WHAT IS IN YOUR WAY?
Psalm 22: 22-28
MARCH 8: 31-38
David declares in our reading from the Psalms today that
“every part of the earth will remember and come back to the Lord; every family among all the nations will worship You.”
As I read that verse I kept wondering … if they are coming back what is it that is in their way? What are the roadblocks? Why are so many families and individuals putting the brakes on and coming to a screeching halt when it comes to a relationship or even an acceptance of the loving power of God Almighty?
I received an awesome call the other morning … recently a friend of mine met me for lunch. He had given up on God. We laughed because he told me he didn’t think of himself as being an atheist but the adjective of describing who he was at that moment might not be agnostic. What he knew … what bothered him … the reason he wanted to “pick my brains’ was that after being sober for many years … after once being active in his house of worship … my friend was lost and it was impacting every element of his life.
So we talked. And, no I didn’t look him deep in his brown eyes to tell him that he was damned to hell … I didn’t say he needed to raise his hand with me in the moment and declare his forever loyalty to Jesus Christ … we talked. We talked about nature, the oceans, the mountains that my friend and his family love so much. We agreed that this would be an ongoing conversation but as he drove away to the east and I drove away to the west what I had promised was to get him some books to read … about God and about life’s challenges in the face of adversity.
You see what had gotten in the way of my friend’s relationship with God were other people. He admitted that he had friends who suggested that no one appreciated what he did by serving a place of worship and there was no profit in it. He had friends who asked why he didn’t do things with them or sleep in or just enjoy time off from work because this time investment in a fabricated god was just time wasted away. And, you know what … my friend slowly but sure listened to them. He literally tried to “save his life” and his time … so he erased God from his life story.
This Friday morning my phone rang. With a laugh, my friend said “He’s back …”. Now, I didn’t get him the books and we didn’t meet a second time and I didn’t tell him he was going to that hot hot place when his life was over. My friend went to the ocean but where God woke him up was when he couldn’t make his regular AA meeting so he went some place else. “Dave, I just felt I wasn’t alone … the meeting went on, I sensed a greater power. And, I knew … I knew that I had been a fool and God was as alive as God had ever been. I just had to tell you.”
“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; I will praise you in the very center of the congregation. He didn’t hide His face from my … no he listened when I cried out to him for help.”
And, Jesus talked about actions … Jesus talked about sacrifice … Jesus talked about changes in living life.
“All who want to come after me must say no to themselves … take up their cross … and follow me.”
In this era of social media and instant communication … actions are noticed. Words vanish so quickly and in fact on some social media they only last for moments. It truly has been a truth of life that “ACTIONS speak louder than words.”
In the midst of the horrendous massacre of students in Florida we have seen the bold actions of surviving students, which has included parents of dead children and teens going on live television to say NO MORE. Those students in the midst of sorrow and brokenness have organized a march that already tens of thousands of Americans have signed up for … on March 24th. Those students’ voices and bravery have some elected officials who always refused to consider change publicly stating change is needed and corporations have said no more discounts to the powerful.
So, this morning … what would you say to one of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School if he or she walked into ST. Paul’s? What would say to a parent of one of those shot to death in school by this terrorist? Well a teacher at the school had an idea … to send a personal note of support and love.
Today you get to become part of the message. You get to create a note to another person whom you don’t know. Not a note of fire and brimstone … not a note to create fear but a note from one human being to one or more other human beings who are hurting today. I am giving you a few moments … and then we as a church will send the love of this church to that school. You can do something else this morning … will you march with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and thousands of other Americans on Saturday March 24th in Washington DC? A MARCH for OUR LIVES? A bus will be leaving St. Paul’s that morning … we have room for 50. I would like to offer free rides for area high school students. The cost is about $60 a person … as you write your note think about whether you are willing to give up a day of your time to show the students and the world you care.
<<<Papers and Pencils handed out so that each person can write a letter/note.>>>
“I offer praise in the great congregation because of You … I will declare Your name to my brothers and sisters; I will praise You in the very center of the congregation!! All of you who revere the Lord … praise Him!”
On Friday I spoke with another young man. I guess Friday was a day of good news phone calls. This young man could have given up on life. He could have chosen a bitter path to life because like most of us he made some choices that were the wrong ones. In his case his choices were really bad, his choices put him in federal prison for 5 years but as he told me the other day ‘those were the best five years of his life.’ While in prison he found the Lord … he came to know Jesus. What is truly sad is that when prisoners have done their time and have “served” their punishment all we do for them … all we give them as we set them free and tell them to live the straight and narrow is just the clothes on their back and best wishes to find work and a life not connected to their past.
Well, this young man, Anthony, put his trust in God. He now has a full time job and a woman who loves him. The obstacles from his past are not in his way. In a few weeks they will be married. What truly matters to me though is that someone … somehow … took the time to share the light of Jesus Christ with Anthony. Today his life is full of love for God and he is quick to share how God has touched him and changed him. He is so quick to praise God.
So, those letters in your hands … I want you to take them home with you as a reminder of your ability to reach out to someone who is hurting. You see, the school has been overwhelmed with individuals’ letters so they have asked that no more letters be sent. However, they want posters to display showing the love so when worship ends today I want all of us to gather here in the front of the church for a photo of love … arms open … blowing kisses … bright smiles and we will send that message to the children and the teachers at MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL.
In this life God calls us … in this life God is always present … Jesus is asking as we continue our Lenten journey to say no to ourselves …. To take up our cross and to follow Him.
So, let’s praise the Lord … let’s get ready to take on great new challenges … let your voice and your life be the tools God uses to bring others home to God. Lent is the season to tear down the barriers so that nothing remains in the way between you and God. AMEN
Watch a video of today’s worship service: