Monday, June 30, 2014

The Great Conflict - Romans 7:15-8:1

Romans 7:15-8:1
 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a  prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God-- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

            A few years ago I was in Washington DC and had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum

One of the most interesting things about being at this museum was the opportunity to sit down and talk one on one with a survivor of the Holocaust.  Not as part of a room full of scores of people, but just one on one. 

I had the opportunity to speak with a woman named Regina Gutman.  She was born in Poland in 1926 to a very devout Jewish family.  She was 13 when the Germans invaded.  Her family lost everything and were forced to wear Star of David armbands.  She could no longer go to school.  When she was 15 years old, her family was forced into a ghetto, where the entire family was forced to live in a small, single room. Food was hard to come by.  Regina was able to escape from the ghetto and went to live with her sister in a nearby town.  There she was forced into slave labor, cleaning windows in a munitions factory.  Eventually she was sent from one camp to another, always working at forced labor.  Her last trip was to the infamous concentration camp at Dachau, but there was an explosion and the train was wrecked, turning over the railcars.  Regina was able to escape into the woods, where she was found by Soviet soldiers and liberated.  By that time she was just shy of being 19 years old.

I asked her about how much help she received from people of faith who believed in God and sought to be faithful. 

She said that many people helped them in small ways, sneaking food to them, but there was so much fear.  Then she went onto say that so many of the people she met seemed to want to do something good, but they just didn’t have the courage.  She said she felt their guilt was greater than the guilt of the Nazis.  The Nazis were just plain evil, she said, but these other people – they knew what was happening, they knew it was wrong, and yet they did nothing to stop it."

            Many centuries ago, Senaca wrote of "our helplessness to do the necessary things of life."

            This is a part of the problem that Paul dealt with in our Scripture reading this morning when he said, "I don't understand   myself.  What I want to do, I do not do."

            Certainly, this is a problem that we face throughout our lives.

            And this problem is not always in significant things – but often in the smaller things of life.

            A customer in a store sees someone else shoplift a small piece of jewelry.  The customer wants to do what is right, she wants to say something to the manager, but for some reason, the strength, or the courage, or what ever it is that it takes to speak up just isn't there, and she finds herself silently watching the thief walk away.  And she remains "uninvolved".

            Or take a conversation that we have all had.  Someone makes a racist remark that we disagree with.  Even though we want to speak out against it, we find ourselves silent, unable to do what is right.

            Why is it that people are so helpless to do what is necessary?

            Why is Paul's statement so universal---"I don't understand myself.  What I want to do, I do not do."

            There is a great conflict within ourselves.  We know what we should do and yet we don't do it.

            And on the other hand, we often do those things that we should not do.

            We know its wrong to gossip but most of us enjoy talking about the shortcomings of other people.

            We know we are called by God to be a people of LOVE, but we still despise some people and look down on them.  We know that we are doing wrong by not loving them, and yet it is difficult to correct ourselves and to begin to love them.

            Paul also spoke of this situation.   In today's passage, he said, "What I hate, I do."

            The great conflict in Paul is also in us.  We all experience within ourselves the spiritual warfare of knowing something is wrong, but doing it never the less.

            We are like the ancient poet who said, "I see the better things, and I approve of them, but I choose to do the worse."

            Who among us is not aware of this inner struggle---this great conflict?  Who among us cannot agree with Paul as he said "I don't understand myself."

            Well, having posed the problem---the existence of the conflict within us all, Paul considered the cause of the problem.

            It is NOT because of a lack of respect for the laws and instructions God has given.

            For within this. passage Paul speaks very highly of the law, saying that the law is good and that he delights in it. is And yet he still had this day to day conflict of good and evil.

            The cause of our conflict and wrong doing is much deeper than our attitude to the law.

            The cause of our conflict is, according to Paul, sin---sin dwelling within us.

            Why do we fail to do those good things we would like to do?  Why do we do the bad things we don't want to do?  We see the better and approve of it, and yet we do the worse.


            It is sin, says Paul.   Sin within us.

            A simple answer to a difficult question.

            Perhaps too simple.

            One might even think that Paul is not dealing with the question honestly.  Is Paul trying to escape the responsibility for his own actions by saying, "It's not me who does these things, or who fails to do what I should---

it is sin within me.  It's not my fault."
NO---Paul is not putting the blame for his actions on a mysterious creature called "sin".  Rather, he is identifying the cause of many of his actions on a PART OF HIMSELF that he labeled "sin".

            You know, we, like Paul, also divide ourselves and our personalities into various parts.

            A businessman might very well say that the objective part of him tells him to fire his worker for a major mistake she made.

            But the understanding or compassionate side says that she should have a second chance.

            That businessman regards himself as one united individual.  But he is also aware of the many complex impulses within him.

            And sometimes he may give labels or names to these parts of his personality.

            The Jewish Rabbis in Paul's day also understood that there are many impulses in a person.  They taught that there were basically two impulses---one good and one evil; and each of these are in conflict with the other.

            Paul is agreeing in part with this teaching that he was probably brought up with.

            There ARE two impulses with in a person.  But the Rabbis said that the solution to the conflict was to become a devoted student of the law and to apply the law properly.  With this point, Paul disagreed.  He knew from his own experience that a proper observance of the law did not provide a complete solution to the conflict.

            What then is the solution?   Who will rescue us from this conflict?  Or as Paul expressed it--- "wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?"

            Paul's answer?  "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord Christ."  But what kind of an answer is this?

            It does not inform us as to HOW we can resolve the conflict.  This answer does not tell us how we can do the good we want to, and how we can avoid doing the evil we don't want to do.  The answer is in no way one of instruction.  But then, it wasn't meant to be. The answer is one of comfort.

            We can realize the existence of the problem---the inner conflict within us.

            And we can analyze and understand the cause of the problem---the nature of sin within us all.

            But as long as we live in this world, we will NEVER be cured in such a way that the struggle will forever cease.  The conflict remains with us until our death.

            Even when we receive Christ into our lives and become Christians, we will still have the day to day struggle within us.

            Paul wrote this morning's Scripture reading as a man who had been a Christian for a number of years.  And still he wrote:  "I don't understand myself.   I do not do what I want to do, but what I hate, I do.

            Where is the comfort of Paul's answer to this conflict? What is the meaning of  "thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord?

            The answer is in the last statement in this morning's Scripture passage.  "There is now no condemnation to the ones in Christ Jesus."

            What this means is that our conflict continues.   The good we would like to do --very often we fail to do.

            The evil we would like to avoid doing---we often do.

            And the conflict continues---but for those of us in Christ---who are Christians---there is no condemnation.  God forgives US.

            Often when a politician wins a primary, but then goes on to lose the final election, it is often said that "He won the battle, but lost the war."

            For the Christian, the opposite cane be said,  "We can LOSE the battle, but CHRIST has already won the war for us."

            The conflict within us continues.   In one situation, we may be able to over come sin and do what is right.  In another, we may be overcome and like Paul, do what we hate.  "But thanks be to God --- for there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus."

Copyright Maynard Pittendreigh, 2014
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Agony of God - Genesis 22:1-13

Genesis 22:1-13

 1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!"
      "Here I am," he replied.
 2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."
 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."
 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?"
      "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.
      "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
 8 Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.
 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!"
      "Here I am," he replied.
 12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."
 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram [a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."
 15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring [b] all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."
 19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

1 John 4:9-12
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

     A while back, I visited the Thornwell Home for Children. This is one of the missions our church supports through our special offerings. 

          It was started shortly after the Civil War as an orphanage for homeless children.  It is no longer an orphanage, but it continues to provide loving care for children who, for whatever reasons, can no longer live with their parents.

          Thornwell is a very attractive place. Homes and cottages made of stone are scattered across the campus. Trees line the walkways. Groundskeepers work continually to insure that the grass is always cut. And at the time of the year that I made my visit, the flower beds were in full bloom.

     The most prominent building on the campus is the Hartness-Thornwell Memorial Presbyterian Church. A large church building with a tall steeple, it easily becomes the most visible building at Thornwell.

     I went inside the church to take a look. They have beautiful stained glass windows there. On one side of the church, the windows portray stories and events from the Old Testament. On the other, stories from the New Testament that are illustrated in the glass.

     I could easily imagine the children of Thornwell attending church and daydreaming during the sermon. Looking at the windows and letting their minds wander, they must easily dream about the stories painted into the glass.

     There is Moses coming down from the mountain with the Law of God.

     There is Jesus with the children.

     God is reaching down and creating Adam and Eve.

     The Baby Jesus is in the manger.

     And yet, there is one window there that had I been the architect, I would not have included.  In fact, I wonder what kind of thoughtless and insensitive person would have included that particular window. Of all of the Old Testament stories, why that one and why at a home for children.

          It is the story of Isaac.

          The window shows Isaac on a far away mountain. Isaac, a child, is on the wood pile.  Abraham, his father, is with the child. The child is bound. The knife is in the father's hand, ready to take his son's life. Murder is about to take place, and it is murder of the worst kind -- a parent killing a child. An angel is behind the father, ready to stop the murder, but Abraham does not know this. He simply knows that God has told him to kill his son, and this is what he is about to do.

          Of all stories from the Old Testament, why portray this one, especially here in a home for children?

          To tell the truth, of all of the stories of the Old Testament, this is one I wish hadn't been included in the Word of God.

          In an age of ax murderers who stand before judges pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming that they killed because God told them to do it, why should we retell this story of Abraham? In an age of child abuse, when sick parents beat, injure and kill their children, why should we retell this story of Abraham? In a home for children, whose residents sometimes cannot live at home because of the violence in the home, why should we even remember, let alone glorify in expensive stained glass, this particular story?

          I would rather forget it. I'd rather the story of this event had been left on that far away mountain. Not only is this story of Abraham and Isaac difficult to understand. It is embarrassing. It is offensive.

          Part of the offence of this biblical story is in its difficulty. Would YOU do this? If God were to ask you to sacrifice your son, would you? Could you?

          And even if you did, we can hear the TV newsbreak now as it says, "Father accused in death of son claims 'God told me to do it.' Film at elevan."

          But on the other side of the church at the Thornwell Home for Children is another window. On the New Testament side, with all the windows about Jesus, there is a picture of Jesus ascending a mountain. It occurs to me that there are some striking similarities between these two windows.

          On one side, there is Father Abraham with his son Isaac. On the other, Father God is with His Son Jesus.

          On one side there is the son carrying wood that would build a fire, an instrument of death. On the other there is the son carrying wood that would build a cross, an instrument of death.

          Both sons are bound and tied. Both sons are offered as a sacrifice.

          But Isaac lives, while Jesus experiences the full impact of death.

          It is not Abraham who makes the sacrifice of his son.  Although he is willing, it is not Abraham who kills his son.  He is stopped just in time by an angel who has been sent by God.

          It is God who makes the sacrifice. It is God who offers his one and only Son, whom He loves dearly, taking Him to a different mountain.

          This passage from Genesis is a strange text. It is difficult to understand.  Part of us would secretly wish that someone had ripped it out of the manuscript – if only it had been forgotten.

But – this text gives us a rich understanding of the reality of God’s love.

Because it is not really a text about Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac.

This is not about a test, as if God was unable to look into the heart of Abraham and discern whether or not Abraham had faith.

This is a text to help us understand the agony of God.

          The Bible often talks about God sacrificing His Son for our redemption.  The most familiar passage of all Scripture, John 3:16, says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”
In 1 John 4:10, we read, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
          We often read about the sacrifice of Christ, and how God gave his son for us so that we might live.  But we hear it so often that we forget about the agony of God.

When we read this passage from Genesis, that agony becomes real.

We put ourselves in Abraham’s sandals and we’d say, “Forget it, I’m not sacrificing my son.”

But when we realize that God does what Abraham was willing, but then prevented from doing, then we get a glimpse of the agony that God went through when he gave up his son.
All sacrifices are painful.
No sacrifice is easy.
But God’s love for us was so great, that he endured agony for us.

          Normally, when w see someone in agony, it is human nature for us to do what we can to remove the agony, to fix things, to stop the pain.
But we can’t do that with God’s agony.
For one thing, we are powerless to remove God’s agony. 
For another thing, God entered this agony willingly and freely and out of love.
Loving someone is often a painful and agonizing experience.
Mothers give birth and in nature that is a painful experience.
Parents discipline children and it is hard – it hurts.
Children grow up and get into trouble – sometimes serious trouble – and it hurts the parents.
Even when things turn out the way the parents want them to, it is agony.  Talk to a parent of a child who has moved and gone away to college, and you will hear about the tears of the lonely parent.
God loves us, and it hurts. It pains Him.
If we can’t relieve God of agony, how then should we respond?


          God, in his love for us, with pain and agony, gave His son as a sacrifice for us. 

          And while most of us are grateful, most of us are just mildly grateful.

          We just – take it for granted.

          We have grown up with the story of God giving us his son, and we have grown accustomed to it.  We forget the depth of God’s agony, and how he suffered.
We forget how radical this step that God took, until we read this story of Abraham coming close to sacrificing his son.  Then we realize how great God loves us.
          In Washington DC, one of the monuments is for those who died in the Vietnam War.  I’ve been there many times.  I remember the first time I went there it was right after the memorial had been built. 
I walked up to the memorial and it was quiet.  It was like walking into one of those formal churches where a funeral or other solemn service is about to be held.  People whispered.  No one laughed.  Many had tears in their eyes.  People took photographs of the wall, photographing the name of a son or father.
Then one day I was there for another visit.  There no tears.  People spoke quietly, but not in whispers.  People took photographs of the wall, and often stood quietly beside someone’s name.
A few years later, I went again.  This time people were not so quiet.  Many were laughing.  I saw someone take photos of the people in their group.  They posed in front of the wall.  This time they smiled.
Time goes on.
It is not that gratitude for sacrifice of these men and women have vanished.  It has simply rusted and mellowed and softened, because the memory grows dim.  The reality of the sacrifice is not as visible.
That’s why we need this passage of Abraham in the Bible.  It is offensive.  It’s dirty.  It’s awful.  But it is a graphic reminder of how real God’s sacrifice was.
What Abraham was not allowed by God to, God himself has done for us.  Sacrificed his son.
We dare not let our gratitude to God mellow and soften and fade away.

Right now, the children at the Thornwell Home are gathered in the Hartness-Thornwell Memorial Presbyterian Church. Some of them might try to stretch their feet to see if they can touch the pew in front of them. Others might try fitting their toes into the holes in the communion/hymnbook rack. One or two might even listen to the preacher.

     And maybe -- just maybe some are staring at the windows along the wall of the church. They see Moses coming down from the mountain. They see Jesus with the children. And they see Abraham offering Isaac.

     It is an offensive story, but one appropriate to tell to children. Its meaning touches the heart of homeless children.

          It tells a message that envelopes with love the neglected and abused. It comforts the grieving one. It offers hope to one buried in a graveyard.

     This message from a far away mountain reminds us of the love God has for us. He has made a sacrifice for us that is so great that He sacrificed his only Son for us so that we might have eternal life.

          Let us never forget to be grateful for the agony of God’s love.

Copyright 2014, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh

All rights reserved.  

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Is The Welcome Mat Still Out?

Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

            Our New Testament lesson for today comes from the Second Chapter of Acts.  It is a fairly long chapter with lots happening in it.  Our reading for today comes at the end of the chapter, but looking back, chapter two starts off with a bang. 

As this chapter begins, everyone in the town of Jerusalem is celebrating Pentecost.  It was a Jewish festival and people from all over were in town.  Luke, in chapter 2 verse 9 and 10 lists where everyone is from.

            At first it is a bit of a strange list because it just goes on and on and on. 

            This is what Luke says at the opening of chapter 2: 
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

           I have to admit that I never paid much attention to what this list meant.  That is until the 7 am Wednesday Bible Study this week when someone mentioned that it was interesting that the Parthians and the Romans would be mentioned in this list together, since they were rivals.

            In fact, to tell the truth I didn’t really know who most of these people were.  I barely know how to pronounce some of these names!

            But Luke puts them all in this list.  Why not say, “Hey, there were a bunch of people in Jerusalem and they all spoke different languages.”

            But after the 7 am Wednesday Bible Study, I felt challenged to take a close look at this list of nations.

            At first it looks like a geographic list.  He starts with listing people in the East and he moves up to the north, round to the west and then to the south.  It is like me saying, “The Jamaicans, the New Yorkers, the Mexicans and the Cubans.” 

            But it is more than geographic – this list crosses all cultural barriers. The Elamites was a matriarchal societies – very liberated for a time in history in which in most parts of the world, women could not own property or take part in government.  Women were often in charge of the government.  They were astute business people.  Women were usually considered superior to men.

            The Pamphylians were a mixture of aboriginal inhabitants, immigrant people who came from all over the region.

            The Egyptians were viewed by the Jews as the place they had left in the Exodus, a place of slavery.  On the other hand, Phrygia was a place that honored liberty – Phrygia was the home of something called the Phrygian cap, which survives into modern imagery as the so-called “Liberty cap” worn during the American and French revolutions.

            There were the Romans – who were the oppressors of the Jews, and there were the Judeans – the hometown Jews being oppressed by those Romans. 

            Then there were the Cretans.  St. Paul, in his New Testament letter to Titus made the observation that there was a proverb that said of the Cretans, “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons” to which Paul said, “that testimony is true.”
          So this list in Luke is really like saying, “The Jamaicans, the New Yorkers, and the Cubans, the CEO and the homeless, those who love freedom and the terrorist, the immigrants, the powerful and the weak, all gathered together one day.”

            But the closer I looked the more I realized how really strange this list that Luke was.  The Medes are on this list and by the time Luke writes this text, they have been gone for over 500 years! 

            So this list in Luke is really like saying, “The Jamaicans, the New Yorkers, the immigrants, the powerful and the weak, and time travelers from the Aztec Empire and the all gathered together one day.”

            After the Resurrection of Christ, the early Christians could have easily have started an exclusive club, just for themselves.  No – they went out into all the earth and changed the world.

            As chapter 2 of Acts begins, all nations, cultures, through all time – hear the invitation of Christ.  By the end of chapter 2, which we read from a few moments ago, “All who believed were together and had all things in common.”

            It is not easy to be part of a faith that has no boundaries.

            In the Book of Acts, one of the themes is that what starts off as a Jewish sect in which the Jewish Messiah is being worshipped in the Jewish synagogues, very quickly becomes a faith that is shared with the non-Jews of the world. 

            That was not an easy transition for everyone.  Peter was a traditionalist, and throughout Acts we see him resisting this – then accepting it as God’s will – and yet still having a hard time with it.

            It is not easy to be part of a faith where everyone is welcomed!

            A few years ago, I sported a pony tail.  I joined a group of men in my church who wanted to do something special for Relay for Life and to support those in our congregation and community who struggled with cancer.  So we decided to let our hair grow out and to harvest them for wigs to be given to cancer patients whose treatments caused them to lose their hair.  For some people, this is no problem, they wear scarves or simply shave their heads, but for many, it is a struggle and they prefer to wear wigs, which can be very expensive.

            As it turned out, I have the slowest growing hair in the state of Florida, and because the hair has to reach a certain length, I had a pony tail for over two years.   It was interesting the impact that had on ministry.  For some, it opened doors and made some people more receptive to my ministry.  For others, it closed doors, as some people felt uncomfortable with a man in the pulpit who had a pony tail.

            We build walls over silly things some times.

            But we should welcome the person who is different who shows up in church.  More than welcoming the person who is different who shows up – we ought to go out and get them and bring them in.

            The bald headed man and the pony tail man.
            The tattooed and the non-tattooed.

            The person in a leather jacket and the person in a suit and tie.

            The old person.  The 1 week old infant.

            The wealthy person and the homeless dude.

            The tee tottler and the addicted. 

            The brilliant scientist and the struggling adult who cannot read or understand basic arithmetic.

            The heterosexual and the gay and lesbian.

            The conservative Republican and the liberal Democrate.

            When we come into this place, we should reflect the Second Chapter of Acts:  “All who believed were together and had all things in common.”

            But having the “Everyone Welcome” sign out is sometimes hard to do.

            In November 2013 a church bishop named David Mussleman posed as a homeless man and visited one of the congregations in his care in Taylorsville, Utah.  He went up to people and, since it was late November, greeted the church members with a “Happy Thanksgiving.”  Many responded with silence or turned their backs on him.  When he sat down, some people stood and found a pew some distance from the bishop in disguise.  Finally, five men came and asked him to leave.

            Sometimes, it is hard to keep the “Everyone Welcome” sign on display.

            We don’t literally have a sign on our door or on the road that says “everyone welcome!” 

            But on our faces, and in the tone of our voices, we either proclaim to people that everyone is welcome, or we proclaim, “no vacancy!”

            When I was a little boy, my family took a vacation into the mountains of Georgia.  As night approached, we began to look for a motel for the night.  There were plenty of motels around, but one after another had a neon sign in the window that said, “No Vacancy.” 

            We couldn’t understand this.  It was not the peak tourist season.  The parking lots were empty – where were all these people who had rooms for the night.  We figured there must be some sort of festival or something that we didn’t know anything about.

            Finally my father stopped at a motel with one of those “No Vacancy” signs.  He decided that he would ask a motel manager for advice.

            Much to our surprise, there were plenty of rooms in the motel.  In fact, all of the motels were pretty much empty.  They turned on their neon “No Vacancy” signs so that the managers could turn away African American customers.

            This was a time when there were separate water fountains, restrooms, restaurants and motels for Blacks and Whites in much of the South.  Now, my family was also from the South, but we were from a different part of the South and had never encountered this.

            We began to make a trip to the Georgia mountains an annual vacation for our family, and we noticed that those motels that turned away certain people because of race began to close up shop – replacing their “no vacancy” signs with “out of business.” 

            In the motel business, if you turn away paying customers, you go out of business.

            In the church, if you turn away people for whatever reason, you cease being a church.  Because the church, from its very beginning, has welcomed all people. 

            Even the Cretans.  And you know what St. Paul said about the Cretans in his New Testament letter to Titus -- “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.”

            The church is called to welcome people of every race, nationality, culture, orientation, language, and even those sinners. 

            All who seek Christ can come in here and find welcome.

            When people who come in here and look different, we welcome them.

            When we come into the sanctuary and we see someone sitting in our seat, we welcome them and ask if we can sit next to them and get to know them.

            When we see people in our work place, school, neighborhoods who seem to be lost souls, looking for community, looking for guidance – looking for Christ, we need to invite them, welcome them.

            We need to become that place like we find in Acts, chapter 2, in which “All who believed were together and had all things in common.”


 Copyright - W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Cast All Your Cares On God?

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

4:13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.

4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.

5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

5:9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

5:10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.

5:11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.


  “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

         Say that to the mother whose stands at the grave of her child.

         Say that to the husband who sits in the waiting room at the hospital waiting room as he awaits the arrival of a doctor to announce the outcome of surgery.

         Say that to the person enduring painful chemo-therapy who is left wondering whether it is best to just give up, or press on in a battle against cancer.

         Say that to the family who loses a house.

         Say that to the young person struggling with questions of life-styles or orientation, searching for identity and assurance.

         Say that to the student who struggles for a passing grade.

         “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

         Easier said than done.

There is nothing new about anxiety or about worrying.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites worried endlessly as they wandered through the wilderness. 

Right after God gave them freedom from their slavery in Egypt, and as soon as they passed through the Red Sea, they began to worry.  They ran out of water, and the people turned to Moses and said, “Moses, what have you done to us?  We have no water.”

Moses led them to water, but the water was bitter and the people worried even more.  They complained to their leader, “Moses, what have you done to us?  We had lots of water in Egypt.  We should have stayed there instead of coming here just to die of thirst.”

God led them to an area with 12 springs – one for each tribe.

But a few days later the Israelites ran out of food. So they worried some more.  “Moses, what have you done to us?  We had plenty of food in Egypt. We should have stayed there instead of coming here just to die of hunger.”

So God sent bread from heaven every morning and sent quails every night.  (Exodus 15 and 16).

Now you would think that after all of that the people of Israel would have learned to relax.  All they had to do was to trust in God.  God was a proven commodity.  He had provided for the people time after time after time. 

And finally, the people are on border of the Promised Land.  They are about to enter their new homeland and take claim of it.

But when the leaders of Israel sent spies into the Promised Land to scope out the situation, the reports from these spies made the people of Israel nervous and worried.

“O Moses, what have you done to us?  We had a great life in Egypt.  But here we are about to be slaughtered by giants.  We should have stayed in Egypt.”

Anxiety is part of our lives.  It is a part of our history.  We seem to be wired to worry all of the time.

And we do it so very well.  We should – because we get lots of practice.

But against this, Peter tells us:  Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

In fact, the Bible tells us this over and over.

Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 6), “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

And shortly afterward, Jesus says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

St. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians (chapter 4), “Do not worry about anything.”

In the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes tells us, “Banish anxiety from your mind.”

Are you kidding me? 

What were they thinking?

We’ve got mortgages, jobs, teenagers, parents, cancer, the IRS, terrorists, loss of privacy, Internet hackers, credit card debt, crime and violence,

Let’s be honest, we have REAL things to worry about.

“Banish anxiety from your mind?”


The next time you see a homeless man asking you for some food to eat, just see what happens when you say to him, “Ah, cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

Try telling that to the waitress who serves you lunch in a little while, and who works at three different restaurants and still can’t get enough hours to work a 40 hour week, and whose mortgage payment is behind.

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

Try telling that to a couple who is trying to qualify for their first mortgage, and who have been told they probably won’t get their home.

Meet a man coming out of the doctor’s office who has just months to live and try telling him, “Do not be anxious.”

Listen here - we have real things to be anxious about.

         We have anxiety about the economy.
         We have anxiety about our family.
         We have anxiety about cancer.
         We have anxiety about not having enough rain, or having too much rain.
We have anxiety about these things because we believe they are important and they are worth our anxiety.

         Of course we are anxious.  Don’t tell us not to be.

         When your husband or wife is in the emergency room, the last thing you want to hear is some pastor coming up to you saying, “Cast all your anxiety on God.”

         When you have a suspicious mole or a lump on your breast or a pain in your chest, you’d better be anxious enough to seek medical help.
The question is, what do we do with our anxieties?  Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

But what does that mean?

Does that mean I can enter that wonderful state of denial?  You know what denial is like.  You’ve seen it in others and probably have experienced it yourself.  The person whose spouse dies, but not a tear is shed, denying to everyone the pain that is felt.  Or the denial of being deep and dangerously in debt, yet continuing to spend like there is no tomorrow.  You know, like the US Government does.

That is denial – that is not what Peter is advocating. 

Cast all your anxiety on him, ---  because he cares for you.”

That means that when we are anxious, we turn to God in prayer.  Many of us, when facing anxiety, may turn away from God, but we are to turn toward God.  We look to God for love.  God never calls us to ignore our problems.  He calls us to trust in him MORE than we fear our problems. 

That is not easy to do – but it is the important first step.

This is made even more difficult by the fact that we often do not understand what is happening to us, or why.  Understanding is not the most important thing – trusting that God is greater than your problem is the most important thing. 

Proverbs 3 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
In the face of unemployment, cancer, death, that last exam question in our class – whatever anxiety we face, Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on God.”  Turn toward God as your face your anxiety.

Secondly, Peter says, “Stay alert.”
If your anxiety is cancer, stay alert about whatever signals your body may be giving off.
If your anxiety is financial, stay alert about how you are spending, or mis-spending your funds.
If your anxiety is a teenage child, stay alert and be watchful over that child.
If your anxiety is your parents and how they want let up for a minute, stay alert to their love and concern for you.

Being free from anxiety does not mean that we free ourselves from responsibility.  Anxiety is fear, discouragement, worry.  Being alert is watching, being cautious, being vigilant.

So we are to cast our anxieties onto God, and we are to stay alert.  Peter also encourages us with the fact that we are not alone.

For most of us, the last thing we want to hear is someone say to us, “I know exactly what you are going through,” because no one knows what we go through – not exactly.  But it is good to go through experiences knowing that others have been through similar experiences and situations.

Alcoholics find strength through attending 12 Step Programs with other alcoholics. 

Grieving widows find encouragement through support groups where they meet others who are dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Peter says in his letter, to remain “steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.”

Find someone to walk through your suffering with you.

Don’t go through your difficulty alone.

Last weekend, I was out of this pulpit.  I was with about 40 members of our church at Cedarkirk Camp and Conference Center for the first of many annual retreats.  A couple of weeks ago, I was with another group of church members for dinner at the Olive Garden – we do this every month.  There is another group called the Lunch Bunch, and there is the Study and Fun, and there are many other similar groups.

It is not just about food and fun – although that is a great part of it.  It’s about fellowship.  It is about building community so that when one of us goes through a crisis, we know each other and care for each other and can be there for one another.

In the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.”  (4:9)

Finally, know that whatever suffering you endure will end.

In his letter Peter says, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”

The cause of our anxiety, whatever it is, will not last forever.

Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, said (4:16-17), “W are not discouraged. Though outwardly we are wearing out, inwardly we are renewed day by day.  Our suffering is light and temporary and is producing for us an eternal glory that is greater than anything we can imagine.”

Now Paul was talking about death in his letter.  And sometimes, that is the way our suffering ends.  Now, that is not the way I want my suffering to end, but if it does – I know that death is not a defeat, but a victory through Christ.  Because through Christ we have eternal life, which Revelation (21:4) described as being a place in which there was no more crying, no more pain.

But death is not the only way our suffering and anxiety ends.  Things come into our lives, and then they go away.  We endure, we survive. 

I had great anxiety in high school when I was trying to get through Algebra classes.  It ended – not with my death, and surprisingly, not with the death of my Algebra teacher.  Mrs. Jetter and I both lived many years after Algebra.  But it ended.

I had great anxiety when I was working in a state prison.  It was a tough job.  It did not end by my death, but by going into the ministry.

I had great anxiety over credit card debt many years ago.  It ended when those debts were paid.

All of our sources of anxiety come to an end – in one way or the other.  As Peter says, “After you have suffered for a while, God will restore, support, strengthen and establish you.”

Everyone has anxiety.

It’s natural.

1.   Turn to God and cast those anxieties on him in prayer.
2.   While you are in your time of crisis, stay alert!
3.   And seek fellowship of others who also have suffered – for they can help.
4.   And know that eventually, tough times do pass.

Copyright 2014 The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
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