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Monday, September 1, 2014

08312014 Eleventh Sunday After Trinity

Sermon Audio

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  AMEN.

As all of you know, I was born in North Carolina and grew up in Virginia.  As a young man, after finishing my first year at Longwood College, I applied for a job with the National Park System.  I wasn’t sure where I would work, but I wanted to work in a National Park.  Weeks after school let out, I was at home and received a phone call from Chief Ranger Jimmy Haynes.  Typical to the South, his drawl was thick.  Words didn’t roll off his tongue, they slid slowly off.  Chief Haynes was calling from Asheville, North Carolina and asked if I would be interested in working for the National Park Service at the Folk Art Center just outside of Asheville.  I said sure and within a few days, I was packed and headed to Western North Carolina and the mountains of the Blue Ridge.

The directions I was told said, follow, I-40 and get off on exit 55 and follow the signs for the Blue Ridge Parkway.  But unbeknownst to me that same exit that I was instructed to exit off of I-40 also had one of the most famous compounds in the world.  It wasn’t and couldn’t have been Camp David that presidents have used as a retreat for the last 60 years, because that was in Maryland.  It wasn’t the secret compound for Congress if the United States was under attack, which had been in West Virginia.  The gates that were to the South of the interstate and headed up into the hills simply stated, “The Cove”.

As I was there in Asheville that summer I learned who owned “The Cove” and why it was so famous.  You see, “The Cove” is the home of the most famous of men who has prayed with Presidents, preached the Gospel in its truth and purity throughout the world and prepared the fields of the hearts of many men and women to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the home of none other than Billy Graham.  As a child living in the ‘Bible Belt’ I heard stories about him and watched him preach on television.  Billy Graham is a man of character, but more importantly he is a child of God.

We who gather here today are not that different from Billy Graham.  We also are children of God, baptized into Jesus Christ, life, death and resurrection through the Water connected to the Word in Baptism.  But the difference for Billy Graham is that he has a conviction upon his heart to seek and save the lost with his preaching and teaching.  Billy Graham like Paul sought to “make known to you, brethren, the gospel”.  With fierceness and tenacity, bathed in prayer, Billy Graham proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere he went and to everyone he met.

Clearly, God had placed His Holy Hands upon Billy and engrained in him this fierce desire not only to “hold fast the word” but opened up doors and opportunities that nobody could have imagined or made a reality if it were not a God thing.

But are we who gather here today any different than Billy Graham?  Martin Luther?  Or Paul the Apostle?  Or any famous preacher that we listen to on the radio or watch on television?  We may not have the charisma, the drive, nor the same abilities as any of these famous men, but truly, we are no different.  Paul said, “For I am the least of the apostles,…But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”  It is this grace that Paul lays claim to that we through our baptism as well can lay claim to.

I know some of you say, I can’t speak like Billy Graham, the words don’t come to me.  I am not comfortable talking about my faith or even my church, nor my personal beliefs and my experience of God.  I just can’t talk about my faith.  But the reality is we are gifted, maybe not in the same way or even like Billy Graham, but God has individually gifted each and every one of us.  We who gather here today are called to be not just the children of God, not just spectators in the world that surrounds us with the cares and burdens of society, but we are called like Billy Graham to a higher purpose.  God through the inspiration of Paul is calling us to reach out to the lost world that we live in and be God’s hands.

But for we Lutherans we feel it is a stretch.  Talking about our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ is something that we are not comfortable with.  We are comfortable in our church, with our liturgy, our music, our desire to ‘play it safe’.  We believe that ‘change’ is a four letter word.  And the job of talking about faith falls to the ‘paid’ people like Pastor’s, Directors of Christian Education, missionaries and others who have been to seminary or Bible College and ‘trained’.  But ironically we live with and deal with change daily.  Our bodies are in a constant state of change.  For example our brain cells live the longest of any cell in the human body, our entire life span, the red blood cells that carry oxygen live about four months, white blood cells live about a year.  Our skin cells live about two to three weeks.  This means our body is in constant change.  And the church is and should be no different.  God sees the church differently, because of His gift of the Holy Spirit to each of us and empowering us through our baptism to be changed and empowered to tell what God has done. We should be ready for constant change and ready for action for God. 

We can be ready for change even though we are not given the same gifts, but we have been made from the same fabric as Paul, Martin Luther and even Billy Graham.  Personally I do not like change, but I know I need it.  Recently I started reading a book entitled, “Start Here: Beginning a  Relationship with Jesus” by David Dwight and Nicole Unice.  In the introduction they stated some things that I personally needed challenged with.  First, “be sure to be honest with God”, second, “it’s a relationship you enter” and third, “Give[Giving] Him [that is God] access and authority over all of your heart”.

As a Pastor, I am looked to as one who, ‘has to have it all together’.  I am expected to model for the church on a daily basis what life and how we ‘should be’ as Christians.  But the reality is, I have struggles just like you who sit in the pew.  I worry about money to pay my bills and feed my family, I worry about being a good Father for Sarah and husband for Michele.  I toss and turn at night, because of how I am received and perceived.  I hold things in, bottle them up and am the receptacle for hurts, both aimed at me for what I have done and left undone as well as the pain that people from our congregation and community share with me in confidence.  I at times feel beat down and broken and at times wonder if my wife, my child and the world would be a better place if I were to just disappear.

But this is where “Start Here” takes on new meaning and challenges me and should challenge all of us.  I have to ask myself, have I been honest with God about my feelings, my shortcomings, my perceived needs and left it up to Him?  Am I treating the ‘relationship’ that I have with God as nothing more than a “I want” instead of hearing God’s response and trusting Him with my life?  Ultimately, have I given God not just access to my heart, but the authority over me, and my heart, soul and spirit?  There are times where I have to answer “No” to some of these questions.  And this is where God is calling me to repent.

Dr. Henry Cloud said, “An idea without action is only a fantasy.  A true dream, or vision, requires legs.  Put a foot on the floor and get walking towards your vision.”  Personally, I don’t want fantasy for my life, for my family, nor for our church, I want reality and I am putting my foot on the floor and walking toward my vision.

I challenge each of you here today to do the same.  Walk with me to a reality where Emmanuel isn’t diminishing, but daily growing and deepening our faith and commitment to a true and honest relationship with Jesus Christ.  As we walk let’s be honest with God and with one another about our feelings, start by doing this as the bible says, one on one.  Allow the differences not to divide us and fragment us, but help all of us to see ourselves as all part of the Body of Christ.  As we walk, we can be in relationship, not only with God, but with each other.  And all of us can give God full access and authority over our hearts.

A perfect example of this was from the movie, “God’s Not Dead”.  The Muslim girl, Ayisha, was hiding her faith from her family behind closed doors, but once exposed and thrown out by her family, she was willing to lose everything she had known in order to follow Jesus Christ.  She was ostracized by her biologic family, her community of Muslims and sent to the streets, because she defied her parents religion and belief.  But, because she was honest with God, she fully entered into and trusted in the relationship with Jesus Christ as her personal Savior and gave God access and authority over her heart, she was fully committed and freed to be a child of God.

We who gather here today are called into this same fully committed relationship with Jesus Christ.  It began with some of us at the font, for some in the pew hearing the Word of God and for some being blessed as we receive His precious Body and Blood.  But we are no different than Billy Graham or Ayisha, we may not have the skills or abilities, the audience or impact upon millions, but by our entering into true relationship with God, we not only are the children of God, but fellow heirs in the Kingdom and have been bestowed with the Grace of God for all of mankind, including all of us saints who gather here at Emmanuel this morning.  AMEN.


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