Isaiah 6: 1-8
JOHN 15: 12-17
May 30, 2021
Church, thank God for all that Bob brought to this St Paul’s Church family; this place where friends gather regularly … his love of the people of this church … his love for each of us; and very clearly his love of his own family. He did not attempt to seek domain over others and frankly he never claimed that he should have more power because his family have been members of St Paul’s for more than a century … Bob’s laughter intertwined by his never ending desire to be a friend and make friends will be a tribute to his life that will leave memories for many people including me. Even the nurses caring for him these last weeks immediately liked the man; one told me he is a “hoot.”
And, I can remember when and where I met him … and knew in those moments that he would be someone I liked. That’s what makes friends special … they blend into your life and if you are fortunate they will build you up … have your back … and share the good and also the bad while understanding and accepting the differences … and they won’t let go. They focus on the connection they share. Do you remember when you met Bob?
September 7th the year was 1960. It might have seemed like an ordinary day as summer days faded away into autumn but there on Los Robles Street a new energy was starting and truly something special was brewing. On that Wednesday morning a mother kissed her son goodbye … perhaps with tears of apprehension or maybe it was joy as she realized life was changing. And, her son, named David Delaney, was about to enter the world beyond the neighborhood as he walked up the school bus steps on his way to Forest Elementary School and Miss Eastman’s AM kindergarten class.
<<SHOW FIRST PICTURE of the CLASS>>. Little did I know as I nervously walked into the classroom with my neighborhood friend Brian O’Neill that I would be meeting people who are now life time friends. Strangers who now have my back … at least 10 of these kindergartners are adults I now treasure … Brian died playing his trombone on a street corner in support of his adopted New Orleans after Katrina hit that city. A week before he had appeared on the Today Show and that city’s love for Brian gave him a horse drawn celebration of life … Hannah Raiken in the front row is an amazing teacher and dancer who married Bob a man whose smile is nonstop and whose impact on college students extends far beyond Buffalo New York. <<SHOW MENS PHOTO>> When one of our group couldn’t attend a reunion because cancer was bringing his life to a close 3 of these men talked it over and drove together to Texas for a week to get our life long friend’s life in order so he could go out in peace. And, I could go on and on but these weren’t … these aren’t family members … these were and are humans and together we have made the decision to be not acquaintances but but to be friends. Some rich and some poor …. Some conservative and some liberal … some straight and some gay … representations all faith traditions and some without any … connected for decades .. FRIENDS. <<BACK TO CAMERA>>
This morning one week after our Pentecost celebrations … how are you choosing to live your life? Are you actively sorting out people … setting some on one side and others on your side even though Jesus declared as we heard again this morning “THIS IS MY COMMANDMENT; love each other just as I have loved you.” If people who have been friends don’t follow your directions do you cast them out of your life?
One week after Pentecost … with our ability to be with each other again … are you sensing God’s directions and love again? Are you ready to party and celebrate the truth of our Savior … HE IS RISEN <<HE IS RISEN INDEED>> … God’s Holy Spirit is available to believers but in contrast are those voices attempting to pull us into categories. Friends, that early church chose to come together in love respectful of each other … to celebrate God’s love … to use their gifts, talents and possessions to care for others but also to grow the group … discovering new friends who were then saved who then provided more opportunities to accomplish God’s work on earth. Devoted to fellowship … friendship … God’s teaching … that focus must have brought amazing joy and comfort to the church of friends because they were together sensing God’s truths.
I had a conversation the other night with a person of faith who was sharing with me how one of their church going friends has created a judgment list towards others humans. A list that declares an order of sins from bad to worse … a list that this person apparently was provided at the church they attend … that seeks to condemn some with vehemence. In fact if people don’t declare and use that very same specific list of sins as the tool for condemnation of others they too are condemned as sinners in that church. As our conversation continued it was clear that some of the sins on their list are never even listed in God’s Word in any form but some clever preacher or church leader has found power by convincing many that their words could identify sinners better than God’s teaching. When we ignore God’s Word because we are too busy it is easy to start to think that a loud voice’s harassment and power must be listened to and must have the answers.
Whether you are here in church this morning or worshiping with us online from some corner of the world I am sure you remember Jesus’ answer to the expert in the law who was hoping that he would trip Jesus up in discussing the rules humans, like those Pharisees who were standing off to the side, find power through in their judging of others … Jesus was asked, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself. ALL the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Of course Jesus was just verifying what was already written in the Torah in the book of Leviticus, “You shall not bear a grudge against any of your people but you shall love your neighbors as yourself; I am the Lord.”
Powerful instruction … from Jesus … from God and I share these passages this morning for a couple of reasons as we begin to move forward in our lives. First, we do need to remember that all of humanity is created in the image of God … and God loves all of humanity. We all have the freedom to become whoever we choose but the essence of God is within each of us so it is no wonder that the Old and New Testament both declare in strong language that we are to love all of our neighbors … not even hold a grudge against them and Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek and if we expect forgiveness from God we have to forgive those who have trespassed against us. We each have gifts and talents capable of carrying on God’s mission in the world.
This morning, we heard Jesus use the word friends in referencing believers, “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I call you friends because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you.” And Jesus says this immediately after declaring we are to love each other as Jesus loved …. There is a connection and in the times we live in when some encourage us to separate into tribes and seek out leaders who teach us not to love all … we need to take the Pentecost energy and God’s directives to heart so that the world understands that Christians are open to friendships with all others but most importantly Christians are those who have become Jesus’ friends since we do what Jesus has taught us to do. Have you discovered Jesus as a friend? More than a historical name that is associated with the church you choose to attend? … “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry … everything to God in prayer.”
When you think about your good friends … just like those guys from the Class of 73 … is it because they have your back? Will they go out of their way to care for you? Not forget you or give up on you? Friends, God and Jesus Christ are calling you and me into a relationship with them … where we can talk with them “He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own. And, the joy we share … “ and the Holy Spirit is ready to direct us if we are ready to discover our friends in the Trinity.
So, on this Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday in the tradition of the church, I believe that one of life’s essential requirements is that we become friends with God and Jesus Christ and take on the Holy Spirit as the connection of that friendship. This is a higher plateau and relationship than anything we can have in our lives but it will then open us up to taking on the work load God has planned for us using the talents and abilities we have. It will allows us to truly have open hearts, open minds and open doors for those strangers seeking hope and possibility for their lives and needing a Savior named Jesus Christ but truthfully those who are hurting and desperate also are needing friends.
And, churches should be filled with people because churches should be the most welcoming and loving places on the planet. When new folks move into a neighborhood it should be the church they rush to because the church won’t judge them … church members won’t criticize them … people who truly call Jesus Christ Lord and Master will love and embrace them without hesitancy … So, on the Sunday after Pentecost why are churches dying and closing? Our Verga Church is closing its doors … there are only a handful at Colonial Manor … I am so in the celebration mood of Pentecost that I want to discover new friends who will call St Paul’s home … home for worship … home for study … home for their kids … and we don’t reward superstars nor put kids on the bench who don’t succeed like sports leagues … we are here to welcome all … St Paul’s is not a building … St. Paul’s is a wonderful collective of friends that we refer to as a church family but family is not a choice because we are born into it … friends we discover and choose to remain with! We are here because we know that Jesus Christ is RISEN <<HE IS RISEN INDEED>. And, that God loves all of us and all who aren’t here.
But the walk of faith takes all of us. The work of the church cannot be accomplished … without all of us. The Food Pantry does not miraculously feed people … it takes the friends who are connected with St. Paul’s who pour out their energy, love and use their abilities to get food into hungry people’s homes.
In the coming days … if we are to discover new friends for God and Christ and for each of us at St. Paul’s we have to do some work using our abilities to serve God. I have often mentioned that I am not a handy man. On mission trips I lug stuff <<Put photo of me with boards in my hand>> this is not a new truth because as a teenager and a young man you would never find me using power tools or doing precision labor work … I’ll carry things as others watch and then the real work can get done. What is your skill? Starting a small group Bible Study in your home? Planting flowers? Going door to door to say Hi, I am from St. Paul’s and we would love to have you join our church family?
Isaiah told God he was unfit for the mission … a ruined man; a sinner. By the way … I too am a sinner and not a single one of us is perfect …we all need Jesus Christ and God AMEN? <<BACK TO CAMERA>> Isaiah, like many church folks, tried to get out of doing God’s work …. Said NO NOT ME!!! I CAN’T!! DON’T HAVE THE ABILITY!! In fact, he sounded like Samuel who tried to plea he couldn’t do God’s work but God persisted.
Isaiah said he’s seen God and God touched him … friends, if you believe have you taken the time to establish the relationship with God so that God can reach out to you as a loving friend and God to give you the encouragement and the nudge to do great things. Today, I can tell you for sure that God is calling out …. WHOM SHOULD I SEND …. WHO WILL GO FOR US?
And your answer … is up to you.
In May of 1961, near the conclusion of my year with Miss Eastman and that class whose membership continues to include friends of mine … a family moved in next door to our home. The Tammaro’s. The extraordinary happened in those moments because two families merged into one <<SHOW FOOTBALL SLIDE>> … strangers became friends … friends who care about each other … generational friends … loving friends … when my mom died their patriarch, John Tammaro, told me David, you still have a parent it is me. We actively have chosen to be more than neighbors … more than strangers … yes, our politics is different … there is an addict amongst us … a couple of these folks are very wealthy and one just makes it … what matters is we put aside the differences to create something special <<BACK TO CAMERA>>
One week after PENTECOST … days after Bob Platt went home to the Lord, I need to ask this church family whether we have the faith … the energy … sense the call of God and Jesus Christ to go out and discover new friends for this church. The Verga United Methodist Church a few miles from here is closing … two years ago the Wenonah United Methodist Church closed its doors … in one of the Sunday School classrooms is a wall hanging from 1917 listing one of Bob Platt’s relatives on it … 104 years ago.
We have the energy of Pentecost … we understand the love of God … but we need to put aside personalities and differences from the outside world so that our collective of friends can grow this church of Christ’s so that 100 years ago … future generations will <<PUT UP BOB PLATT PHOTO>> celebrate names from the past as they look towards new missions and projects for God.
Jesus declares that He chose His friends so that we could go out and produce fruit and so that fruit could last. His commandments were given so that we can love each other!” Today are you ready to declare to God …. “I’m here … Send me” let me use my gifts and talents even in their simplicity to discover new friends for Jesus who get to experience the Good News because of our words and our actions that we have chosen to reflect God’s will not the world’s. It’s our choice … and God’s love! AMEN