Thus Says the Lord

“Thus Says the Lord”

1 Kings 21:1-10, 15-21        Luke 7:36 – 8:3


“Thus says the Lord”…that phrase seems to have a threatening…judgmental tone…when Elijah speaks it to Ahab…but when Jesus says something similar to the woman in our story from Luke…it has a different feel.

The woman…the Pharisee identified as a great sinner…shows us some basic truths about faith and love…unlike Ahab’s wife…Jezebel.

The woman labeled sinful in Luke demonstrates an ability to overcome barriers…with God’s help…barriers like the perceptions about her.  As a woman…just thinking about getting near to Jesus in a public place was a great risk.  Women just didn’t do such things in the culture of that day.  The fact that she was a sinner increased the risk…since a religious figure like Jesus might reject her.

But…her gratitude and her humility were so great that getting close to Jesus was all that she cared about.  She weighed the costs and concluded that Jesus would respond to her humble approach.  And…her faith was honored.  Did you ever stop to ask how many of us today would be so bold as to come forward and publicly identify with Jesus knowing that some might reject our approach to him…that we might feel so unworthy of approaching him that he would reject us?

Maybe we’d feel less worthy than Simon…the Pharisee…who was so righteous.  Simon was like the duchess who responded to an invitation from the Countess of Huntington in eighteenth century England.  The Countess was a great supporter of John Wesley, and another well-known evangelist of the day…George Whitefield.   The Countess invited the duchess to join a crowd listening to Whitefield preach.  This was her reply:

“It is monstrous to be told, that you have a heart as sinful as common wretches that crawl on the earth.  This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but wonder that your Ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.”

Only a twitty duchess…raised in the insular… racist…upper class of old England…would say such a thing.  But thousands have used the same thinking to avoid Christ’s teaching to themselves and others.  They feel they are “good people” who don’t need reminding.

But they might be guilty of thinking about sinners and relating to them in the same way…the same way as the Pharisee.  It is so easy to wall people off subtly from God…and give the impression they are beyond God’s reach…rather than spending the energy and the effort to bring them into God’s forgiveness.

Check the news reports…and the coffee shop conversation…and these words from Darrell Bock.  He’s the research professor of New Testament studies and professor of spiritual development and culture at Dallas Theological Seminary.    He wrote, “In the public debate on the great moral issues of today, the church cannot risk being right while making its case in a wrong way by using the same politics of power and pressure that the world wages.  Such an attitude will not yield the fruit of forgiveness, especially if the opportunity of forgiveness and the tone of divine love that led Christ to die for sinners never surface as the church communicates its message.  In pursuing moral values in our communities, we must never lose the ability to communicate the most important value of all—the love of God expressed in the offer of forgiveness.”  There are people just like the Pharisees out there today.  Remember…each of us…and the sinner…started in the same place…in need of divine forgiveness.

Paul made it clear that like the two people in Jesus’ parable…we are all debtors…unable to pay…when he wrote in Romans….”For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

We can learn from Paul…who wrote to Timothy…”Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)  St. Francis of Assisi…the man after whom the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic church is named…wrote…”There is nowhere a more wretched and miserable sinner than I.”

Hard to believe…isn’t it?  Paul…the worst of sinners?  St. Francis…the most wretched and miserable of sinners?   The more these men walked with Christ…the more sensitized they became to the nearly invisible…their own…inner sin.  They knew they could make holy pronouncements one minute and a few minutes later become vile sinners with their word or their deed…with their envy or judgmental righteousness.

Their greatness…their very spiritual health…was based on their knowledge that they were sinners in need of the constant grace of God…just like each of us here today…just like everyone on the other side of the sanctuary doors.  We cannot fall into the self-righteous trap of believing that God’s grace has been so effective that we don’t need it anymore.

As we engage in that coffee shop conversation…interact with others in some way….we must live out the belief that like the woman…and…unlike the Pharisee Simon…forgiven people love God and all of God’s people.  Those who are forgiven much…love much.

As John wrote:….”We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”   (1 John 4:19-21)

I encourage you to read the stories on the front page of today’s newspaper…stories of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston a year ago…and of the lives of the people directly affected by that massacre.  Then answer for yourself and to all you encounter…the question behind the stories…have we come as far as we need to come.

When you wake up on a warm, sunny, Sunday morning…turn on the television…and hear of an attack on a night club in Florida…with at least twenty people killed and another 42 injured…with an assault rifle among the weapons used…you have to ask have we come as far we need to come in sharing love.

Our love for others…like that of the woman…is an indicator of our spiritual health.

Jesus is pure…without any sin…holy…perfect.  Yet this sinful woman sensed from him…not condemnation…but forgiveness and acceptance that freed her to pour her love upon him.

Though her sins were extreme…the woman was forgiven.  She felt the freedom and joy of her forgiveness.  She loved.

Do we truly love Jesus as she did?

Do we see our own weaknesses before we see the weakness in others?  Do we realize how much we need Jesus in our lives?  Do we understand the danger of sin within us?

To come to him for salvation…restoration… strengthening…hear his words….”Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”   (Matthew 11:28-29)

With unconditional love…Thus says the Lord.

Two Constants – June 28, 2015

“Two Constants”

Judges 10:10-16        Matthew 28:18-20


          Today I want to talk about some history and how

we must use it to shape the future out of the news of this month.  

          You have heard it more than once…probably heard

it from your grandparents…and they probably heard it from theirs.  There are only two sure things in this

life…death and taxes.  Sure…we’ve all

heard it. 

Today…I want to suggest to you that

there are indeed two sure things…but they aren’t death and taxes. 

You only have to turn to the gospels to learn

that death is not a sure thing for those who believe.  John said it best in that verse that everyone

knows…the New Living Translation puts it this way…”For God loved the world so

much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him

will not perish but have eternal life.” 

Those are the words of Jesus.  If you cannot believe him who can you

believe?  When we attend a funeral or

memorial service…the final celebration of a person’s earthly life…it’s the

celebration of that part of their life we have known on earth…and a sendoff to

the next leg on their life journey…their eternal life journey. 

Death is not a sure thing.


There is reference to taxes in the

Bible…but nothing that says taxes are or are not a sure thing.  In fact every tax is created by a group of

people who have the ability to change their minds…and repeal those taxes…each

and every one of them.  Now…I’m not going

to bet the farm that I will see a day when there are no taxes…but I will say

that taxes are not a sure thing. 

History tells us there are two sure

things in our lives on earth…God’s presence always and everywhere…and the

other is change.   Our Old Testament

lesson from Judges should make that clear.

The entire book is about a time of change in the lives of God’s

people.  It also tells us that God was

always there. 

Judges is the story of God’s people

and those men and women whom God sent to lead them because the people asked for

human guidance.  The people said they

weren’t certain they could live the old way…following God’s guidance without an

earthly leader.  The words we heard from the

book of Judges this morning came at a time that the Bronze Age was ending in

the Middle East…a time of significant change in the way that people lived and


Throughout the book of Judges there are stories

of God’s people being conquered and made captive by a number of foreign

peoples.  God listed some of them in his

conversation with the distressed Israelites…Egyptians…Amorites…

Ammonites…Philistines…Sidonians…Amalekites… and Maonites.  You can bet that under each of them the rules

of the game changed for the Israelites…and if you accept God’s word…you know

that he was there with them. 

Stop and think for a moment…throughout

your life there has been change…some gradual…some minor…some rapid and some

radical.  And…God has been there with

you.  If he hadn’t been there with you

would you even consider being here today?

For some…there’s logic in what I just said. 

For me…there’s more than logic…there’s

proof…proof through God’s revelation to me.

If it hadn’t been for God’s revelation and his presence I wouldn’t be

here today.  Now, it wasn’t a burning

bush experience like that of Moses…or a Damascus Road experience like

Paul’s….or a conversation on the road to Emmaus like Cleopas and his

companion.  It was people that God placed

in my path. 

I was an only and lonely child in a

single-parent household…  lived with my

dad…who had very little education and worked two jobs just to be able to pay

the rent and put food on the table and clothes on our backs.  I seldom saw him and in that part of my life

I knew of God in only two ways…as the first word of a two word curse…or as a vengeful

creature who would get me if I did something wrong. 

I was 14 when I met God in a different

way.  I worked part time at a restaurant

with a man whose name was Richard O’Brien.

Richard had been raised in a Roman Catholic family…and told stories of a

loving God.  Richard and his life partner…

Patrick… also taught me how to love Shakespeare and his works.  They also told me how they had been made

outcasts by the people in their church.

I started to question how a God whom they told me loved all of His

creation could tolerate people who didn’t love all of God’s creation. 

A couple years later…working in a

different restaurant…I met a man who was known to me only as Ace.  He was a Black man…who had learned to read at

his mother’s side as she read Scripture to him from their family Bible.  He…too…spoke of a God of love.  He…too…spoke of being an outcast from the

large church not far from his home…this time because of his race.  My questioning continued.          People who called themselves God’s people while demonstrating something other than love…helped my skepticism grow through my years in college to the point that I became a practicing agnostic…even though I attended a church affiliated university.  If someone had told me when I graduated from

college that I’d be attending a church worship service…much less leading one…I

would have laughed loudly at them. 

For a number of years I went my

merry…somewhat devilish way…through marriage and divorce…work that was

glamorous but unrewarding…financial challenges…and some drunken Saturday

nights…showing up in a place of worship only for a friend’s wedding or for a

funeral…never considering that God was real…much less there with me. 


At a birthday party for the husband of

a co-worker I met Bob Miller.  I was 30

years old.  Bob and I talked about many

things including our mutual love for racquetball.  We ended up playing racquetball at the local

YMCA two or three times a week…then going to a pizza place for food, beer and

more conversation.  After about six months

of talking about many things except our work I asked Bob what his profession

was.  He was the minister at the downtown

Congregational church.  He invited me to


I didn’t take Bob up on his invitation

until the next Christmas Eve.  One of

Bob’s parishioners had also invited me to the Christmas Eve service.  She was one of the three women I knew

attended that church that I wanted to date.

I went to the service…and sat alone in a pew in the back of the church…my

real hope was that one of the three women would show up and sit next to me. 

The lights went down until it was entirely

dark.  I heard a beautiful baritone voice

singing “O Holy Night”…then a single candle appeared moving at the front of the

sanctuary…toward the pulpit.  It was Bob

who was holding the candle and singing.

As John Wesley put it in his journal…”My heart was strangely

warmed.”   I began to attend Bob’s church regularly.  By the way…I never dated any one of the three


When it came time to leave that community in

Iowa to move to Greenville…Bob suggested I check out a United Methodist

Church.  I did…three months later…on the

first Easter morning I was in Greenville.

I found a sign that pointed me to Aldersgate United Methodist.  I attended and was mesmerized by the preacher…

Sinclair Lewis.  He was one of the finest

orators I had ever heard. 

I attended his church for several months…when

one Sunday he announced that lay speaking classes would be held.  At the end of the worship service…as we were

all leaving the sanctuary…I asked Sinclair to tell me more…four times I asked

him.  Each time he would say only two

words…”Just go.”  I finally realized I

was holding up the line of those waiting to leave the church…and moved on…never

knowing whether Sinclair was sure the classes were the right thing for me…or he

wanted to let others leave the church in order to get to lunch. 

I attended that training session and many

more.  For fifteen years I served as a

lay speaker…when in the spring of 2002 I was invited to speak to the men’s

group at Buncombe Street United Methodist Church.  After speaking…the senior minister at the

church…Doug Bowling…said “We’ve got to get you a church.”  After much protest…Doug convinced me to

follow the process for becoming a local pastor…and here I am today. 

Like the Israelites…I didn’t know it then…but

God was with me on that rather circuitous path to where I am today…and there

may have been moments when I even denied that possibility   But…now the truth is known…has been


Look at your life. I’m sure that you will also

be able to say that God was with you…even when it seemed he might not have

been…when the changes were rough. 

Today marks another change in our collective

lives.  You have a new minister in your

pulpit.  I am beginning the process of

learning many new names and hearing many new life stories.  I’ve been given the opportunity to serve you

and your families…and the opportunity to make new friendships.  Know this…though there may be stumbles along

the way… God will be with us all the way…through times of joy and the times of

sorrow.  I thank God for the opportunity

and thank you for allowing me into your lives. 

If history and experience alone are

not enough…hear once again the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…as

Matthew has reported them…”I am with you always…to the end of the age.” 

When Jesus gave the disciples that

reassurance he also gave them instructions… instructions that are so important

today.  “Go…make disciples.” 

It is by following those instructions

that you will assure God’s kingdom becomes reality…in this church…in our

community…in our state…and in our nation.

You see…there are those who for their own misguided reasons…will attempt

to thwart God. 


In South Carolina today…there are ten

families whose lives have been forever torn asunder…nine by death at the hands

of a hate-filled young man…and the family of that young man who had been lost

and is now in the custody of the criminal justice system.  Some may ask where God was the evening of

Wednesday June 17th…may even say that God had left his own house.  Just recall the name of the

church…Emanuel…”God with us.” 

And…I do know that God was in the arms

of those who held strangers and wept with them…God was in the hearts of those

who lost loved ones yet forgave the person believed responsible…God was in the

hearts of those community leaders who said they would not let hate tear us

apart.  God continues to be there as we

all mourn…as we work toward healing…and toward ending the hate that is so

strong in some hearts.  God has been with

each of us throughout all time.  Check his history.  Check your history.


God will be with us as together we

take Jackson Grove United Methodist Church forward…and as we…each of us… play our

part in healing our community…state and nation…as we…each of us…do all of that

by actively making disciples…by sharing your story of God working in your life…by following God’s

command to love all of his creation and all in his creation…by asking whether

there is something you think, do or say that might show something other than

love…by reaching out to the less fortunate…the unseen…and loving them as you

love our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

The pundits and the politicians are

already making hay by asking the simple…surface…easily answered questions.  Should the Confederate flag come

down?….YES!  Should we have some reasonable

form of access to firearms? YES.  Should

we be better at providing mental health care?

YES.  Should those in church be

encouraged to carry weapons into worship or study?  OF COURSE NOT. 


They aren’t yet asking…much less

answering…the meaningful questions.  How

does someone learn so much hate?  How do

we assure that someone else doesn’t learn so much hate? 

Martin Luther King, Jr. said it so

well when he said, “Hate doesn’t overcome hate.

Only love can do that.” 

Jesus showed us how to love.  It’s up to each of us to GO!  Make disciples every day as you walk with

God…as He walks with you every day… through all that changes.