiness , by joy. As people of faith we should radiate with optimism when we go through life looking and feeling as if our life is spent down in the pits. What does that say about our faith? What does it say about our answer for this life and the life to come?

Life can be hard. Bad things can happen in our lives. We don’t have to do anything more than watch the Evening News to see just how hard life can be. It’s been pretty hard these last few months with the corona-virus and all the issues surrounding it. Social distancing, the debate over wearing masks, whether or not businesses and other places we gather should be allowed to reopen, vaccines and cures, and on and on. There are economic problems as well as civil rights issues, civil disobedience issues, and general unrest. But, as people of faith we have the assurance that God is greater than our problems and the problems in the world. Life can be hard at times, but God is good all the time and all the time, God is good. We can celebrate and rejoice in God’s goodness. Remember too, the scriptures don’t say we should rejoice in difficulty or rejoice in pain or rejoice in problems or rejoice in tragedy. The scriptures say, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!”

David Suna and John Tu sold 80 percent of their tech company, Kingston Technology Corp. They made mostly computer memory products. For that 80 percent, Suna and Tu decided they would share their good fortune with their employees. The average bonus check was $75,000. Suna and Tu said the joy was not in the money. Joy came from two places. To know that all who contributed to the success was sharing in the rewards, everyone from the custodian to the CEO was awarded.

On its most basic level, being a Christian means being a person of joy. If we are truly filled with this joy, it should be on the brink of bubbling and gurgling out of us each day. A father asked a child why she liked her Sunday school teacher so much. She answered, “Because her eyes twinkle like she’s laughing inside all the time.” Jesus as our joy keeps the corners of our mouths perpetually turning up. Keep smiling!

What is it that gives you joy? What is out there that you can do to make your eyes sparkle. I always think of our Loose Threads group. The joy we share needs to be a joy everywhere for eve

For me it is working on a song. Sometimes that means guitar or piano and practice. Or, it might be writing something new or giving something old a make-over.

Beloved, rejoice in the Lord.

Finally, beloved, be strong in the Lord. Paul is sharing with the Ephesians. He knew they would face opposition from the secular world. As the Christian faith grew stronger, the pressure Christians faced from the Roman Empire grew more and more difficult. Life wasn’t easy for those to whom Paul wrote. There were many challenges in life during the biblical era. Some were physical. Others were spiritual. So, Paul wrote these words, “be strong in the Lord,” to encourage Christians of the day.

Being a Christian has never been easy. In recent years we have seen challenges to our faith. Today the church continues to face greater and greater opposition from secular society. There are challenges again and again to matters of faith. If something even smells of faith it can face immediate and fierce opposition. To stand firm in the faith means to be strong in the Lord.

I recently found a platform for writers and bloggers I had not previously known called Medium and no, it isn’t about connections to the spirit world, palm reading, or any of that kind of thing. It is a vast number of writers, sharing thoughts on a wide variety of topics.

One of the first pieces I read was written by a lady named BeBe Nicholson. She titled her piece “Hostility Toward Christianity is Growing.” In the article Ms. Nicholson addresses some argument’s used by those who have left the church. Being hurt by the church, Christianity being most responsible for most of the wars in history and therefore responsible for huge numbers of deaths, Christians are judgmental, and Christians are intolerant. The Church is far from perfect. I am pretty sure we can all agree on that. After all, the Church isn’t the building, it’s the people and because people in general tend to be judgmental about various things, we can be intolerant. But what some see as intolerance can also be understood as living under the tenants of faith.

Nicholson uses the example of a Supreme Court case as an illustration about the hostility faced by the Church.

Atheists objected to a cross erected over 100 years ago as a memorial to soldiers killed during the first World War. Wanting the memorial removed the group fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court who ruled that there was no Constitutional violation.

A group of atheists launched a billboard campaign in parts of the country last Christmas with the slogan, “Just skip church; it’s all fake news.” Why do unbelievers care if Christians go to church?

Most ironic of the information surrounding the article was the ferocity of the comments made about the article. Those who accuse Christians of judging were judging themselves.

In responding to my comments, she wrote, “Well said Rev. Broyles! Thanks for weighing in with your thoughtful and thought-provoking statements in what turned out to be an unexpectedly controversial post. Even I, who wrote the essay, wasn’t aware of the level of hostility that is actually out there until I read the responses to my article.

Friends we must maintain our focus and our spiritual strength. Beloved be strong in the Lord.

Finally, beloved, pray for us. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives them this instruction. It is important period probably the greatest thing one Christian can do for another is to pray. Intercession is one of the finest acts the Christian performs. Our prayer life should be of central importance to our whole life. When we are in prayer we are truly a servant a servant of God and a servant to neighbor we are called to be people of prayer.

A few years ago, I had an epiphany. I came to the realization that I was not the man of prayer many people believed me to be. People would ask me to pray. I would tell them I would do so and then, many times, I never did. I wasn’t really lying to people or at least that wasn’t my intention. I always intended to pray for the people needing prayer and then life happened. I got busy with fifteen other things and that request I had committed to? Yeah, it was gone.

So, I started doing two things and I want to challenge you to make them part of your prayer routine too. First, when someone asks me to pray, I try very hard to stop what I am doing right then and pray with that person. If it is a request online, email or the church’s prayer page, I try to type a prayer in right then, when I see it. Again, at times I put it off and forget all together. When that happens, I am reminded of the importance of praying right then. And, if someone calls me on the phone asking for prayer, we take the time to stop and pray. I want to ask you to not just remember but since I started doing that, I have seen the difference it makes for the person asking for prayer. Before, they hoped I and others were praying for them, with this practice, they know we are praying.

Beloved, pray for us. Pray for each other period pray for the world around us. We are called to pray.

Finally beloved, “…What things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, think on these things.” If we are to live the kind of lives God calls us to live, all of the things on that list or must. Our hearts must be on the things of God. We must have high ideals and deep convictions in our personal lives. We must decide on clean speech, pure motives, and the highest integrity that is beyond question.

Joseph Parker, a former pastor in London, wrote that on one occasion the great concert pianist Ignace Paderewski came to London to give a concert. Parker, quite an accomplished pianist himself, went to hear the concert. The pastor was so moved by what he heard he did a very strange thing when he came home he stood by his piano, called to his wife, and said, “bring me an axe! Today I heard great music for the first time ever. By comparison what I can do amounts to nothing at all. I feel like chopping my piano to pieces.”

Parker could never be Paderewski simply by following his example period to do so, he would need Paderewski’s hands and mind and heart and yes, even his soul.

It is much the same in the Christian life. We can never live up to the life of Jesus. And, his example could lead us to great desperation. Or, we can use his example. His life, that is in each of us to inspire us on to greater things, to a greater life, to the high ideals and motives and integrity that should be part of every Christian’s faith walk. In Jesus we find our strength, power, and motivation.

Beloved what things are true honest just pure of good report think on these things.

Finally, beloved, farewell. Be perfect. These were Paul’s words that closed his 2nd letter to the Corinthians. As people of faith we know being perfect does not mean being sinless. What I think it does mean is to live as a complete child of God. It means to be everything God calls us to be. It means to live whole, well rounded Christian lives. It means we are called to live in perfect love.

A goat wanted more than anything in the world to be a lion. He didn’t want to be like a lion, he wanted to be a lion. He told himself if he could learn to walk like a lion, talk like a lion, and go where Lions go, he’d be a lion. So, he crouched down and practiced stalking through the jungle. He tried to switch his stubby little tail majestically as Lions do. Then he worked on how to turn his pitiful little bleat into the deep awesome roar of the King of beasts. He worked and he worked, and he worked. Finally, he convinced himself, he really looked and sounded like a lion. “Now,” he said, “all I have left to do to be a lion is to go where Lions go.” So, he marched into lion territory one day about lunchtime. You can imagine what happened. It was a total disaster.

To be perfect we can’t just think we are Christians. We have to act like it. We have to look like it. We have to be it. Try as much as he wanted the goat couldn’t look like a lion by the same token, we can’t look like Christians if we’re not actually Christian. We may be able to fool some people sometimes, but we will never fool the King. We cannot be perfect if we are not who God created us and calls us to be.

To be Christian, to be perfect, shows in our joy. It shows in our prayer life. It shows in our priorities. It shows, not because of what we do, but because of what God does in us . It shows because our strength comes from God.

Beloved farewell. Be perfect.

So, I close by saying just a few more final words, and these are my words, not Paul’s. And finally, beloved, I take my leave with the hope and prayer that you will always stand firm in your faith. May your days be filled with joy and your life filled with God’s grace and strength. Follow only the things that come from God. Live a full and whole Christian life. Cindy and I covet your prayers as I begin new work in Nacogdoches and we want you to know, our prayers are with you. we bid you Farewell, with his grace and peace. We will love you always.