Defiled? – August 30, 2015


Song of Solomon 2:8-13   

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


“…now the winter is past,


the rain is over and gone.


The flowers appear on the earth;


the time of singing has come,


and the voice of the turtledove


is heard in our land.


The fig tree puts forth its figs,


and the vines are in blossom;


they give forth fragrance.” (Song of Solomon, 2:11-13, NRSV)




That’s certainly not how the Pharisees saw

it.  They didn’t see Jesus and his disciples

as vines in blossom that give forth fragrance. The way the Pharisees saw it you

might want to say that faith and religion were dead and ritual and human

tradition were alive and well. 

Christians also add traditions and ritual to

the essentials of the faith, apply them legalistically, and treat them as if

they have been ordained forever by God.

The famous last words of a church or an individual…both failing at

ministry are “We’ve always done it this way.”

They feel no less troubled or angry than the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day

when anyone challenges or undermines those traditions and rituals.  Today let’s look at the concern for purity,

the problem of establishing boundaries, and the danger of hypocrisy that are in

our world. 

Most Christians today do not believe

that food is likely to be religiously defiled.

Most of us eat pork sausage and cheeseburgers…forbidden by the old

law.  Some may worry about high cholesterol

or chemical additives, but not about the religious law when it comes to food. 

Yet…the issue of purity…so important to the

Pharisees…is a part of contemporary life.

Purity has to do with the way a person orders and classifies other

people…things and time…often in ways that are unwritten.  Purity regulations label people…objects…and

places as pure or polluted…fit or unfit…likely to become impure or to cause

others to become impure…defiled or not defiled. 

The idea behind today’s impurity laws is

familiar in the phrase “a place for everything and everything in its

place.”…often acted out as “a place for everyone and everyone in their

place.”  Impurity occurs when the wrong

thing or wrong person appears in the wrong place at the wrong time.  For example, many enjoy firecrackers

exploding on the Fourth of July.  These

same people, however, have problems with firecrackers exploding on the fifth of

July.  Another example…some will tell us

that women do not belong in the pulpit…or in other leadership roles in the

church…family or nation. 

Many people have clear ideas about what is pure

and impure…what tradition says is right or wrong…whether we are fully conscious

of them or not.  The universal dislike

for dirt…disease and death causes these concerns.  What a person regards as “dirt” can take many

forms.  The danger is that a person can

develop a defensive religious belief…as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day did…and

become all-consumed in keeping out…or away from what they might see as

“dirt”…rather than focusing on what comes from their heart. 

Many people engage in heated religious arguments

over what they regard to be life and death issues that to the outside world and

to the average Christian are much ado about nothing.   The root issue has to do with what a person

considers proper or pure…which becomes a person’s sacred tradition…and what a

person considers improper or impure.

Jonathan Swift made fun of this pettiness in the Lilliputians’ war on

whether an egg should be cracked at the big end or at the little end.  Garrison Keillor does the same when he

describes his religious heritage in Lake Woebegone Days.  He wrote that he came from an “exclusive”

group that believed in keeping itself pure of false doctrine and avoiding

association with the impure.  He wrote,

“We made sure that any who fellowshipped with us were straight on all the

details of the Faith.” 

This kind of attitude results in a church

devoted to turning Christianity into a fortress by building all kinds of walls

that keep those seen as pure in and others considered impure out.  This concern for purity has a direct and negative

effect on evangelism…on our ability to do as Jesus commanded…”Go! Make

disciples.”  Such a closed system often

shuts people off from fellow human beings and from fellowship with God.  God meant for the church…and its members…to

get mixed up in messes and with people who have messed up their lives.  Unlike the Pharisees we are to involve

ourselves with those who don’t wash their hands in the ritual manner…and who

eat food that might violate religious law. 

Jesus wants us to run the church for those who

do not yet attend…as well as for those who are here every time the doors

open.  How do we include them in the

family rather than find reasons and ways to exclude them? 

Jesus’ teaching had a profound impact on

Christian missionary practice when Paul told the Corinthians to eat whatever

was placed before them and told the Romans that no food is unclean in

itself.  He wrote that we should quit

judging others.   Quit put stumbling

blocks in their way.  Learn to live in

harmony.  Build one another up rather

than build walls of separation. 

We can imagine how we would respond if guests

turned up their noses at the food we offered them because it somehow did not

meet their religious standards.  What if

their rejection of our food also suggested that we were somehow impure…or

untouchable?  If so we would hardly be

interested in hearing their message.  In

applying Jesus’ response to the Pharisees to our daily lives we should ask if

there are subtle and not so subtle ways in which we communicate to others that

they are “dirty” and unfit for contact with us.

How might that get in the way of our ministry with them? 

The Pharisees believed that others would know

they were God’s people by seeing their purity…washing hands…cups…pots…eating

kosher…keeping the Sabbath.  Paul

understood the real meaning of Jesus’ teaching when he said, “For the kingdom

of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and

joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17)

We sing the words “they will know we are Christians by our love.”  The inner purity of our heart that radiates

love and morality is what should make us stand out in the world in which we

navigate…not ritual and tradition that are visible. 

Jesus accused the Pharisees of being

hypocrites.  The Pharisees did not corner

the market on hypocrisy…hypocrites continue to plague the church…and

society.  Jesus wasn’t against the overt

act of doing God’s will…but he refused to cotton to any attempt to reckon something

as moral and pleasing to God that was not a true expression of God’s love of

and for…all of His creation…all in His creation…and God’s grace-filled


The greatest hypocrites are those who try to

cloak the evil within them with a show of external piety.  Judas best fits that category of hypocrite in

the Gospel.  He went to Gethsemane with a

show of affection and honor…but it was all a sordid ploy to capture the

Master…Jesus.  Other hypocrites deceive themselves

as much as others.  The Pharisees best

fit this category.  When Jesus called

them hypocrites…he revealed how easily sincerity and a desire to do precisely

what God commands can go astray and ignore what God requires…when visible

tradition and ritual are the determining factors.  The Pharisees’ lip service and religious gestures

fooled others and themselves into thinking that they were pious…when they

were not. 

It’s so easy for religious people to obey all

the regulations and believe all the correct doctrines in a visible way…yet

their heart is not in it.  They might

also concentrate on executing religious actions that demonstrate their external

purity while totally neglecting issues of inner purity.  Hypocrites may fool themselves into thinking

that they have done all that God requires by being seen doing this or that act

with the greatest care.  They play by the

rules but allow their interpretations of the rules to run roughshod over

others.  How many times do Christians

ignore the vices that Jesus listed and concentrate on minor actions and rituals

that appear to make them pious?  They

wind up with a religion that affects only the hands and that never touches the

heart.  The church needs reminding again

that it can be correct in outward form and theology but not have the spirit of

Christ.  Goodness comes from inner

purity…a life transformed within…rather than the pure observance of rules and


It’s not about political correctness.  It’s about Christian candidness…that comes

from having a heart filled with love and God-given grace…to share…with the

least among us. 

Over the next few weeks…as we discuss and

evaluate our current ministry…and consider new ministry possibilities to reach

out to our current church family…those in our community in need…and those

brothers and sisters who could become part of our church family…how can

we…individually and collectively…become vines in blossom that give forth


To Whom? – August 23, 2015

To Whom?

1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43                 John 6:56-69


Peter asked the question to which he

knew the answer…a question to which we know the answer.  “To whom would we go?”  At all times…and in all situations…for those

who call themselves Christians…the answer is Jesus Christ.


I’m going to ask you that question in

a different context in a few minutes…but let’s first look at Solomon.  Solomon had a magnificent Temple built.

He was dedicating the Temple in the Scripture

we heard this morning.  Solomon built the

Temple to continue the work of Yahweh as promised to David, Solomon’s

father.   In his dedication prayer

Solomon spoke of God’s ultimate…total… sovereignty over both the land and the

people…all of the land and all of the people.


The Christian church that has grown from the

days of that Temple…including Jackson Grove United Methodist Church…has as its

calling…its job…to show the love and purpose of God for all creation.  In his letter to the Ephesians Paul told the

church that God had planned a family through adoption in Jesus Christ…a family

that would do God’s will and praise his glory.

Over time God worked this out…to bring all things together in and through

Jesus Christ…the one to whom we can turn.


Hear this story about an artist who

was creating a painting of the Last Supper.

It was a great picture that took him many years.  As the model for the face of Christ he used a

young man with a face of great beauty and purity.  Bit by bit the picture was filled in.  One after another the disciples were

painted.  The day came when he needed a

model for Judas.  He had left his face to



The artist went out and searched in the lowest

haunts of the city and in the dens of sin.

At last he found a man with a face so depraved and vicious that it met

his requirements.  When the sittings were

at an end the man said to the artist, “You painted me before.”


“Surely not,” said the artist.


“Oh, yes,” said the man, “I sat for

your Christ.”


The years had taken their toll on the man.


To whom…to what…had the man turned in

that time?


Do you sometimes wonder if the years

have taken their toll on we who call ourselves Christians?  We may not have changed as radically as the

artist’s model…but we may have slowed down…may have become less willing to take

a risk on something or someone new…may have become complacent thinking of what

has been accomplished…and the struggles that have been overcome.


When Solomon finished preaching at the

temple that day…people went out to minister to others…to bring them to

God.  Solomon did the same.


When Jackson Grove Methodist church

was organized in 1831…they didn’t just build a magnificent building…dedicate

the building and say job well done.  It

wasn’t a building in which the members sequestered themselves for study and

worship.  They opened the doors wide and

went out into the community to minister…to make disciples.


Following a fire…and all the trauma

and effort that goes with building a new sanctuary…on November 20th,

1994 there was a celebration in the sanctuary we are now in today…and a

dedication of several classrooms downstairs.

Today…those classrooms are unused.

Did complacency set in?  Did we

think the job was done?  Did we all watch

the movie “Field of Dreams?”….”If you build it they will come.”


Jesus told the disciples to eat the

bread and drink the wine…to take Jesus into them.  They did.

With Jesus inside them…the disciples did as Jesus did…they took the Word

of God…and the Work of God to others…they took the Word of God…and the Work of

God…to others.  They didn’t build a nice

building…and say “now they will come.”


Most of us here today…just three weeks

ago…ate the bread and drank the wine…took Jesus inside us.  We asked the Spirit…Jesus within us…to make

us one with each other and one in ministry to all the world…to all the world.


To whom do we go to make this


The first answer…of course…is Jesus

Christ.  He has given us the Spirit to

guide us in this effort.  That’s the

obvious answer. That’s the answer to Peter’s question.


The next answer for the question…to whom do we

go…is found in the mirror.  That person

in the mirror can most clearly tell each of us what we have been doing…speaking

and thinking…to be in ministry that shows Christ is inside us.  What is that person telling us?


There are many answers to the question…to whom

do we go…to perform this ministry.  Some

are engaged in visiting the sick and shut-in.

Many give to the orphanage at Epworth.

Some are involved in and support the Kairos prison ministry and the

North Greenville Food Crisis center.


There are many more opportunities…that are

easily executed.


To whom can you go…and honestly say…”We’ve been

missing you in church….we’ve got a new minister…I like him…I think you will,

too…please join us in worship again soon?

You know who that is.  And, if you

can’t honestly say it…please tell me.


To whom can you go…and say “I’ve been blessed

with another day” when they greet you and ask how you’re doing?  We probably have that opportunity daily.  Are we showing them Jesus inside us?


To whom can you go…and say, “Have a blessed

day,” when your encounter with them is over?


To whom can you go…and say, “I’ve been

blessed…” when there is good news to share?


To whom can you go…and say, “I’m having this

difficulty…but God will take me through it?”


To whom can you go…and offer a helping hand…or

a word of praise…in a way that shows them Jesus inside of you?


Over the next few weeks there will be committee

meetings and reports to complete as we prepare for the annual charge conference…the

church’s annual business meeting.  Some

may see it as drudgery.  Let us take this

opportunity to celebrate the ministries in which we are involved…and to

honestly evaluate how well we are answering the question to whom can we  go…to show them Jesus inside us…inside us

individually and collectively as the body of Christ…and more importantly…to

whom can we go…to help them take Jesus inside them?


Let us not only evaluate our current

ministry.  Let us listen to those with

whom we come in contact to find a meaningful ministry…or ministries…to add…that

will bring others to Jesus…and others to Jackson Grove United Methodist

Church.  Let us ask how we can

effectively and boldly use our time…talent and treasure…to show the Jesus

inside us.  Let us not be about sitting

on our time…talent and treasure…because we are tired or uncertain…or have been

disappointed in the past.


I had lunch with a dear friend Friday.  Her church is preparing for a celebration of

its 175th year.  She is the

church historian and has been working on updating the church’s history since

its last milestone celebration…its 150th year.  It’s a reasonably large church in the center

of a medium size community.  I asked her

what stood out to her in her research.


She said there were two things.  One was the people that God had sent to them

to assist in building their ministry…a woman who had never before been involved

in leading Christian education activities…other than teaching an elementary

level Sunday School class…who is now organizing and leading the activities of

the teachers of nearly 20 Sunday School classes as well as educational

workshops for the whole church…and the church’s first female minister…a woman

who has shown great skills in the pulpit and in her role as pastor…greater

skills than many of the men who preceded her.


The other thing that my friend said stood

out…was the strength, wisdom and faith God gave the people of the church…the

Jesus inside them.  It was that strength,

wisdom and faith…Jesus inside them…that opened their hearts and minds to the

gifts God had given them.  It was that

strength…wisdom and faith…Jesus inside them…that took the people out of the

comfort and security of the walls of the church to reach out to their community…growing

the ministry of that old church.


Over the next few weeks…as we meet to prepare

the reports and forms for the charge conference…as we prepare for the Lord’s

Acre celebration…as we prepare for the expectation of Advent and celebrate the

joy of Christmas…let us remember that in just 16 years our congregation will be

celebrating its bicentennial…200 years of existence…worship and service.  Let us ponder what it is that Emily Moody…Sara

Turner…and their peers…the next generation of leaders…will be writing as they

update the history of Jackson Grove United Methodist Church for the grand

celebration.  Let our first new year’s

activity be to plan boldly to shape the answer.


Acting…in answer to the question…to whom will

we go…today…and every day…in all of that question’s forms…will be the beginning

of creating that plan.

Because of the Father – August 16, 2016

“Because of the Father”

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14      John 6:51-58


           Solomon asked for wisdom.  He got it.  A gift from the Father…God.


The Jewish leaders argued among themselves because they

didn’t believe…or couldn’t understand…the one who had been sent…as a gift…by

the very same Father.

Not understanding the gifts from the Father happens…in

unexpected places.  Today’s gospel lesson

from John is one of them.   The language

and ideas may seem quite strange.  But to

those who heard it first it spoke to familiar ideas and activities.

The words and ideas that John attributed to Jesus would

have been quite normal and familiar to anyone who understood the rituals of

sacrifice.  The animal that was

sacrificed was seldom burned entirely…even though the whole animal was offered

to the god.  Part of the flesh was given

to the priests and part to the worshiper who made a feast for himself and his

friends within the temple area.  They all

believed that the god was with them as part of the feast.

Also…once the flesh was offered to the god, it was believed

that the god had entered into the flesh.

Therefore when the worshiper ate the flesh he also ate the god.  When they left the feast the people went out

believing they were god-filled.  We may

think it was wrong…idolatry…but the people left believing they had a new

vitality because their god was in them.

The people of that day would know about the experience of

union with the gods.  They understood the

language that John used.

Let us remember what John was doing when he wrote this

gospel.  He was not giving…or trying to

give…the actual words of Jesus.  John had

been thinking for seventy years about what Jesus had said.  Led by the Holy Spirit…John wrote his gospel

to show the inner significance of Jesus’ words.

It is not a simple recording of words…but the essential meaning of the

words that John wrote…guided by the Holy Spirit…the words and thoughts a gift

of the Father.

John wrote that Jesus talked about eating his flesh and

drinking his blood.  Jesus’ flesh was his

total humanity.  In his first letter John

said that every person who denies that Jesus has come in the flesh is the

antichrist.  John insisted that Jesus was

the mind and heart of God become a person who walked the earth…and lived as

normal people lived.  This means that in

Jesus we see God taking human life upon him…facing our human situations…struggling

with our human problems…battling with our human temptations…working out our

human relationships.

It’s just as if Jesus said, “Feed your heart, feed your

mind, and feed your soul on the thought of my manhood.  When you are discouraged and in despair, when

you are beaten to your knees and disgusted with life and living…remember I took

that life of yours and the struggles of yours on me.”  When we do we will see that our life is

filled with glory because it is touched with God…it is of the Father.  To eat Christ’s body is to feed on the

thought of his person-hood until we are strengthened and cleansed and purified

by him.

Jesus said we must drink his blood.  In Jewish thought the blood stands for

life.  What Jesus was saying is that we

must take his life into the very center of our being…and that his life is the

life which belongs to God.  When Jesus

said we must drink his blood he meant that we must take his life into the very

core of our hearts.

Think of it this way.

There in a bookcase is a book which you have never read.  Maybe it’s something by Shakespeare…one of

the world’s classics.  As long as it sits

on the shelf…remains unread…it is apart from you…it is unknown.  But…one day you take it down from the shelf

and read it.  It thrills and fascinates

you….moves you.  The story sticks with

you…the great lines and characters remain in your memory…now you can take that

out of yourself…think about it and feed your heart and mind on it.  Once that book was outside you…now it is

inside you and you can feed upon it.   It

is that way with any great experience in life.

It is apart from us until we take it in… experience it…make it internal.  Then…instead of being apart from us…it is a

part of us.

It is the same with Jesus.

As long as he remains a figure in a book…someone who performed miracles

and taught a couple thousand years ago…someone we worship…he is apart from

us.  When he enters into us we can feed

on the life…the strength…the vitality he gives us.  He becomes a part of us.  Jesus said that we must drink his blood.  He said, “You must stop thinking of me as the

subject for theological debate.  You must

take me into you.  You must come into

me.   Then you will have real life.”

Maybe…like me…you’ve seen the movie “Rush.”  It’s the story of the two men who were

competing for the 1976 Formula One auto racing world championship.  In that movie the producers were able to

create video that was very realistic…just like the viewer was in the seat driving

the automobile…just like the viewer was looking outside the auto to see the

wheels of his opponent coming within a fraction of an inch of his car’s

wheels…just like the viewer was inside the vehicle as it crashed and rolled

down the side of the race track.  That

movie’s video put the lives of the drivers inside me.

Jesus wants to do the same.


When the view from your driver’s seat is rushing past you

at 200 miles an hour…or seems like the chaos of a pit stop…Jesus wants to be in

you…seeing it too…a part of you.

When those who might cause you harm are within a hair of

success…when their tires are about to rub against yours…Jesus wants to be a

part of you…taking you through the right kind of evasive action.

When you are crashing and burning…and you see the ground

coming up to meet you…the sky coming down upon you…and a ball of flame

surrounding you…Jesus wants to be in you to take you safely away from that

crash and burn.

When Jesus told us to eat his flesh and drink his blood…he was

telling us to feed our hearts and souls and minds on his humanity…and to

revitalize our lives until we are filled with the life of God…a daily life

where Jesus is no longer apart from us…Jesus is a part of us.

As you leave the sanctuary today…do not leave that hunger

for Jesus’ flesh and blood and humanity…in the pew…take it with you…show Jesus

your hunger in your words and deeds…tell Jesus of your hunger in prayers and

conversation with him.

Because of the love of the Father…the gift of the Father…the

hunger will be fulfilled.

Instead Of – August 9, 2015

“Instead Of”

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 John 6:35, 41-51

I’m sure we have all played the “instead of” game. “Instead of” just getting by on my social security income and meager pension life would be so much grander if I won the lottery. “Instead of” the work by which I earn my income I’d like to be a famous author, writing three months out of the year and traveling the rest of the time. “Instead of” a body that has matured and moves a bit slower with a bit more pain I’d like the body of a twenty year old. We’ve all played that “instead of” game in some way…at some time…may even be playing it today. Some of that “instead of” is virtually harmless…like my “instead of” the work I do now I’d rather be a Formula One race car driver. I know that’s not going to happen and I’m really quite content…challenged…and satisfied with my work. But…for some that “instead of” so taints their thinking…their actions…their heart…that they miss something quite wonderful…our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We heard David lament that he wished he had lost his life instead of his beloved son…Absalom. But…it was Absalom’s “instead of”…his rebellion…that cost Absalom his life. As David’s son…Absalom was the crown prince who would one day…upon David’s death or retirement…become the king…become the one anointed by God to lead. “Instead of” enjoying the life of a prince…and learning from his father…Absalom decided he wanted to be king…and be king right now. He led a rebellion that put him in a position to become king. The army that his father mustered went out to fight Absalom’s rebels in the woods. The woods won…more than 20-thousand men were killed in those woods. But…Absalom lost. As he rode through the woods he became caught in a tree…hanging by his neck…as his mule continued walking. As he hung helpless…instead of the powerful king to be that he could have been…Absalom was killed by forces loyal to the king. Absalom pursued his “instead of”…rebelled against God’s chosen king…and Absalom lost his life…his opportunity. Let us not forget…however…that David had also pursued his “instead of”…through his encounter with Bathsheba…and God said though David was forgiven…his sinful rebellion would pass on into his family. It did. We saw how it devastated David…devastated him so much that he was willing to give his life “instead of” the life of his son…the rebel…Absalom. It’s not just in the Old Testament that we find those engaged in the game of “instead of”. The Jewish leaders who responded to Jesus in Capernaum that day also played that silly game. “Instead of” accepting Jesus as truly the bread of life they rejected him. It happens today. They judged things by human values and by human standards. Their reaction when Jesus made his claim was to produce the fact that he was a carpenter’s son and that they had seen him grow up in Nazareth. They were unable to understand how someone who was a tradesman and who came from a poor home could possibly be a special messenger from God. T. E. Lawrence was a close personal friend of Thomas Hardy, the British poet. When Lawrence was serving as an aircraftman in the British Royal Air Force he would sometimes visit Hardy and his wife in his aircraftsman’s uniform. On one occasion his visit coincided with a visit of the Mayoress of Dorchester. She was quite unhappy that she had to meet a common aircraftman. In French, she said to Mrs. Hardy that never in all her born days had she had to sit down to tea with a soldier with a private’s rank. No one said anything…then Lawrence said in perfect French, “I beg your pardon, Madame, but can I be of any use as an interpreter? Mrs. Hardy knows no French.” That snobbish and discourteous woman had made a shattering mistake because she judged by the externals…what she saw on the man’s uniform. That’s what the Jewish leaders did to Jesus. We must never reject a message from God because we despise or do not care for the messenger. Would you refuse a check for a million dollars because it came in a dirty and ripped envelope? God has many messengers. One of them might be on the sidewalk…in dirt and disarray…instead of standing behind a pulpit or at a lectern in a Sunday school class. The Jewish leaders argued with each other…instead of checking with God. The leaders were anxious to let everyone know what they thought about the matter…but not at all interested in learning what God thought. Could it be that somewhere we might be…in a group of some kind…where every person wants to push their opinion down your throat…we would be better off to be quiet and ask God what God thinks…and wants us to do? What God thinks is so much more important…instead of what we think. The Jewish leaders put on a show of listening…but they did not learn. There are many different kinds of listening. There is the listening of criticism…where we look to find the point that we can argue with. There is the listening of resentment…the only word we hear is a word that makes us angry and hurt. There is the listening of indifference. We don’t really care what is being said. There is the person who listens only because he can’t get an opportunity to speak. Instead of all of those listening attitudes we should listen to God with an attitude of hearing in order to learn. That is the only way to listen to God. The Jewish leaders resisted the drawing of God. Jesus said only those who are drawn to him by God will accept him. This drawing to Jesus is what John Wesley called “prevenient grace.” The word used to describe this drawing to Jesus also indicates there is resistance. It is the word used to describe a full fishing net drawn to shore…to describe Paul and Silas as they were being dragged to the magistrates in Philippi. God can draw a person to Jesus…but that person can resist. Jesus is the bread of life…he is essential for life. To refuse the invitation and command of Jesus is to miss life and die. In the old story in the book of Numbers the people who refused to brave the dangers of the Promised Land after the report of the scouts were condemned to wander in the wilderness until they died. Instead of receiving the promise they refused because of the perceived dangers. To refuse the offer of Jesus is to miss life in this world and in the world to come…instead of finding real life in this world and glory in the world to come. The game of “instead of”…. “Instead of” accepting God’s word through Jesus’ teachings…we judge by the standards of the world. “Instead of” asking God for guidance and answers…we listen to the noise and hollow arguments of ourselves and those around us. “Instead of” learning as we listen for God’s guidance…we are critical of those who bring his word…resentful of the hurtful lessons that may be in those words…and are just plain indifferent. “Instead of” responding when we are drawn to God…we resist…find excuses…find other ways to spend our time. What if there were no Savior…instead of the gift of Jesus Christ? How would that change our lives? There are people of other faiths…and of no faith at all…who can answer that question. For you…what if there were no Savior…instead of receiving the gift of Jesus Christ? How would that change your life? Your answer to that question will tell you how important it is to remember that Jesus said he was…and truly is the bread of life…and he told us to go share that message of love and hope with others. Are we doing something “instead of?”

Give Us – August 2, 2015

“Give Us”

2 Samuel 11:26-12:14                   John 6:24-35


           In 1921…the American writer Myra

Brooks Welch…wrote a poem entitled “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.”



‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer


Thought it scarcely worth his while


To waste much time on the old violin,


But held it up with a smile:


“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,


“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”


“A dollar, a dollar”; then, “Two!” “Only two?


Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?


Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;


Going for three—-” But no,


From the room, far back, a gray-haired man


Came forward and picked up the bow;


Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,


And tightening the loose strings,


He played a melody pure and sweet


As a caroling angel sings.



The music ceased, and the auctioneer,


With a voice that was quiet and low,


Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”


And he held it up with the bow.


“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?


Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?


Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,


And going, and gone,” said he.


The people cheered, but some of them cried,


“We do not quite understand


What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply:


“The touch of a master’s hand.”


And many a man with life out of tune,


And battered and scarred with sin,


Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,


Much like the old violin.


A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine;


A game–and he travels on.


He is “going” once, and “going” twice,


He’s “going” and almost “gone.”


But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd


Never can quite understand


The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought

By the touch of the Master’s hand.



Jesus told us how to get that touch in our own

lives.  He told us…and the crowd by the

lake at Capernaum that it can’t be bought or earned.   It comes from the bread of life…Jesus

Christ…a gift that God gives us. 

Suppose you invited another family over for

dinner this Sunday afternoon.  You

prepared and served a grand meal…a really fine spread.  You fixed their favorite meat…cooked just as they

like it. There was a big tossed green salad, steaming baked potatoes with a hot

cheese sauce, a cool refreshing beverage and apple pie a la mode.  What a dinner!    When

it was completed everyone sat back patting full tummies. 

Now, suppose that when they started to leave

your guests pulled out their wallets and asked,

“How much do we owe you for this?”

You would probably say, “You don’t owe me anything!”  But, what if your guests respond, “We most

certainly do!  We are not freeloaders!  How much do we owe you?”  They even threw a couple twenty dollar bills

on the table. 

Just the mention of a payment in such a setting

would be a grievous insult.  Yet…we find

ourselves going through life trying to pay for free bread and in the process

giving the same kind of insult to our Lord.


Jesus said…”This is the word of God that you

believe in him whom he has sent.” Jesus was telling us that the bread that

endures…that is eternal life…is bread that is freely given…bread that we should

freely receive.  It comes through

belief.  We do not pay for it

ourselves.  The price has already been paid.


So often…we become like Brenda.  She was the daughter of members of an

evangelical faith.  She became involved

in a church of another faith where people celebrated loudly and were expected

to speak in tongues.  She was involved in

the politics of those who wanted to lead the church. 

Brenda became tired of church politics.  She was tired of revivals and religious

rituals that no longer captured her imagination.  She had witnessed people taking Jesus’ name

to use in their own campaigns for something.

She was worried that there was no chance of discovering something beyond

her own being.  Even the Bible had lost

its power.  God’s voice had been silenced

by what was called religion. 

Brenda decided she would spend some time in a

Catholic monastery.  She was apprehensive

when she approached.  She had called

ahead and they said there was room…but she had never seen a nun up close…nor

had she ever seen that part of the world called Catholic.  The monastery grounds were

beautiful…large…and private…with many places for contemplation.  The buildings were old, but good.  A sister answered her knock at the door, but

she didn’t wear the expected black and white habit.  It was her face that said everything.  Brenda felt that she was among people who

knew God…who knew what she needed…and who knew how to nurture her.  She was taken to her simple room and told she

could stay as long as she needed.  She

asked about costs and was told no money was required. 

In the silence and simplicity and beauty of

that place…Brenda’s soul was restored.

Fellow pilgrims in the Christian journey…the priests and nuns…who had

walked the road of faith far longer than Brenda spoke to her gently about their

discoveries of knowing God.  And…they

loved her.  The clutter of her religious

history…with all of its rituals…rules…and politics…began to go away.  She began to hear God’s voice speaking words

of affection and assurance.  She realized

how many so-called religious habits she had acquired when all that she really

needed was a pure and pristine walk with Jesus.

He alone was the bread of life.

Her earlier life had been filled to the brim with religion in

abundance…but there had been little life in it. 

Being fed by God is so simple that in a world

congested with busyness…it has become hard to understand.  Like the pursuit of joy…the more we run after

it with strategies and plans…the more it seems to flee.  It is not gained by ministry accomplishments…righteous

efforts…or the intellectual mastery of the Bible.  Being fed by God requires a conversion of

thinking…a discovery that God is eager to give…to give us…life and renewal…to

give to anyone who can listen in simplicity and piety. 

For several weeks…we have invited persons to

come to the communion rail during our last hymn…and in that time to be with God

as they felt comfortable.  Some of you

have come to be with God.  That’s a short

version of Brenda’s trip to the monastery.


Coming to the Lord’s Table is another similar opportunity

to be with God…to be with Jesus…to allow him to give you…give us… life eternal…and

comfort and strength for the day. 

Today we invite you to the communion rail

twice…for the Lord’s Supper and during the playing of our last hymn…to be with

God…to allow him to give you…give us… life eternal…the bread of life…to put our

life in the Master’s hand.