Thought for Meditation:
The true and positive and genuinely indescribable joy of the one who loves consists simply in the fact that he may love as one who is loved by God, as the child of God; that as he imitates the divine action he may exist in fellowship with Him, obedient to His Holy Spirit. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.2 p78
A Funny Faith
One of my favorite books in the Bible is Genesis. I love the stories in it, and there is a lot of theological depth in it as well. You probably know that it starts with Adam and Eve. Some people have wondered what time of day Adam was created. I’m fairly sure that he was created about 5:00 or 6:00 PM. At least, we know he was created before Eve.
One young boy heard the story of Adam and Eve in Sunday school. He was fascinated with how Eve was created from Adam’s rib. Several days later his mother noticed that he seemed to be preoccupied. Something was obviously bothering him. She picked him up and asked him what was wrong. He said, “Mom, my side hurts. I think I’m going to have a wife.”
You probably have heard how Eve was created. Adam and God were walking in the Garden of Eden. God asked Adam how everything was going. Adam said, “This is a wonderful place, God. It’s beautiful and everything that I need is here. I love all the animals. I gotta admit, though, I’m a bit lonely.” God said, “I’ve been expecting that. I’ve planned a special creation just for you. She will be called woman. She will be beautiful and talented. She will love you deeply and do everything she can for you. She’ll wash your clothes, fix your meals, clean your home, and she’ll never complain. Her whole life will be devoted to caring for you. All you have to do is give up an arm and a leg for her.” Adam thought for a moment. “What can I get for a rib?”
A few days Eve was created God and Adam were again walking in the garden. God asked how things were going with Eve. Adam said, “She is wonderful, God. Why did you make her so beautiful?” God replied, “So you would love her?” Adam came back again, “Why did you make her so soft?” Again, God said, “So you would love her.” Adam thought for a moment. “Why did you make her so stupid?” “So she would love you!”
A pastor was new to his church and was trying to get to know people. One afternoon he was out making calls. He stopped by a house. It looked as if someone was home. He knocked on the door. No one answered. He waited a few minutes and knocked again. Still no one answered. Finally he pulled out one of his cards and wrote “Revelation 3:20” on the back and stuck it in the door. For those of you who don’t know, Revelation 3: 20 says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with them.” The next Sunday he noticed his card in the offering plate. Someone had written on it “Genesis 3:10,” which says “I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked.”
A few weeks later this pastor was invited for dinner at the home of a woman. Several people told the pastor that he needed to be careful. This woman was known to be a terrible house-keeper. He figured it couldn’t be too bad and he could put up with anything. As he entered the house he was stunned by the mess. He had to move old papers and dirty clothes off the couch. When it was time for dinner he sat down at the dining table. He looked at the plates and gasped. They were filthy. There was food crusted on them. He couldn’t hold his tongue. He asked his hostess if the plates had been washed. She said that they were as clean as soap and water could get them. He gulped but blessed the food and ate anyway. After dinner his hostess took his plate, put it on the floor, and yelled, “Here Soap! Here Water.
By now, some of you are probably wondering why in the world I’ve been up here telling jokes for 5 minutes. You may be thinking that I’ve lost my mind, but that assumes I had one in the first place! Part of me always wished I could be a stand-up comedian. Relax, I don’t plan to quit my day job. You can probably tell that I wouldn’t make a very good living at it. However, I have a very intentional reason for telling all these jokes.
One of the journals that I read regularly is called The Joyful Noiseletter. It is filled with cartoons and jokes. It’s put out by an organization called The Fellowship of Merry Christians. They encourage churches to celebrate Holy Hilarity Sunday, usually the week after Easter. Their belief is that the resurrection is a joke that God played on Satan. Honest laughter is a sound that Satan cannot tolerate because laughter is a sign of faith. Laughter is the proper response to God’s gifts of love and mercy. Both of our Scripture passages this morning point to this idea.
Mark read the story of the birth of Isaac. But to fully grasp what it is all about you need to look back several chapters in Genesis. In chapter 12 God made a promise to Abraham – he would make Abraham a great nation. He would bless him with land and with children. The promise was repeated in chapter 13 and again in chapter 15. In Genesis 16, at least 10 years after the promise, Abraham and Sarah still don’t have any children. Instead of trusting God they took matters into their own control and we get the story of Hagar and Ishmael. In the 17th chapter of Genesis 15 more years have passed – now a total of 25 years – and they still don’t have any children. God repeats the promise that Abraham and Sarah will have a son. This time Abraham laughs at the idea. He is 99 years old and Sarah is 90. It is absurd to think that they will have children.
I don’t know who the oldest person is here this morning, but we don’t have many 90 year-olds and I don’t think we have anyone 99. Does anyone in their 90s, or even 80s, expect to have any more children? Does anyone in their 60s or 70s expect to have a child 20 years from now? Your laughter is exactly how Abraham and Sarah reacted. In chapter 18 God appeared to Abraham and again promises that within one year Sarah will have a son. Sarah heard the promise this time and she laughed. What a crazy idea. 90 year-old women don’t have babies. Finally, in chapter 21, the passage Mark read, God’s promise is fulfilled. God keeps his word. Abraham and Sarah have a son.
They name him Isaac, which sounds like the Hebrew word for laughter. When God promises them a son, Abraham and Sarah laugh at the absurdity of the idea. When Isaac is born they respond with laughter. God has fulfilled his promise and brought joy into their lives.
Our passage in John is part of Jesus’ final words to his disciples. He is essentially saying goodbye. Jesus acknowledges that they will experience sadness. “The world will rejoice and you will weep and mourn” (John 16:20a). “However,” and this is the great however of faith, “however, your pain will turn into joy” (John 16:20b). That is what the resurrection is all about. Jesus turns everything upside down. Sadness is turned into happiness. Mourning is turned into joy. As Jesus said in Luke’s version of the beatitudes, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21).
One Sunday morning the pastor noticed little Johnny was staring at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church. The boy was seven years old and stood there for several minutes. Finally, the pastor walked up and stood beside him and said quietly, “Good morning son.
Good morning pastor" Johnny replied, not taking his eyes off the plaque. “Sir, what is this?” Johnny asked. The pastor replied “Well son, these are members of our church who have died in the service.” Johnny continued to look at the plaque. After a few minutes he asked another question. “Which service, sir, the 8:30 or the 11:00?”
Sometimes the church is a wonderful place to find humor. Over the years I’ve collected a number of bulletin bloopers, items that actually appeared in various bulletins.
· Don't let worry kill you-let the church help.
· At the evening service tonight, the sermon will be, “What is hell like?" Come early and listen to our choir practice.
· The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.
· Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Please use the back door.
· Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands.
I have at least 50 more like that. Unfortunately, the church isn’t always a great source of joy. Every week on The Prairie Home Companion Garrison Keillor does The News From Lake Wobegon. For those of you who haven’t heard Keillor, that is his monologue. He tells a story. In one show the news included a story about the Side Track Tap – the bar where the local men hang out on rainy days and tell jokes. In the midst of his story Keillor made a fascinating comment. He said that if you are new to town, if you are lonely, if you need acceptance, you won’t get it at the local church. In spite of their theology of love and grace you may go to church for 2-3 years before anyone talks to you or accepts you. However, if you go to the bar, and especially if you can tell a joke, you will be accepted and loved at once.
Joy and laughter are signs of faith. They are the proper response to God's gift of love and grace. Let me add two cautions to that statement. First, good humor never hurts someone else. I’m sure many of us have heard, or even told, ethnic jokes or jokes that put someone else down. That type of humor is not pleasing to God and not a healthy part of faith. Second, I am not suggesting that we should be frivolous or ignore the pain and sorrow of life. Faith doesn’t exclude crying out and weeping. To be honest with you, most of us don’t do either one as well as we should, laughing or crying. Individual Christians and gatherings of Christians should be filled with joy and laughter as well as sorrow and tears. The church needs someone to pray for us in the same way that a little girl prayed for her parents.
Dad came home from work in a bad mood. A deadline at work had been moved up on a project he was working on and the stress of all that he needed to do was too much. Mom was also grumpy. She’d forgotten to do something at work, was late getting to the daycare because the traffic was terrible. Both Mom and Dad were having one of those days when nothing seems to go right and the pressures of the world were overwhelming. Each one wanted a little sympathy from the other, and neither one got it. They sat down at the dinner table, cranky and grumpy, with their five year-old daughter, Emily. Emily folded her hands to pray for the dinner. Mom and Dad bowed their heads, but not their hearts, and listened.
“God, it’s Emily. How are you? I’m fine, thank you. Mom and Dad are mad. I don’t know why. We’ve got birds and toys and mashed potatoes and each other. Maybe you can get them to stop being mad. Please do, or it’s just gonna be you and me having any fun tonight. Amen.”
My friends, God has given us birds and toys and mashed potatoes and each other. God has given us a beautiful world and blessings beyond compare. God has given us Jesus Christ, and raised him from the dead, so that we might have eternal life and live in God's love forever. Therefore, let us laugh and rejoice, rejoice, rejoice give thanks and sing!
by Doug Marshall, Interim Pastor
Thought for Meditation:
In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable – which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live…. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead p197
Six Strikes and You're NOT Out!
From 1988 until 1993 there was a TV show that Tanya and I liked to watch. It was called The Wonder Years. Do you remember that show? It was the story of Kevin Arnold, a young boy moving into his teenage years during the late 1960's. In one show Kevin and his best friend Paul had a fight. They argued about something and had gone their separate ways. They had made new friends. One afternoon Kevin was riding his Stingray bike by Paul's house. He stopped and looked in the window. Paul was playing with Doug Porter, a new kid in town. They were laughing and having a great time. The show ends with Kevin thinking to himself, “As I stood outside the window, I watched the easy give and take of two new friends and I realized something. Doug Porter was no longer the odd man out, it was me.”
Have you ever been there? I imagine most of us have had times when we felt as if we didn’t belong. We felt alienated and lonely. We feel like outsiders. This morning I want to look at a story of an outsider, and how Jesus responded to her.
Jesus had been with his disciples near the Sea of Galilee. He wanted to get away with them so he went up to the district of Tyre and Sidon. That was about 50 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, right along the Mediterranean coast. When he got up there a Canaanite woman came out to meet him. Her daughter was demon-possessed and she wanted Jesus to heal her. Right off the bat, this woman had three strikes against her. First, she was a woman. In that time and in that culture women were nothing. They had no rights and were nothing more than a possession. Second, she was a Canaanite, one of the ancient enemies of Israel. And third, her daughter was demon-possessed, which in that culture meant that her parents must be sinners. In spite of having three strikes against her, she didn’t give up. She came to Jesus and asked for help. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David” (Matthew 15:22b).
Jesus response to this woman is surprising. At first, he did absolutely nothing. Matthew says “He did not answer her at all” (Matthew 15:23a). Strike four. What do you do when God is silent? You cry out for God to heal someone you love, yet they die. You pray for guidance and still feel lost and confused. You call out for God to comfort you, yet your heart continues to be filled with grief or anxiety. The silence of God is one of the great challenges of the Christian life. Psalm 13 is probably the best expression of this silence. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). God, how long are you going to stay silent and ignore me? When God is silent what do you do? Do you give up? Do you turn away from God and look for someone or something else to fill your life? This Canaanite woman showed her faith by continuing to ask for Jesus’ help. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.”
The disciples got tired of her and told Jesus to send her away. “Heal her daughter so we can get rid of her. That is the only way she will leave us alone.” Jesus’ response is strike five. He still didn’t talk to the woman, but told the disciples that his ministry is not to the Gentiles but to the people of Israel. This woman was persistent. She fell on her knees and begged for Jesus help. “Lord, help me.”
Jesus' third response is the most surprising. The Bible has a pattern of three's. Problems are resolved after three events. Think of the story of the Good Samaritan. A man is beat up and left along the road to die. The first man came along and walked right by. The second man walked right by. The third man who passed by, the Samaritan, helped the victim. As people read this story in Matthew they expect Jesus to help this woman in his third response. Instead, he insulted her. He called her a dog, which was the Jewish word used to describe heathens. Jesus told a parable about how it isn't fair to take food from the children and give it to the dogs. Strike six.
The woman still didn't give up. She came right back at Jesus and showed her faith and even a great sense of humor. “I may be a dog, but even dogs will eat the crumbs that fall off the table.” Finally, with six strikes against her, Jesus acknowledged her incredible faith and healed her daughter.
This story has always bothered me. It doesn't seem to fit Jesus’ character. Why would Jesus ignore and insult this woman? Interpreters have at least five different explanations. There may be other explanations, but in reading commentaries I found five. First, Jesus said what he did with a smile on his face. A large part of communication is not the words, but through facial expressions. Jesus wasn't being mean to this woman but was bantering with her. Jesus playfully dished it out to this woman and she gave it right back to him. The second possibility is that Jesus was testing this woman's faith. He waited to heal her daughter so that she would grow in her faith. Third, Jesus may be growing in his own understanding of his mission. This emphasizes his humanity. At the beginning of his life Jesus didn't realize that he was there to save not only Jews, but also the Gentiles. This passage shows him growing in his understanding of the scope of his ministry. Fourth, Jesus knew that his ministry was to the Gentiles, but the disciples didn't so Jesus had this interaction to help the disciples understand that the Gentiles are included in God's grace. Fifth, some scholars claim that Jesus didn't actually say this. It was an independent story that Matthew put into the story of the healing of this woman's daughter. It shows the struggle that the early church had with including the Gentiles.
All of these options have some truth to them. All of them also have some problems. You can pick which one you like best. I don't think it really matters, because the point of the story is the same. Jesus heals the daughter of this Canaanite woman, this outsider, to show that God’s grace is for all people. This woman had six strikes against her, but Jesus loved her and healed her daughter. Those who don’t belong, those who don’t fit in, people who are outsiders, are welcomed into God’s kingdom.
This is the same message Paul has in our passage from Ephesians. At one point in time all of us were outsiders. We were aliens and strangers to the covenants of promise. We were separated from God and had no hope. Yet now, in Jesus Christ, we have become God's children and citizens of the kingdom. We used to be outsiders but now we belong and have been brought near to God.
There may be some of you here this morning who feel like outsiders. If you are visiting Sharon Church this morning, new to this church or even new to the community, you might feel as if you don’t belong. That is very understandable. You may not know where the bathrooms are or how we do things here. You probably have no clue where the coffee and donuts are after church – it isn’t easy to find that room. I have talked with some of the members of Sharon who left during the conflict last year. Several of them have said that they are afraid to come back because they don’t feel as if they belong. They are afraid that they won’t be welcomed. Over the years I’ve been in the church I’ve seen couples get divorced and normally one or both of them leave the church because they don’t feel as if they have a place that they belong. There are countless reasons why you might feel like an outsider, reasons you don’t feel as if you belong, to the church or any place else.
I hope that all of you are able to hear the good news that God’s grace is given freely to you. It doesn’t matter how many strikes you have against you. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done. God wants to draw you near. God wants to surround you with love. God wants to include you. In and through Jesus Christ we are no longer outsiders but we are God’s beloved children. You belong.
Every now and then things happen that can only be explained as the work of God. Coincidence is just God’s way of staying anonymous. In my devotions I have been reading a book by Eugene Peterson, called “Run with the Horses.” It’s about the prophet Jeremiah. I was reading a chapter about Jeremiah's word’s to the nations. There are six chapters at the end of Jeremiah in which he addresses various nations – Egypt, the Philistines, Damascus, and Babylon. The message of God to these countries is primarily one of judgement. However, there are hints of hope and salvation. Let me read you what caught my attention.
The anticipation of salvation is, in each instance, a single line… The fact that they are there at all shows that judgment is in the service of salvation, the salvation of the nations as well as of Israel. There is not one message for the insider and another for the outsider. Peterson, “Run with the Horses” p187-188.
That is a message that we all need to hear. Our passage from Matthew is a message of hope and comfort for those times when we feel as if we don’t belong, but we are also challenged to welcome the outsider. If Jesus welcomes outsiders and includes those who are left out, then as followers of Jesus, our job is to do the same thing. Just as Jesus offered grace to the Canaanite woman, you and I are called to welcome those who feel left out.
I’ve never heard a church say “We’re not a friendly place. We don’t want outsiders.” Every church describes itself as friendly. It’s easy to be friendly with your friends. How friendly are we with outsiders, with our guests who come to visit us? If you are going down to get a donut this morning why don’t you invite someone else, someone who has never come down, someone who may not know how to get to the donut room, to join you.
How do we treat those who are different from us? Why is it that Sharon Church has so few people of color, people of different nationalities, or social-economic background? Are we truly welcoming of outsiders?
We live in a world that likes to create outsiders. There is a natural tendency to create two categories – us and them, insiders and outsiders. It happens all the time in our government and in our communities. We have Republicans and Democrats, the White House versus Congress. Pitt versus Penn State. The Steelers versus the Browns, or in Chad’s case, the Lions. People point fingers and create outsiders. Us and them.
Let’s be honest. It happens in the church too. Within our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), there are a variety of hot-button issues. We spend so much time fighting over these issues that we end up missing our call to share the good news of Jesus Christ. The problem is that there are people on both sides of every issue who are more worried about being right than they are about being in a relationship. “We are right and the others, the outsiders, are wrong.” It is okay to disagree, to have differences. That is healthy. The challenge of the gospel is to argue without making outsiders, to welcome those with whom we disagree.
Friends, this morning I invite you to take an honest look at your life. And I invite us, as a church, to evaluate our life together. Are we holding others at arms distance and keeping them as outsiders, or are we reaching out to draw others into our own hearts and into the life of this church.
God welcomes all outsiders. It doesn’t matter how many strikes you have against you. Everyone is invited into the heart of God. Through the grace of Jesus Christ we are all included in God’s kingdom. Therefore we are called to offer grace to outsiders. We are called to be partners in Christ’s service. We are called to ministries of grace.