It Is I – July 26, 2015

“It Is I!”

2 Samuel 11:1-15                 John 6:1-21


          Often…when I hear any story about David…I am

reminded of the story of his encounter with Goliath.  No one else ever faced a creature like

Goliath.  He was huge.  He had killed many others.  He was intimidating. 

Yet…no one ever attacked a problem

with greater vigor than David attacked Goliath.

David responded to Goliath’s threat by telling the giant that he had

come in the name of the true God.  As

David ran toward the giant he put his hand into his bag…took out a stone…and

let it fly.  The stone hit the Philistine

right between the eyes…and it was over.          Have you ever wondered?  What was David’s secret?  Where did he get his courage?  How was he able to attack this gigantic

problem with such vigor?  The answers can

be seen in today’s passage from John.  It

is the sufficiency and power that come from God…given to us through Jesus

Christ…the one who told the disciples…”It is I.

Do not be afraid.” 

The story begins with a problem that

came from the success of Jesus’ ministry.

The disciples and Jesus drew huge crowds.  They got in a boat…crossed the sea to

Bethsaida…hoping to find a time of rest.

The people saw where they were going and followed them.  In Mark’s gospel Jesus was described as

having compassion for the people because they were like sheep without a


In their anxiety to follow Jesus the

people likely didn’t think to pack a lunch.

They, too, were tired and hungry.

Jesus knew what to do…but he asked the disciples a question…in order to

test them and to expand their spiritual understanding.  Jesus wanted the disciples to learn how to

gain his power and his sufficiency. 

Philip didn’t really answer the Lord’s

question.  Instead he responded with some

statistics.  He basically said it would

take six months’ income to feed the crowd.

He acted like a bean counter.  In

fact…other references to Philip suggest that he was one who wanted

clear…verifiable…logical… evidence.  Just

about every family has a person like this…the same can probably be said for

every business and every church. 

I wonder what it would have been like

if David had needed a calculator and evidence that he could down Goliath.  Now, let’s see…”ten feet tall times a certain

number of pounds per inch.  My

goodness…he weighs at least 500 pounds….there’s no way I could do this.  God, you’ve got the wrong guy.” 

Like Philip…some of us need to toss

our calculators out and become more like David. 

Then…Andrew brought the boy with five

small barley loaves and two fishes to Jesus.  His response seems to be an improvement.  At least he had been out in the crowd looking

for resources.  But…he too…was

calculating…when he asked how far those few resources would go.  He did not look past the resources he could

actually see and touch. 

Then the others went to Jesus.  They suggested that the crowds be sent away

to fend for themselves.  They felt the

people could not possibly be fed with the five loaves and two fishes.  Anyone with common sense could see that.  But…there are times in life when common sense is very close to stupidity.   The

disciples wanted to avoid the problem…ignore it…and let it just go away. 

The disciples had greatly

under-estimated the wealth they possessed.

They had seen Jesus change water into wine…seen a nobleman’s son healed

from a distance…seen Jesus heal the paralyzed man lying by the pool of

Bethseda.  Yet…they couldn’t understand

what Jesus could do in this situation. 

The disciples had a defective view of

Jesus Christ.  That was their

problem.  Very often that is the root of our problem.


The solution for the disciples came in

a miraculous display of Jesus’ power.

This was the most public of his miracles.  It is recorded in all four Gospels. 

After they had sat down…Jesus gave

thanks.  The loaves seemed to multiply as

the disciples distributed the bread.

Thousands were fed.  There was so

much food that there were leftovers to be gathered.  God provides for those who serve him. 

This note of interest…the loaves were

made of barley…the cheapest of all breads.

In fact…it was a bread that was unpopular because it was the bread that

was called for as part of the offering from a woman who had committed the sin

of adultery.  Jesus used this food to

show his disciples…with him then…and those in the pews this morning…that no

matter what they had…even the tiniest thing…if they really gave it to him…he

could use it.  A little is a lot when God

is in it.  Jesus wanted us to see that truth.


We should admit it.  Sometimes we feel like saying, “Lord, you

don’t understand my problem.  If you knew

how I feel…I have calculated it all out…I have thought it through…I have

consulted the authorities…and there is nothing I can do.”  You see…we find it harder to give God our

weaknesses than it is to give God our strengths. 

But the Lord says…”Give me whatever

you have…including your weaknesses.”

Many people have missed the great miracles that God wanted to give us

because we have been unwilling to do that because of our pride.  If you have calculated all of the angles of

your difficult situation…just want to run away and hide…do you know what the

solution is? 

First…realize that God wants to help

you.  He wants to pour his grace upon

you.  He wanted to help the disciples on

the hillside that day…just as he did help the people on the hillside.  From Isaiah 30:18 we receive the promise…”The

Lord longs to be gracious to you….” 

Next…we have to realize that God is

big enough to help.  Nothing much will

happen if you don’t. 

The Belgian Christian author…Elisabeth

Elliott…in her book…. World Wide Challenge…beautifully tells us this truth.

She wrote… 

“If the only thing you have to offer is a

broken heart, you offer a broken heart.

So in a time of grief, the recognition that this is material for

sacrifice has been a very great strength for me.  Realizing that nothing I have, nothing I am

will be refused on the part of Christ, I simply give it to him as the little

boy gave Jesus his five loaves and two fishes—with the same feeling of the disciples

when they said, “What is the good of that for such a crowd? 

Naturally in almost anything I offer

to Christ, my reaction would be, “What is the good of that?”  The point is, the use he makes of it is none

of my business; it is his business, it is his blessing.  So this grief, this loss, this suffering,

this pain—whatever it is, which at the moment is God’s means of testing my

faith and bringing me to the recognition of who he is—that is the thing I can


What do you have to offer?


Is it more…or less…than five loaves

and two fishes? 

It doesn’t matter to the one who told

the disciples…”It is I.  Do not be


What’s on the Menu? – July 19, 2015

“What’s on the Menu?

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7       Matthew 4:1-11  


          I would understand if you thought today’s

message was about food.  A menu is

usually the first thing you’re given when you go to a restaurant.  Adam and Eve dealt with fruit from a

tree.  Jesus was tempted to turn stones

into bread. 

It’s not…about food


It’s about what you do when you’re given the

menu…about making decisions.  We could

make this short and simple by saying Adam and Eve blew it and Jesus

didn’t.  But…let’s think about

decision-making for a few minutes. 

Jesus…often called the “Second Adam”…was the

Son of God.  He was God in the

flesh.  He had all the powers that God

could have. 

But…Jesus came to us fully human…so that from

Him we could learn how to follow God’s Word…and that it was possible to follow

God’s Word even in this world in which we live. 

The word that many Bibles translate as

“tempted” is perhaps better translated as “tested”.  Jesus was “tested” by the Devil after being

taken by the Spirit to the wilderness for that very purpose…to be tested.  It happens to us, also.  It happens to us in the very ways it happened

to Jesus. 

First…Jesus was tempted to turn the stones into

bread.  It was a temptation to Jesus to

use his powers selfishly.  We have the

same test.  God has given each of us

unique powers…talents…abilities.  We can

ask either of two questions. 

“What can I make for myself out of this gift?”


“What can I do for others with this gift?”


A person may have a beautiful voice which is

very pleasant to the ear.  That person

may want to “cash in” on it.  That person

may refuse to use it unless receiving pay for it.  There is no reason why he should not use it

for pay, but there is every reason why he should not use it only for pay.  There are many highly paid vocalists in this

nation.  Some perform at no charge to

benefit others. 

What is your gift…or gifts?  Each of us has gifts and talents.  How are you using them?


Secondly the tester took Jesus to view the top

of the temple.  He asked Jesus to jump

because he and Jesus knew from Scripture that God’s angels would catch him and

gently and safely place Jesus on the ground.

In fact, there were those that believed the prophet Malachi had promised

that the Messiah would suddenly appear at the Temple. 

Jesus refused.


First…it would have been an example of using

God’s power to create a sensation and win people over through the

spectacle.  That’s not the kind of Gospel

that God gave Jesus to spread. 

Jesus repeated the words that Moses is credited

with writing in Deuteronomy.  “Don’t put

the Lord your God to the test.”  There is

nothing good that can come from seeing how far you can go by deliberately

putting yourself in a threatening situation then expecting God to rescue you. 

My guess is that most of us here today have

matured past that youthful stage where we often said “Hey y’all!  Watch this!”

But, have we entirely moved out of the mode of taking unnecessary

risks…expecting God to bail us out?  What

dietary choices are we making?  Exercise

choices?  Health care choices?  Financial choices? 

If faith cannot believe without sensations or

rescues from unnecessary risks then it is not really faith.  It is doubt looking for proof…looking in the

wrong places.  God’s rescuing power is

not something to be played with and experimented with.  It is something to be quietly trusted in

everyday life. 

The third attempt of the Tempter was a

whopper.  He offered Jesus the whole world

and all that was in it.  All Jesus had to

do was worship him…not God.  The Tempter

was saying compromise…make a deal with me.

Don’t have such high standards.

Work with me on this one, Jesus. 

Jesus’ response showed that he was quite

certain that we can never defeat evil by compromising with evil.  Christianity cannot stoop to the level of the

world.  It must lift the world to its

level.  Nothing less will do.  We compromise with evil when we do nothing

about it. 

Jesus gave us the example….what to do when

temptation…testing…come our way.  One

commentator puts it this way.  “Resist

the devil in the power of the Sprit through the guidance of the Word to

accomplish the will of God.” 

Let’s break that statement down into some

smaller chunks. 

Resist the devil.  Jesus clearly resisted.  His brother…James…and the apostle Peter…saw

up close how Jesus was confronted by evil.

James wrote “Submit yourselves…to God.

Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  (James 4:7)

Peter wrote “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion

looking for someone to devour.  Resist

him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout

the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”  (1 Peter 5:8-9)  When the temptation is in front of you…just say


In the power of the Spirit of God.  It’s not our own strength or cunning that

will get the job done.  Just as Jesus was

guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit…so must we be.  Just as Jesus was never alone…so we have a

companion…a source of power and strength.

In our temptations we might be led to believe that God is not

around.  In his letter to the Romans Paul

made it clear that for all of those who belong to Christ the Spirit is there

even in the darkest moments. 

Through the guidance of the Word of God.  The best way to overcome the temptation to go

against the Word of God is to know the Word of God.  We have been given the Bible to show us the

truth of life.  Compare the words of

Jesus to the words of the world.  Then,

you’ll know how to discern and confront the lies.  You’ll know how to follow God’s will.  The devil knew the Scripture well when he

tempted Jesus.  Does he know them better

than you?  How often and how deeply do you

study the Bible? 

To accomplish the will of God the Father.  If we truly know God’s Word we will be able

to discern…to figure out His will for us.

After all…our goal is to hear “Well done, good and faithful


The instruction from the Psalmist is most

appropriate here.  “Delight yourself in

the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)  Loving God…delighting in God…could be the

most important guideline for all of the decisions of our life…big and

small.   If we truly love God we will not

do anything contrary to His Word and His will for us.  And…when we delight in our walk with God…we

are freed to pursue our own desires and dreams…because they will be God’s

desires and dreams. 

Here’s a real life…real world…example for all

of us today…of the tempter at work.  How

will you decide? 

I have two friends who have written a play

about the lynching of Willie Earle in 1947.

He was a young black man held in the Pickens County Jail…waiting for

further legal action.  He had been

accused…accused, not convicted of robbing and murdering a white man who drove a

cab in Greenville. I had the privilege of attending a reading of the play.


As I sat there…listening to the script being

read by a number of performers I asked how could a Christian community tolerate

the lynching of a young man…accused of a crime and in jail awaiting further

legal action. 

I then reflected on our community…state…

nation…and world today…68 years later.

Some say hate and intolerance is greater today.  Some say otherwise.  No matter how you want to measure…or what

your measure might show…the reality is…hate and intolerance are still

there.  It’s the cause of much of what is

reported as news.  It’s the topic of many

conversations…on Facebook and in the coffee shops. 

And…the hate and intolerance are not just based

on race…it’s gender…it’s citizenship…it’s gender preference…it’s perceived

faith beliefs…it’s economic status.

All are excuses for hate and intolerance. 

As you decide how to participate in these great

debates turn to Scripture…and look for the verse in which Jesus tells us to

care for the least among us.  You’ll find

it several times in more than one Gospel.

Then look for the verse in which Jesus places qualifications on that

caring.  You won’t find any qualifiers…exceptions…or

excuses…none of those I just mentioned and no others. 

As you decide whether to join those who speak

and act of hate and intolerance and anger…look further at the Sermon on the

Mount…chapters five through seven of Matthew…and Jesus’ instructions for those

who want to call themselves Christians.

Nowhere will you find instruction promoting anything other than love and

inclusiveness.  The tools of hate and

intolerance…and twisting Scripture to support hate and intolerance are tools of

the devil and those who would follow him.

They are not tools of Christ and those who would follow him…even if

those tools are used against us. 

No matter what’s on the menu we can rest

assured of the proper decision when “we resist the devil in the power of the

Spirit through the guidance of the Word to accomplish the will of God?”

Water and Truth – July 12, 2015

“Water and Truth”

Exodus 17:1-7  John 4:5-42 

          The famous British author and Christian

apologist…C. S. Lewis wrote these words.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly

be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you

want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not

even an animal.” 

Clearly God…Jesus…and the woman at the

well were vulnerable…clearly they loved. 

Twice before…in their wanderings…God

had heard the complaints of the Israelites.

And…he provided for them.  He

provided water.  He provided manna.  Yet, they were grumbling once again.  This time it was because they wanted water. 

Because he loved them…God gave them

water…even though the Israelites demanded God’s action on their terms. 


We do the same thing.  When God does not do for us what we think he

ought to do, in the way we think he ought to do it, we complain about it.  At home, at work, and in the church, we

demand God take care of us on our own terms.


God so loved them that he gave them water…even

though the Israelites were denying God’s protection.  They assumed the worst.  They had concluded that God had abandoned


We do the same thing.  We complain that what God is doing in our

lives…especially the suffering we must endure…is not good for us but actually

harmful.  That is a way for us to deny

God’s protection. 

Even though they tested God….he gave them water

because he loved them.  They still asked

“Is the Lord among us?” 

Our own trials often raise the same

question.  We may feel that God isn’t

blessing us very much right now. This is one way we deny God’s presence. 

The Israelites were suffering from spiritual

amnesia…forgetting the love of God.  They

forgot that because of His love God had provided for them…had protected them…

and had always been with them. 

In our daily lives we have the same

affliction…spiritual amnesia.  The remedy

is to pause and remember the immeasurable ways God has demonstrated his love

for us. 

When Jesus got to the well He was weary.  The long walk from the south to the north…the

disciples pressing him with endless questions…the constant crowds…the never-ending

questions and badgering made him a tired man.

He felt like some of us feel from time to time…sometimes often. 

Then the woman came to the well.  Jesus had every reason to ignore her.  He was tired.

He was a Jew and she was a Samaritan.

There had been great animosity and separation between their races for

seven centuries or more.  He was

male.  She was female.  At that time it was considered highly

inappropriate for a Jewish male to speak with any woman in public.  Because she had traveled a distance to be at

the well at the hottest time of day it was quite likely that she was also a

social outcast.  But…because He loved…Jesus

spoke with her….Jesus reached out to her. 

Jesus loved his Father and all of His creation.


He was energized by service to God.  He was

feasting on the potential he saw in that woman’s life.  He was so absorbed in what could happen to

her that he forgot himself.  Jesus loved. 

The Samaritan woman had lived a

difficult life…five former husbands.   She

was a social outcast…not even able to interact with other women who went to a

well closer to their home in cooler parts of the day.  But…she loved also. 

Once it was clear to her that she was

being offered the love of the messiah she showed her love.  She was so excited that she ran to tell other

Samaritans…leaving her all-important water pot behind.   What

happened when she acted out of love is typical of the way in which the Gospel

is spread. 

First…she told the Samaritans about Christ and

how he knew of her life…how he had ignored the barriers and reached out to

her…how he had helped her discover herself…how he had offered her the living


Secondly…as their knowledge grew…that

prevenient grace within them that Wesley told us about…the same grace that’s in

all of us…caused them to be curious and want to go meet Christ. 

Thirdly…when they met Christ…discovered who he

was and encountered His love…they surrendered.   They were the first to discover in Christ the

savior of the world.  A discovery that

came to them because God loved…Jesus loved…and the woman loved. 

So…we are loved…and given the opportunity to love.


We can do as Lewis suggested.  Keep our hearts closed…never show love…and

never enjoy love.  Or we can share the

love that’s been shown to us. 

Even when we’re tired and alone we can…like

Christ… be energized by God’s love shared with others…who are ill…who have lost

a loved one…whose body has become frail…who are imprisoned…who are poor…who

have little education…who don’t know Jesus Christ. 

When we’re facing barriers that society and

tradition have created…or we ourselves have created… like Jesus…we can

eliminate those barriers and reach out…to the child who plays in the church

parking lot…to the neighbor who attends no church…to the person of another

faith or no faith at all…to those who are or act suspicious. 

Not long ago I read a book entitled “Suspicion

Nation.”  It was written by Lisa Bloom…a

lawyer and court analyst for a number of TV networks.  The premise of her book is that we are a

divided nation because we are a suspicious nation….rich are suspicious of the

poor….poor are suspicious of the rich….old are suspicious of the young….young

are suspicious of the old….highly educated are suspicious of those with little

education….those with little education are suspicious of those with a lot of

education….races are suspicious of other races…..people of each faith are

suspicious of people of other faiths.  We

are all suspicious of those not exactly like us. 

We have seen the result of that suspicion in the headlines

in our state over the past month.  We

have also seen the result of God’s grace and love.  The families of the victims of the massacre at

Mother Emanuel surely did not suffer from spiritual amnesia.  They had drunk of the living water. 

Many people saw Friday’s removal of the confederate battle

flag from the statehouse grounds as a thing of beauty…like a rainbow.  Others saw it as devastating…like a

tornado.  This reminder… both rainbows

and tornados…are short lived events. 

The real question for each of us…for the United Methodist

Church…and for all of South Carolina…is how do we truly heal and go forward


In addition to the demonstration of forgiveness shown by

the victims’ families …three of our state’s leaders…who are all United

Methodists have some sound advice. 

I like best the indirect advice coming from Governor Nikki

Haley…someone with whom I don’t always agree.

The governor said she made her decision after asking herself how she

could look her children in the eye if she chose to leave the flag in place.  How will the children and grandchildren… who

will one day lead and care for us… see our words and actions if they are not

words and actions that heal and show love for all of God’s creation and all in

God’s creation? 

Former Governor Dick Riley…a member of Buncombe Street

United Methodist Church…wrote “significant disparities in our systems of

education, health and justice have a disproportionate impact on poor and

minority citizens in our state…. Let us think and act deliberately about a new

legacy for our state, one that brings the two South Carolinas together in one.” 

And, our Bishop…L. Jonathan

Holston…has told us…”It is imperative that love be vigilant and truth be

bold….let us think big.  Pray bigger.” 

It’s likely that none of us will be in a position to single

handedly change the world…or by our own single word or deed to ultimately heal

and bring the two South Carolinas together. 

But we can each of us diligently…daily…in every

word and deed hear…and live out…the words of Saint Teresa of Avila….who in the

15th century wrote… 

“He has no hand but our hands


To do his work today:


He has no feet but our feet


To lead men in his way


He has no voice but our voice


To tell men how he died:


He has no help but our help


To lead them to his side.”


God has done the hard work…sending his Son…and

providing that prevenient grace…the living water. 

The rest is up to you and me.


Through comforting word and simple deed filled

with grace and love… whose heart and mind can we…help heal…and open…to the truth

and thirst-quenching living water today?

Lamentation – July 5, 2015


2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27    Mark 5:21-43


Most of us have probably heard…and

laughed at…the tongue-in-cheek prayer for patience.  “Lord, grant me patience…and grant it to me

right now.”  The reality is that most of

us have…at one time or another…lifted up that prayer in sincerity…seeking help

for ourselves. 

It’s not hard to find yourself in a

situation where you feel a need to do that.

I find it often.  There are things

I want to make happen.  There are people

I want to take certain actions or refrain from other actions.  There are things I want to do with my

time.  And…I want all of this to

happen…right now.  My guess is that you

can say the same thing. 

The lack of patience…or impatience…is

really not the problem.  It’s a symptom

of a larger problem… faith.  You see…a

person with faith will accept and act on the belief that God will get us where

God wants us…in God’s time…and it will be a good place.  The person with faith…listens to…and works

with God…and the talents God has given that person…to get to that place. 

It may take awhile.  Just check

with the three main characters in today’s scripture lessons.  You’ll see that God got them where God wanted

them…that it was a good place…but it didn’t happen immediately…and the path was

not always easy.  But…each of them

displayed faith. 


David had been anointed by Samuel…at

God’s direction…to become the king of Israel.

David knew that was his destiny.

But…it didn’t come easily or quickly.

For years Saul pursued David…working to do him in.  In fact…when David learned of the death of

Saul and his son Jonathan…David was on the run…basically in exile among the


But…because David had faith…he let the

Lord lead him and protect him during those years on the run.  Because David had faith…and reverence for

God’s desires…he didn’t rejoice when he received the news of Saul’s death.  After all…Saul…too…had been chosen by God to

lead Israel.  In fact…David had the man

who claimed to have killed Saul…put to death. 

Jairus was the leader of the

synagogue.  He wasn’t a Pharisee or a

Scribe or a rabbi.  He was the lay leader

who made sure everything was managed well in the synagogue’s operation.  But…he too…had faith…faith that was

demonstrated patiently.  Think about

this…his twelve year old daughter was dying.

Jairus…believed Jesus could keep her from death.  Yet…when Jesus stopped walking toward Jairus’ house to take care of the woman who had touched his robe…Jairus did not say…”Hey, I was here first.  I’m more

powerful and more important.  My daughter

is near death.  This woman is only

bleeding.”  Jairus had faith that Jesus

could heal his daughter…and acted on that faith…or perhaps it’s better said

that because of his faith…he didn’t take certain actions…to push Jesus away

from healing the woman. 

The un-named woman had faith.  Jesus told her that she demonstrated it.  She had been in her predicament for a dozen

years…yet continued to seek a cure…didn’t decide that it was futile and give

up.  That cure…she realized came in faith

in Jesus Christ. 

There are some things we should note

about faith…and its results. 


Notice first the status of David…Jairus and the

woman.  They were unalike in many

ways.  Jairus was a man with power and

position in the community.  He probably

had significant financial resources.  He

was probably well educated.  David had

been a shepherd…and was a man on the run.

The woman is of such low esteem and recognition in the community that

her name does not appear anywhere in the story.

She was an outcast from her community.

She had spent all of her resources.

She had nothing…in a worldly sense.

Faith is available to…and can be exercised by anyone.  For God and Jesus…everybody…even the

nobodies…is somebody. 

For faith to be effective it has to be directed

to God and Jesus.  An object…no matter

what it symbolizes…is not where our faith belongs.  A person…no matter his or her

position…pronouncements…or wealth and power…are not where we direct our


Jairus’ daughter and the woman were saved

because of faith that was directed to Jesus.

It was because of his faith in Yahweh that David was saved and became


Faith shows persistence in overcoming any

obstacles.  The woman worked her way

through the crowd and overcame her sense of shame in her confession to Jesus in

front of the crowd.  Jairus disregarded

the announcement of his daughter’s death and ignored the laughter of the

mourners.  He trusted Jesus’ verdict that

she was only sleeping…even though it appeared otherwise. 


The final note on faith is that faith is

embodied in action…something that can be seen.

Look at Jairus…the un-named woman…and David.  They didn’t do nothing.  Faith alone does not get us there.  Faith in God and Jesus…should result in

actions that give us the willingness and ability to listen to and to ask for

God’s leading.  Faith should give us the

patience to let God get us there in God’s time.

Faith should give us the willingness and ability to actively follow…even

if we’re not sure where God is leading.    Faith should lead us to the actions that help

God and Jesus get us where they want us.


As we celebrate this national holiday weekend…instead

of echoing our personal lamentations of impatience or dissatisfaction with our personal

and national situation…let us renew our faith…remembering that like David… Jairus…and

the un-named woman…faith in God will take us where we need to go.  Then let us put that faith to work.  Faith should be demonstrated in action.