given on Sunday, September 5, after the community’s fair
Each vignette was designed to follow the hymn mentioned within the text. The fourth was the closing with the service ending with “Pass It On.”
Does it feel like we should have a campfire going this morning? The air is crisp, the fields are turning, the smells are wafting around us, and the Labor Day weekend is in full swing. Kids are in school and harvesting is about to begin. Yes, fall is here and the bonfire should be blazing and we need a hot dog stick in our hands.
Life is good. We have family and friends around to laugh and play. We are sharing memories with old school mates. We can blank out all the negative stuff in our lives for just a few more hours, and then it is time to return to the regular workweek.
Begin home for the extended weekend is great. But sometimes all the fun and the hoopla hides what is behind the smiles. Our hymn, Kum Ba Ya, reminds us that in God’s community there is much that we do not see, yet God does see. Our community right here in the county is just a piece of God’s community. And today let’s keep all of God’s community in prayer.
Let’s remember that when we pray, we are asking for God to come by here, right here in this very room, right here in the pew beside you, right here in your hearts.
Maybe you are not crying, but I am sure you know someone who is. Maybe someone is laughing but you know they have been crying. Maybe you are crying and doing everything you can to keep the tears hidden. But God knows. God sees each of our heartaches and pains. God knows that his children need him, and it is our purpose to serve as God’s shoulder. We are the ones who can come by those who are crying and help dry up their tears.
I realize that today’s society makes us want to turn inward. There is so much out there to fear: violence, drugs, addictions, abuse, financial distress, jobs, loss of jobs, careless drivers, natural disasters. In all of this, we may find it so easy to run home, close the doors, pull the drapes/shades, and block out the world around us. But remember—the world around us is God’s community. The people in need are God’s children. The purpose God has for us is to identify the needs and then work to find a solution. Not an easy task, I know, but not one we can ignore.
Today, let’s open our minds and our hearts to all of God’s community. It is easy for us to begin right here in our community. Let’s sing out our praises. Let’s talk to God. Let’s join in communion with our small community here in order to refocus on God’s community beyond Highway 2 and Highway 13; beyond Highway 7 and Highway 50.
Where we begin is where Jesus ended. The story of Jesus’ birth, life and death has been handed down generation after generation. The books we have today provide the history of this man, yet as Jesus walked from community to community during those three short years of his ministry, he took God’s words and put them into action.
The challenges of his community right along the Mediterranean Sea, along the Jordan River, were very similar to the challenges we have in our own community. The godless were doing what they pleased and finding enjoyment in alcohol, in inappropriate behaviors, in bullying others along the roadside. What is so different today? The only real difference I see is that our technology today allows us to communicate instantly with anyone anywhere on this earth. Our community boundaries are not limited where our feet take us, but where our cell phones, our televisions, or our computers take us.
Our community is no longer just a few miles any distance from our homes. Our community is no longer just a state in which we live. Our community is no longer a country isolated from the world. Our community is now the same as God’s community. It is infinite. It is timeless. It is our responsibility.
Today we hear the stories of the past. While we are visiting with each other over the weekend, we tell what we remember from the past. We talk about family and friends who are already gone from our earthly contact. We talk about life like it used to be. In all of this, we hear some of the fun, some of the pleasant memories, but over it all is a sort of melancholy. The tune we hear is sometimes a funeral dirge as we mourn our losses.
The hymn, The Old Rugged Cross, is one of those from our past. Yet the words are just as important today as they were when George Bennard wrote them in 1913. The King James words Bennard probably knew are built on the verses I Corinthians 1:22-25:
22For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
But hear the same words in today’s language of The Message:
22-25While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”
The hymn’s words refresh the story of Jesus’ ultimate purpose: to take our sins away with him. Remember, he took the sin of all men and women in God’s world. The community boundaries are removed. The chains are broken as we are freed from sin simply by accepting God’s amazing grace and following his one commandment.
The lectionary readings this week included verses from Psalms 139. I am not familiar with this psalm, so I read the entire psalms a couple of times in a couple of translations. What I heard is who are God’s people. Sometimes we begin to think that God’s people are few in number considering all the evil that lurks around our communities; but look at the verses from the lectionary’s choice of verses 1-6:
1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!
King David wrote these words maybe as far back as 1010 BC. At that time God’s community was believed to be the 12 tribes of Israel, and the Bible as we know it today began as a series of stories told over and over by the people. The written text came hundreds of years later. As the stories, the psalms, and the historical records were preserved, the message of God’s love spread. God’s people began to see the world grow.
When Jesus arrived, things were bad. Things were terrible in God’s community, but God loves his children. God felt that he had to join his community in person and took the time-consuming effort to be born as Christ, to grow up as a child of the world, and to learn the faith of the community while knowing his purpose to establish a new covenant, a covenant of love.
The Golden Rule, to love one another, took three years to plant well enough among God’s children. Then he left, in a painful, human way; but he left us with the Holy Spirit to fill us and to help us continue living in a community filled with challenges. We need help, and we have help.
The hymn, Do, Lord, Remember Me, is an Afro-American Spiritual based on Luke 23:42, probably from the King James Version:
42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. [ Interestingly, the words in The Message sound more like the hymn: 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” ]
The Gospel’s words written about 60 years after the crucifixion helped the slaves during the early years of our American history. The words can still provide us and our peers hope and encouragement. Remember that King David told his community that God knows each and every thought and action we have/do. Luke told his friend of the God’s love. Why, then, do we question God’s love? Why do we not turn ourselves over to God and simply believe? Why do we let the troubles we see tear us down?
God’s love is there always, everywhere, and any time. All we have to do is call on him. All we have to do is share our woes with him. All we have to do is trust in him. The reward will be to join in God’s heavenly community as we leave the struggles of the earthly community. The Lord does remember you.
About a week ago, I was reading one of the small devotionals in Max Lucado’s Grace for the Moment. The piece was from his work Cure for the Common Life and connected to the verse Ephesians 6:7: Work as if you were serving the Lord, not as if you were serving only men and women.
Today we will be leaving through our open doors and returning to a work week on Tuesday. Are you excited about it or are you feeling a bit out of sorts. We are to remember that God loves each and every one of us and even those not yet included in the Christian community as we know it. Try taking God to work with you and see if you can transform the world one task at a time.
Lucado asked this:
What if everyone worked with God in mind? Suppose no one worked to satisfy self or please the bottom line but everyone worked to please God.
Many occupations would instantly cease: drug trafficking, thievery, prostitution, nightclub and casino management. Certain careers, by their nature, cannot please God. These would case.
Certain behaviors would cease as well. If I’m repairing a car for God, I’m not going to overcharge his children. If I’m painting a wall for God, you think I’m going to use paint thinner?
Imagine if everyone worked for the audience of One. Every nurse, thoughtful. Every officer, careful. Every professor, insightful. Every salesperson, delightful. Every teacher, hopeful. Every lawyer, skillful.
Impossible? Not entirely. All we need is someone to start a worldwide revolution. Might as well be us. (August 28 reading, p. 261)
How in the world do we do it? Well, I think we can. It starts right here in this community with each and every one of us. All we have to do is love one another. We have accepted God’s grace, and if we serve as his hands and his arms, then we can start a revolution. As members of the Christian community, we can pass God’s love on. We can go to work and make sure we are working for God as God would have us work. We are working to pass God’s grace on to others in our communities who have yet to know God’s love.
Picture it! It really will only take a spark to get the fire going. And once our community sees love in action, it will be a truly wondrous sight. This is our wish for each and every one of our families and friends, but since God’s community knows no boundaries, lets pass his love on to all within this global community in any way that we can.
Dear Loving God,
Some days are just wonderful. Some days seem so dreadful. As we finish up a weekend filled with family and friends, guide us out into the daily work community. Help us to share your love so that others, too, may find your grace. Help us to light the spark that starts a fire fueled by your love. –Amen