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September 2010 Sermons:
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

"Is God the Ruler Yet?" — September 5
"Ninety Percent of Life Is Showing Up!"
— September 12
"Creative Management"
— September 19
"All Mine Are Yours, All Yours Are Mine" — September 26


“Is God the Ruler Yet?”
September 5, 2010
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

Psalm 139 touches me in a personal way. I have a recording of a British actor reading this psalm from the King James Version of the Bible, and I listened to it over and over this week! It’s a powerful statement of faith and an ode to human life. Believe me, it’s a lot simpler to read this passage than to preach a sermon on it. Psalm 139 is loaded with mystery. God’s power in this passage amazes and frightens me.

The psalmist, probably the great King David, praises God because God knows all things. God knows each of us intimately. We don’t know anybody--our parents or our spouses or our children---as well as God knows us. God has known how long we are going to live since we were born. Neither the farthest reaches of the sea, nor the deepest darkness, can banish God, the psalmist writes. Some people feel suffocated by God’s presence. They picture God as Big Brother spying on them. Remember the story of Jonah? He just wanted God to leave him alone. He booked passage on a ship to the other side of the world just to get away from God, but it didn’t work. God found Jonah and brought him back.

Psalm 139 tells us the greatest good news we will ever hear. The story of Israel and the story of Jesus Christ are really the story of God’s unimaginable power. God isn’t only in the heights of heaven. There is no place where God’s love and justice are not at work. We don’t need to look “above” to find Him. God works in the everyday events of our lives.

God’s knowledge overwhelms me. Sometimes I want to hide when I hear it -- like a child playing Hide and Seek. The child closes his or her eyes and counts to ten, while playmates hide. When the count has ended, the search begins. Little children play this game endlessly. The opposite game from “Hide and Seek” is “Sardines.” One child hides. When the other children find the person who’s been hiding, they hide in the same place.

Children are not the only ones who play “Hide and Seek” and “Sardines.” Adults play these games, too. We know how to play them like grown-ups. We try to hide emotionally, as well as physically. We struggle to conceal our feelings and motives from other people--- even from God. If nobody appears to look for us, we get scared that we might be hopelessly lost. We want to be known and loved for who we really are. But we fear that no one will love us, if we are “found out.” Some people like to lose themselves in a group—as if they were playing “Sardines.” Or they play “Hide and Seek” by withdrawing from everything and everyone. We can’t win at these hiding games. God always finds us.

Have you joined Facebook yet? I’ve been on it for a year—long enough to learn to play the game. I don’t mean applications like Farmville and Mafia Wars. Facebook is the perfect social medium for shy people. You can hide who you really are, pretty easily. No need for a firm handshake. No need to dress for success! You don’t even have to make small talk. You can post articles and videos and sayings that other people created. You can have 200 friends and hardly ever have to talk to them. You can “unfriend” people without their knowing it. You can disappear from Facebook for months at a time. Facebook isn’t for young people, by the way. The biggest group of users is middle-aged and older women. I have a dozen Facebook friends in this church. Facebook has helped me keep in touch with them, and learn their kids’ names. It’s a real help with pastoral care, once in a while.

But we aren’t totally honest on the Internet. We put our best faces forward—literally. I have yet to see an ugly profile picture. Facebook is like a high school reunion—people show off how good they look and the degrees they’ve earned. Women from my high school class post their grandchildren’s or their pets’ pictures--hardly ever their own. Some lie about their ages—including one of my Seminary professors. Your online friends never tell you if they were in jail, or that they flunked anything. I know of one exception. The beauty queen of our high school class is obviously dying. She’s been a big winner in life, but she’s losing her battle with cancer. You can see it right away from her profile photo. God bless this woman for her honesty.

God knows the year we really graduated. God knows we failed geometry twice. God sees our gray roots. God knows how lost we have been, and how lost we are, still. We tend to think, “I’ve made so many mistakes, there’s no more hope for me.” You can mess up, but God will never abandon you. God’s care surrounds us. God’s power re-forms us, like modeling clay. The Holy Spirit helps us to become what God desires us to be: whole, loving, just and gracious-- the image of God Himself! In Psalm 139, God says, “I have plans for you. Don’t be afraid of the future. I’m already there!”

We are examples of God’s handiwork—each one of us different. When we see ourselves in God’s eyes, we notice the people around us. They are fearfully and wonderfully-made, too. God doesn’t love us on the basis of how witty we are, or how good we look, or how popular we are. We get anxious a lot, and who can blame us? We live in dangerous times. What is the antidote to poor self-esteem? It’s not a better car, or an elected office, or a slim body. The answer is in accepting and loving each other as God loves us.

God invites us to seek and know Him. This same God who has fashioned us, and holds us accountable, also cares deeply for us. There is no need to hide from God. In fact, there’s no POSSIBILITY of hiding from God. Psalm 139 makes this clear! We’re better off looking for God in the people we meet. We hesitate to stop, to see, or to hear people around us.

Jesus was much busier than we are. He was inundated with requests to preach, and to heal, and to come to dinner! But Jesus was the greatest listener who ever lived. He always stopped to listen and to help. I remember my first boss who tried to follow Jesus’ example. When he became the New Jersey State Librarian, the first people he would greet at the Main Library were the five maintenance workers at the loading dock. He kept our trustees waiting in the conference room, for fifteen minutes, while he had coffee with these men and shared their lives.

How can we be more like Jesus? One way is to spend time among people who are hurting. If we absorb TOO much pain in a short time, we get what’s called “compassion fatigue.” It’s a form of burnout --an occupational hazard for caregivers. When we feel burned out, we need to listen for the silence. Jesus went off by himself and talked to God when he had compassion fatigue. You can do it too. Turn away from radio chatter, loud background music, canned laughter, flashing billboards, and even your cell phone. Get off Route 22 and drive up into the Poconos. Exchange billboards for barns. Tune out the noise that drives you crazy. Have you ever sat in a doctor’s waiting room alone, with a television blasting a talk show and the audience shrieking with laughter? Ask the receptionist to turn it off.

God has already examined you. Even the dark is light to Him. This ought to be scary—like the results of an ultrasound or a colonoscopy. But we know that our God is the God of Jesus Christ. God sent His Son to die for us. The eighteenth verse of the psalm, “When I awake, I am still with Thee,” refers to Christ’s resurrection. Pay attention. God is leading you in the way everlasting.

Let us pray.

God of grace and mercy, you have called us “beloved” and you have called us to follow. You promise your gracious presence, but too often, we forget to look for you. We exhaust ourselves trying to be in charge, when we can turn to you at any time. Mend our broken hearts and defeated spirits, we pray. Teach us how to be your faithful disciples, as we begin this busy part of the church year. In Jesus’name. Amen.


Leland Ryken, Words of Delight: a Literary Introduction to the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992),201.

Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 112-113.

D.G. Congo, “Burnout,” in Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling ed. Rodney J. Hunter and others (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990), 112-113.

Alton H McEachern, Layman’s Bible Book Commentary: The Psalms (Nashville, Broadman Press, 1981), 157.

 


“Ninety Percent of Life Is Showing Up!”
September 12, 2010
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Luke 15:1-10

Like most people, I lose things all the time. I’ve had to retrace my steps to find my wallet, driver’s license and credit cards quite a few times. I’m sure you’ve all lost your car keys or cell phones.

What’s interesting, though, is that people don’t always make the same effort to find the items they have lost. They give more energy to more important searches. If a person loses a pair of glasses in a worship service at our church, we get a call the next day from that person. This makes sense. If I lose my own wallet, I make it my Level One priority to search for that wallet. I HAVE to find it. My car keys and my cell phone are also Level One. A wedding ring is Level One. Our cats—if they disappear from their usual places in our house—are Level Two. An old family photograph might be Level Three or higher, depending on whether it has sentimental value for us. Level Four would be a coupon that expires today. A magazine or newspaper article I’ve clipped to read—that’s Level Five. If it turns up, fine. If it has fallen into the trash heap of history, or into the wrong file, it’s no problem. The key word is value! I don’t mind spending two hours looking for something that has value for me.

The Pharisees and the scribes couldn’t understand why Jesus was hanging around with people who weren’t big shots. They were horrified by His choice of dinner companions. He was a rabbi, after all. People of proper Jewish piety weren’t supposed to talk to such losers as these, let alone break bread with them. It made Him unclean. He said He was the Son of God, and yet He spent so much time with folks who were nobodies in the synagogue. The officials asked Jesus, “What kind of religious person are you? After all, what’s the point of religion if it isn’t to separate the sinful from the righteous?"

For Jesus, all people in need were Level One. The scribes and Pharisees were Level Five. We take good care of the things we value. Jesus was joyful when He found lost people and won them over for His Heavenly Father. “So I tell you,” Jesus said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Jesus tells three parables in chapter fifteen of Luke. We just heard two of these stories. The story that comes right after this reading is the parable of the Prodigal Son, which has the same theme—the lost son returns, and Dad throws a party in his honor. The lost is found, and God rejoices. I won’t be preaching on that story today. But the two parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin help us think in a new way about lost and found people.

Parables seem to come in pairs in Luke’s gospel. First, let’s look at the story Jesus told for the men! I’m sure you don’t know many shepherds. Jesus liked to use characters his listeners might understand. In Jesus’ time, many men of Judea were shepherds then. Even if they weren’t, they understood shepherds, the way we understand small business owners and store managers today. "Which one of you shepherds," Jesus asked, "has a lost sheep? Would you not leave the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness and go beat the bushes for that one lost sheep? And when you find that sheep, which one of you would not put that sheep on your shoulders and take it back to your friends and say, ‘Come party with me. I found my sheep? "

And then, Jesus told His story for women. Jesus respected women and made them disciples. Luke, the Gospel writer, thought women mattered, even if the Pharisees and the scribes didn’t. He spoke their language as He told the story of the lost coin. I will tell it in contemporary words. "Which one of you women, if you lose a coin, would not rip all the carpet up off the floor of your home and move all the heavy appliances out in the yard, then move all the furniture to the porch or the sidewalk? And when you have found that lost coin, which one of you would not run out into the street and say to your neighbors, ‘Come party with me. I found my lost quarter!’ Now, which one of you wouldn’t do that?"

Well, of course, the answer is none of us would! These stories aren’t realistic. His listeners would have asked Him, “Are a missing sheep and a lost coin, really Level One priorities? Why would the loss of one sheep be such a big deal that a shepherd would leave the other ninety-nine sheep wandering in the wilderness to find it? We’ve heard of “management by walking around” but the idea of sacrificing an entire flock for one sheep is totally impractical. I would never let ninety-nine cats run loose in our back yard, while climbing a tree to rescue one!

Would you spend an hour or two, tearing up your living room and wasting electricity to find one coin on the floor? I doubt it. A hundred-dollar bill you might tear the place apart to find, but not just a plain old quarter. This week I found a quarter in my car that had been there for over a year. Finding it was nice, but I didn’t feel like throwing a party.

“We’d never do those things Jesus is talking about!” I can hear the scribes and Pharisees saying to Jesus. And then Jesus says to His listeners, "Excuse me, but these aren’t stories about the way YOU behave. These are stories about the way GOD behaves.” Jesus considered each person a Level One priority, and so does God. God is the seeking shepherd. God is the searching woman. The woman rejoices because she has found God. God gave us Jesus. That is God’s supreme act of seeking and searching us out until He finds us. God is always looking for a way to get to us. And when God finds us, there is rejoicing in heaven.

Compare God’s joy to the Pharisees’ narrow-mindedness. These religious officials would no more have gone out of their way for a needy person, than I would have gone out of my way to find a quarter in my car. They would never have left ninety-nine religious people sitting in the synagogue in order to reach out to one lonely individual. Their job, as they understood it, was to interpret the commandments of God. But why were they forgetting what Jesus had told them? The two greatest commandments are these: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Do we reject the idea of reaching out to people in need, if it takes us away from the things we think are more important? The “joy in heaven” over the recovery of a lost sinner points out the difference between our priorities and God’s. The Pharisees didn’t rejoice over the rescue of needy people. But in heaven the angels rejoice if we reach out to a lost soul, in the name of Jesus Christ.

Visiting people in hospitals and homes is important. People in our congregation who are ill or unable to drive — those folks need us a lot. Even if they are well cared-for physically, shut-ins are dealing with heavy grief and loss — loss of health and friends and independence. Their lives may be monotonous. They need somebody to be interested in them. Members of a congregation who have the church’s support, get through the grief process better. Love from brothers and sisters in Christ is the best way to get a lost soul back into the world.

We think of many reasons why it isn’t our Level One priority to visit people who can’t come to church. We don’t have time today. We might interrupt their dinner. We might say the wrong things and make the person cry. Maybe there won’t be any place to sit except on the bed. Maybe the person won’t be able to hear us. We feel funny talking loudly. Maybe the shut-in will be in dialysis, or asleep. And, let’s be honest, we think it might be depressing.

It’s not about what WE have to do or think or feel. God visits these people through our arms and legs and our faces and our feet and our hearts. There are many books about visiting hospitals and shut-ins, and I’ve read them. Don’t read them. Don’t worry about having to dress up, or having to buy flowers or a magazine. Just show up. That person you are visiting is a lost sheep. You are the shepherd—or, rather, Jesus Christ in you. When you enter the tender places in that person’s life, you are standing on holy ground. Don’t worry about doing the right things. The right thing is to show up. The Holy Spirit does the work of God in you. You may think you have no energy, but leave it to the Spirit—God’s energy in us.

Let’s be thankful that not only do we have a God that loves us—but He can also use us, just the way we are. That’s a very good reason to rejoice!

Holy and loving God, we have come here to worship this day with anticipation and hope. We come thankful for our church family. We are thankful for the many experiences that have brought us to this time. As your call upon our lives becomes clearer, through your Word and your church, may we help others find hope as we give God praise and thanksgiving. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 15:7.

Matthew 22:37-40.

Luke 15:7.

Sharyl B. Peterson, The Indispensable Guide to Pastoral Care (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2008, 82.

 


“Creative Management”
September 19, 2010
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

Luke 16:1-13

The dishonest steward is in serious trouble. He’s been managing the estate of an absentee landlord. People have started to notice that he’s been living in luxury, up in the big house. He’s been behaving as if he were the master, putting his feet up on the furniture and drinking the fine wine from the cellar. People suspect the steward of charging everything he’s bought for himself, to the boss’s account. It’s general knowledge that he’s been raking off illegal profits from the estate.

But his freedom has come to an end. The boss has finally gotten the word about the steward’s dishonesty. He commands his employee to get the books in order before he fires him. The last thing the steward wants is to be thrown out in the street. He figures he had better get busy and make a few friends in town, while he still has his job. Most people, caught at cheating on such a large scale, would have headed for the hills. The dishonest steward stays to wheel and deal. He reduces all the debts people owe to the master—with asking the master’s permission. The debtors are thrilled to get off so easily. They assume that the master has decided to be kind. When the boss returns and figures out what the steward has done, he has no choice but to keep quiet, so he won’t look like a fool.

The master and his steward are suddenly wildly popular with the people who owed them money. The steward has created a win-win situation. How can so much good will in the community be a bad thing? The landlord has no choice but to let the dishonest steward keep his job. He even congratulates the steward for his shrewdness!

Why is this parable in the gospels? What kind of Christian hero is this? Why does Jesus praise a liar and a cheat? Biblical scholars have argued about the dishonest steward for hundreds of years. Most of Jesus’ stories are about poor, sick people who are healed. Once in a while, they’re about sinners who come clean and are forgiven. You may be surprised that this sneaky employee gets rewarded. You may be shocked that his boss does what is expedient, instead of punishing the steward. The early church fathers were as uneasy about this parable as we are. How could Jesus have held up this embezzler as a model for a Godly life? Should scoundrels be so easily forgiven?

There’s something that reminds me of “I Love Lucy,” in the parable of the dishonest steward. Lucille Ball had a hilarious comedy show on television in the nineteen-fifties. Lucy, the main character, was a trickster, in the sense that Jacob and Rachel, in the book of Genesis were tricksters. She played a zany homemaker named Lucy, who fell for “get rich quick” schemes. She kept them all secret from her husband, Ricky. Her friend, Ethel, was her partner in crime. Remember the mess they made, stomping grapes to make wine? Everyone of their schemes backfired. But Lucy’s plans to get rich were creative, and she always meant well.

Rabbis told stories of successful tricksters of the Old Testament. Congregations loved them, and they learned theology as they listened. Jesus was the greatest rabbinical storyteller of them all. So, how is this story theological? It’s a “how much more” type of rabbinical story: “If this scoundrel can be so shrewd, then how much more creative can God’s people be? How much more will God honor the efforts of the righteous?”

Let’s be brutally honest. We aren’t always righteous. We tell fibs sometimes, like Lucy and Ethel. We goof off when the boss is on vacation. We take advantage of people. Sometimes our schemes get us into trouble. Like Lucy, we try to smooth over what we’ve done. In the face of great demands, we are not always our best selves. We end up with grape juice, or chocolate candy, or egg on our faces. But we’re like the dishonest steward in a positive way, too. Sometimes we accomplish good things, in spite of ourselves.

This parable is about you and me. Jesus wants us to be as determined as the dishonest steward, but to focus on a better goal-- to bring forth the kingdom of God. People focus on the wrong goals all the time. We all know somebody who wants to be rich, or somebody who wants to look twenty years younger, or someone who wants a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Everything that person does is focused on that prize. He or she may seem downright fanatical. Some fanatics behave dishonestly, like the steward. But what Jesus admires in this kind of person is the quality of determination. Is there anyone who ever lived, who had more determination than Jesus?

The absentee landlord appreciates the steward’s shrewdness, even though he knows he’s been cheated. We are God’s stewards. Nothing we have is really our own. Jesus’ message to us, in this story, is to use the gifts we’ve been given, creatively. We read in Genesis that God said, "Let us make man in our image.” God blessed human beings and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” We are God’s managers, and, sad to say, we won’t be around forever. There’s no time to lose. We are called to manage—not bury or waste-- the gifts we’ve been given. Our friends may focus on looking twenty years younger, or getting rich, or getting good grades. We must focus, too. But our goal should be different from theirs—bringing about the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Our faithfulness shows in the ways we use our gifts. Whoever can be trusted with a little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with a little will also be dishonest with much, Jesus tells us. If we manage a small portion of God’s property well, we show that we can handle greater responsibility in the age to come.

Are you being tested in your life? Being tested isn’t totally bad. Listen to Jesus and trust in him as you handle emergencies. We can grow from every difficult experience, every mistake we make. In baseball language, God pitches curve balls to us to see if we can hit them. Think of each one of those curve balls as your chance to hit a home run—the way the dishonest steward does in Jesus’ parable.

Jesus came to save sinners, even scoundrels like this dishonest steward! He came to save manipulators like His boss. Jesus wants a “win-win” solution for all who believe in Him. Here’s Jesus’ message in this parable—Look at how hard sneaky people work to achieve the wrong goals. God’s mission should be our focus. Let’s be smart in using God’s gifts — so Jesus will say, "Well done! Enter into the joy of your Master!"

Gracious Savior, we thank you for becoming poor, so that we might become rich. Give us wisdom to establish your reign of justice and peace on earth, we pray. Amen.


Carlos Wilton, “Proper 20: Pentecost 18/Ordinary Time 25,” Lectionary Preaching Workbook (Lima, OH: CSS, 2006), 301.

Genesis 1:28.

See sermon on Luke 16:1-13 by William Willimon, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” in Pulpit Resource, July-September 2010, 49-52.

Matthew 25:21.

 


“All Mine Are Yours, All Yours Are Mine”
September 26, 2010
First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua
The Reverend Joyce Smothers

John 17: 1-4, 10-13

The disciples had followed Jesus around Palestine for the past three years. They had always thought they couldn’t get along without Him. They were weak, and He was strong. But Jesus had just announced He was leaving to be with God. They would be on their own, or so they thought. Tough times lay ahead for Peter and James and John. Their hearts ached to lose Him.

Today’s gospel reading is from Jesus’ final prayer. When Jesus prays for you, something happens. Something powerful! The disciples had no idea what would happen when Jesus prayed His last prayer on earth. But only one thing mattered at the moment — Jesus was going to die! And that was a shock. When He said good-bye, He told the disciples to be of good cheer. What a strange thing for a person to say before dying on a cross!

Jesus began to pray. First, He prayed for Himself. They had never heard Him pray like this. He asked God to glorify Him. Then, they heard Him talking to God about the disciples. Suddenly, Peter realized that Jesus’ prayer was for them! Their Lord was worried about the fishermen who had given up their whole lives to serve God. Would they be able to survive without Him? Jesus prayed these words: “Protect these men in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

“Protect them in your name!” We can’t possibly understand what that meant to Peter and James and John. Most people of the ancient Middle East believed that a person’s name had mystical significance. In Jesus’ time, to know a person’s name was to understand his or her essence. People told their names only to their closest associates. Knowing a person’s name was an even bigger deal than having the key to that person’s house. It was as big a deal as knowing a person’s ATM password, would be for us today. Names were powerful. Jews were afraid to say God’s name. It would bring them too close to the Holy of Holies—a place where they believed they had no right to be. In His final prayer for the disciples, Jesus is asking God to give His followers the power of God that has been given to Jesus Himself. And He prayed in God’s name. How powerful!

The disciples didn’t understand what the words, “All mine are yours, all yours are mine,” meant — not yet. But these men knew they needed one another. How could they go on living if they didn’t stick together? Without their leader, how would they know what to do?

After Jesus had been taken out of their sight, the disciples had waited and prayed. Jesus had told them that the Holy Spirit would be coming to empower them for ministry. They hadn’t been sure what that meant. (Even today, a lot of people aren’t sure what the Holy Spirit does.) The Spirit had been a long time coming. But it had come. The second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of the church’s birthday, when the people of Pamphlia and Phyrigia and all those other unpronounceable names, started to speak the same language on the day of Pentecost. That day, the disciples had suddenly felt closer to each other than they had ever felt before.

Amazing things had continued to happen. Peter had been the first disciple to harness the Spirit’s full power. One day, John and Peter had been on their way to the temple to pray. And there by the temple gate had stood a man who was lame. He had been begging for alms. The disciples had had no money to give him. James and John and the others had passed the man by and moved on. But before he had realized what was happening, Peter had stopped to heal the beggar. Somehow, Peter had felt Christ had united him with this crippled stranger. Peter had felt HE had turned into a beggar, too, so deep was the feeling he had for this man. The Spirit had empowered Peter to perform his first miracle. Jesus’ power, given to Peter by the Spirit, had healed the beggar.

Then Peter had had a nightmare. While asleep on a roof, Peter had dreamed, three times, that a great sheet came down from heaven, filled with animals and snakes and birds. Peter had heard a voice telling him to get up and kill those animals inside the sheet and eat them. Peter still considered himself a Jew, even though he followed Jesus. According to the purity laws of Judaism, the animals and birds inside the sheet were creatures a good Jew wouldn’t be caught dead eating. Imagine dreaming of eating cockroach casserole or rat burgers! But then, Peter heard the voice of the risen Christ. His Lord was telling Peter that God had made those unclean animals, clean and edible for everyone. The great sheet with the animals and snakes and birds had gone back up to heaven and Peter had awakened. Fully awake now, the disciple had begun to understand what the dream meant. It had to do with the dietary laws—maybe these Jewish purity regulations wouldn’t be as important to Peter and his friends as they once had been.

Later, a messenger had come from the home of a man named Cornelius. Cornelius was a Gentile. Peter had always felt uncomfortable associating with people who didn’t share his Jewish faith. But the Holy Spirit had commanded Peter to go immediately to the house of Cornelius. So he had gone—very reluctantly. When Peter had preached to a wealthy audience of Gentiles in his home, wonderful words had come from Peter’s mouth. They weren’t his words—not really. The Holy Spirit had empowered Peter to preach an eloquent sermon. After he preached, the Gentiles came to accept Jesus as their savior! Jesus’ prayer had been answered. Peter had united them all in faith.

That early congregation grew, and it changed the course of history. We wouldn’t be sitting (or standing) here today if Cornelius and his friends hadn’t heard Peter’s sermon. They shared their faith, their brokenness, their wonder and sorrow. It was a tumultuous time, that first century, for the church. Christianity and Judaism were going their separate ways. Persecution and martyrdom were daily realities. But the Spirit empowered all these new disciples of Christ to keep the faith, even unto death.

Times are just as hard for Christians in the world today. We are divided into conservative and liberal, progressive and evangelical, mainline and emerging and mega-church congregations. There is a great deal of competition among churches. There is a lack of trust. Churches are closing and sanctuaries are being converted into homes and restaurants. Half of the churches in the Presbyterian Church USA have fewer than one hundred members now. Last summer I visited a church that has to sell hoagies during local biking rallies to be able to pay the salaries of their secretary and janitor. I don’t think that will happen here in Hokendauqua. I believe that Jesus is here today, praying for us, in the same way He prayed for His disciples two thousand years ago.

What would it mean, if Christ’s prayers were answered and the world became one with Him? Imagine one huge Christian congregation! Men, women and children from all nations and all walks of life, sharing their faith! It would be like heaven on earth, wouldn’t it? When Jesus prayed His last prayer for His disciples, the miracles began. We can do great things in this world, just like Peter did, for the Spirit lives in on us. We are His hands.

What does it mean to be the hands of Jesus? After the Second World War, the townspeople of one devastated city in England wanted to restore a large statue of Jesus in the city square. Before the bombings, Jesus’ hands had been outstretched inviting the people to come to Him. Jesus’ hands, on that statue, had inspired those townspeople for many generations. The words carved on the pedestal read: "Come to me."

Master artists and sculptors worked for months trying to put the statue back together. They did a good job on His body and His head. But not enough fragments from Jesus’ hands could be found in the rubble to mend them. Finally someone suggested, "The sculptors can make new hands." The townspeople rejected the proposal. "Leave our statue of Jesus without hands!" they decided. Today the restored statue of Christ stands in the square with no hands. The words carved on the new pedestal read: "Christ has no hands but ours."


We pray, O God, out of the grace of Jesus’ prayer for us. We give thanks for the privilege of being the hands of your Son, Jesus Christ. We pray for faith, not for ourselves alone, but also for those whose faith might be stirred by ours, so your kingdom of heaven may come to earth. Amen
 

John 17:11.

“Beyond Tolerance,” a sermon by David O. Bales, Bethany Presbyterian Church, Ontario, OR.

Acts 3:1-10.

Acts 10:15.

Robert A. Schuller, Getting Through the Going-Through Stage (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), 55.


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