Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 22, 2011 - "Many Gifts"

John 14:1-14

Jesus says, Do not let your hearts be troubled.

And we ask of Jesus, “What do you mean?”
“Can we control this?”
“Are we responsible for the welfare of our heart?”
“Can we stop being troubled?”

There’s plenty in this world to trouble us.
The basic things of work, income and family.

And social change … when the world takes a turn we didn’t expect, and didn’t want.
We’re troubled by our mortality – that’s always the shadow in the background of our mind … dust-to dust-and earth to earth, may be the truth, but we don’t like it, and it makes us uneasy.
We’re troubled by our own personal failings … how many times have we tried to correct something in our lives – a habit, an attitude, a memory that grinds away in our soul – only to find that we can’t do much about it.
We’re troubled by the faults of others, over which we have no control at all.
We’re troubled about our past – the dumb things we’ve all done, the sorrows we’ve created.
And we lay awake at night uncertain about tomorrow.

Of a stranger note – many folks were troubled by the billboards announcing yesterday as Judgment Day – some sold their homes, quit their jobs, or maxed-out their credit cards.
I suspect Mr. Harold Camping and his followers are troubled today – wondering why the end of the world didn’t come, as they so firmly predicted.

Jesus knows what it means to be troubled.

Now my soul is troubled.[1] Says Jesus, when he’s telling the disciples about his impending death.
A bit later, John describes Jesus as troubled.[2]

So, if Jesus is troubled, why does he say to us, Don’t let your hearts be troubled?

We have to be clear:
Jesus does NOT say to us: “Don’t be troubled.”
No, we’re going to be troubled.
That’s life … and Jesus knows it.

Jesus IS saying: Don’t let it go on. Do something about it. Take control of your thoughts before your thoughts take control of you.

There are things we can do about a troubled heart … we may not be able to do anything about the trouble itself, but it’s the heart that makes the difference.
Attitude is everything!

All of this begs the question:
How do we manage our heart?
What can we do?

Jesus says: believe in God … or as some translations have it, trust in God.
But what is God?
Who is God?
Jesus spends much of his time helping people learn about God … because there’s a lot of junk out there … and even a lot of junk in the church itself … as I noted last week, poorly trained pastors without oversight – they mislead people with emotional messages that have no merit; they , take their money, live lavishly, and bring shame and ridicule to the church of Jesus Christ.

Our best defense against the junk is to pay careful attention to the whole message of God.

This morning, I want to share with you three things about God, three things that anchor our faith … three things that God’s Word gives us to us – so that we might say, “This is God, the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ.”
 Three things to help us deal with troubled hearts:
God’s promises.
God’s character.
And God’s faithfulness.

First of all, God’s promises:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.[3]

When God spoke these words, Israel was in Exile; Babylon … strangers in a strange land … strange people telling them what to do.

How they could worship in such a strange land? Without their temple in Jerusalem? Without the Promised Land beneath their feet?

Confused and distraught.
They wept and they trembled.
Their hearts were troubled:
 By the rivers of Babylon—
      there we sat down and there we wept
      when we remembered Zion.
  our captors asked us for songs … saying,
      “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the LORD’S song
      in a foreign land?[4]

A crisis of faith:

Maybe a child said to Mom or Dad, “What is God like? Is God good? Is God good all the time? And why are here if God is good all the time? How could God let this happen to us? It doesn’t seem fair. It’s not right.”

Mom and Dad were thinking the same thing.
“Did God let us down?”
“Did God change God’s mind?”
 “Babylon’s soldiers destroyed our temple, and what did God do?”
“They tied us up and took us off to exile, and what did God do?”
“Maybe the Babylonian gods are bigger and better than the God of Israel!”

God says to Israel, Look to me, and look to my promises.
I will never leave you or forsake you … wherever you go, I am there with you … I’m the Good Shepherd, and I never abandon my sheep … even when you walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death, I walk beside you.
A rose garden I cannot promise.
But I give you my love.
The same love that created the heavens and the earth.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

We have the promises of God!
But there’re more.

We have the character of God …
God’s character is the guarantee of the Promise.
The One who MAKES the promise is just as important as the Promise itself!

The character of God is goodness.

God is good ALL the time.
No matter what!
No matter where!
When everything goes wrong and life is upside down.
When others turn against us.
When we’ve made poor decisions.
When we’re tired and sad and ready to give up.
The creator of the heavens and the earth is good.
Good to the core.

The promise of God is anchored in the character of God.

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God …
He does not faint or grow weary.

He gives power to the faint.
Strengthens the powerless.

Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.[5]

We have the promises of God.
We have God’s character.
But there’s still more:
God’s faithfulness.

Paul writes to the Philippians and says:
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.[6]
Whatever God starts, God will finish, and God will finish it well!

In Second Timothy, the writer expresses personal confidence:
For I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.[7]

Jesus says: If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.[8]

“Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not; As thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”

The Apostle Paul writes to his friends in Rome:
If God is for us, who is against us? ….

Believe in God, says Jesus.
The promises of God.
The character of God.
The faithfulness of God.

But wait a minute, there’s still more.
More than the promises.
More than God’s character.
More than God’s faithfulness.
Yes … a thousands times yes, there’s more!
Jesus says: Believe also in me.

Israel’s Messiah … the embodiment, the enfleshment, of the original promise to Abraham and Sarah – that all the nations of the world would be blessed.
No one left behind.
No one left out.
The whole world.
All of creation.
From top to bottom.

Israel’s Messiah:
God … up-close and personal.
“Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Crucified, dead, and buried:
Descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
Ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”

Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.[9]

When we see Jesus, we see the Father.
When we look at Christ, we see God!
If there’s ever a question about God’s promise, look to Jesus.
If there’s ever a doubt about God’s character, look to Jesus.
If there’s uncertainty about God’s faithfulness to us, look to Jesus.

Jesus healed the blind man by the side of the road, and didn’t scold him!
Jesus spoke kindly to the woman caught in adultery, and humbled the crowd when he said to them, Let the one without sin throw the first stone.
Jesus invited Zacchaeus down out of the tree and went to his home for dinner, and folks were shocked when Jesus suggested that Zacchaeus the Tax Collector was as much a member of God’s Household as anyone else.
This Jesus calls you and me.
And Jesus is none other than God … God-with-us, up-close and personal.

Dear friends, life is hard.
We all know that.
So does Jesus.

Thus, with great compassion and force, Jesus says to us: Let not your hearts be troubled.

Believe in God … believe also in me.

And when the long night is over, we will sing:
“Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, LORD, unto me.”

Amen and Amen.

[1] John 12.27.
[2] John 13.21.
[3] Jeremiahs 29.11-14.
[4] Psalm 137.
[5] Isaiah 40.28-31.
[6] Philippians 1.6.
[7] 2 Timothy 1:12.
[8] John 14.3.
[9] Colossians 1.15-19.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 15, 2011 - "When It's Done Right"

John 10:1-10

Donna and I used to take dancing lessons.
Arthur Murray dancing lessons.
“One of the toughest things I’ve ever done.”
We’d go for an hour of instruction, learn a new step, give it a try, enjoy it.
Then, the drive home.
15 minutes.
Into the house, we’d go.
Turn on the lights.
Doff our coats (we wear coats in Michigan).
And fly into one another’s arms.
To practice what we’d just learned.

And then, something didn’t feel right.
“Donna, you’re supposed to move the right foot over there.”
“No, Tom, it’ the other way around.
“Sweetie Pie, I’m tellin’ ya, this is how we do it.”
“Okay, lover boy, but you’re wrong!”

In that 15-minute ride home, we’d forgotten something.
And no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t get it together.
We’d improvise, and that didn’t work either.
We’d get mad at each other, and they didn’t work either.
We’d take a break, try to remember, give it another try, and that didn’t work either.
Finally, we’d just give up.
We’ll have to wait until the next lesson.

So, we’d go back a few days later.
We’d go over the new step with the instructor.
And lights would come on.
“Ah, that’s it.”
“That one little step … this way, not that way …” and we had it … and with a little luck, we’d remember it when we got home … and usually we did.

We learned an important lesson, and it’s not just dancing.
A life lesson.
When it’s done right, it always feels right, and you don’t have to try that hard.

Christianity is like dancing.
There are steps to be followed.
We have an instructor.
“Put your feet here,” says Jesus – “Come, and follow me!”
We follow in the footsteps of the Master.

And we’re dancing with a lot of good folk.
Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Paul and James and Lydia and Mary Magdalene and Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
And the whole church of Jesus Christ: Augustine and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, William Sloan Coffin and Bishop Tutu, St. Teresa and Mother Teresa.
A cloud of witness.
Throughout the ages.
“You can do it!”
“You can dance well.”
“If you misstep, start all over again.”
“If you’ve forgotten something, go back for more lessons.”
 “Follow the Master.”

When it’s done right, it feels right.

And when it feels right, we don’t have to try that hard.
Because dancing is natural.
The step fits the body, and the body fits the step.

Faith in Christ is natural.
Faith fits the soul, and the soul fits Christ

Christ pushes us, of course, like a good dance instructor.
Christ demands our lives.
All that we are, and all that we hope to be.
But Christ always feel right.
Christ always makes sense.
Christ is trustworthy.

In our passage this morning, however, Jesus also mentions “thieves and hired hands.”
All is not right in the sheep business.
Unscrupulous shepherds and careless hired hands.

Just because it calls itself “Christian” doesn’t make it so!
It may have a slick package.
It might have an auditorium that can seat 5000.
The preacher totes a big Bible … waves the flag … mixes in a cup of Jesus and adds a pinch of Thomas Jefferson … and, of course, a half-cup of Judgment Day on May 21 … 
People are vulnerable to this kind of stuff.
People are tempted by the Wall-Mart mentality – if it’s big, it has to be right … thousands of people in big-box churches, singing and swaying … Jesus this and Jesus that … whoop-de-do and doodly-do.
The bowl is beautiful, but the soup is thin!

I have a concern:
Too many churches led by too many poorly trained pastors.

Jesus trained his disciples rigorously for three years … and even then, it wasn’t enough; there is so much to learn.
And that’s one reason why I back our seminaries.
Our missionaries.
Our teachers.
We don’t get always get it right.
But we believe in sound training.
We believe in good seminaries and a thorough education.
The pastors I know work hard to be faithful and good and trustworthy.
I’m truly glad to be a mainline Protestant.
To be a Presbyterian … a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.
Our education and training is a safeguard against thieves and hired hands.

A rock-hound knows the difference between gold and Fool’s Gold.
We can know the difference between thieves and hired hands and the Good Shepherd.
But it’s not always so easy.

Have you ever been in a restaurant when the waitperson brings out the dessert tray – blueberry pie with one of those buttery crumbly tops, cheesecake with fresh strawberries, a dish of bread pudding drizzled with yummy rum sauce … and you say, “I’ll take that one right there,” only to have the waitperson say, “These are just plastic reproductions. They real stuff is back in the kitchen.”

Jesus said,
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.[1]

We shouldn’t be surprised!

Israel created idols all the time, but they always called them God … they didn’t come up with new names for their idols, but idols they were!
The Christian Church does the same thing.
Christian history is full of “Christian” idols – bad ideas and bad practices.
They’re always called them Jesus.
But idols they are.
Jesus they are not!

Paul writes to the Galatians:
I am astonished that you are …  turning to a different gospel - not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.[2]

Paul warns the Corinthians about those who come and proclaim another Jesus.[3]
Did you hear that?
Another Jesus!
False apostles, says Paul, who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.
Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.[4]

The Book of Revelation puts it this way, There is a beast, with authority and power to perform signs and wonders, and it looks like a lamb, but it isn’t the Lamb. It’s a dragon, a dragon intent on devouring God’s people.[5]

John writes in his First Letter: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.[6]

Jesus says:
Beware that no one leads you astray.[7]

Dear Christians, we need to be smart … savvy … sharp and discerning.

Not all that glitters is gold.
The glittery stuff may be nothing more than Fool’s Gold.
Jesus reminds us that we have to be sharp.
There are thieves out there, and they look good.
There are hired hands out there, and sound so right.
There are dragons out there, and they look like a lamb.
Satan is out there, disguised like an angel of light.

Our best move is always a deep, deep, anchoring in God’s Word.

Hear the word of the LORD:

God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
      and what does the LORD require of you
      but to do justice, and to love kindness,
      and to walk humbly with your God?[8]

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care of orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.[9]

Abraham and Sarah teach us to see the big picture.
Moses teaches us to take big chances.
The Prophets teach us to be just and courageous.
James reminds us that an uncontrolled tongue is a terrible thing.
Paul reminds us that even if we speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels … but have not love, we’re only a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.[10]

Jesus gets to the heart of it: Love one another as I have loved you.[11]
Give your lives for one another.
Wash each other’s feet.

Feed my lambs … tend my sheep … feed my sheep.[12]

The Master wants to teach us how to dance, and dance well.
“Put your feet here!”
Come and follow me!

When it’s done right, it feels right, and we’re glad for it.
When it’s done right, it looks good, and the world pays attention.

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.[13]

Dear Christians, dance beautifully - to the glory of God.

Amen and Amen!

[1] Matthew 7.15.
[2] Galatians 1.6-7.
[3] 2 Corinthians 11.4.
[4] 2 Corinthians 11:13-14.
[5] Revelation 13.1-18.
[6] 1 John 4.1.
[7] Matthew 24.5.
[8] Micah 6.8.
[9] James 1.27.
[10] 1 Corinthians 13.1
[11] John 15.12.
[12] John 21.15-17.
[13] Matthew 5.16.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8, 2011 - "Traffic Merging"

Luke 24:13-35

To each of you, the grace of our LORD Jesus Christ.

And a happy Mother’s Day.

Speaking of mothers, my mother taught me a lot:

She taught me LOGIC: "If everyone else jumped off a cliff would you do it, too?"
She taught me MEDICINE: "If you don't stop crossing your eyes, they're going to freeze that way."

My Mother taught me TO THINK AHEAD: "If you don't pass your spelling test, you'll never get a good job!"
And she taught me HUMOR: "When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don't come running to me."

My Mother taught me how to BECOME AN ADULT: "If you don't eat your vegetables, you'll never grow up."
She taught me about GENETICS: "You are just like your father!"
My mother taught me about my ROOTS: "Do you think you were born in a barn?"

My mother taught me about the WISDOM OF AGE: "When you get to be my age, you will understand.”
My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION: "Just wait until your father gets home."

My mother taught me about RECEIVING: "You are going to get it when I get you home."
She taught me RELIGION: "You better pray that stain will come out of the carpet."

My mother taught me FORESIGHT: "Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you're in an accident."
My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM: "Will you look at the dirt on the back of your neck!"
My mother taught me about STAMINA: "You'll sit there until all that spinach is finished."

My mother taught me about WEATHER: "It looks as if a tornado swept through your room."
My mother taught me THE CIRCLE OF LIFE: "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out."
She taught me BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION: "Stop acting like your father!"

My mother taught me about ENVY: "There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don't have wonderful parents like you do!"
And the all-time favorite thing my mother taught me, JUSTICE: "One day you will have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you. Then you'll see what it's like! I can't wait!"

It’s not easy being a parent … and I guess it’s not so easy being a child either.

Life isn’t easy.
There is no easy street in any town anywhere.
There’s just life.
And love.
And hope.
And courage.
And faith.

And things that come our way, unexpectedly.
Sad things.
Bad things.
Hurtful and harmful things.

It’s all a big jumble, isn’t it?
The sun sets and the night is long.
The sun rises and we breathe a sigh of relief.

The worst didn’t happen.
Or maybe it did.
Things took a turn south.
Or things are looking up.

Life is journey.
Through thick and thin.
Sick and sin.

Dark and difficult valleys.
And glorious mountains to climb.

Like Julie Andrews sang in “Sound of Music” –
Climb ev'ry mountain
Search high and low
Follow ev'ry by-way
Every path you know
Climb ev'ry mountain
Ford ev'ry stream
Follow ev'ry rainbow
'Till you find your dream

On the road to Emmaus that day, there wasn’t much left.
Cleopas and his companion were on their way home.
They were done with it.
Hopes and dreams died on a hill called Golgatha.
Hopes and dreams lay buried now, in a hillside tomb.

As they head home, a Stranger joins them on the road.
What are you talking about? The Stranger asks.
They stop dead in their tracks.
Are you the only one in these parts who doesn’t have clue what’s going on?
Jesus of Nazareth is dead.
They killed him.
Religious people killed him.
With all of their prayers and ritual and fine garb and lovely sermons and hymns and sacrifices and beautiful buildings.
They joined hands with the government.
Police arrested him.
Pilate tried him – what a joke that was.
And they killed him.

Oh sure, there was a report earlier today that the body was gone … some women claim to have had a vision … an angel told them Jesus was alive.

Some of our friends checked it out … sure, the tomb was empty, but no Jesus.
No Jesus anywhere.

That’s why we’re going home.
We gave it our best.
We thought we had something.
But it’s over now.
We’re gonna pick up the pieces as best we can.
There’s lots to do, and we’ll just get busy.
We’re heading home!

The Stranger walks with them along the way.
How many times has Jesus been on the road with us, and we didn’t know it?
How many times has the Son of God joined up with us, and we didn’t recognize him.

I like that.
Jesus doesn’t barge in on them.
And Jesus doesn’t barge in on us, either.

The other day, at one of our busy intersections, “Christian” folks on all four corners - placards of one sort of the other, promising hell to everyone who doesn’t receive Jesus as LORD and Savior.
Shouting and preaching as cars drive by.
I thought to myself, “This is no way to lift up the precious name of Jesus.”

You’ve seen the billboards – “Judgment Day Is Coming” – May 21 … you bet … get ready for heaven, all you God-fearing people – whoopee … and get ready for hell all you bad people.

And I think to myself, “This is no way to lift up the precious name of Jesus.”

Folks quote the Bible like a gunfighter draws his 45s.
“Bang, bang, you’re dead. I shot ya’ with a few Bible verses.”
Too many TV preachers full of themselves instead of the Holy Spirit.
More interested in our money than our soul.
Christianity with a chip on its shoulder … and a snarl on its face.

If Christians in America hope to be relevant and meaningful, we need to learn a new lesson about humility.
What it means to be the salt of the earth – just a pinch is all that’s needed.
Too much salt, and the food is ruined.
Christianity serves the LORD best of all when it’s thoughtful in its ways, and measured out properly.

Jesus shows up gently with Cleopas and his companion.
They don’t even recognize him.
Because he keeps their closed.
The time isn’t right.
Not now.
We need some time.
They need to talk.
Jesus listens.
And when he begins to teach, he teaches them patiently.

Even as he chides them.
Chides them with love.
There’s kindness in his voice.
There’s mercy.
There’s hope.
That’s why their hearts are burning.
Not with fear and guilt and anxiety.
But with love.
Their hearts are burning with love … they don’t know it yet … it’s takes time … and when the time is right, Jesus will open their eyes!

I wish overly aggressive Christians could learn that – they try to pry open closed eyes – they use guilt and fear and threaten folks with hellfire and brimstone – like trying to open a can of peas with a jackknife … but you know, only Jesus can open eyes.
And it’s always done at the right time.
In the right way.
God’s way!
Gentle and kind!
For God knows we’re dust.[1]

Jesus talks with them.
Walks with them.
And always teaches them.

Don’t you know your Bible?
Of course we know our Bible.
We’re born and reared in it.
We’re on the Synagogue cradle roll.
We’ve been members of the Emmaus Synagogue for 30 years.
We’re old hands at this business.
You bet we know our Bible.

But it’s easy for religious folk to miss the point.
The Synagogue doesn’t always get it right.
And churches don’t always get it right, either.

Jesus teaches them:
Don’t you know this is how God is working things out?
Not through conquest, but consolation.
Not with armies, but with wisdom.
With justice, which is always kindness.
With righteousness, which is always mercy.[2]

Moses talked about it.
The prophets talked about it.
It’s all there.
Read it for yourselves.

How foolish you are to think you know so much.
How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have said …

As they come to their home in Emmaus, Jesus bids them farewell.
But it’s evening.
Middle Eastern hospitality won’t let a stranger hit the road at night.
Cleopas and his companion invite the Stranger in for dinner.

At table, something usual happens.
Jesus preempts the host.
Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks the bread and begins to give it to them.
In that moment, the table is no longer their own.
It’s the LORD's Table.
The home is no longer their home.
It’s the House of God.

Their eyes are opened, like the blind man beside the road … and they recognize him … and then he’s gone from their sight.
Just like that.
A moment of recognition.

Ever have that?
When it seems you understand everything?
For a startling few moments, you have it.
It’s yours.
And then, it’s gone.
Just like that.
But you had it for a moment.
It gives you courage.
To keep on keepin’ on.
To stay the course.
To not give up.
To remain faithful.
To roll up your sleeves and get back to work.

Cleopas and his companion turn to each other in surprise:
Were not our hearts burning within us as he talked with us and opened the Scriptures to us?

Back to Jerusalem they go.
I can imagine their furious pace.
No time to settle down and kick back.
No time for bed.
Nighttime or not, it’s time to go back to Jerusalem.
We have seen him!

Hope, dear friends, is never lost.
Faith remains.
Love wins.

Christ is Risen … he is Risen, indeed!

Amen and Amen!

[1] Psalm 103.14
[2] Pslam 116.5.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Lots of Reading

John 20:19-31

Harold and Jane were not a very religious couple but tried their best; they only went to church once a year.
As they were leaving church after their annual visit, the minister said, “Harold, it sure would be nice to see you and Jane here more than once a year”
“I know,” replied Harold, “But we’re busy people, leading active lives. But at least we keep the Ten Commandments.”
“That's great,” the minister said. “I'm glad to hear that you keep the Commandments.”
“Yes, we sure do” Harold said proudly, “Jane keeps six of ‘em and I keep the other four.”

Oh well, so it goes.
God’s peace to Harold and Jane, and God’s peace to all of you!

Let there be light, said God … and it was so.
God created the heavens and the earth with words …
Words of permission …
Invitation …
Encouragement …

Let it be … and it is.
Earth and sky … plants and trees … swarms of living creatures – things that swim and fly and creep and crawl and make strange noises in the night …
Let it be, let it be, all to the Glory of God, let it be.

All of us know the power of words.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” or so the saying goes.
But I don’t believe it.
And neither do you.
Words can hurt.
Really hurt.
We all carry around inside of us deep hurt … hurt inflicted by harsh words … words can really hurt us!

A child hears again and again, “You’re stupid, you’re dumb, you’re no good, you’ll never amount to anything.”
Harsh words stick to the soul of a child like gum to the bottom of our shoe.
That little soul begins to believe what it hears:
“Maybe I am stupid. Maybe I’m dumb. Maybe I am no good, and I guess I’ll never amount to anything.”

But if words can hurt, words can heal.
Words can inspire faith, hope and love.
Paul the Apostle says, faith comes by hearing.[1]

The power of words.
To lift us up.
To light a candle and brighten the room.
To put a pair of wings on a child’s back, so she can fly as high as she wants.
How important it is to speak good words!
Good words … good news.
How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[2]

In my senior year of high school – Grand Rapids Christian High, Grand Rapids, Michigan - a few weeks before graduation, my Bible teacher, the Rev. Morris Faber, invited the seniors to step to the front of the classroom to talk about what they were going to do next.
When it was my turn, I stepped to the front of the classroom … wearing a “cool” white shirt, a pack of Camels stuffed in my pocket and an academic record well below par …
I had friends, a good sense of humor and a blue convertible, and I was a drummer in a band that played lots of parties.
So, there I stood, in front of the class.
“I’m going to Calvin College and I’m enrolling in the pre-seminary course; I’m gonna be a minister.”

There was a moment of silence.
And then, an explosion of laughter.
Eggebeen! … a minister?
Are you kidding?

The class laughed and laughed, and I laughed right along with them.
Who would’ve thunk it?
But there I was, weeks away from high school graduation, three months away from college, and I was going to be a minister of the gospel?
My classmates couldn’t believe it.

The laughter died down.
I returned to my seat.
The Rev. Morris Faber said to me, and I’ll never forget it …
“Tom, I believe you can do it!”

That was the spring of 1962.
Some 20 years later, I was in Michigan again, on study leave.
Grabbing a hamburger and fries at a local eatery, lo and behold, Rev. Faber comes in with his wife, and they’re seated, just a few tables from me.
I get up and introduce myself.
Rev. Faber looks at me with distant eyes, and a slight smile … 
His dear wife says to me, “Morris has Alzheimer’s.”
I quickly tell my story.
And say to Rev. Faber, “Thank you for your words; they’ve been an anchor in my life.”
He looks at me with empty eyes.
Does he know me?
Does he remember anything?
Am I making a connection?

His wife says, “Thank you Tom. He loved to teach. His students meant everything to him.”

I returned to my table to finish lunch.
They ordered and ate in silence, his good wife helping him to eat.
I left the restaurant before they did.
I nodded at them and was on my way.

I never saw Rev. Faber again … but his words live in my heart.

The power of words.
To lift up.
Encourage … and bless.

When John writes his gospel, John chooses the image of words to convey the glory and the wonder of Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.[3]

Jesus uses words.
To teach.
And challenge.

The very first words Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel are a question … a simple question to a couple of fellows: What are you looking for?[4]

And then the famous words in every gospel, Follow me.[5]

At the wedding at Cana, Jesus tells the servants to fill six stone jars with water … big jars … lots of water … and the water becomes wine … and what a party it was!

Jesus goes to Jerusalem … enters the temple … doesn’t like what he sees.
He makes a whip of cords, drives out the buyers, the sellers, the money-changers, Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market place.”

Nicodemus pays a late-night visit to Jesus.
He’s a man with good credentials.
A leader for the people.
Jesus says to him, No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.[6]
Start over Nicodemus.
Go back to the basics.

To the woman at the well.
A woman with a tangled life.
Jesus breaks convention.
Asks for a drink of water.
Simple words to open up the world for the woman at the well.

With words, Jesus heals.
With words, he brings the light of God to the dark corners of life.
He prays and gives thanks for bread and fish, and feeds five thousand and then some … with lots of leftovers … because there’s always leftovers in the kingdom of God.

With word images, Jesus describes his mission and his purpose:
I am the gate for the sheep … [7]
I am the good shepherd … [8]

I am the true vine … I am the vine and you are the branches.[9]

With powerful words, Jesus speaks of love divine …
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you …
Abide in my love …
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.[10]
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.[11]

Lest anyone should doubt his words …
Jesus lays down his life …
He’s not kidding.
He says what he means, and he means what he says.

Jesus stands before Pilate and is condemned.
With a cross on his shoulders, the soldiers take Jesus to Golgatha.
Jesus dies with two other men condemned by Rome – all three of them judged to be a threat to the empire … 

Through death to life.
Through sorrow to hope.
Through tears to shouts of joy.

Jesus is raised up in the early-morning hours of the first day.
The first day of a new creation …
The light of the world walks out of the realm of death  … the promise of a new heaven and a new earth … all shall be made new, and every tear wiped away.

John ends his gospel on delightful note.
Jesus did so many things,
I can’t even begin to write them all down.
But what I’ve written, I’ve written for you.
That in reading my letter, you might come to believe.
That Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
And through believing, to have life.

There’s life in this gospel … says John.
And it’s not just about heaven in some far-away place or time.
It’s not just about going to heaven when we die.
It’s here.
It’s now.

The way we live, the way we love …
The kind of world we long for.
The words we use, and how we say them.
The compassion we show.
The mercy we extend.
The depth of our fellowship.
The height of our praise.
Thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven.

There’s life in this gospel …
And it’s been written for us.
Written by John.
And Matthew and Mark and Luke, as well.
Paul’s letters.
The letters of Peter and James and John and Jude.
Acts and Hebrews and Revelation.
And pushing back into Israel’s story:
Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel.
Moses and Miriam.
Saul, David and Solomon.
Jeremiah, Isaiah and Hosea.
Hannah, Deborah and Ruth.
It’s all here, and then some.
Written that we might know Jesus.
And in his name, have life.

To God be the glory.
Now and forever more.

Christ is Risen.
He is Risen, indeed.           

Amen and Amen!

[1] Romans 10:17.
[2] Romans 10:15.
[3] John 1:1.
[4] John 1:38.
[5] John 1:43.
[6] John 3:3.
[7] John 10:7.
[8] John 10:11.
[9] John 15:5.
[10] John 15:9, 12.
[11] John 15:13.