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

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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

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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

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Facing the Red Sea

Sermon from Huntington UMC, Hunington, TX 1/19/20

19 God’s messenger, who had been in front of Israel’s camp, moved and went behind them. The column of cloud moved from the front and took its place behind them. 20 It stood between Egypt’s camp and Israel’s camp. The cloud remained there, and when darkness fell it lit up the night. They didn’t come near each other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord pushed the sea back by a strong east wind all night, turning the sea into dry land. The waters were split into two. 22 The Israelites walked into the sea on dry ground. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians chased them and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and cavalry. 24 As morning approached, the Lord looked down on the Egyptian camp from the column of lightning and cloud and threw the Egyptian camp into a panic. 25 The Lord jammed their chariot wheels so that they wouldn’t turn easily. The Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites, because the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the water comes back and covers the Egyptians, their chariots, and their cavalry.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. At daybreak, the sea returned to its normal depth. The Egyptians were driving toward it, and the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the cavalry, Pharaoh’s entire army that had followed them into the sea. Not one of them remained. 29 The Israelites, however, walked on dry ground through the sea. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left.

30 The Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians that day. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the amazing power of the Lord against the Egyptians. The people were in awe of the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses (Exodus 14:19-31, Common English Bible).

God is faithful! It is a statement most of us would say we believe. Are we sure? Are we sure that when we are facing a big and very real problem or decision that God will be with us and see us through our problem and that everything will be ok? Well, since we are so sure, what would we say to someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

        The late Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my favorite theologians. He is challenging but he is also one of the easier theologians to understand. I have learned a great deal reading and studying his theology. But from learning his story, I have come to respect this man as more than just a Theologian. During his life he has made history. Through the end of his life and death, he has become an inspiration to many, both those who witnessed the last years of his life and death, and people in generations since.

        I don’t know how many of you have heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was born in 1906 in Germany. During his formative years he saw Germany defeated in World War I. He went, first to college and then on to theological school. He even came here, to the United States and studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He made may friends here. He was also an ordained clergyman in the Lutheran Church of Germany.

        Around the time Bonhoeffer returned to Germany, Adolph Hitler came to power. Bonhoeffer and his brothers in the clergy (at that time, the clergy was still an all-male profession), had to determine what it meant to be a faithful witness for Jesus Christ and His Church. On the one hand, you have Hitler doing things to Germany and its people that quickly proved to be evil by the standards of most anyone who would call themselves Christian. On the other hand, you have what Jesus and Paul said in Scripture about duty to the governing authorities. It would not have been an easy decision for me to make, and I doubt it was easy for many members of Germany’s clergy.

        Many of those clergy did align themselves with Hitler and his Nazi German government. Bonhoeffer, a theologian often labeled a pacifist, a tag that, in my opinion, is not all together accurate, went in the opposite direction. He spoke out boldly against the atrocities of Hitler’s Nazis.  For obvious reasons, Bonhoeffer’s life was in danger. His friend here in the States did have some power and influence and managed to arrange an offer of political asylum. At that point Bonhoeffer could have gotten out of Germany, and he did manage to get his family out, but he knew that the flock God had called him to lead was not in the United States. It was in Germany. He continued to speak out against the government. In 1942 the Nazis arrested Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They accused him of being part of a plan to execute Hitler. He floated around between several jails and concentration camps. On April 8, 1945 the Nazis executed Bonhoeffer. The war in Europe would end just after a month later.

        So, after hearing that, do you think God was faithful to Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Here is a man that if you read his story and any of his writings, you would know he was a man of great and uncompromising faith. He truly believed God was with him and would see him through all his trials. And yet, he died anyway. An evil government executed him because he was faithful to God. WHY DID GOD LET THAT HAPPEN? Many theologians call this the theodicy question. Why does God allow evil to happen?

        You have heard it before, maybe not by that name, but you have heard it. It goes something like this, “Why do bad things happen to good people? Another version might say, “Why are the wicked allowed to prosper?”

        They are tough questions. They are questions that have no easy answers. And, to make matters worse, there are those who, because they don’t know the answers and cannot find the answers are quick to blame God or say there is no God. In short, these questions keep them from the faith.

        Our lesson this morning is about God’s faithfulness. It is a familiar story. When we hear it many of our minds spring to images of Charlton Heston as Moses in the old movie, The Ten Commandments leading the Israelites across the Red Sea and suddenly seeing the waters come crashing over the top of the Egyptian army. We can easily remember it because that is the point of the movie that had the greatest visual effects. Our kids look at those affects and are not impressed at all, but at the time they were special effects.

        What we may not remember of the story, or even the movie for that matter was that when the Israelites were moving through the wilderness they were running from Pharaoh’s army. Now, with the army hot on their tails they suddenly find themselves facing the Red Sea. And, they started to grumble. “Why Moses, did you pull us away from Egypt and bring us out here in the wilderness to die.” They were afraid of the sea. They were afraid of Pharaoh’s army. They didn’t trust God.

        How like us humans. Remember that God sent Moses to free the Israelites because they were crying out in the suffering of their slavery. And now, because they were facing the unfamiliar, they were ready to go back. To quote the old cliché, “Better the devil we know.”

        We too have our Red Sea moments with Pharaoh’s army on our tails. We live complicated lives and have complicated decisions where none of our choices seem to be the right choice to make. If we move forward, we think we will drown in the sea, and if we move backward the coming army will stampede us. What should we do? It seems a no-win situation.

        I feel certain that Dietrich Bonhoeffer must have felt that way when he saw what the Nazi government was doing. If he spoke out against them, he moved into the Red Sea, he risked his life and seemingly spoke against what Scripture said. But on the other hand, if he retreated to Pharaoh’s army, stay quiet and let the government continue unchecked, he risked the lives of others and went against what he believed, jeopardizing his soul. You can almost hear the torment in Bonhoeffer’s words when he prayed, “Whoever I am, I am thine.” I believe Dietrich Bonhoeffer was facing the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army hot on his tail.

        We know what happened in the lesson. God told Moses to hold out his staff and the sea split and the Israelites crossed on dry ground. As expected, Pharaoh’s army followed the Israelites into the Red Sea. After all the Israelites had crossed, God had Moses hold out his hand again and the waters closed over the top of the enemy army. In the lyrics of an old youth camp song, “all of Pharaoh’s army did the dead man’s float.” In this lesson we see an example of God’s faithfulness. As Moses and Israel faced this problem, God was faithful to them and saw them through.

        But can the same be said of God in all the problems we face? Can the same be said for Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He died. The Nazis executed this great man of faith. Where was God’s faithfulness as Bonhoeffer faced his Red Sea?  Why didn’t God open the Red Sea for him? Again, there are no easy answers. But I believe God was there. I belie God was faithful to Bonhoeffer. I believe Bonhoeffer knew God stood with him and that God was still faithful to him.

        On the day the Nazis took Dietrich Bonhoeffer away to his execution, he preached to his fellow prisoners. He preached from Isaiah 53:5, “By His stripes we are healed.” One prisoner said Bonhoeffer found just the right words to express the spirit of their imprisonment. Immediately following the little service the guards came for Bonhoeffer. Everyone gathered knew where he was going. He told an English prisoner, “This is the end – but for me it is the beginning of life.” A doctor who witnessed the execution said that just prior to the event, Bonhoeffer knelt and prayed. The doctor said he had never seen anyone go to the gallows so serenely. Bonhoeffer could do that because he knew God was with him.

        You see, we must remember that even when we face the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army hot on our tails, God is faithful. But we also must understand God may not be faithful in the same way we picture in our mind. Our focus is on the army and on the sea, but God knows what is on the other side. We see the problem, and we may think we know the solution, but God knows it far greater than we.

        God knew the Israelites needed to see divine power in order to truly know who was leading them. God needed to get their focus moved from their problems and onto God so God could lead them in the difficult days ahead.

        In Bonhoeffer’s case, I think he was already focused on God and what God was calling him to do. And, I believe God did open the Red Sea for Bonhoeffer, perhaps not in the way any of us might imagine, but God opened the sea none the less. God opened the Red Sea by making a way for Bonhoeffer to preach, at least for a while, to people who needed the Good News in their lives. God granted to Bonhoeffer the opportunity to preach against the terrible evils of Nazi Germany. God allowed Bonhoeffer to touch the lives of prisoners who needed to hear that God was still with them. And, through his writings, we can see the blessing of God even in the darkest hours of human life.

        We all, at times in our lives, face the Red Sea. I think most of us also know that it feels like to have Pharaoh’s army chasing after us. We all have problems that seem to have no solutions, at least not any good solutions. We face problems as individuals and as a congregation. Moving forward seems difficult at best, we might even have to swim. But going backward is impossible. When we face those problems in our personal lives or when we face them together as members of the church, we can be like the Israelites and stand together as members of the Church, we can be like the Israelites and stand around and complain about the mess we find ourselves in. We can dream about how good things used to be while fearing the future. Or, we can remember that even in this time, and this situation, God is faithful, and that God will see us through. God will open the sea in front of us, perhaps not in the way we imagined, but the solution will come and we will move forward on dry ground. The requirement for us is to remember we are God’s children. We need to look forward and watch and see the power of Almighty God!

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

If it Feels Good Do It (or not)

16 I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. 17 A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. 18 But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. 19 The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, 20 idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, 21 jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom (Galatians 5:16-21, Common English Bible).

It was a rallying cry of the 1960s and 1970s. Who that lived through that era did not hear the words, “If it feels good do it”?

A couple of weeks ago I preached a sermon where I talked about slang in general and used examples from each decade. Remember the 80s when “Bad” was good and the 90s when it was all about the bling. You don’t hear that much about “Bling” anymore. Such terms tend to come and go. Another example from the 1960s was “Keep On Truckin.'”

There are other words and phrases that seem to transcend time and generations. The word “cool,” meaning great is a good example. Another is, “If it feels good do it.” While you usually don’t hear some of the other words and phrases from the time like one of the biggest buzzwords of the 60s, “Groovy,” seems to all but have disappeared. The same can be said for, “Keep On Truckin’.”

And then, there is, “If it feels good do it.” That phrase was license to do pretty well anything you wanted. It is a phrase that has transcended the 60s. But then again, it has transcended the firs century.

Contrary to what children of the 60s might think, they did not coin the term. Paul uses it in our lesson today. The big difference between the two is, those in the 1960s used it as a license to carry out whatever they wanted to do. Paul, on the other hand, uses the phrase as a warning. Paul even gives us a short but inconclusive list, telling us exactly what he means. Paul warns against immoral sexual behavior, sexual motives, moral corruption, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that.Paul tells us it isn’t a comprehensive list.

There is nothing wrong with doing things that make us feel good. But that also means there is something more here to consider. We find that in verse 17. Paul writes, “A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires.” As I read that verse, it seems to me that the key is in, “our selfish desires.”

As I consider Paul’s words, I can’t help but think he means when we live in an attitude of, if it feels good do it, we are living for ourselves instead of living for God.

I have to ask, when we work out our selfish desires, are we living for God or are we living for ourselves.

If it feels good, do it, as long as you are doing it for God. With God, nothing will ever feel better than anything else. So, if it feels good, DO IT, just make sure you know who you do it for.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

In Search of the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved