Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Why Stand Here, Staring?" - June 1, 2014

Acts 1:1-14


[This sermon is written for the church where I grew up, C.C. Hancock Memorial United Methodist Church.  It has many references to people known to the hearers, but probably few others.  It helps to know, in reading it, who they are.

Charlie Weigel – pastor in the 1980’s.
Paul and Jane Harris – pastor and pastor’s wife in the 1970’s.  Paul went from hard-of-hearing to deaf in his years at Hancock.
Janet Hess – the current pastor.  This sermon was preached as part of a pulpit exchange so that she could share with the First UMC of Phoenixville the story of her ministry with the Discovery Service Project.
Ron Stott, Jim McIntire, and Dick Howarth – pastors of Hancock in the 1990’s and 2000’s.
Walt and Gina Reeves – longtime members.  Walt became a licensed local preacher and served as assistant pastor for several years until, in April of 2014, unexpectedly being appointed to a church in Delaware.
Bob Edgar – a man who grew up at Hancock in the 1960’s.  Ordained a United Methodist pastor, he was appointed “Minister to Society” upon his election to the U.S. House of Representatives.  He later served as President of Claremont School of Theology and as Secretary of the National Council of Churches.]


            Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this, because I know a few of you have.  It was a long time ago, but this is where I heard it.

            Ascension Day had come one year, the day that celebrates how Jesus was taken up to heaven following his resurrection.   Some Christian traditions pay a lot more attention to it than we do.  For the Roman Catholics and some Episcopalians it is a major feast day, and I’ve since learned that it’s a big deal among the Amish, of all people.  Anyway, someone at a seminary had the idea that it should be observed with a solemn procession following their chapel service – you know, the kind of procession led by a cross and some banners, with everyone following behind in a long line and singing.  It can be very impressive.  Before it started, one of the seminarians slipped out and went ahead to a spot they would pass, because he had an idea of how to communicate the message of the day, that Jesus had ascended beyond time and space.  So as the procession moved along, suddenly they saw a plastic baby-in-the-manger figure, the sort that is on a front lawn at Christmas, shoot up and over the line, powered by skyrockets and Roman candles.

            I wish I could tell that story like Charlie Weigel did.  Man!  He could tell a story, couldn’t he?

            Of course, the plastic baby had to land somewhere, and that makes me think of the part of today’s scripture where the angel promises the disciples,

“ This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:11]
That, in turn, puts me in mind of the sermon series that Paul Harris did here one time, on the book of Revelation.  I honestly don’t recall much of the exact content, but he talked about how to read it responsibly, not as a prediction of the future so much as a reflection of God’s power in the present.  Of course, Paul died last year.  Jane died only a couple of months ago, too.  Remember how they worked as a team?  She was his ears for a long time.  

             Oh, well!

            Then again, just the word “heaven” in this passage puts me in mind of another time I preached here.  I don’t remember the occasion, but Jim McIntire, after we prayed together but before we left the office and went into the cloister before the service, said, “Go out there and give ’em heaven!”  Jim just got married again last year and is doing well.

            I get news about Ron Stott from time to time, too, because his granddaughter is the person who cleans my office up in Phoenixville two or three times a week.  I also see Dick and Judy Howarth most Sundays.

            Yes, well!

            Oh, and I follow what’s going on with Walt and Gina on facebook, as a lot of people here probably also do.

            So.

            I’m very glad that Janet Hess is around.  I came to appreciate her gifts greatly and consider her in many ways a mentor.  She and I worked very closely together in Frankford in the early 1990’s on everything from confirmation classes to neighborhood renewal projects to pastoral care.  Those were great days!  Oh, yeah.  The church that I served, that housed the Group Ministry, collapsed three years ago.

            Anyhow.

            Do you get the point I’m trying to make?  When Jesus ascended to heaven, his disciples were on the edge of doing a very normal, very human thing.  They were about to lose track of the world around them while they were lost in all the emotions and memories that they had rolled up in the time that Jesus had been physically among them.  Even before he left them, they really were already on the brink of getting wrapped up in the idea that he had been all about bringing back the good old days, and he had to point out to them that they were supposed to be looking in the opposite direction, ahead.

“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” [Acts 1:6-8]
I’m not just speaking to C.C. Hancock here, but this message is one that the whole Church probably needs to hear.  I know I do.

            We’re in the middle of some sort of mixed-up age when things are only going to become more mixed up.  We’re so mixed up that we are probably worrying about all the wrong things.  We’ve become bogged down in questions about same-sex marriage and ignore the sad state of traditional marriage.  We’ve gotten stuck on fine points of biblical interpretation and don’t realize that most people never open the cover of a Bible in ten years.  We worry about the political climate when the physical climate of the globe is changing faster than it has in millions of years and will to do far more than we anticipate to disrupt the economy and even the security of life on this planet. 

            This is the time to be celebrating all that is good, not lamenting what we may miss.  This is the time to prepare for the days ahead, and to dream about what may yet be.  It’s a time to remember that in the midst of the way things are, we are the ones whom Jesus has appointed to bear witness to his loving grace.  If we do it well, maybe one day someone we don’t even know yet will look back on us and say, “Hey, do you remember how…?” 

            Jesus has ascended to heaven.  He looks over all time and oversees eternity with loving care and compassion.  He has sent his Spirit to be with us in our present and lead us into a future which is not ours, but his.

            Somebody once said,

“Ingrained in my faith is God’s call to provide a flicker of light in the midst of darkness.  This is not the only time in our history that dark clouds have brewed on the horizon.  Neither must it be the first time we surrender to despair rather than reaching deep within ourselves for the hope and possibility and promise with which God has equipped every human soul.  We are called to use our faith to give hope to others – and ourselves.”[1]
The man who said that was Bob Edgar.  Man!  Remember him?



[1] Robert Edgar, Middle Church (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006), 230.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Unintimidated" - May 25, 2014

I Peter 3:13-18


“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

Thus opens the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, a doctor who served in the Canadian army in northern France in World War I.  He had survived a battle that was fifteen days long without a break, day or night.  It was the first battle in which chemical weapons were used, in this case chlorine gas.  Dr. McCrae was involved with the burial of the dead when there was finally a lull, and he noticed how poppies were blooming all around and over the graves.  It turns out that the artillery bombardment had broken up the limestone bedrock of the area and mixed it into the soil, so that conditions favored poppies over other plants.  The same phenomenon had been noticed around there after the Napoleonic Wars.  Either way, the poppy became a reminder of the war dead, and remains so to this day.  It should also be a reminder to us not to be intimidated when we do right, because even if it means that even if you come under fire at times, God makes something beautiful come out of the troubles.

We don’t know a lot about the people that the First Letter of Peter was addressed to, but when you read it through, there are several references to believers facing difficulties as a consequence of their faith.  It doesn’t seem like they face full-blown persecution, but that their faith has led them to reject aspects of the society they lived in, and that they face social rejection in return.  It says,

“You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.  They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.”  [I Peter 4:3-4]

It’s a lot like when someone with a gambling addiction has to say to their friends that they won’t be going to the casino with them anymore or when someone who has realized she needs to steer away from alcohol turns down an invitation to go out with friends after work on a Friday night.  “Is something wrong?” may be the friends’ first reaction, but it can easily become “What’s wrong with you?” or even, “Hey, who do you think you are?” 

Depending on what is asked of you, it can be a major factor in everything.  Alan Paton was born in South Africa and grew up with all the privileges that attended a white man living under the apartheid system and became a teacher at an all-white boys’ school.  Then at the age of 32, he became director of a reformatory school and suddenly could see into the heart of the injustice of the system that had produced it.  He saw the raw violence that was needed to maintain it.  He could not square that with his faith, and resigned from his secure job to become a writer who shared his insights with the world.  In his novel Cry, the Beloved Country, his characters said things like:

“The truth is, our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions.” 

and that

“there is only one thing that has power completely, and this is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power.” 

He was effective enough that for ten years the South African government confiscated his passport so that he couldn’t accept speaking engagements in Europe or North America and watched him very, very closely at home. 

“Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.” [I Peter 3:16-17]

Mind you, just because you encounter opposition does not mean that you are doing the right thing, but if you are doing the right thing, sooner or later you will meet opposition.

            It’s amazing how even the simplest acts of discipleship can sometimes stir up trouble.  There’s a group that’s active in Delaware County called the Interfaith Hospitality Network.  They work with homeless families to help them get back on their feet.  Various churches and synagogues open their buildings on a rotating basis for the families to stay there as guests for a week, and the hosts provide meals and general hospitality.  That allows the families to save up enough money in a few weeks to put a deposit on an apartment and avoid some of the problems that come with shelters.  Three years ago, however, someone in Drexel Hill got upset about it.  They were afraid of people they didn’t even know, that figure of the shiftless poor who would bring down the neighborhood just by being there for a few days.  The church argued that Jesus tells us to open our doors to the needy, and that its actions were a religious act, and so they saw things differently.

“Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.”  [I Peter 3:14]

It was ugly.  They called in the County to close the program down, using the argument that the building didn’t meet all the code requirements for a residential usage.  Out of it all, however, came a moment of witness when people in that area came to see that the church was caring and that their faith was living and active.  The shell lobbed at them cultivated the soil for some flowers to bloom.

            Sooner or later, something similar on a large scale or small scale will happen to every follower of Jesus.  When it does, don’t let it get to you.  Don’t be intimidated by anyone or anything.

“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” [I Peter 3:15-16]

You just might find that flowers grow up right there on the field of battle.



Saturday, May 17, 2014

"Returned" - May 18, 2014

I Peter 2:19-25

            Much of our literature and most of our movies are about how two people meet and the obstacles that stand between them and the foregone conclusion: that they will eventually live happily ever after.  Other stories, about war, end with victory on the battlefield.  Some of them, about business, end with somebody making a fortune.  (These are, of course, the stories with happy endings.)  There isn’t much discussion or imagination that goes into describing the aftermath.  What does “happily ever after” look like?

            Sadly, we’ve done the same with our spiritual biographies.  There’s always something to be said about how

“I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see,”

but we don’t say so much about what it means to be found, or describe the sights that meet our eyes.  There are dozens and dozens of tales about how someone went wrong, and they are all deeply personal and give us a glimpse into (I suspect) the things that tempt us the most.  The Prodigal Son’s brother, the one who stayed at home and did what was right all the time, was angry not only at his brother when he came home, but with his father, and it strikes me that part of it was envy.

“Listen!  For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your commands; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”  [Luke 15:29-30]

When we hear people’s conversion stories in our own day, there’s often the same element of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll in the background, and that takes the spotlight at the expense of both the troubles that it all lands people in and (what I want to emphasize this morning) the aftermath when someone has come to themselves.  I Peter refers to us as people who have been through our own struggles, each one, but for whom that is in the past.

“For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” [I Peter 2:25]

Again, let’s look at that.  What does it mean to be home again?

            For one thing, it means that we have accepted that we have a shepherd and guardian.  To use a term that covers both of those roles, we have a savior.  To be “saved” isn’t just something that happens once and is over with.  A shepherd saves his sheep all the time.  He saves them from hunger by leading them to pasture every day.  He saves them from thirst by finding them drinkable water.  He saves them by keeping coyotes and predators away.  He saves them by shearing off the wool that, without being removed, would make them overheat in the summer.  One of the things that we can bear witness to is that Jesus’ goodness isn’t limited to what he did for us on the cross, although that is its ultimate and deepest expression. 

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” [I Peter 2:24] 

He continues to care for us and guide us by his Spirit even now so that we can, as it says, “live for righteousness”.

            If anybody wants to borrow this book from me, they are welcome.  It’s The Journal of John Woolman.  He was a Quaker who was born near Mt. Holly in 1720, so if you count South Jersey as part of our area, he was a local boy.  The first part of his story concerns his early life and coming to faith.  He wrote,

“About the twenty-third year of my age, I had many fresh and heavenly openings, in respect to the care and providence of the Almighty over his creation in general, and over man as the most noble amongst those which are visible.  And being clearly convinced in my judgment that to place my whole trust in God was best for me, I felt renewed engagements that in all things I might act on an inward principle of virtue, and pursue worldly business no further than as truth opened my way.”[1]

In this edition, that’s on page twelve.  The rest of the book tells about how God used him to bring about the abolition of slavery in New Jersey and Pennsylvania by speaking one-on-one with slaveholders and appealing to their own consciences and calling to people’s attention the terrible conditions that were being created by the Industrial Revolution that was just beginning, warning about how the environment itself could become polluted and the poor exploited in the mines and in the factories that were just being built.

            As he went, the awareness of being continually shepherded remained with him.  In 1772, shortly before his death, he summarized his life this way:

“I have sometimes felt a necessity to stand up, but that spirit which is of the world hath so much prevailed in many, and the pure life of truth hath been so pressed down, that I have gone forward, not as one travelling in a road cast up and well prepared, but as a man walking through a miry place in which are stones here and there safe to step on, but so situated that, one step being taken, time is necessary to see where to step next.  Now I find that in a state of pure obedience the mind learns contentment in appearing weak and foolish to that wisdom which is of the world; and in these lowly labors, they who stand in a low place and are rightly exercised under the cross will find nourishment.  The gift is pure; and while the eye is single in attending thereto the understanding is preserved clear; self is kept out.  We rejoice in filling up that which remains of the afflictions of Christ for his body’s sake, which is the church.”[2]

To be returned to the fold is not to be kept out of danger, but to be safe in its midst.  It is not to be spared trouble, but to know that it has a purpose, and that purpose will be fulfilled.  So his Journal finishes with a prayer for all God’s people that they may live in his light.  He prays that we all

“may be preserved in the meek, feeling life of truth, where we may have no desire but to follow Christ and to be with him, that when he is under suffering, we may suffer with him, and never desire to rise up in dominion, but as he, by the virtue of his own spirit, may raise us.”[3]

Amen.



[1] The Journal of John Woolman (Secaucus: The Citadel Press, 1961), 12.
[2] Ibid., 222.
[3] Ibid., 223.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"Squidward Syndrome" - May 11, 2014

I Peter 2:2-10


            In the ancient world, people attached a great deal of importance to their ethnicity.  We do that, too, probably far more than we realize.  I don’t just mean that some folks insist on wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day and some insist on calling spaghetti sauce “gravy”.  We are incredibly, almost unconsciously American in ways we hardly recognize.  It hit me once in a way that I remember clearly.  I was living in the Virgin Islands and flew to Puerto Rico every month for a regular meeting.  Since we were arriving from an American territory, we never had to go through customs, but were just waved through.  Then one day, as one of Puerto Rico’s periodic discussions about whether to seek independence or territorial status or to remain a commonwealth was going on, we were suddenly lined up to go through customs.  I got to the front of the line and found myself face-to-face with a customs agent who must have had his own opinions on the subject, because when he asked my nationality and I answered, “American,” he said, “North American?  Central American?  South American?” and (here is where I discovered something about myself) I answered, “American.  Like you.”  He checked my driver’s license for anything he could find for the past ten years before he let me through.

            Now, that’s bad.  In the ancient world it was worse.  People identified their ethnicity with  God’s view of them.  If you were born into a given nation or tribe, you were born with a relationship to the divine.  In the case of the pagans, that meant the tribal gods.  In the case of the Jews, that meant the One God who had established his covenant with Abraham and his family forever.

            What do you do, then, when you have come to have faith in this God, but you are on the outside?  How much of your own character comes from the customs you grew up with and how much is universally human?  How much of you is something God-given and how much is socially conditioned?  Take it to the extreme, and you ask how much of yourself is worthwhile.
           
The complicated question of a person values herself or himself is posed by one of the characters in “SpongeBob Squarepants” named Squidward.  For those who don’t follow the cartoon world so closely, he is a squid, SpongeBob’s next-door neighbor, and here’s how the Nickelodeon people describe him:

“Squidward is a whiny stick-in-the-mud; a self-centered snob who imagines himself to be sophisticated and talented, but he's rather average and untalented. He's jealous, especially of his classy and successful nemesis, Squilliam Fancyson. He's quick to anger and just about everything annoys him. The Krusty Krab annoys him. Mr. Krabs annoys him. But most of all, SpongeBob annoys him, almost 24 hours a day. Besides working side by side with SpongeBob at the Krusty Krab, Squidward is SpongeBob's next-door neighbor. If it weren't for the fact that SpongeBob is the only one who appreciates his clarinet playing, modern dance routines, and artistic abilities, Squidward would have nothing to do with him. SpongeBob finds Squidward's grumpiness part of his charm, knowing that deep down Squid's got a good heart and likes to have fun, Squidward just doesn't know it!”[1]

Maybe you know someone like him.  They don’t all live at the bottom of the sea.  On the one hand, Squidward wants everyone to know how great he is, but on the other hand it’s because deep down inside he doesn’t believe that himself.

            The writer of I Peter has two things to say about who we are.  The first is that it isn’t our birthplace that gives us our worth, or what family we come from, or our social standing.  What gives us our worth is the calling of God. 

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,” [I Peter 2:9a]

as we read, and again,

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” [I Peter 2:10]

But it also says that we are offered that gift for a reason:

“in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” [I Peter 2:9b]

            It’s not ourselves that we are supposed to put forward, whether by playing the clarinet and doing modern dance, or by holding ourselves up as models of virtue, or by speaking in subtle or not-so-subtle ways about our own greatness.  There was an article in The New York Times this week that talked about how it has become fashionable on social media to use the word “blessed” to try to sound humble while, in fact, bragging.  Jessica Bennett (a fashion columnist, of all people!) observed,

“God has, in fact, recently blessed my network with dazzling job promotions, coveted speaking gigs, the most wonderful fianc├ęs ever, front row seats at Fashion Week, and nominations for many a ‘30 under 30’ list. And, blessings aren’t limited to the little people, either. S(he) blessed Macklemore with a wardrobe designer (thanks for the heads up, Instagram!) and Jamie Lynn Spears with an engagement ring (‘#blessed #blessed #blessed!’ she wrote on Twitter). S(he)’s been known to bless Kanye West and Kim Kardashian with exotic getaways and expensive bottles of Champagne, overlooking sunsets of biblical proportion (naturally).
… calling something ‘blessed’ has become the go-to term for those who want to boast about an accomplishment while pretending to be humble, fish for a compliment, acknowledge a success (without sounding too conceited), or purposely elicit envy. Blessed, ‘divine or supremely favored,’ is now used to explain that coveted Ted talk invite as well as to celebrate your grandmother’s 91st birthday.”[2]
We’re supposed to bear witness, simply and honestly, to what God has done for us, not in the extent of our possessions or in pride of place or achievement, but in calling us out of darkness into light.  That means being able to say about ourselves that

“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]

            It’s kind of a strange thought, but true, that we don’t exist for ourselves, but to be in communion with God.  Human beings are here, you and I are here, just to be loved by God.  The rest of it is extra.  The language of the Westminster Catechism is old-fashioned and tries to teach the faith in a way that doesn’t work too well anymore: it gives questions and feeds students the one right answer word-for-word to memorize.  It begins with a profound recognition, though:

“What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

If only the Squidwards of the world, which is each of us, could let that sink in, we would do a far better job of being who God wants us to be, and really and truly being blessed.

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” [I Peter 2:2-3]







[1] http://spongebob.nick.com/characters/squidward-character.html

[2] Jessica Bennett, “They Feel ‘Blessed’” The New York Times, May 2, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/fashion/blessed-becomes-popular-word-hashtag-social-media.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes&_r=1

Saturday, May 3, 2014

"Born Anew" - May 4, 2014

I Peter 1:17-23


“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” [I Peter 1:23]
To be born anew… what is that about?  That was the question that a man named Nicodemus asked Jesus one time.  Jesus had told him,

 “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” [John 3:3-4]

It’s a good point.  The Greek phrase that the Bible uses here can be translated as “born from above” or “born again” or “born anew”.  The meanings are pretty much indivisible. Nicodemus, however, tried to split it up.  He went with the most physical, least imaginative way he could have taken it, maybe because it brushes off the idea that an older person can undergo the kind of life change that comes along with spiritual renewal.  Nicodemus was old, by his own estimation, and there’s this idea that we all have on some level that after a certain point you become so set in your ways that you turn into a fossil.  It’s not just a modern attitude.  The word “curmudgeon” goes back at least to the year 1568, so the idea of the cranky old man who’s convinced everything is going steadily downhill goes back far beyond that.

            Nobody expects people of a certain age to change much.  “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” right?  Of course, that overlooks the fact that seniors or elders actually deal with a lot of difficult change on a regular basis.  They see people who have been part of their lives for decades move away or become incapacitated or die.  Maybe they themselves are the ones who suddenly have to leave a house where they’ve been comfortable for a long time on their own and find themselves sharing a smaller setting with family or in a care facility where they no longer determine for themselves when supper will be or if they can keep a pet.  Not all the changes are negative, mind you.  It can be a big relief for some people not to have to deal with the snow shoveling or the broken water heater, and a great joy to be around children who keep things lively.  But it is change, and change can take work.

            Nicodemus shows up two more times in John’s gospel after his first meeting with Jesus.  That first time he went to see Jesus at night, fearful of being seen consulting with him.  The second time, the Pharisees were trying to silence or arrest a man whose sight Jesus had restored, and Nicodemus spoke up in his defense [John 7:50-52] and the Pharisees gave him a hard time about it.  The last time we see him is on Good Friday.  When most of the disciples have fled, he goes against the other religious leaders and in a dangerous step joins Joseph of Arimathea in taking Jesus’ body from the cross to give him a decent burial [John 19:49]. 

            Tell me he did not discover what it meant to be born anew.  And if he could be born anew, a man who (as a leader in his society) had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, who cannot? 

What brings the change, what encourages even someone who would most likely long for and relish stability and constancy above all else to meet bravely and even embrace the risks of living fully is “the living and enduring word of God.” [I Peter 1:23]  That makes the difference between the curmudgeon and the sage.  Faith makes it possible to be born anew, to set behind all that is past, both the bad parts for which we are offered forgiveness, and the good that sometimes also needs to be let go.  In the words of Alfred Tennyson,

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfills himself in many ways
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”[1]   

            One of my personal heroes is my cousin Peg.  Seven years ago I went to see her in Lititz to congratulate her on her hundredth birthday.  She was very excited, not so much about turning 100, but she told me that she was moving to Kansas, where her son and his family live.  She would be leaving the next morning.  Mind you, except for a few years in Philadelphia, she had lived her whole life in Lancaster County.  We talked about a lot of things but the time came to say, “Goodbye,” and she did that in a way I will never forget.  She said, “Well, I don’t think we’ll see one another again in this world, but I know we’ll have a chance to get caught up again on everything in heaven.”  Wow!  The ability to speak like that, and do it from the heart, comes from faith in Jesus and his victory over death.

Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” [I Peter 1:21-23]

            But let’s not put any age limitations on that kind of faith.  The new birth is available to anyone at any time.  It is a gift from God that comes through faith and comes to anyone who asks, and it changes how they see the world and how they live within it.  As John Wesley put it,

“the love of the world is changed into the love of God; pride into humility; passion into meekness; hatred, envy, malice, into a sincere, tender, disinterested love for all [hu]mankind.  In a word, it is that change whereby the earthly, sensual, devilish mind is turned into the ‘mind which was in Christ Jesus.’ This is the nature of the new birth.”[2]

That is what I invite you to receive from God today.



[1] from “The Passing of Arthur” in Idylls of the King.
[2] John Wesley, “The New Birth”, Sermons (45,  II, 5.) at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/45/ .