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Sermon transcript for June 30, 2013

The Big Road Trip
Luke 9:51-66
Belmont UMC—June 30, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio - MP3


The Edwards family is known for our long road trips; we just returned from at trip to New Mexico, driving over 3000 miles. We have driven further on other trips. We once drove to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia with two young children in the car. What were we thinking? On two consecutive years we drove out west. We took a northern route one year to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons National Parks. We took the southern route the next year to Mesa Verde, Brice, and Grand Canyon National Parks. We once flew to California and then rented a car and drove all the way to Victoria, British Columbia. We flew to Idaho once, rented a car and drove to the Ice Fields of Canada.

We tried to play games with small children in the car to look for ways to occupy ourselves on those long trips. Driving across Kansas with 2 small children in the car we offered prizes for good behavior every 2 hours. Once we arrived at our campsite at Rocky Mountain National Park, the two boys ran around and around the campsite with pent up energy.

The first day of those trips were usually the longest. We would leave before daylight so the kids would sleep for a few hours. Then they would wake up and we would hear, “He’s touching me.” “He’s looking at me.” “How much longer will it be?” “Are we there yet?”

Those long days of driving in a minivan filled with too much stuff were tests of how much we loved each other. By the end of the day we would know what kind of Christians we were. We often failed the test.

I always laughed in those hotel rooms where they would provide a little door sign that you hang over the doorknob of you hotel room. One side read, “Please clean this room.” The other side read, “Please do not disturb.” I would laugh because the only people who were apt to disturb me were in the room with me.

Road trips, journeying, traveling: these are metaphors for our faith.

Abraham and Sarah and an entourage of family and servants and farm animals set out from Ur to find a new land God had promised.

Moses and the Hebrews, liberated from captivity, journeyed in the wilderness for a generation, looking for a new home.

Along the way they learned about God and about being together in community. They could be noble and courageous and faithful, and they could be irritable and impatient as five people stuck in a minivan for 10 hours. They experienced heroic faith and faithless despair. They complained a lot and kept asking God, “Are we there yet?” But God never abandoned them. God was faithful.

Their lives become an example of how we travel on this great road trip we call Christianity. We are wanderers, pilgrims, sojourners, and strangers (or immigrants), who are in the world but of the world, and we are on the move.

In Luke 9 Jesus begins his journey toward Jerusalem. It will not be an easy journey. Followers will leave him and betray him. Whole towns will reject him. And his words in this passage seem harsh and unrealistic, but his words underline the seriousness of what he is about and who we are called to be.

Toward the end of her book, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor writes about a similar passage in Luke—a passage in which Jesus tells his would-be followers that they must reject members of their own family to be his disciples. She concludes that this was Jesus way of telling people to go home—that they didn’t need to go to Jerusalem and die with him.

She writes, “He needed people to go back where they came from and live the kind of lives that he had risked his own life to show them:  lives of resisting the powers of death, of standing up for the little and the least, of turning cheeks and washing feet, of praying for enemies and loving the unlovable. That would be plenty hard enough for most of them.” (p. 229) So, the journey we are on with Jesus is not an easy one and it is never to be taken lightly.

Our faith experience is about the journey itself. Many of our people get too focused on the destination, but our shared life is really about the journey—the destination will take care of itself.

God keeps trying to teach me this but the conversion is slow. I’m goal focused. On the hiking trail I’m trying to get to the waterfall and back to the trailhead. On a road trip, if someone says, “Could we turn around and go back so we can take a photo of that old barn?” The idea of turning around and going back is offensive to me. Turn around? Go back? We have make up time, get to our destination.

God is teaching us that it is about the journey, about paying attention along the way. It is like we pray each Sunday, “Help us to be present to God, as God is present to us.” Someone said, “The way we live our life is determined by how we live our days.” It is about how we live each day that God gives us--how fully attentive and present we are to what is doing in the world..

It is about the journey because on the journey we learn how to live in community. We learn about God, about how to be obedient to God’s call on our lives, about making a difference in the world, about widening our circle to include others. On this journey we grow deeper in our faith.

It is interesting that when the Israelites finally crossed the river and settled in the land and codified their rules for traveling into law, they included a rule for hospitality for other wanderers, strangers, immigrants, because they had once been strangers in other peoples’ lands.

People who journey together get hungry. We never go on a road trip without snacks. If people start to grumble we can feed them and buy a little more time. On our journey of faith God provides nourishment for the travel.

When the people of Israel journeyed they complained of empty stomachs and God provided manna from heaven.

When Elijah was hungry in Zarephath, God used a poor and starving widow to feed him and God provided a continual supply of nourishment to bless this woman’s act of sharing.

When John journeyed in the wilderness he was hungry enough to eat locusts and honey.

After Jesus journeyed into 40 days of fasting and temptation, the scripture says that angels came and ministered to him. I like to think they brought food with them.

When Jesus journeyed to the hilltop for a teaching session with thousands of people, he instructed the disciples to feed them because he had compassion on them and did not want them to go away hungry.

When Elijah ran for his life and lay down under a tree. He gave up and went to sleep and when he woke up, he saw cake and water. An angel said, “Get up and eat, otherwise, the journey will be too much for you.”

We journey and we grow hungry and weary and God feeds us with surprising moments of grace that fill us up. Sometimes the journey will seem like too much to handle, and God will feed us with the encouragement of fellow travelers. God feeds us in these rich moments of worship and prayer.

When our oldest son was between his 2nd and 3rd year of life, I was serving as the associate pastor at Forest Hills UMC in Brentwood. Lars was whisked away each Sunday to the nursery and then to children’s church. He was seldom present in worship with us.

I was invited to my home church to preach and assist in the baptism of my nephew. It was a communion Sunday and it was the first time our little one had been in worship when communion was served. He knelt at the altar beside his mother and I served him a piece of bread and a tiny cup of grape juice. I smiled at him and moved on to the next person. (As a parent you sometimes have this awareness when something is about to happen, but it comes about a half a second too late for you to respond. I had that moment of awareness—too late.)

Lars said in a loud voice, “Daddy, that was good. Can I have some more?” I tried to ignore him. He got louder! I looked to Kathryn for help and she picked him up and took him out. All the time he was saying, “I just wanted some more juice.”

I made a mistake 27 years ago. And if I could go back and relive that moment, I would say, “Sure Son, you can have some more.” And then I would have turned to the congregation and said, “Don’t all of you want more? This is the bread which has come down from heaven. This is the promise of God’s love for us. This is God’s food for the journey. Come all who hunger from travel and be filled.”

 

Sermon transcript for June 23, 2013

Belmont UMC—June 23, 2013
Pam Hawkins, preaching

Audio - MP3

   

Sermon transcript for June 16, 2013

Belmont UMC—June 16, 2013
Pam Hawkins, preaching

Audio - MP3

 

Sermon transcript for June 9, 2013

Despair Interrupted
1 Kings 17:8-16; Luke 7:11-17
Belmont UMC—June 9, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching

To be a widow during the time of Elijah, during the time of Jesus and during our time means that one has endured significant loss and entered a period of grief. To be a widow during the time of Elijah and Jesus and experience the death of one’s only son added to the depth of grief, but it also signified a personal crisis, a crisis of loss of place in the community and the loss of financial security.

In the Elijah story the woman’s loss is compounded by a drought that has caused hunger and despair. Elijah asked the woman for something to eat. She replies, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” (verse 12) Listen to the incredible despair in this text. God provides enough food to share, multiplying what the widow has, but in the following verses, which we did not read, the boy dies, probably from malnutrition. Elijah is able to revive the boy, as Jesus does in the Gospel of Luke.

In the Gospel story Jesus comes upon a funeral procession for the only son of a widow. Jesus is moved by compassion and speaks to the dead man and the dead man rises up and speaks. Widows were in a precarious position in Jesus’ day. Widows, orphans and strangers are often linked as those who the most vulnerable, the poorest, and the powerless. Women lived under the protection of the father’s household and then their husband’s household. If a woman was widowed and had no sons, all personal property reverted to her husband’s family. Widows were often pushed to the margins of society, alienated from the community and forced to beg to survive.

These stories today, speak to us of life at its lowest, life in crisis, life at the point of despair. But God has a word for those who despair.

H. James Hopkins writes of his friend, Rufus Watson, who loved the story of Elijah and the widow. Rufus, the son of former slaves, lived to be 99 years of age. He had served in the military, pitched in the Negro professional baseball league. He had made a little money investing in real estate. He had witnessed lynchings and spent a lifetime wondering how people commit atrocities and still go to church and call themselves Christians. He found hope in the Elijah story and hope in God who meets us at the bottom of the barrel. He would say, “That’s where God meets us, Jim, at the bottom of the barrel. God meets us when we’ve gone so low that all we can do is look up.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3; p. 103)

Well, I hope God meets us at better times as well, but when we or others despair, God has a word of hope and healing. This, my dear friends in Christ, is why we keep hearing God speaking, through the Hebrew Scriptures and into the New Testament of the religious community’s need to care for the widows, the orphans, and the strangers. God always cares for those who are the most desperate, the most vulnerable, and the most marginalized. God always speaks a resounding “No!” to despair. God liberates those who are imprisoned in places of despair. God brings rich hope to those who are on the brink of giving up, and for those who are already at the bottom of the barrel and looking up.

We are called to intervene in the desperation of other person’s lives. We are the ones God uses to bring the word of hope, healing, and liberation. And that seems like a huge calling at times!

I have a number of images in my mind this week as I worked on this message. One is from Barbara Lundblad (Festival of Homiletics, 2013). She reminded us again of the situation in Liberia in the early part of the last decade, where violence and hatred ruled under the unjust leadership of President Charles Taylor. But there were women, under the guidance of a woman named Leymah Gbowee, president of a Lutheran women’s group in Monrovia. In 2003 she joined with other women, Christian and Muslim women, to create the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET). “The women marched in the streets and held vigils in churches and mosques. They lay on their bellies on the runway at the Monrovia airfield where everyone on the highway could see them.” Leymah said, “Some say we are an embarrassment to our government, but the sun and rain are better than the bullets of war . . . We believe God’s hands are under us in this effort now. God has turned ears toward us.”

During the protests, President Taylor ordered armed men to whip the women. But as their movement grew he knew he could not stop them. Eventually, Taylor agreed to meet with the women. By 2005, after years of turmoil and violence, Taylor had left the country in exile and a woman was elected president of Liberia. (Marking Time, Barbara Lundblad, pp. 66-67) God had used these brave women to say a resounding “No!” to the despair of the country. God used them as liberators and bearers of hope.

Where are the places in our world, in our communities where this message of liberation and hope is needed so much?

I’ve been thinking about a lot this week about places of need, persons who live at the bottom of the barrel or on the edge of despair. I’ve been thinking about Edgehill children who are home now for the summer. For most of our children this is the time of fun, of swimming and of camping and sleeping later in the mornings. For Edgehill children it can be time of hunger for there are school lunches to fill their bellies. (Brighter Days summer program is creating places of hope for these children.)

I’ve been thinking about that young couple nearby who has a special needs child. They’ve journeyed through the long days of grief and disappointment. Maybe they would like to come to church on Sundays, but cannot decide if they can navigate their way to doing it. Will they be welcomed? Will someone help them?

I’ve been thinking a lot about military personnel. On my last visit with Bob Ziegler before he died, he tearfully said, “Please pray for our military men and women; they need our prayers so much.” These men and women serve in harms way in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and if they survive, many come home wounded physically and mentally. Since 2001, 2,700 service members have committed suicide, and that figure does not include National Guard and reserve troops who were not on active duty when they committed suicide. (New York Times, May 15, 2013) I’ve counseled some of those young men who have returned from war and the experience has completely changed them. They need our prayers and support.

I’ve been thinking about our Golden Triangle Families, from Burma and Thailand, who find life difficult and confusing in a different land with a different culture and language barriers.

As we hear God’s call to the ministry of being liberators and hope bearers, where are the places we can make a difference in the lives of others. Maybe those heroic, news- making stories, like the story of the women in Liberia cause us to think that this work is for others, persons more gifted and more courageous. But I believe that each of us, in some simple, down to earth way, can speak that resounding “No!” in the face of despair.

Several years ago I made an afternoon visit to the Mt. Juliet Nursing Home. One of the church members of Grace UMC had been sent there to recover from surgery. My assistant had given me the woman’s room number as I was leaving the office. When I reached the room and went in, I quickly realized that I was in the wrong room. There was an older woman sitting in a wheelchair. I apologized and said, “I have the wrong room number.”

She responded, “That’s okay. Won’t you sit down and visit anyway.”

I sat in the chair across from her and introduced myself. She introduced herself and as she did I looked up and saw a photograph of two women on the dresser behind her. The two women were members of Grace UMC and they were friends. I asked her, “How do you know these two women?”

She smiled and said, “They are my daughters.”

I responded, “Well, that’s interesting because I happen to know them and know that they are not sisters and that each of their mothers has died over the last few years.”

She smiled again and said, “Okay, they are my angels then.” She continued, “One day they walked in here and asked if they could be my friends. I am a widow and my only daughter died a few years ago. I’d been very much alone until that day. They come each week and visit me. They bring me flowers and treats. They come to celebrate my birthdays, Christmas and other holidays.”

Later I asked the two women about the woman I’d met in the nursing home. They had gone to lunch together as they did each week and had begun a conversation about people in the nursing homes who are forgotten, who never get visits, who have no family.
After lunch they drove to the nearest nursing home, walked into the office and said, “Who lives here who has no one to visit or care for them?” From that day they had come to the nursing home to give this new older friend a new life and hope, and to liberate her from the deep wells of loneliness.

There are those places where we are called, through courageous and prophetic actions, or through simple acts of kindness, to say a resounding “No!” to the despair we witness. We will be God’s hope bearers and liberators. It will be powerful and restorative—like Jesus interrupting a funeral procession and saying, “Rise up!”

   

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