Answer the Phone!


    What would you think if one of your friends complained that you never called or spent time together?  Even though you saw this friend on the street or at work, both of you felt that you needed more.  But now, whenever you saw one another, you heard complaints.  Finally, encouraged by the complaints, you called your friend and there was no answer.  You sent a text message, but received no reply.  Still hearing complaints, you eventually begin calling and texting at all hours of the day and night (sometimes knowing that your friend was certainly at home) and still, there was no answer.  During this time, you set aside money so that you could take your friend out to eat… but there was no answer.
What would you think of your friend?
What would you thing of their complaints?
    Often we complain that we have not heard from God, that God seems far away, or that we have not seen God at work.  But despite our complaints, we fill every waking hour listening to music, radio, watching television, playing video games, with Facebook, Twitter, and all manner of other distractions with no time left for silence.
The psalmist wrote, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
How often do we embrace the silence?  
How often are we simply still?  
When God calls, are we so surrounded by noise and distraction that we don’t even notice?
How often do we listen?
Are youthe friend that isn’t answering the phone?

A Great Cloud of Witnesses


What does it mean to be surrounded by a “cloud” of witnesses? 
    Not long ago I was preaching on Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees in regard to the existence of life after death.  In Luke 20:27-38, Jesus reminds them that Moses called God, “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  Jesus implies that it would be foolish to say such a thing in the present tense if they were not, presently, alive.  Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
The Apostle Paul described life as a sporting event in which we are called to give our best, saying,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” (Hebrews 12:1)
    Paul expands on the idea of resurrection and the afterlife to remind the church that those who are alive in the next world are watching those of us who remain in this one.  Paul specifically refers to the prophets, saints, and martyrs but it isn’t difficult to imagine that this also includes all of those who have always loved us and cared for us, but who no longer remain among the living of this world.  I know that my grandmother prayed for me nearly every single day of her life and I have no reason to imagine that she has stopped doing so today.
Let me share a mental picture that I have found meaningful.  Have you ever held a newborn baby, yours, or your grandchild, niece or nephew for the very first time?  Do you remember how that made you feel?  It is a magnificent feeling.   Hold on to that feeling.  Now, imagine the moment when you first arrive in the next world, right after you have “crossed over” and passed through Saint Peter’s pearly gates, right after you’ve met Jesus face to face, or however you might image your arrival.  Now, you see, standing before you, a group of people.  Some you know, but many you do not.  In the front are your parents, lost children, and dear friends, but there are many more, perhaps hundreds, even thousands of faces that you do not know.  As you embrace your family and your friends, your father, or perhaps your grandfather, takes you by the hand and says, “There is someone here, that I have wanted you to meet for a very long time.” And he turns to a an unfamiliar face and says, “This is myfather” or “This is my grandfather.”  And then, for hours on end, they in turn introduce you to their fathers, and their wives, and their children, allof whom have known you since you were born, and have been watching you grow, and have been praying for you that Jesus would watch over you and guard your steps. 
    And the feeling that you have is the feeling of holding that newborn child in your arms, multiplied by ten thousand, or more.
    Every moment of your life that you were in trouble, every moment when you faced difficult choices, every moment when you needed prayer, all of these hundreds and thousands of friends and family who love you, were watching and praying for you.
   Think of this, when we walk outside in a heavy fog, that moment when the clouds lay upon the surface of the earth, we are not near the cloud, or next to the cloud, we are completely engulfed and surrounded by the cloud.
    This is the picture that Paul draws for us.  With every choice that we make, with every success or failure, with every crisis or ordinary day, we can imagine that this cloud of people who love us, family and friends, surround us, watch over us, and pray for us.
    Because our God is the god of the living and not the dead, we are constantly watched over by those who love us, care for us, and who are, even now, praying for us.  Paul says that because we are surrounded by this “great cloud of witnesses” we should cast aside everything that is holding us back and have the confidence to forge ahead into the unknown toward whatever God has placed in our path.  

May we all have the courage to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”

Sheldon, Jesus, and "The Big Bang Theory"


    While those who read my blogs may not have an interest in reading my Sunday sermon each week, I recently saw something in scripture that had a connection to our modern culture that I’m sure many of my friends would appreciate.  

    In Luke, Jesus tells a story about a man (or woman, it’s you, actually) who goes to his friend’s house to get bread to feed to an unexpected house guest.  As I read this story, told more than two-thousand years ago, I heard the voice of Sheldon, from the television show “The Big Bang Theory.”  Jesus’ story is short so I invite you to read it with me…
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
    Luke tells us that, because of our friendship with God, through his son Jesus Christ, we are given the privilege to trade on our friendship.  Because we are friends, and indeed, family, we are able to ask for what we need without fear that we will annoy God into ignoring us.  Luke says that if not “because of friendship”, then because of “shameless audacity,” God will give us what we need.  The story that Luke tells is of asking a friend for bread after that friend had locked the doors and gone to bed at night.  
    It helps to understand that the houses in ancient times were not like the houses we have today.  Not every member of the family had their own room and in fact, while Mom and Dad might have had some privacy, in many cases the living room was somebody’s bedroom and quite possibly everybody’s bedroom.  At night the furniture would be pushed aside, bedding would be unrolled and members of the family would sleep on the floor and in front of the door.  The man who was in already in bed would have to light a lamp so that he did not step on sleeping family members, step over those who were sleeping and then move whoever was in front of the door.  Certainly by the time he had done this most of the family would be awake, grumbling and grouchy… and yet, because of your persistence, because of your “shameless audacity,” even if not because of your friendship, he would get up and get you the bread that you need.
    And this is where I made the connection with “The Big Bang Theory.” There, in episode after episode, week after week, Sheldon knocks on Penny’s door at all hours of the day and night

Knock, knock, knock, “Penny?” knock, knock, knock, “Penny?” knock, knock, knock, “Penny?” 
    Sheldon knocks over and over and over again until poor Penny answers, in her pajamas, often bedraggled, hair a mess, and half asleep.  Not because she’s happy about it, partly because of their friendship and mostly because of Sheldon’s shameless audacity, Penny comes to the door and helps Sheldon with whatever problem that he is having.
Luke says that our relationship with God is sort of like that.
    God desires to give you good gifts, just as a father desires good things for his children.  He is not put off by your persistence and you aren’t going to annoy him into ignoring you.
Never forget that God loves you.  He has adopted you so that you are a part of his family.
    You area child, and a friend of God who never needs to be afraid to pound on the door of heaven at all hours of the day and night, to ask for the things that you need.
Knock, knock, knock, “Jesus?  Knock, knock, knock, “Jesus?  Knock, knock, knock, “Jesus?