September 10, 2017
Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church
Good Morning Palms Westminster … and what a morning it is … all of us watching Irma … and earlier Harvey … people in harms way … some of us have friends and family at risk, and for them se pray.
Yet, for us here, in this moment,
it’s a good morning .. because we’re here.
We have a chance,
all over again,
to practice the Great Commandment,
to love God with all that we are,
and to love one another dearly and deeply.
And practice it is …
Think of a pianist, practicing a piece of music over and over and over again … pencil in hand, making notes … trying this expression and that … to make the music her music … the intent of the composer, her intent … until she’s satisfied with it …
But that’s not the end of it … the purpose of all that practice, all that sweat, blood and tears … it’s the concert on the weekend … when hundreds, maybe even thousands, show up … to hear great music offered by the pianist …
The practice is utterly important, but the real test of what’s practiced is the audience who hears it …
Or in our case, what the world sees of us tomorrow morning.
Jesus said it, and said it clearly:
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
What we do here this morning is practice … out there, it’s the concert …
They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yes, they’ll know we’re Christians by our love.
Our text this morning is all about practicing … practicing the ways of love.
Jesus addresses the hard question: what happens when the church fails to love God and fails to love one another?
What happens when another member of the church sins against you.
Who’s the you?
These words directed to the disciples … to the leaders of the church …
And what’s the sin?
The failure to love.
It’s to the leaders that Jesus speaks …
A method of care and kindness …
go to that person …
talk about it.
Explore the gospel together.
What does faith in Jesus Christ mean?
If that conversation doesn’t prove helpful, then have another one, but with one or two additional leaders, so that the conversation can be carefully noted …
The purpose of the meeting is to heal …
to help someone better understand the purpose of the church;
the meaning of faith.
If that person refuses to listen, then tell it to the church … if the member still refuses to listen …
Treat them as a Gentile and a tax collector, says Jesus.
That sounds bad doesn’t it?
But it’s not bad; it’s good!
First off, let’s ask: How does Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors?
Throughout the gospels, Jesus offers the mercy of God to Gentiles and tax collectors … Jesus heals their children, helps them along the way, eating and drinking with them.
From Matthew 9:
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
Matthew himself is a tax collector.
Treat them well, Jesus says;
start all over with them …
go back to the beginning, square one …
never, ever, give up on anyone.
But there’s more to the story.
The whole 18th chapter reveals the way of the gospel for us …
The chapter begins with humility … Jesus calls over a child, and then says to the disciples: unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
And then a warning about causing trouble: those who put stumbling blocks in the way of these little ones.
Who are the little ones?
Children, literally … the vulnerable.
But little ones also means defenseless ones … those who have no voice … folks who cannot defend themselves … folks at the mercy of those bigger than they are …
Little ones … the trinity of need outlined in the law and the prophets - the orphan, the widow and the alien …
Little ones … to whom great care must be given … to avoid stumbling blocks.
And what is a stumbling block?
The failure of the church!
The failure to defend the defenseless …
To offer the cup of cold water.
To cloth the naked and visit those in prison.
To honor God’s creation with care and tenderness.
To say no to lies and bigotry.
To not be covetous of wealth (which seems to be a major problem in American Christianity these days).
To not bear false witness when Tweeting.
To care for the poor and the oppressed.
Every day I read about the decline of the church in America …
Google, “young people abandon the church,” and you will learn a lot.
Here’s a for-example list:
- Churches seem overprotective and stifling.
- Faith and theology feel shallow and small.
- Lots of churches are antagonistic to science.
- Attitudes about sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental, especially with regard to gender questions.
- Young people are put off by the exclusive claims of Christianity.
- Many young people, especially white evangelical youth, are disappointed in how their parents failed to deal with racism.
- And these days, young people have little room for a faith that cannot tolerate and understand doubt.
There is nothing more powerful than a living example of faith:
Words and deeds put together
to make a good and decent life …
an example that children will always remember.
Walter Cronkite, the great newscaster of the 20th Century, tells a story - when he was young boy in Houston, in the 1920s, Jim Crow laws in effect. Walter’s father was a dentist, and recently hired to teach in a Houston dental school …
A few days after arriving in Houston, the Cronkite family had a dinner invitation to the home of the school’s president, and in those pre-air conditioning days, they were all on the porch after dinner … to catch a bit of the evening breeze, and await the delivery of homemade ice cream from a nearby drugstore.
In Cronkite’s own words:
In those days, there was no air-conditioning and residential refrigeration options were limited. The Jim Crow “rules” of Houston said that African Americans could not approach the home of a Caucasian from the front. Years later, Cronkite recalled what happened next: “The black delivery boy drove up on his motorcycle and looked with his flashlight, clearly for some way to go to the back of the house.” Not finding a driveway or alleyway to deliver the ice cream, the young man started up the sidewalk. When he hit the first step to the porch, Dr. Hight, in Cronkite’s words, “jumped out of his chair like a cat, and hit him right in the middle of his face, wham!—knocked him back into the grass, ice cream cart spilling—and he said, ‘That’ll teach you, nigger, to put your foot on a white man’s front porch!’ My father said, ‘Helen, Walter, we’re leaving.’ ”
The three Cronkites marched out of Dr. Hight’s house. When the embarrassed host tried to coax them into staying, Dr. Cronkite said “get lost” and kept walking. After that incident, Dr. Hight had the long knives out for Dr. Cronkite because of his “pro-Negro” sympathies. “I was horrified about the incident,” Cronkite recalled. “Terrified by the walk through the oak trees with their long Spanish moss dripping in them. It looked like a Walt Disney forest that I would expect all the animals jumping at us. We finally got a ride from somebody on a street corner. Got back to our hotel. But from that moment on I was wholly aware of the racial bigotry, prejudice, and treatment of blacks in that part of the world.”
Hats off the elder Cronkite who would not countenance such bigotry even from the president of the school … and what an important lesson he taught his son …
Walter Cronkite learned to take a stand against evil … even at the risk of personal wellbeing … it wasn’t easy, I’m sure, for his father to get up and leave, but it would have been a tragedy had his father stayed on the porch and turned a blind eye to evil.
That night, what might have become a stumbling block to young Walter Cronkite became, instead, the Mt. Everest of moral conscience.
Whether it be Walter’s father getting up off the porch, or anyone of us here, we know what know what has to be done.
Jesus has left us enough instruction to figure it out …
the Beatitudes and all the rest,
Paul’s letters and the book of Revelation …
the whole of the Bible, Moses and the prophets,
and for us Presbyterians, our own creeds and statements of faith -
The Confession of ’67, he Barmen Declaration of Faith … we know what have to know, and we know what we have to do …
Dear friends in Christ, Palms Westminster … Presbyterian to the core … with a past for which we can be grateful, and a future for which we can be glad:
Let us agree this morning:
With fervency of heart,
clarity of mind,
in Jesus’ name,
to get off the porch,
to set before our children and youth,
the high mountains of faith, hope and love …
To set before our children memories, strong memories, that will see them through their youth and guide them into adulthood.
All of this, and more, for the glory of God, and the welfare of the world.
Amen and Amen!