Am I Accepted

Seven Essential Questions – Lent 2020

While Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8:1-11, New Revised Standard Version).

An art buyer went by a butcher shop and saw a kitten lapping milk from a saucer. It wasn’t long before he saw the saucer, a valuable piece of pottery.

He entered the shop and offered the owner two dollars for the kitten. “Sorry, no,” said the proprietor.

“Look,” said the collector, “that kitten isn’t a good pet, but I like kittens that. OK, ten dollars.”

“Deal,” said the butcher pocketing the ten-dollar bill.’

“For that sum, I’m sure you won’t mind throwing in the saucer. The kitten seems happy drinking from it.”

“No way!” said the butcher. “That’s my lucky saucer. I’ve sold 27 kittens with that saucer!”

The buyer wasn’t interested in redeeming unwanted kittens. He wanted pottery. We can be like that. We have more interest in the thing than the life.

Sometime back I read an interesting article. In Japan, when a piece of valuable pottery breaks they hire a goldsmith or a pottery specialist who mixes a lacquer resin with powdered gold and use that to put glue the pieces together. Instead of trying to hide cracks, likely impossible, they use the cracks filled with gold to enhance the pottery’s beauty.

Translators say the Japanese technique is “golden repair.” The result is a process making a piece of art and a philosophical statement. The Japanese say the break and repair is part of the object’s history. Most of us would toss it. To a good eye, broken becomes beautiful.

We need golden repairs in our lives. We hide brokenness. A friend hurts us, we retreat into our core. We lose a job or have a pay cut and pretend it’s OK. A marriage begins with hope and ends with alienation. A spouse, relative, neighbor, friend becomes abusive to us. We are silent.

We have a drinking problem but embarrassment denies help.  Or, we turn to alcohol or drugs to mask pain and problems.

Life can break us in painful ways we often deny. We’d rather disguise cracks than get a golden repair. We think, “Look at me. I’m a mess. There’s nothing desirable here. I can’t be desirable to God. God knows all I’ve done, every mistake, every sin. God can’t forgive me. I’m useless.” I am also wrong.

We don’t understand. We’ve never been so run down, run over driving our thoughts to a useless destination. People are that way. They are broken, trying to navigate life with as little pain as possible.

He was in worship every Sunday but refused communion because of a past sin. He never said the sin, only that he wasn’t worthy. Jesus served Judas the Last Supper. Have we done worse than Judas?

He couldn’t go to worship. God hated him. He was a thief. With “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” He wasn’t forgiven, was he?

She tried suicide three times. A trusted professional abused her. It was her fault. She was an adulterer. God can’t love her. It was better to die.

Too many believe they are worthless. They see brokenness. They can’t be loved. They are worthless. Even a dog couldn’t love them.

We began the series, “Seven Essential Questions” by asking, “What matters most?” Next was, “Who is God?” Today we ask, “Am I Accepted?”

There is good news and bad, the bad news is, no, not on our own. The good news? God’s grace accepts us, good news for people of faith in Jesus.

Many people tormented the Woman at the Well due to her lifestyle. She drew water in the heat of day, avoiding people. Jesus saw past her sins and brokenness. He offered acceptance.

Matthew and Zacchaeus, tax collectors believed to cheat people to make a living. They had no friends. Jesus changed these two. One became a \ disciple. The other, brings him home. He accepted and redeemed both.

There was a woman caught in adultery. Adultery was a sin. It was also a capital crime. It meant death by stoning. They dug a vertical hole wide enough so the convicted could stand and deep enough to expose the head. They forced the convicted into the hole, filling it with sand and dirt. People took rocks and threw them at the convicted until they died.

The Sadducees and Pharisees made this more than an execution. They try to trap Jesus. If he says stone her, where is the grace he advocates. Saying not to stone, spoke against the law. Either way, he loses credibility.

Jesus said nothing. I can see the scene play out. Jesus squats and writes in the dirt. We don’t know what he wrote. Some say it was the accusers sins. Others think he asked, “Where is the man?” It takes two for adultery. If the woman was caught shouldn’t they have caught this guy? Where was he?

Either is possible. He likely wrote one of the two. What if, he also wrote, “You are loved by God. You are accepted?” It’s a possibility.

It fits God’s love of broken people. It fits spreading grace and love.

God’s acceptance is this story. If Jesus accepted her, guilty of a capital crime. Should it not seem that the rest of us have acceptance too?

Want more proof?  Acts 10. Peter has a dream of unclean food. He says he won’t eat unclean food. God says he shouldn’t call unclean what God cleans. He awakens, meets three men coming on behalf of Cornelius. Peter goes with them to Cornelius’ home. Peter wouldn’t usually enter. That’s what the dream meant. Gentiles came to Cornelius’ home to hear Peter. “I am learning God doesn’t show favor to any people. But in every nation, those worshipping God and do right are acceptable to God (Acts 10:34b-35).”

              “…those worshiping God and do right are acceptable to God.” Think about that. It doesn’t say, “Whoever worships, does right and doesn’t sin is acceptable.” For the adulterous woman, it doesn’t say, “Whoever worships, does right and doesn’t commit adultery is acceptable.” There are no other conditions, worship God and do right. That’s it. That makes one acceptable.

         Last week the Trinity our subject. One God, three persons. Jesus, God the Son says in John 14, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” Acts 10:35 doesn’t change John 14.

         John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, speaks to Acts 10:35. We’ve talked about Wesley’s “Acts of Piety” and “Acts of Charity.” Acts of Piety include worship, the sacraments, generosity, and sharing with the community of faith. We find Acts of Charity in Mathew 25, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, etc. People are acceptable who know God and do what matters most. It’s about love God, and love neighbor.

         We don’t get there all at once. We live part of our lives before accepting God’s gift of grace. We accept that gift, but our lives don’t change overnight. We still sin. We still fall short of God’s glory. The difference is, we allow the Holy Spirit to work on us, to mold us and change us. That is God’s redeeming work in us. While we live out those acts of piety and acts of charity, God takes us from unacceptable and redeems us, making us acceptable to God.

         John was a sea-going man like his father who arranged for John to go to school. He wasn’t interested, going to work on a merchant ship. Later, he was forced into the Royal Navy. Sailors grabbed him. They forced him to duty. He tried to escape. He was flogged for the effort and almost died.

         Eventually, his captain traded John to a slave trading ship. He didn’t get along with the crew and that captain traded him to an African tribal chief for some African slaves. John became a slave himself.

         The chief’s wife treated John horribly. Here he did escape helped by a merchant his father asked to watch for him.  John joined the merchant crew to get home. A rough storm threatened to sink the ship due to a hole in the hull from the storm. He decided to pray. As he did so, a large piece of cargo slid into place, covering the hole. It saved the ship. John knew it was God. He became a Christian and studied anything Biblical he could find.

         He didn’t give up the slave trade. He captained a slave trader. He carried two loads of slaves to the Americas before he retired from the sea.

He went to school to be a priest. He came to understand slavery’s wrongs seeking its end it in the British Empire. He saw it end before he died.

         He also wrote this, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

         John Newton, as a Christian he enslaved people. Because of his work people died. God redeemed him to write the most beloved hymn in history.

God can’t redeem you? What’s so bad God won’t accept you?

         If you never hear another word I say, hear this!!! You are loved by God who wants a relationship with you. No matter what you did, God can and will redeem you. You, yes, even the likes of us are acceptable to God.

         Thank God for grace. Praise God! Could ask more than that?

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved
Permission given for the non-commercial use of this post.

(771)

Seven Essential Questions: Who is God?

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, good-bye. Put things in order, respond to my encouragement, be in harmony with each other, and live in peace—and the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Say hello to each other with a holy kiss.[a] All of God’s people say hello to you.

13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

I apologize if you liked the 2006 movie, Talladega Nights. It may be the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen, could be the stupidest movie in history.

          My opinion of the movie is low. It is higher than Cindy’s. I think it has a redeeming scene in it. The reason this scene is redeeming is, it makes a good sermon illustration. If you decide, to go and stream it on Netflix or something, don’t blame me when you spend two hours you’ll never get back. As for that one redeeming scene, I’ll tell you so you have no reason to watch except to lose brain cells. If you are like Cindy and me and you already invested time, I’m really, really, sorry.

          Martin Thielen, in his book, What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian: A Guide to What Matters Most” says it’s the funniest scene of the movie. Maybe. I didn’t say funny. I said redeeming.

NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby, played by Will Ferrell, his family and best friend Cal, are at dinner in a combo Domino’s, KFC, and Taco Bell. Ricky offers grace.

          He begins his prayer, “Dear Lord Baby Jesus.” He then thanks Baby Jesus for the various blessings, including his wife, Carley. As he prays, he keeps repeating the phrase, “Dear Lord, Baby Jesus.”

          Carley interrupts him and says, “You know, Sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him baby.”

          Ricky replies, “I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m saying grace. Whey you say grace, you can say it to grown-up Jesus or teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus, or whoever you want.”

          Ricky continues his prayer, “Dear tiny Jesus…” The scene goes on in an irreverent style that you don’t want me to say. If you want to know, I have the dialogue. He finishes his prayer after several interruptions, thanking baby Jesus for his NASCAR victories and the millions he’s won. He finishes saying, “Thank you for all your power and grace, dear Baby God. Amen.

          Count on Hollywood to raise religious issues in an irreverent way. That scene, irreverent though it may be, raises a serious theological question. “Who is Jesus?” There is a bigger question to ask, “Who is God?”

          Last week I asked you to share with me, what image came to your mind when you closed your eyes and thought of God. What picture comes to your mind? For Ricky Bobby it was the baby Jesus. For his father-in-law, an adult male with a beard. For his friend Cal? Well, we’ll move on.

          What image or picture comes to mind when you think of God? For me, it was my grandmothers. I know without question, both of my grandmothers loved me. I am even more confident, if that is even possible, that God loved me. My grandmothers wouldn’t hesitate to praise me when I was right or did something good. They both loved to tell others about her grandson the preacher. They both loved that I was a preacher, even if I slipped up and went and became a Methodist. Like both of my parents, my grandmothers were lifelong Baptists. I went and broke the mold.

          As for you, the top answer was “creator of everything.” Other answers were, “All things, sun, moon, stars, rain”; “peace, comfort and love” “loving arms, and “my all in all. One of you drew a picture of a shepherd and a lamb. That is a great image of our good shepherd. Thank you for participating.

          The idea for this series came from the Bob Thielen book, Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian. Thielen spends most of this section – talking about Jesus. That’s important, there is no question about it. I think there’s a bigger question, “Who is God.” It’s a bigger question because we, and our almost every Christian denomination are Trinitarian in our understanding of God. This includes Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and the Christian Church to name only a few.

          We believe in one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mike Warnke, who worked as a Christian comedian said that the Trinity is like a cherry pie. He said a good cherry pie it is runny in the middle. Cutting the pie, you see lines in the crust but if you lift the crust the filling would run together. There are three pieces but deeper, it is all one.

          I’ve served several times on District Committees on Ministry. There are lots of questions asked of candidates for ministry. There are a few asked of EVERY candidate coming before the committee. It is something like this, “You are teaching the confirmation class. Explain the Trinity to your class.” The most common answer is, “water.” Water comes in three forms, ice, water, and steam and yet it is still one thing, H2O.

          Another way to think of the Trinity is God the Father = the Creator God. God the Son = the Redeemer God. God the Holy Spirit = the Sustainer God.

          We think the Trinity is hard. Mike Warnke said, “God didn’t make it that hard. God made it as simple as cherry pie.” While I think the image of cherry pie is interesting, it is also incomplete. Any of our images are incomplete.

          Here is the thing. God is bigger than anything we understand. Warnke also did say, “We couldn’t take God in one bite if we had to.” On that is right.

          The Trinity is a theological idea, not, a Biblical concept. I’ve told you before, the website I use when studying translations and paraphrases is biblegateway.com. I use this site because I can compare several versions side by side and I can cut and paste it into my sermon and not retype.

          Biblegateway.com features 53 versions of the Bible. 50 versions don’t have the word Trinity in them. That left three, and they are three I wouldn’t use. They aren’t bad, just more obscure. They are, The Amplified Bible, The Expanded Bible, and The Voice. Each had a verse from Revelation but none were the same verse. The Expanded Bible had a verse from Isaiah and The Voice one from 1 Corinthians, both talk about an “unholy trinity.” None shared the word in the same verse. All five verses were different. That, and the 50 versions with nothing leads me to discredit all three.

          Our lesson is Paul’s closing words in 2 Corinthians. He speaks of the three persons of the Trinity. We don’t get closer than that. And, whether Trinitarian or not, Christians would agree all three are important.

          Last week I talked about significance and how we, small though we are in comparison the universe, God created it all. God continues to create. We see children coming to life. I love spring. The world seems to come to life.

A couple of weeks ago Cindy made a business trip to Austin. When she came home, she talked about the bluebonnets blooming. God’s creative hand works around us. When I was a student at University of Houston, I took an astronomy class. I learned that the universe continues to expand.

          God the Son is our Redeemer. Without Jesus coming to earth as one of us. He lived the life of a human being. He knew times or triumph and he knew times of pain and disappointment. He died a horrific death at the hands of those he came to save, all so that we who believe would not die at the end of this life but that we would live again. We would live eternally with God.

          God the Holy Spirit is our guide. Thee Spirit leads. That small voice we hear at times, telling you what you should do? Sometimes it’s us trying to justify what we want but there is also a real possibility that God is speaking, giving guidance to you. People sometimes expect to hear God in a booming voice. While God can and does sometimes speak in the booming voice, there is also the very real possibility that God will speak as God did to Elijah. God wasn’t in the earthquake. God wasn’t in the fire. God was in the quiet.

          One God, three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that is our God. All the images we have are OK, but let’s recognize them for what they are, images coming from humans, finite beings, trying to explain an infinite God.

          I’ve done the poll before. I don’t remember all answer. They were like yours. The exception was the first time. The top answer I didn’t see it coming but, I understand. “The Wizard of Oz.” Toward the end, Dorothy and frends make it to the end of the Yellow Brick Road, Oz is a foreboding figure, with a barreling voice, steam coming from his nose, demanding to receive his favor earn it. At best, it’s an Old Testament image, and, it’s lacking.

          The image is bad, yet not the end. When Toto pulls the curtain, the man behind it is compassionate, not demanding but full of grace, bestowing gifts to the group. It’s still lacking. When his balloon leaves Dorothy behind, he can’t navigate the balloon get her and return her to Kansas.

          Oz, like our other images is lacking. He isn’t big enough. Nothing is powerful enough. Nothing is big enough.

St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument says God is bigger than we can imagine. His argument says, if the human mind can conceive all the nature of God, God is no longer infinite because the finite mind understands.

          That is not our God. The God we know is infinite in wisdom, power and love. The God we know is bigger than we can know, understand or fully comprehend. What we need to know is God is still working and at work in the world to create and recreate, to bring forgiveness, grace, and salvation to a fallen creature, and to lead us and guide us, now and forevermore.

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved
Permission to reuse this post is given for non-commercial purposes

(745)

Seven Essential Questions – What Matters Most?

Seven Essential Questions Sermon Series

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question. (Mark 12:28-34, New Revised Standard Version).

          In 1996, the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl. Brett Favre was their quarterback and the league most valuable player. Someone hung a banner in the stadium, Lambeau Field. Listen to the words on this banner:

Our Favre who art and Lambeau, hallowed be thy arm. The bowl will come, it will be won, in New Orleans as it is in Lambeau. Give us this Sunday our weekly win. And give us many touchdown passes. Bu do not let others pass against us. Lead us not into frustration but deliver us to Bourbon Street. For Thine is the MVP, the best of the NFL, and the glory of the cheese heads, now and forever. Go get em!”

          Here is a question for you to chew on for a few minutes. When does sports as entertainment become sports as idolatry? Apparently, some fans recognize their team support for what it is to them. It really is worship.

          Don’t get me wrong. I like football. I enjoy a game. The first part of the month, when Kansas City and San Francisco played in the Super Bowl, I was in front of my television for the whole game and even that half time show. If you can’t tell from my tone of voice, I didn’t care for it.

          As I suspected, life as we knew it before the game didn’t change in the slightest with the possible exceptions of Kansas City, San Francisco, and Miami, where the game happened. For the rest of us, after the game was over, or on Monday morning, most everyone went back to work or school or whatever it is that usually occupies their time.

          Watching a game isn’t what bothers me. What does bother me is, a father who sent his son into the fellowship hall (not here) one Sunday Morning as I was about to have prayer with the choir when the young man came in and told me, “Dad says to tell you the Cowboys kick off at noon today. You need to cut it short.” Yes, that really did happen. It was the first time but I assure you, it wasn’t the last.

          My response? “I am going to preach. I am going to preach the message God gave me to preach. I am going to preach it until I get through. If you finish first, go home.” The young man’s dad thought it was funny.

          I have even heard a bit of a different statement. “Preacher, today is the Super Bowl, Don’t keep us over.” My answer for that one is a bit different. Why do I need to finish early, the game doesn’t even start until 5:30. I am sure we will finish well ahead of that.” The rebuttal to that goes something like this: But what about pre-game? I just shake my head and walk away.

          It is just football. I have a book I have a book titled, Muscular Christianity: and the Development of Sports in America. It’s authors, Tony Ladd and James A. Mathison, believe sports is a new American religion with the major sports becoming its major denominations. When our favorite denomination isn’t in season, participants study and worship elsewhere.

          Sport is far from the only religion out there. Another is shopping. Uh-Oh. He quit preachin’ and went to meddlin’. “There’s a special Sunday sale at XYZ. We don’t have that store. I have to go to Tyler and be there at 10:00 when they open. They’ve got door-busters.

Idols can take many shapes. It might be cars or a new kitchen appliance, it might be guitars (ouch, that one hurt) or our television. It might be a collection of green pictures of dead presidents. If I didn’t mention yours, there is a possibility it is out there. We pour ourselves into our false faith. When does the pursuit of entertainment end and a false God begin?

          We begin a new sermon series for Lent, titled “Seven Essential Questions.” We begin by asking the question, “What Matters Most?”

          We know the answer but don’t live it. Our lives are out of balance. In his book Soul Keeper, John Ortberg argues that it isn’t so much our lives are out of balance. Our lives aren’t balanced because our souls aren’t balanced.

          We are wired to be in relationships with God and with other people. Yet, for short-term gain, a win on the field, a bargain at the store, we allow stuff to replace relationships.

          We allow relationships to deteriorate, putting things ahead of worship, ahead of God. Our souls are out of balance. Our lives are out of balance.

          When we are out of balance, we don’t as we might if we were balanced. You’ve probably seen the commercial of the man wearing a wedding dress on top of a subway grate, complaining about someone’s decision. The director then tells, “Miss Monroe eat a Snickers” because she gets cranky when hungry. After one bite she is back to normal.

          We can get cranky when we’re hungry. With the secularization of society recently, closer to the truth is, we get cranky because we are spiritually out of balance. We aren’t doing what matters most.

          Jesus doesn’t say in this lesson, what matters most but close enough. He is grilled by the Pharisees and Sadducees. An expert in law asks, “What is the most important commandment?” In Hebrew law there are 613 commandments. If you thought only 10, think again.

          Most of us would have a problem. Who could keep up? “If I can’t know them all, what is most important? I need help!!!”

          The expectation was for Jesus to say the Ten Commandments. They were wrong. Jesus said, “The most important one is, ‘Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” He continues, “The second is this, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.’”

          Jesus is saying is, the most important commandment is, love God and love neighbor. If loving God and neighbor is most important, I think is clear, what matters most!

          To balance our lives requires focus on what matters most. How do we show love of God? God gave us part of the answer, “…you shall worship the LORD your God (2 Kings 17:39). Worship is vital to live love of God. We live love for God through giving time and treasure.

As Methodists, John Wesley’s “Acts of Piety” are pretty important to our faith. There are six of these Acts. Wesley believed we practiced these acts, as we journey toward Holiness. The Acts of Piety are: Prayer, searching (studying) the Scriptures, Holy Communion, Fasting, Christian Community, and healthy living. We do better at some than others but each of these can lead us on the path toward holiness.

We also show love of God by how we love our neighbor. Our society has forgotten a lot about loving our neighbor.

There is a Wesleyan answer here too. Wesley called them “Acts of Mercy.” Methodist and others, Wesleyan, or not, should recognize what Wesley’s “Acts.” They are, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and burying the dead. Wesley didn’t make these up. When you get home, look up Matthew 25:31-46.

Society has forgotten about loving our neighbor. As I worked on this message, I had YouTube music playing on TV. An old Statler Brothers video came on. Listen as I share the lyrics with you…

Let me be a little kinder
Let me be a little blinder
To the faults of those around me
Let me praise a little more
Let me be when I am weary
Just a little bit more cheery
Think a little more of others
And a little less of me

Let me be a little braver
When temptation bids me waver
Let me strive a little harder
To be all that I should be
And let me be a little meeker
With a brother that is weaker
Let me think more of my neighbor
And a little less of me

Let me be when I am weary
Just a little bit more cheery
Let me serve a little better
Those that I am striving for
And let me be a little meeker
With a brother that is weaker
Think a little more of others
And a little less of me

To live by faith means to live in balance. To live in balance means we focus on what matters most. What matters most is, loving God and loving neighbor.

Let me leave you with one final thought. It is an anonymous quote. “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” As spiritual beings we seek to live in balance and strive always to remember and focus on what matters most, loving God and loving neighbor. If we can do that, we will do what matters most.

If you were not in church March 1, please either go to my Facebook page and comment under the video for this service or you can leave a comment right here for this post on WordPress. Even if you are not a member of our congregation I would appreciate if you gave me an answer to this question: What image comes to your mind when you think of God. This is for a very unscientific survey that I am going to use in next week’s service. So please, take just a moment and give a little help.

Thanks in advance for your help and I pray God blesses your day.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved
Permission granted for the non-commercial use of this post.

(739)

Sell Your Stuff… Give to the Poor (Sunday Sermon)

17 As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”

18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19 You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

23 Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25 It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

26 They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”

28 Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”

29 Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news 30 will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.” (Mark 10:17-31, Common English Bible)

               Your soul, not to mention your budget, is in mortal danger as you approach the grocery store checkout line.       

               You ask, “How?”

               You’ve carefully filled your cart with the needed outlined on your list. You patiently wait in line, always seeming to pick the one that’s slowest. Yet somehow, by the time the checker starts tallying the items in your cart, it has suddenly filled up with a pack of gum, a box of Tic-Tacs, a new TV Guide, a four pack of 9 volt batteries, three candy bars, a publication for inquiring minds, and a partridge in a pear tree.

               If your five-year-old is along, you may also have accumulated a Pez dispenser, a Mylar balloon with a Disney character on it, a plastic “cellular” phone filled with tiny pieces of bubble gum, and a children’s book.

               Stores purposefully pack this kind of junky, funky, consumer gunk into the narrow gauntlet, we must run to get to the check-out register. Things we would never intentionally have gone searching for are now right there at our fingertips. They are inviting us, no, insisting to us that we grab them and take them home.

               Although impulsively buying a pack of gum or a candy bar hardly seems earth shattering or soul-threatening, the truth is that the increasing voracious appetites of this consumer culture are being methodically nurtured and stimulated by a crass and crushing consumerism. The worldwide ramifications of such little things as a checkout gauntlet are ominous.

               After a bad day, some would sigh, “The world is going to heck in a hand basket.” Today we can sigh even more deeply on a daily basis that the whole world is going is “going to heck in a shopping cart.” For an increasing number of people, self-identity and life-purposes are summed up by the mantra, “I shop, therefore I am.” Raging consumerism has left Descartes’, “I think, therefore I am” sitting in the dust. Consumer culture has never even heard of, much less considered, God’s revelation to Moses, “I am who I am; therefore, you are.”

               Like the rich young man in today’s lesson, we know ourselves, we identify ourselves, we define ourselves, by our possessions, our things, our “stuff.” This young man was so possessed by his “stuff” that he couldn’t unstuff himself, neither for the sake of the poor, nor for his own sake and his quest for eternal life. Faced with the choice between his old secure, in control, in charge self and the unknown possibilities of life as a disciple of Jesus Christ, the rich young man clung to his human illusions of power and control.

               Who or what controls your life?

               I’ve spent some time contemplating that question. Of course, I would like to say that God does and at least most of the time that would be true. But, the same time, it is also true that I am accountable to other people. I am accountable to varying degrees to all of you. I am accountable to a district superintendent and a bishop. Though I have spoken to the various bishops in our conference, at least while they were still serving as a bishop, in only brief conversations over the past nine plus years, make no mistake, I am accountable to the bishop.

               I also know that while society may say I am the head of my household, I am also accountable to my wife. Let me spend too much money in the wrong place and the wrong time and I can promise you I will hear about it. And friends, you do not want to see her go redhead. It isn’t pretty.

               I am also accountable to various people that expect me to pay my bills. If I fail to pay my bills, it won’t take long before they are coming to me or calling me wanting to know when they can expect payment and if I don’t pay they don’t hesitate to let me know that there would be consequences coming my way in pretty short order.

               All of that led me to think, what would I do if somehow, someway, I knew beyond any reasonable doubt that God was calling on me to sell all my stuff and give the money to the poor. My brother-in-law told me Cindy and I could come and live with him and my sister.  I’m not sure that would be such a good idea. Anyway, I digress. Before a few years ago I think I would have answered that question without hesitation, “Yes, I would do what God was telling me to do.” But then after one move, Cindy had an incredibly difficult time finding a job. Having to live on less money than we previously had in a long time and seeing how difficult it could be to live that way, now, I’m not so sure. To be honest I rather enjoy the lifestyle to which I have grown accustomed. While I am sure we could live on less, I don’ really think I want to. So now, when I am honest with myself, I would have to answer the question, “I am not sure what I would do if God called on me to sell my stuff and give to the poor.

Jesus put rich young man on the spot. Though he obviously didn’t live in our consumer culture, the rich young man had the mindset of many of us today. He had the Jones virus, as in, “I’ve got to keep up with the Jones’.” Mark tells us what Jesus was asking was a big deal to the young man. Further, Mark goes so far as to tell us why. He had a lot of stuff. He saw himself in the things he possessed. We don’t know what he had. Perhaps it was nice clothing or jewelry. Maybe it was horses and oxen and a nice wagon or a chariot. Then again it might have been a three-bedroom two bath house with an attached two car garage. Oh wait, that would be us. I know those kinds of houses didn’t exist in those days, but you get my point. What he had may have been a nice house, more than a single room, with a barn to keep those horses and oxen. Or, could it have been that he had all of that and more?

Could it be that the rich young man had gotten used to a lifestyle where he walked out and got on a horse and went for a ride instead of walking everywhere, he went as most people did during that era?

If you stop and think about it, Jesus’ instruction to the rich young man is radical, even for that day. For most people back then, non-Romans living in a place controlled by the Roman Empire, they had little. The government wasn’t going to let most have much so the rich young man was an exception to the rule.

This young man was more attached to his stuff than he was to God’s promise. He wanted his stuff. He wanted to be in control of his life and what he had and he could not, would not let go.

I think the good news for us in this lesson is, I really don’t think God is calling on us to dispose of our stuff and give all the money away. Wesley did say, “Earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.” Most of us put priority on earning. A few less would apply the saving part to the equation. Unfortunately, not too many of us, not even we Christians have that giving part down the way we should. This sermon isn’t a sermon about giving. It is a sermon about priorities, but earning, saving, and giving should be a priority for all of us. I am reminded of something I wish someone had gotten through my thick head when I was a lot younger. It is called the rule of 80 and I believe it is both Wesleyan and would fit our priorities. Take your household income. Save 10 percent. Give 10 percent and live on the 80 percent. I puts everything a lot closer to where it should be.

It seems to me we miss a lot in life. We miss a lot because we don’t give. I believe God blesses cheerful givers in ways beyond what most of us can imagine. We miss a lot in life because we don’t always save as we should. For many of us, particularly when we are young. Saving just isn’t a priority. And, we miss a lot when we get caught up in the consumer culture and we are caught up in all our stuff. Always remember, it is just that, stuff.

Whales are some of the most amazing creatures God made. Fin whales can easily hear the bleeps of other fin whales 4,000 miles away, some scientists argue up to 13,000 miles. Humpbacks like to sing in rhyme, and the songs they sing are always changing while at the same time, they are passed from male to male, so that in any one season all the whales of a single ocean will be singing the same song.

In February 1928, a female blue whale who roamed freely throughout the Antarctic for decades was killed. From measurements taken at the time, some scientists are convinced she was the largest creature ever to live on Earth – bigger than any known dinosaur or leviathan.

But the people who had the privilege of seeing her never saw her. They were in such a hurry to harvest her blubber and find other family members of her huge species so they salvaged nothing – not a single picture, not a single bone. Nothing.

What are you missing in life because of the blubber? What part of God’s kingdom are you not experiencing because of the rush to make a living or just accumulate one more item of stuff? What good is “stuff” without the stuff of eternity? Will you give up the chaff for the real stuff… the stuff of life… the stuff of eternity.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

(724)

The Well is Deep

               So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[ 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[b] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[c] the one who is speaking to you.”

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[d] can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving[e] wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”  (John, 4:5-42, New Revised Standard Version)

               On March 19, 2014, a rather famous person passed away. You may or may not remember Phelps.  It may help some to say, he was the head of what the BBC called, “The Most Hated Family in America.” On that date, in March 2014, Fred Phelps, former pastor of Westboro Baptist Church passed away at the age of 84.

               In the almost six years since, few people have lost sleep over his demise. To say he was almost universally disliked would be like saying elephants are big. Not only did his actions and the actions of his congregation spew a message on numerous occasions with messages against homosexuality at the funerals of fallen soldiers and others, as well as at other occasions that might gain his church, and I use the term church very loosely, a few headlines. I never have quite understood the connections between homosexuality and the funerals of fallen soldiers, except perhaps for the shock value.

               To be clear, I was never a fan of Phelps or his church. I found their actions to be both despicable and distasteful. On more than one occasion I preached about the message of hate spewing from his congregation as they celebrated their most famous quote, still on the church’s webpage, “God hates fags.” The basic context of my sermon on those occasions was, God, who the Bible says is love, does not hate anybody and to say otherwise is not only bad theology, it is bad Bible.

               I would not have been surprised if the world would have ignored Phelps death and just moved on. The world does that regularly. I remember thinking, following the death of a close friend, “Hey people, slow down a minute. Don’t you realize Bob is dead? But, the world didn’t even know Bob.

               The world did know Fred Phelps, but the world wasn’t better off because of that knowledge. Knowing how most people felt, I figured most people would say something like, “Good riddance,” and then go on.

               I was surprised by the hatred that went out from so many people on social media. The hatred went not only to Phelps but also to members of his family that had been estranged from Phelps for years. I read comments like, “Burn in hell!” and that was one of the nicer comments. There was little in the way of condolences for members of the family, including Nathan Phelps, who along with his sister are the most famous of the Phelps runaways. Nathan posted online that his father passed away and few made even surface attempts to offer comfort to a man who had lost his father. Instead there were those proclaiming that the largest protest ever be done at the funeral of Fred Phelps.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was a forgotten sentiment. “Do unto others as they have already done to you” was far more popular. That sentence is both sad and at the same time, shining a bright light at the state of the human condition.

               The human condition, we want to stay angry. We don’t want reconciliation. We would prefer to hate. We don’t want to forgive. We refuse to believe there is grace out there for people like Fred Phelps.

               I wish I could stand here this morning and honestly tell you, all this was done by non-Christians but the truth is, when it comes to someone we love to hate, Christians are no different from the rest of the world. We may sing, “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” but that love only goes so far and it is reserved for the right people.

               We tend to believe there is a special place in human suffering for the despicable human beings like Fred Phelps. But, be warned. If such a place exists for Fred Phelps, it is likely the place where we too will find ourselves for eternity.  Why? Because unrepentant sin is sin not forgiven. Stealing a $.25 pack of gum is the same sin as robbing a bank at gunpoint. Stealing is stealing. As crimes, yes, they are different but as sins, they are exactly the same.

               We see other sins just like that too. We see Westboro Baptist Church out there spewing their vile message of hatred and we think, that is terrible, and someone wants him to stop. The thing is, we are so concerned about the splinter in the eye of the Westboro leadership that we miss the log in our own. We forget about the lie we told our neighbor. We forget about the little piece of gossip we passed on after hearing it. We forget about the treatment we gave the store clerk or the waitress in the restaurant. None of those things are as bad as what Phelps and others do in the name of God.

               To my way of thinking, with only a few exceptions, God sees sin, as sin. There are no rankings in the world of sin.

               In today’s lesson, Jesus and the disciples are making their way back to Galilee, but to get there they traveled through Samaria. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews. They were seen as half-breed, Jews who married foreigners and therefore, and therefore, less than pure and purity and cleanliness were of upmost importance. So, any good Jew wanted as little to do with Samaritans as possible.

               Jesus and the disciples come to the Samaritan town of Sychar. Once there, Jesus remains at the well outside of town while the disciples go into town in search of food and supplies. It is about noon when a woman comes out of town to retrieve water. While the scene wouldn’t be unusual, women came from town to the well to retrieve water on a regular basis, the timing of this woman’s trip made things more than a bit odd. It was the hottest part of the day. Most of the women and hauling water in the Biblical era was considered “women’s work,” came early in the morning or closer to sunset in the evenings. They came at the time of day when it wasn’t quite so hot. This woman came out at noon. She came at one of the hottest times of the day. Many of us would be more than curious about why.

               For his part, Jesus doesn’t ask about that. We soon learn he didn’t need to do so because he already knew the answer. All Jesus does is ask for a drink of water. Now the woman is curious. She recognizes Jesus, not as the Messiah, but as a Jew and she knows the score. She also knows the questions, why Jesus, a Jew would ask anything of her, a woman of Samaria. Jesus tells her if she knew who he was, he would give her living water. It is clear she doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. She wants to know how he is going to draw water; he has no bucket and the well is deep. Then he tells her, those who drink the water from the well will thirst again but those who drink his living water will never get thirsty. Now he has her attention. Her mind immediately goes to the idea of no more trips to the well in the noon day sun. She still doesn’t get it.

               Jesus doesn’t press the matter. He changes the subject, telling her to go get her husband. She replies she has no husband. In my mind I can see Jesus smile just a bit. “You are right,” he replies, but then the other shoe drops, “You have had five husbands and the man you are living with now is not your husband. Jesus exposes her sin for what it is. She asks if Jesus is a prophet. Jesus tells her in a round-about way he isn’t a prophet, he is the Messiah. The woman then goes into town and tells everyone she meets, “Come and meet the man who knows everything I ever did.” Apparently, it was a lot.

               As I see the story play out in my mind the thought occurred to me, what the woman found at the well was more than water. Jesus’ offer of Living Water was an offer of grace. The lesson never says, Jesus forgave her sins, but it seems clear to me that Jesus did forgive those sins and probably more. We can see she received grace, she received forgiveness. How do I know? Her willingness to tell her story, warts and all. Who would go and tell such a story if they hadn’t first experienced divine forgiveness? That is, in a word, grace.

               As Christians we love this story. We love this story because we all want the forgiveness the woman received. We love this story because we all want the grace Jesus gave this woman.

               As I have thought about this story over the past few days, an image came to me from something the woman said, “The well is deep.” Of course, she was right, the well was literally very deep. Most wells are. But I also got to thinking, the well of God’s grace is also deep and that is good news. It is good news for you and me. We can receive the Living Water of God’s grace. We can receive forgiveness for our sin.

               There is more. It isn’t in our lesson, but it is in the Bible. If we are going to receive grace, we must be willing to give grace. If we are to receive forgiveness, we must be willing to give forgiveness. Jesus says in Luke 6, “forgive and you will be forgiven.” In other words, we are asking God to forgive us in the same way we are willing to forgive those who have wronged us. It seems like I heard a group of people say really like that about 15 minutes ago.

               What also falls hand-in-hand with this is repenting, asking forgiveness from those we have wronged. Sometime back, I started feeling guilty about the way I treated a high school classmate some many years ago. I really treated this classmate badly and I wanted to apologize and ask for forgiveness. It took me a while to find and contact this person but when I did, I asked for forgiveness. The classmate readily gave me the forgiveness I sought. I also know, by faith, God has forgiven me too.

                So, what is the point of all this? As I worked on this message, I saw that many of my sermons don’t lead to any specific action beyond right afterward, standing up and saying what we believe in the form of the Apostles’ Creed. So, here is the real point in this. What action are you taking to lead people to action that can result in grace and forgiveness?

               And, this is what I want you to do. We have all wronged someone as I did with my classmate. Ask that person for forgiveness. It may take effort to track them down but do it. It may even be that they have disappeared from the place you last knew them to be, and no one you know has an idea of where to look. Perhaps they have passed from this life to the next. If you can’t find them, take a page from 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and write them a letter asking for their forgiveness. You won’t hear them say you are forgiven. But even if you find them, they may not forgive you. Do you know what? Then it becomes their problem, not yours. You humbled yourself and asked for forgiveness. That is about all you can do.

               Another thing be ready. If someone comes to you and asks your forgiveness, be ready to give it as my classmate gave it to me.

               Whatever you do, in any of these circumstances, you will feel better for the effort. I know God will bless you for the effort by lowering a bucket deep into the well of grace and pour that grace upon you. You will drink the living water.

               I can’t say whether Fred Phelps ever felt the grace poured out on him or not. I feel certain that were he hear today, he would say yes, he had. I don’t know but it also isn’t for me to know. What I do know is this. The well is deep, even for someone like Fred Phelps. God makes the decisions about who drinks the Living Water. We just know, the well is deep. The well is deep, and it is full. It is full of the Living Water; it is full of forgiveness and grace from God. If Fred Phelps entered eternity with a repentant heart, he would drink the living water because God loves and forgives him and the well is deep.

               I also know this, as people of faith, we need to find it within ourselves to forgive him. We don’t forgive so much for his sake, he is dead, and our forgiveness is meaningless to him at this point. Instead, we forgive for our own sake and we can drink the living water because the well is deep. We forgive for peace in our own hearts as we drink the living water, water we can drink because the well is deep. We forgive because God asks us to do so and it isn’t always an easy thing to do, but we can do it, because the well is deep. No one ever said a life in faith would be easy but we can overcome because the well is deep. So we work at it and we forgive because such is what God calls us to do, and the well is deep.

               We forgive because each time we do, we dip back into the well of grace, we drink the living water and we know, the well is deep.

Have a blessed day in the Lord

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved
Permission is granted for non-commercial use

(718)

On Being Slugged in the Jaw (Psalm 3)

Lord, I have so many enemies!
    So many are standing against me.
So many are talking about me:
    “Even God won’t help him.” Selah
But you, Lord, are my shield!
    You are my glory!
    You are the one who restores me.
I cry out loud to the Lord,
    and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah
I lie down, sleep, and wake up
    because the Lord helps me.
I won’t be afraid of thousands of people
    surrounding me on all sides.

Stand up, Lord!
    Save me, my God!
In fact, hit all my enemies on the jaw;
    shatter the teeth of the wicked!
Rescue comes from the Lord!
    May your blessing be on your people! Selah (Psalm 3, Common English Bible)

First, I know I said last week that I was going to try to make the second post on each psalm a poem. After writing “Hello Little Girl,” now including music, and “Dance Girl Dance,” (I will post sometime later this week, perhaps even Saturday) for my oldest granddaughter, my brain just isn’t letting me think about anything poetry.

Second, before reading any of this post, know this, Keith IS NOT a fight fan. I am unable (for myself) to reconcile being a fan of a sport where they are trying to hurt each other with being a servant of the Prince of Peace, who says the most important thing is love. Fighting, whether boxing, martial arts, or ultimate fighting seem anything but loving. I cannot reconcile those things. If you can reconcile them, more power to you.

Third, after reading this psalm again, poetry came to my mind when I read verse 7 again. “Hit all my enemies in the jaw. Shatter the teeth of the wicked.” I don’t think any of us could easily argue that the psalmist didn’t at least have a bit of a violent streak.”

There should be no question that the psalmist at least feels he is persecuted. He feels like someone is out to get him. I also think I would be hard-pressed to come up with a legitimate story of how he was not persecuted.

Further, it isn’t just this psalmist. Because there are more psalms of lament than any other genre of psalms, most of the time, the psalmist is focused on personal problems and solutions, “hit them in the jaw and shatter their teeth.”

Even David had good reasons to lament. Remember, King Saul was out to get David. Saul was so jealous of David, he wanted the future king dead. He also actively tried to make it happen.

I don’t really know whether it is out of fear, perhaps the enemy of the psalmist is a bigger guy or has more dangerous body guards or something. Or, did he think he might offend God and get into trouble if he tried to take charge of the situation himself. So, instead, he wants God to handle it.

When we think about New Testament scripture that would talk about punching our enemy in the jaw, we would be hard pressed to find it. We would have an easier time finding a scripture that talked of turning the other cheek, something saying in essence, we can’t punch or enemies in the jaw. Might then would we want God to punch them for us, and shatter a few teeth while God was at it?

I can’t really blame the psalmist here. If I can get God to take care of those measures on my behalf, I am not liable. I didn’t do it. It was God that did it, and I got the vengeance my mind wanted.

Sometimes it is hard to live in the faith. We really want to take care of our enemies. At a minimum we want “what goes around, to come around.”

But, in the end, I come full-circle, God calls me to love my neighbors and if I am a faithful student of Scripture, I also know, everyone is my neighbor. So instead, I need to love my neighbor and it is pretty difficult to punch my neighbor in the jaw and shatter his teeth, when I am busy showing him love.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

(712)

Fish Stories

Sermon for 1/26/2020

One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”

Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”

So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. 10 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.

Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” 11 As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus (Luke 5:1-11, Common English Bible).

I love fish stories. I have always thought it was fun to hear the tall tales people tell about the fish they have caught or the one that got away. Most all of us have heard fish stories of some kind or another during our lifetime. Some of them are very believable and others, well, let’s just say the exaggeration the storyteller shares is the best part of the story.

This morning, I am going to share a fish story with you. You may think this story, like so many other fish stories, is more rooted in the exaggeration than the truth. But I promise you it is true.

When I was a teenager, I had a friend named Mike. We worked together in what was the first real job of our lives. We worked for the National Forest Service in the Sam Houston National Forest at a national recreation area called Double Lake. The park is near Cold Springs. We were part of a program the government had in the ‘70s called Youth Conservation Corp. It was a great job and I still tell people it was the best job I ever had, my all-time favorite during my working life. We lived in barracks style housing all week and went home on weekends. During the day we worked on several projects in and around Double Lake.

At night, after work, on occasion we would go over to Lake Livingston and for an evening of fishing. Going out there was always fun and most of the time we caught at least a few fish. When we had the most fun  was when my friend when Mike came with us. It was fun because Mike had a fish call. When I call this a fish call, I don’t mean something he stuck down in the water to attract fish. No, Mike stood at the edge of the lake; held his hands together like some people do when they whistle. He was there on the bank, acting like he was going to whistle and then he would emit this strange noise. About the closest sound I could compare it to is the horn on a diesel truck, but it wasn’t quite that either.

I know it sounds funny and you might think it wouldn’t work, but it did. When Mike came with us and used his fish call, we caught fish. We caught some most of the time, but when Mike came and used his fish call, we really caught fish. The biggest fish I ever caught was one night at Lake Livingston when Mike was their using that fish call. I caught a thirteen-pound catfish. Yes, I know, it was small compared to what others have caught in more recent years. It was nowhere near the state record or anything, but I was proud of it. Somewhere in all my stuff between here and Lufkin I have a picture nice picture of me and my fish.

Some of you are sitting there thinking to yourself that this is the lamest fish story you’ve ever heard. Some may even think it isn’t true, but you would be wrong. The story is quite true.

You can’t live in east Texas or on the Gulf coast without having heard at least a few fish stories. If you have not, you have lived a very sheltered life. You need to get out more. I would guess all of us have heard some and most of us have one or two stuck in our back pockets of our memory we can pull out and share on just about a moment’s notice.

And, fish stories aren’t really anything new. The disciples had a whopper of a fish story to tell. There story was a true story, but just as some of you, I am sure, have your doubts about the authenticity of my story. I would guess many people in their day doubted the truth of what Peter, Andrew, James and John were telling when they first heard our lesson.

Jesus comes to the lake, and as usual, a crowd gathered. So, he gets into Peter’s boat and tells Peter to put out just a little from shore. Jesus uses the boat as a pulpit of sorts and begins teaching the crowd. When he finishes teaching, he tells Peter to put out to sea a little bit and lower his nets on the other side of the boat from where Jesus was teaching. Peter puts up a short protest saying, “We’ve been out here fishing all night and haven’t caught a blessed thing. We have come back in, cleaned our nets and now you want us to lower them again? Oh well, you want us to put out the nets, we’ll put out the nets.” That telling of the story, by the way, is from the Keith Paraphrased Version of the Bible.

Peter goes about putting out the nets as Jesus said. The lesson doesn’t tell us what Peter was thinking as he put the nets into the water. I wouldn’t be surprised if his thoughts were grumbling thoughts. Perhaps he was thinking, “Here I am a professional fisherman. I know how to catch fish, I’ve been doing it most of my life. I have worked all night haven’t caught anything. And now, this itinerant carpenter/preacher comes along and presumes to tell me how to fish. I’m going to do this but when I bring the nets back up and they are empty I am going to tell him, ‘You stick to the woodwork and the preaching and I will take care of the fishing and everything will be just fine.'” He may or may not have actually said it, but it certainly would have been within Peter’s character to have thought it.

In spite of whatever Peter may or may not have been thinking, Jesus had a huge surprise in store for him. Peter lowered the nets into the water and when he started bringing them back up he couldn’t handle it. The nets were so full of fish Peter had to have help and more help than just Andrew. Se he called to James and John in the other boat and they came and helped haul the nets in. The nets were filled with fish, more than any of them had ever seen.

The haul for Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee was a haul worth bragging about. Can’t you just hear them telling this fish story? “The nets were so full of fish it took all of us to haul them in. The nets were at the point of tearing. You have never seen so many fish at one time.”

The response would be predictable. “Oh yeah, right. Sure you caught two boat loads of fish. What did you do with them?” All Peter could say was, they walked away because Jesus said if they would walk away and come follow him, they would fish for people. And, that is what they did. They went out and got new fish stories, different fish stories. These stories weren’t about fish but about a subject of far greater importance than fish. These stories were about people. And, as the disciples gathered these stories they told them over and over again.

Let’s think about how this story applies to our lives. Andrew, Peter (I know, he was still Simon at this point), James and John bring in the biggest catch they ever saw and yet they walked away. A net load of fish like that would have been worth a great deal of money, probably more money than any of them had seen before and they walked away. They walked away from something of great material value and instead followed Jesus.

Are we willing to do what those first disciples did? If we were suddenly given more material wealth than we ever had, would we be willing to turn our backs on this good fortune? Unfortunately, most of us wouldn’t be so inclined. That is the way society is. It is the way of human nature. It is a tough thing to answer what Jesus was calling the four to do, but they did it. They traded fish for fish stories, well actually they traded for people stories.

It didn’t stop there. Ever since the days of the disciples, people have shared their fish stories. The disciples went out and shared their faith stories. It grew from there. People have told others what God has done in their lives ever since. They have told their fish stories.

And friends, God has done some mighty and powerful things in the lives of His children. God has done powerful and miraculous work in the lives of people just like you and me and then people like us have gone out into the world to tell others about what God has done for them.

It should be clear, I don’t know all your fish stories yet. To tell the truth about the only ones I do know are mine and Cindy’s. Despite that, I feel certain that at some point someone shared a fish story with you. And, this time, I don’t mean a story about a creature with scales, gills and a flat tail. It isn’t a fish story about some silly fish call or some story about a fish caught or almost caught out of the bay or some lake somewhere. I am pretty sure that someone, at some point in time, shared a faith story with you. Maybe it was a preacher saying something during a particularly meaningful sermon. Or maybe, it was your Sunday school teacher who gave you a different way of looking at things. Perhaps it was a parent or your best friend. It could have been someone like your version of Miss Helen, the wise matriarch of the church. Everyone listened to Miss Hattie because we all knew she had a special relationship with God. Or, maybe it was someone standing on a street corner asking if you knew about Jesus and then took the time to share their faith. I don’t know who it was or what their story was, but someone took the time to share their faith with you. Perhaps it was more than one someone.

From that time and even before, until now, you have gathered your own fish story. We, like the disciples, have a story to tell a world that desperately needs to know about the love of God and the lifesaving actions of Jesus Christ. God has done things in our lives and others need to know about them.

Friends, folks around us may never know about the love of God if we fail to share our fish stories or faith stories. The disciples shared their stories. What is holding us back from sharing ours?

“Oh, but preacher, I am much too busy.” We all lead busy lives, that is why we all have to work together if we are to accomplish God’s work. Or, “oh but preacher, I don’t know the Bible very well.” First, we won’t know the Bible if we don’t start studying it. Second, I didn’t say anything about going out and telling people about the Bible, I said tell them your fish story and nobody knows your fish story better than you. Go tell them how God has been at work in your life. Or, “Oh but preacher, I am afraid.” You don’t think the disciples were afraid? Sure, they were. They walked away from what they knew. They had to trust.

One of my friends, a former seminary roommate, Mike Lindstrom who is now associate pastor of First United Methodist Conroe once shared a story that really made me think.

He said a several years ago he went out fishing in the Gulf with a long-time friend. Mike said they had been fishing for a while and hadn’t caught much of anything when they decided to take their small boat out to one of the oil platforms a few miles offshore. When they made it out there, Mike said the fish were boiling. The fish were so active they had a hard time putting a hook in the water without bringing up a fish. It was a fisherman’s dream. They let the time get away from them and soon it was getting dark. The boat had no lights on it so they had to navigate back with a flashlight that would shine out about 10 feet. It was pitch black, no moon. Mike said his friend knew the way back, but it was a long way and they had to move very slowly from one buoy to the next. They would see a light on the water, and it would look very small and they had to wonder if it was a big light a long way away or if a small light was attached to something very close by. Eventually they made it back and Mike lived to share this story. But he said as he reflected back on the event, he realized he had really put his trust in his friend. Without his friend’s knowledge of the Gulf, they might never have made it safely back to shore.

The disciples walked away from the biggest catch they had ever seen. It was a gigantic haul making it a hard thing to do, but they did just that, they walked away. They trusted Jesus to guide them in the days ahead. We might be afraid of going and sharing our fish stories, but we need to remember God is with us. We need to share. Will you tell your fish stories?

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

(705)