Knocking on Heaven's Door
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God...
O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God,
hold us who wait before thee near to the heart of God.[i]
Those lyrics written by Cleland McAfee in 1903 are found in our hymnal under the heading “Prayer, Trust, Hope.” So, what is prayer? What is prayer? If I were to define prayer myself, I would say (like McAfee) that prayer is that which brings us near to the heart of God. Prayer is not talk about God, or even simply talking to God. Prayer is about being in fellowship with God through words and silence. Prayer is a natural response to the God who longs to be in relationship with us. Even so, all that being said, prayer (for me personally) is still a mysterious and challenging spiritual discipline.
As a congregation we have identified prayer as one of our Core Spiritual Practices. A couple of weeks ago, about a dozen Trinity members came together in the parlor to pray for our church, our community, one another and our world. And you’re all invited to join us the next time we gather on August 30. As a congregation we’ve affirmed the value of prayer and yet, as we look at the world around us, we might at times question if our prayers are making a difference. If people are praying for peace, why does the world seem to be growing more violent? Non-believers may criticize us and tell us to open our eyes, get off our bottoms, and get to work; don’t just sit there; do something.
Of the four gospels included in our bible, none is more focused on prayer than Luke. This morning’s parable about prayer needs to be considered in its broader context. Chapter 10 closes with the story of Mary and Martha. As Jesus visits their home, Martha is busy doing the important work of hospitality. In Mediterranean culture, hospitality – especially hosting a rabbi like Jesus – would have been of huge importance. Yet her sister, Mary, is sitting on her bottom just listening to Jesus talk. When Martha expresses her frustration with this arrangement, Jesus comes to the defense of Mary, saying, “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part.”[ii]
As chapter 11 of the gospel opens – the chapter containing this morning’s parable – our narrator tells us that the disciples, observing Jesus in prayer, request that he teach them a prayer. In response, Jesus teaches an abbreviated form of what we today refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer.”[iii] But the brevity of the prayer is illuminated by the parable that follows; a parable that communicates that prayer is more than formula; it is fellowship with a God who offers us so much more than anyone else ever could.
Now, I confess to you that – although I’ve only been at Trinity a little over two years – I’ve already preached about this parable here. But, in light of the current violence in the world, I thought this parable merited another look. I say that, however, to let you know that there are cultural values and interpretations that impact the understanding of this parable and – because I elaborated on those last time – I won’t do so this morning. This morning, I’ll touch on them more briefly and succinctly. Here we go:
So, what happens when we put those three values together in the parable? We get a story of a man who – despite the inconvenience and annoyance of getting up in the middle of the night and waking the wife and kids – will gladly do so to provide hospitality for his neighbor’s guest. It doesn’t matter whose doorbell this wayfaring stranger rang, fresh bread is needed and this guy is under obligation to provide it because, if he fails to do so, he will bring shame and embarrassment to his entire village and no one is gonna let that slide. This man will get out of bed not because of any warm, fuzzy feelings for the next door neighbor. He will bring that bread to the door to avoid shame, to save face.
At the parable’s conclusion, Jesus elaborates on the message. People may not always do what’s right because they want to. But, they can generally be counted on to do what’s right if societal pressure and expectations compel them. So, Jesus concludes, “If you then, who are bad, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”[iv] “How much more” may just be the most important phrase in this whole passage. For human creatures, the right behaviors often spring from motivations like shame and fear. Not so with God who is ready and happy to give to us simply because of who God is: a consistent, reliably compassionate and caring heavenly parent.
Now, as I already mentioned, I’ve preached this parable here before. So, this morning, I’d like to do something a little different with it. I am no psychologist; but as a pastor, I spend a lot of time observing human behavior and the effect that social pressure and shame and fear have on us. And if how we see ourselves through the eyes of others has as great an impact on us as the parable and life seem to affirm, possibly prayer has something to do with a change in our view of God, ourselves and others.
Perhaps you have heard of the Marshmallow Test. In the 1960’s, a young Harvard psychologist Walter Mischel, zealously preparing to teach his first course on personality, made an interesting discovery. Leading researchers in his field claimed that our personality traits are stable throughout life and in varying situations. But in fact, their research was proving the opposite. So Mischel conducted the Marshmallow Test… which you can still find videos of on You Tube. It tested the self-control of children ages 4-6 by giving them a marshmallow or cookie and telling them that, if they could keep from eating it for 15 minutes, they would get an extra cookie or marshmallow. Most children couldn’t because… well, they were children and 15 minutes is a long time for a child to sit and stare at a mouth-watering cookie or marshmallow. But, when Mischel encouraged the children to imagine that the marshmallow wasn’t really there, many were able to delay their gratification for 15 minutes. Nothing had changed but perception. Apparently what we perceive can exercise an enormous impact on our behavior.
So how do you perceive God? Do you imagine God to be like a neighbor who will be annoyed if you disturb him in the dead of night? Do you imagine God like a judge? Or, do you perceive God like a faithful, compassionate father who desires to give good gifts to his children? Friends, how we imagine God and how we imagine ourselves in his presence has an enormous impact on the way that we pray and the way that we live. When we pray from a place of relational trust in God, it breaks down fear because trust and fear can’t co-exist. When we pray perceiving God as a loving, reliable and compassionate parent, prayer cultivates attitudes of trust and mercy that also impact our perceptions and interactions with others. When I trust fully in God, I have less reason to be suspicious and fearful of others. When I believe that God will show me mercy, I am better able to extend his mercy to others.
If you are a Sci-Fi fan, you may remember the 2006 Sci-Fi sensation “Heroes.” The premise of the show was that certain people had special powers and how their powers were exercised could have enormous impact on the world, even potentially jeopardizing the planet. Those who used their powers for good had the potential to be heroes. One such hero was of utmost importance, Claire the cheerleader. Claire had the power to regenerate. The villain of the show, Sylar, wanted to destroy Claire and take her power. If he became invincible, as the evil villain, he would destroy the world. So Claire’s life was to be preserved at all costs. The tagline of the show became “save the cheerleader; save the world.”
Well friends, none of us have super powers but we can bring change to the world by beginning with ourselves. “Change you; change the world.” When you change, you can change the world… or at least the world around you. If you’ve ever perceived God as anything other than a loving and reliable parent who desires more than anything else to share his presence and his gifts with you; well, then I invite you to change your perception because how we imagine God and how we imagine ourselves in God’s presence has an enormous impact on the way that we pray and the way that we live. When you perceive God as one who can be fully trusted to care for you; when you perceive God as one who desires to show you his mercy; it will change you. It will not only change how you see God; it will change how you see others. You will see them and respond to them with less suspicion and less fear; you will see them less in need of correction and judgment and more deserving of God’s mercy. Prayer does change things. Most of all, it changes us. And when you change, you can change the world.
[i] Near to the Heart of God. From The United Methodist Hymnal; 1989; the United Methodist Publishing House. Hymn #472: words and music by Cleland B. McAfee.
[ii] Luke 10:42. NRSV.
[iii] See Luke 11:3-4 and Matthew 6:9-13.
[iv] Luke 11:13.
by Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Galatians 5:22-25
Once a great lion, contented after a large meal, lay sleeping at the entrance to his cave. Suddenly, he felt a tug on his mane. Drowsily lifting his paw, he captured a mouse.
“Grrr...” growled the lion. “What is a miserable creature like you doing in my mane? I shall eat you up!”
“Oh no, your Majesty!” squeaked the mouse. “Please spare my life. I thought you were a haystack and I was merely looking for some nice soft hay to build my nest. Please release me and if you do, someday I may help you.”
The lion burst out laughing. He was so amused by the tiny mouse’s ridiculous suggestion that he felt he could not eat the little creature up. Continuing to chuckle, he drifted back to sleep, all the while thinking to himself, “What a silly little mouse!”
In the cool dawn the lion awoke, stretched himself, and, deciding it was going to be a fine day, went hunting in the forest.
But, alas, a party from the King’s palace had come into the woods looking for lions to trap and take back to the king’s royal garden. Soon they caught sight of the lion’s great paw tracks. Following him through the tall grass, they captured the lion and tied him up with strong ropes. Then, leaving him tied and helpless, they hurried off to get the cage in which they would transport the lion.
As the lion lay helpless on the ground, writhing in vain, struggling to get free of the ropes... he let out a mighty roar.
A short distance away, a tiny mouse lifted his ears. “I know that voice,” he said and scampered quickly away to where the lion lay prostrate on the ground.
“Pray, keep still!” squeaked the mouse. “I have a better way with ropes than do you. I will set you free!”
The mouse set his tiny, razor-sharp teeth to the ropes and began to gnaw through one rope at a time. Shortly before the hunters returned - even as they heard their voices in the distance - the mouse bit through the last rope and the lion was free.
Friends, today we are living in a “lion world” and it is a scary and deadly place where the loud and proud, large and in charge believe that the only way to live in our world is by being loud and aggressive and that those who are gentle and conciliatory have little to offer and may even be seen as a joke. Around the globe, power wreaks destruction; as it did again this week in France; as it did the week before in Dallas; and as it did a month ago in Orlando. Yet according to scripture, the Church is – and has always been – called to live in a distinctive way; exercising our influence by following the lifestyle of a 1st century Galilean peasant-rabbi put to death on a cross.
Over these past few weeks I’ve been preaching a sermon series to coincide with a study I’ve been leading on the “I am” sayings of Jesus in the gospel of John. Those identity claims – those “I am” sayings – reflect the nature and character of God in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God is the source of light. So too, Jesus proclaims “I am the light of the world.” In the 23rd Psalm, we’re assured that the Lord is our Shepherd and Jesus says of himself, “I am the Good Shepherd.”
But today’s “I am” saying is different. In John, chapter 15, Jesus says, “I am the true vine” and that particular claim does NOT coincide with the identity of God in the Old Testament. But don’t worry; Jesus isn’t attempting to mislead us because his complete statement is this: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”[i] In this scripture Jesus is teaching his disciples about the nature of the relationship, the interconnectedness between God the Father, Jesus the Son and us by using the metaphor of a grapevine, a staple of life in Palestine.
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, God, through the prophet, compared the nation of Israel to a grapevine that he had planted in a fertile area and cared for meticulously. God was the faithful keeper of Israel, his grapevine. But even with all God did to help her be fruitful, it was a failure. The only thing the vine produced were wild grapes, bitter and unpalatable. You see God had planted Israel in the Promised Land and given her his Word (the commandments) to live by. With those resources, God’s people should have flourished. Their lives should have produced a harvest of righteousness. But that’s not what happened. God’s heart is broken when his people wind up producing bad fruit like idolatry, jealousy, envy, violence, oppression. That wasn’t what God had planted and that wasn’t the harvest God had been hoping for.
So God has no recourse but to find another way and – as we talked about last week – Jesus is the way. Jesus draws the branches together and enables them to become a healthy, fruitful vine.
This morning we heard verses from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul, a well-educated student of Jewish scripture, knew of God’s hopes and expectations that his people might produce a harvest of righteousness. Paul elaborates on this fruit. It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That is the fruit that God has always desired from us and for us.
It was the early 50’s A.D. when Paul, this Jewish scholar turned Christian evangelist, was traveling through modern-day Turkey and became ill. The people of the region – not Jews, but Gentiles – welcomed Paul and cared for him. Paul, in turn, proclaimed to them the good news of Jesus, a Jewish rabbi who had preached a message of salvation and righteousness open to all. Paul proclaimed the gospel that we become righteous by placing our trust in the grace of God made available through Jesus. Paul made clear to them; there was nothing they or anyone could do to earn God’s grace, to earn God’s favor.
They received Paul’s message and the churches in Galatia began to flourish. But then, sometime later, other missionaries arrived and they claimed that there were things the Galatians had to do. Because Jesus was a Jewish Messiah, they would need to become Jewish first. Men would need to be circumcised; they would need to observe a kosher diet and celebrate the various Jewish festivals. And when word of this reached Paul, frankly, he was furious and here is why: because grace is a gift and if we attempt to earn it, we disrespect the gift and the giver.
Have you ever known those people that make it impossible to give them a gift? Aren’t they, well, infuriating? If you give them something, they feel obliged to reciprocate. They tell you how you shouldn’t have. If you try to treat them to dinner, they do an end run with your server to get the bill.
Retired Methodist Bishop Will Willimon writes of how hard it is for us to truly receive and accept God’s grace. When speaking of those with this incessant drive to reciprocate, he says, “I suggest we are better givers than getters not because we are generous people but because we are proud, arrogant people.”[ii] Willimon continues, “It’s tough to be on the receiving end of love, God’s or anybody else’s. [He quotes John Wesley:] Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace.”[iii]
The apostle Paul clearly proclaimed that grace with any strings attached isn’t grace at all. Paul preached that there was nothing inherently wrong with the commandments God gave the Israelites. But they were misused and misinterpreted. They were turned into a point system, score keeping. People who obeyed them better than others inevitably became proud and arrogant and people who failed at obeying them were swallowed up in shame and discouragement.
When I was in the 4th grade, my teacher had a bias that boys were academically better than girls. I was seated next to a very bright young boy. One day, passing back an exam, my teacher accused me of cheating on my test because my score was the highest in the class. In front of everyone she noted how convenient it was that I had been seated next to George for that exam. I was mortified and mad and determined from that day on to keep getting the highest scores to prove she was wrong. She may have bolstered my academic performance but she did nothing to increase my love for learning and she certainly didn’t foster any goodwill between George and me.
The good news of the gospel, the grace of God made manifest in Jesus, is that we are more than forgiven; we are set free from shame before God; and envy and competition in our relationships with others. The apostle Paul knew that, for so many of us, “the fall from grace is not a plunge into horrible sins; but a decision to live by” those religious rules and regulations in an attempt “to justify ourselves before God.”[iv]
Bible scholar David Rhoads relates a story shared on a spiritual retreat:
My wife and I have a friend who was out to prove that no one could love him. He had a childhood full of rejection. One Christmas in his childhood, the grandparents who were raising him told him that if he did not lose a lot of weight by Christmas, there would be no presents. Sure enough, there was no Christmas that year for my friend.
In his adult life, he was an engaging person, but he managed to do everything he could to alienate people who befriended him – unannounced visits, requests for difficult favors, staying too long, and so on. In order to remain his friend, we had to set limits on his intrusions. Yet he continued, in his quest to find love, to prove we could not love him. One day in exasperation, we said to him, ‘Look we are your friend because we have chosen to be your friend, so there’s nothing you can do to make us your friends and nothing you can do to stop us from being your friends. So why don’t you just relax and enjoy our friendship?’[v]
Folks, the fruit of the Spirit of which Paul speaks can only be harvested from the soil of graciousness and thanksgiving. Otherwise, love becomes a tool we manipulate in an attempt to earn the approval of God and others. In a world where efforts to manipulate, control and dominate others seem to be multiplying at a rapid rate, the Church is called not to function like an organization with rules and hierarchy. We aren’t an organization; we are an organism. Jesus is the true vine; our heavenly Father lovingly cultivates and nourishes; and it is only through our connection to the vine that we bear the spiritual fruit Paul names.
I have a clergy colleague who shares the story of his life and call into ministry. A poor child, he was drawn into a small Methodist Church by the irresistible lure of homemade cookies and punch during VBS. As he grew and matured in that church family, he felt love and support. During senior year, a group of men in that congregation – knowing and understanding the financial constraints of his family – said they would like to pay the cost of his entire college education. But they would only do so if he attended the college of their choice for it was one that matched their theological bent. When he expressed his call to ministry, the same offer was extended for his seminary education. All expenses would be paid but only if he attended the seminary of their choosing.
Friends: that’s not love; that’s manipulation disguised as generosity. Those aren’t the ways of the Church; those are the ways of the world. The God who gives to us gives with no strings attached.
In just a few minutes, we will celebrate a baptism of a little boy, Kyle, who will turn three this week. Although Kyle is a bright boy and his parents and this church teach him about Jesus, if I were to ask Kyle to prepare a statement of his Christological beliefs, I don’t imagine it would be worthy of publication. And yet, the reality of God’s unconditional love and grace, truth be told, is probably no more of a mystery to Kyle than it is to any one of us. We cannot earn it. We cannot fully comprehend it. We can only receive it like a gift and, fortunately, children rarely have a problem with that. That’s the power in the symbolism of infant baptism. Children love to receive gifts. They don’t question how much it cost or claim that “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” or begin to fret about how to repay you. They merely delight in the gift.
Friends, the grace of God in Jesus means more than forgiveness of our sins. It means we have been set free from shame and the need to prove ourselves worthy. Receiving the gift of grace in Jesus, living from a place of intimate fellowship with God through Jesus, is the only way to live out a fruitful harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
[i] John 15:1
[ii] Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. Plough Publishing House. 2001. Dec. 14: “The God We Hardly Knew” by William Willimon.
[iv] The Challenge of Diversity: The Witness of Paul and the Gospels by David Rhoads. Fortress Press. P. 49.
[v] Ibid, p. 48.
Come to Life
Come to Life
Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-10
Preached on July 10, 2016
by Tracey Leslie
@ Trinity UM Church, Lafayette
Words are powerful. If you’re a married woman, you – no doubt – recall the moment your husband spoke those words “Will you marry me?” If you’re a father, you probably remember the day your wife said the words, “I think I’m pregnant.” Words are powerful. They can change our lives and transform our future.
Words evoke powerful emotions. Critical, condescending words can cultivate emotions of anger or shame or resentment.
Simple words like “I’m sorry” or “thank you,” when they’re sincerely spoken are like a gift. As we know all too well in our country today, violent words, inflammatory rhetoric and accusations fuel fear and aggression.
Words are powerful.
In the ancient world – and still in some places and cultures today – people believed that sorcerers or magicians could speak something into reality. People believed in the power of curses and incantations.
Words have power. They had power in the ancient world. And, they’re powerful still today. Yet, no words are more powerful than the Word of God. Our Old Testament contains stories of prophets who spoke on behalf of God. That’s really what a prophet is. A prophet isn’t a fortune teller, but simply one who has been called to speak on God’s behalf. A prophet speaks the Word of God and therefore, those words they speak carry the authority (or power) of God. God’s Word represents divine action – something that can be counted on with certainty. God speaks and it happens. Because God said it, it is.
Our bible begins with a narrative in which God speaks all of creation into existence. In the beginning, God said… And, because God said, it happened: earth and sky, oceans and dry land, trees and birds, and people. About 2/3’s of the way through the Old Testament, in a book named after the prophet Ezekiel, God’s Word re-creates.
Ezekiel was among several of Israel’s best and brightest citizens who were led away as captives to the land of Babylon. That march into exile happened in two waves; one in 597 BCE and one in 587. In 587, after multiple sieges, the city of Jerusalem was finally taken and ransacked by the army of Babylon – buildings destroyed, the city burned. Most scholars think Ezekiel was taken with the first round of exiles in 597. That decade was a grim time in Israel’s history. It had been their understanding that God lived, God dwelled, in the Temple in Jerusalem; his legs dangling from the heavens and his feet resting on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. But now, that footrest and all that surrounded it were gone, crushed to smithereens. And where had God gone, they wondered? Where was their God now as they found themselves in this strange foreign land?
Currently I’m leading two study groups on the “I am” sayings of Jesus in John’s gospel and, through this sermon series, examining how those identity claims of Jesus in John reflect the nature and character of God in the Old Testament. Today was a bit of a challenge because we had the trinity of “I am” sayings; when Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
We know God to be the source of life and, as I’ve already mentioned, we know from scripture that life proceeds from God’s Word and God’s Spirit. The Word of God is a word of life, a word of renewal, a word laden with possibilities beyond our wildest dreams.
Way back in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, Moses gathers the Israelites in a solemn assembly before they conclude their wilderness sojourn and enter the Promised Land. Moses gathers them for a covenant renewal service; a renewal of vows, so to speak. Moses reminds them that they should not ever take the Word of God lightly. In fact, Moses warns that failure to obey God’s Word will result in them being driven away from this Promised Land God is giving them. So Moses exhorts the Israelites to choose life by choosing to obey the commandments, the Word, of God. Furthermore, Moses explains that the key to obeying God’s Word is to carry God’s Word within them; to internalize it. He says, “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”[i]
And yet, as we all know, anything in our mouths can be spit out. The Israelites do not carry God’s Word within them and so they do not obey it. They live rebelliously and, eventually, they find themselves exactly where Moses warned: driven away to the distant land of Babylon where God raises up this prophet, Ezekiel.
We see the power and authority of God’s Word confirmed at the time of Ezekiel’s calling. One day, Ezekiel is by a river in Babylon when he sees a remarkable vision that reveals the glory of God. He hears God’s voice speak to him. God tells Ezekiel that he will speak God’s Word to his fellow exiles, fellow Israelites. God says, “You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear.”[ii] And then, the most bazaar thing happens. God hands Ezekiel a scroll. The scroll has God’s Words on it. And God tells Ezekiel to eat the scroll; to literally consume it; to put it in his mouth and swallow it so that it will be inside of him. Then God says, “Go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them.”[iii] What an image, huh? It is as if Ezekiel will be regurgitating God’s Word for his fellow Israelites. Friends, God’s word was never intended to lay dormant on a page. God’s Word needs to get inside of us. We need to take it into our hearts and our guts. We need to chew on it; we need to internalize it.
And why? Because they are words of life.
That’s what Ezekiel experiences in the valley of the dry bones. God tells Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”[iv] Ezekiel preaches the Word of God to a valley filled with nothing but dry bones. Talk about a tough audience. But that Word has an immediate effect. Something happens: bones join together; muscle and tissue and flesh form around those bones.
Ezekiel witnesses that there is a powerful, death-defying synergy that happens when God’s Word and God’s Spirit come together. Together, they bring life out of death; they defeat the power of death; they reverse the process of death. Friends, our God is in the business of life. No matter how hopeless, dead, or empty something seems, God can still revive it. God’s Word is a word of life. I believe in the power of God’s Word to accomplish impossible things.
And yet, according to Pew Research, only 30% of mainline Protestants – and that’s us by the way – read the bible at least once a week. 44% of mainline Protestants – again, this is us – say they read it seldom or never.[v] 44%!
Friends, there is a lot of death and despair around us in our world today. A lot of people have lost hope. Perhaps some of you may be facing situations in your own life right now that feel hopeless. You may feel as if you’ve experienced a loss from which you will never recover. That was how those ancient Israelites felt. And God knew how they felt; God knew what they were feeling and saying. God tells Ezekiel, “They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone; there’s nothing left of us.’ Therefore – [God tells Ezekiel] – tell them, ‘I’ll dig up your graves and bring you out alive… Then I’ll take you straight [back] to the land of Israel.’”[vi]
Friends, maybe some of you can relate to those ancient Israelites. Maybe you’re at the place where you’re saying, “Hope is gone; there’s nothing left. I feel nothing inside but dry and dead.” But friends, God has a Word for you, a word of hope and a word of life.
This book has the power to change your life and transform your future.
But it can’t simply remain as words on a page. We need to consume these words; we need to take them into us; we need to internalize God’s Word.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus was a walking, moving, breathing illustration of the truth of God. He was God’s truthful, creative Word made flesh. He spoke God’s truth; and what he spoke was demonstrated by the way he lived.
Friends: increasingly, we find ourselves in a culture of extremes. Some folks who will tell you everything in this book is meant to be followed exactly and interpreted literally. I know I’ve shared with some of you the story of my trip to a mission with a group of youth where a speaker so adamantly affirmed Genesis as the scientific explanation for creation. Boldly, he said, “God has only one story of creation.” One of my teens leaned over to me and whispered, “That’s not true. There are two stories back to back right at the beginning of the bible and they’re different.” (Score one for the teenager.)
Yet, some folks are at the other end of the spectrum. They will tell you this book is outdated and primitive, parochial and even oppressive. But friends, this isn’t a science book or a history book. This book is a truthful revelation of who God is AND who God created and called us to be. And the relevance of that revelation doesn’t expire like an outdated carton of milk. This is God’s Word for us; wonderful words of life and hope. We know the Word of God so that we can know the God of that Word. Glenn Hinson writes, “There is a sense in which the scriptures do not become the Word of God until we take them into our hearts and live the message they have for us.”[vii]
Friends, we need to take God’s Word into us; to read it and to internalize it. It will change how we live. And it will change how we speak. And it’ll change what we think.
Preacher Fred Craddock tells of a young woman’s confession to him about her freshman year in college. She said, “I was a failure in my classes; I wasn’t having any dates; and I didn’t have as much money as the other students. I was so lonely and depressed and homesick and not succeeding. One Sunday afternoon I went to the river near campus. I had climbed up on the rail and was looking into the dark water below. For some reason or another I thought of that line, ‘Cast all your cares upon him for he cares for you.’ I stepped back and here I am.”
Craddock asked her, “Where did you learn that line?”
She said, “I don’t know.”
He said, “Do you go to church?”
She said, “No… Well, when I visited my grandmother in the summers we went to Sunday School and church.”[viii]
Folks; that “line” that young lady remembered is a scripture verse that she undoubtedly had heard at her grandmother’s church.[ix]
Remember, friends; words are powerful and no words are more powerful than God’s Word. Where God’s Word and God’s Spirit meet, there is new life and hope.
Hear the word of the Lord.
[i] See Deuteronomy 30:11-20. NRSV.
[ii] Ezekiel 2:7. NRSV.
[iii] Ezekiel 3:4. NRSV.
[iv] Ezekiel 37:4 NRSV.
[vi] Ezekiel 37:11-12. The Message, Eugene Peterson
[vii] Companions in Christ Participant’s Book. Upper Room Books, Nashville. 2006. P. 71.
[viii] Craddock Stories by Fred Craddock. Chalice Press. 2001. P. 33.
[ix] See 1 Peter 5:7
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