WHATEVER YOU DO, YOU HAVE TO KEEP MOVING FORWARD
Micah 6: 6-9
LUKE 10: 25-37
January 15, 2023 – MLK Weekend
We are now two weeks past my ringing of this cow bell here at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church as we ushered in the year 2023. It is a new year and it’s already picked up steam and is moving all too quickly. As my chiropractor manipulated my back on Friday asking me about the new year my response was “I wish I could go back in time” but none of us can do that.
Seriously, when folks start wishing for the ‘good old times’ I wonder if they really remember the challenges, the aches, the pains, and the longing for the future that were part of the old days. Our dreams of George Jetson and Jane his wife; hoping to perhaps one day have the ability to instantaneously see people around the world as we talked with them on our watches or perhaps our phones.
Yes, it is true we could easily dial a telephone from our houses in those days making sure we used the right combination of letters and numbers while hoping that our party line partners, whom we usually didn’t know, weren’t listening in or attempting to make a call at the same time. We paid enormous sums of money to just call family and friends in other area codes and our grandchildren, living elsewhere, were never seen and their photographic moments of joy were days away in the mail. If you were on the road and your car broke down you could walk until you found a pay phone to call for help if you had change.
It is true that I long for the days when a church like St. Paul’s was filled with young families as well as older folks … when each family on the street waved on Sunday mornings on their way to buildings called churches but friends if those old days’ connection with God were as wonderful as we seem to remember my question is … why in the world would folks stop coming to those churches … wouldn’t those experiences have left a positive impact on the next generation and the next and caused so many churches not called St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of West Deptford to stay full rather than to shrink and fade away into ‘closed door status’ as they have?
I am here to declare to you this morning that very same message I had on New Year’s morning … “We did not close the doors of St. Paul’s on Christmas Day like so many other churches chose to do. “. I continued, “St. Paul’s has a history … a strength … a commitment to the one we call our Savior, Jesus Christ that WE WILL BE the Church of Christ as often as we can be! We will worship with joy … we know the truth … HE IS RISEN <<HE is Risen Indeed>>.” And, I concluded by asking those present to “consider what you can do to make St. Paul’s a stronger beacon to the world, to use your voices for God and for Christ and for this church so that we remain strong now and into the future … we have a story … let’s build this church’s story for God.” And then I said, AMEN. The message still holds … let’s build this church’s story for God!
On the Sunday’s preceding the national holiday established to remember a Baptist preacher who stood up for justice and was cut down on a rainy night in April of 1968 I always remember the impact that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had on me as a boy. I read all of his books, still own them, and I can tell you exactly where I was when that announcement came across my radio … yes back in the old days we didn’t stream Wi-Fi 24/7. And, a few years ago, in Memphis, I wept uncontrollably standing outside the motel balcony where he breathed his last breath.
On these Sunday’s in particular, I grab hold of the challenge that is laid out in our two Scripture lessons today. Clear lessons … nothing vague about God’s expectations for people of faith. God does not try to blind us as the arena filling evangelists often attempt to do. No suggestions that just by saying the words “born again” one is miraculously transformed into the greatest of saints because frankly neither by saying those words nor in raising one’s hands at a church rally is one rescued from the darkness because friends the Kingdom of Heaven is ours when we believe … when we truly love God and allow Jesus to be our Savior and our Rabbi and our Master. We can not truly believe nor have undergone the transformation of faith if we don’t live the lives God has expects us to live. Scripture teaches us that even the Evil One believes God is real.
Micah was succinct in declaring for all time what the LORD GOD, the Creator of the universe expects from the rescued ones, believers like us … followers of Christ … Christians. People like you and me who worship God and praise God’s name need to fully understand that there are choices when it comes to this life but perhaps more importantly choices for eternity. We state that we truly understand God’s reality … the truth of Jesus … and God’s love for us and for every other human being but to belong we need to love God and obey God and follow Jesus.
The Contemporary English Version’s translation of God’s Word and this prophetic passage is absolutely direct in its call to you and to me … “The Lord God has told us WHAT IS RIGHT!”
Now, I could merely stop there and suggest we spend a few hours reading the lessons of Jesus Christ because Jesus came not only to go to the cross, to be put in the tomb and on Easter morning leave the tomb empty as the world discovered HE IS RISEN <<He is Risen Indeed>> but Jesus came delivering God’s Word so that you and I should know what is right. What is right and frankly how we should live each day that is IF … if we have decided that accepting God’s love matters and we therefore joyfully buy into the first commandment, which is to love God with our hearts, souls, and our very beings.
Just consider the lesson of the Good Samaritan we heard today. We often focus on the one who crossed the road, bandaged the naked and beaten man and gave his money for this stranger’s care, as much money as was needed. My goodness for a total stranger lying on the road side. You do realize that the Samaritan could have joined the pious religious leader and the smirk-faced man who figured he could call himself a faith-person so he could walk by and not even look towards that beaten guy … he probably thought that the bruised and hurt guy might be a drug addict and deserving of his pain so why help him. Right?
Jesus did point out that of the three, the Samaritan was on a journey. He was going somewhere with plans. Yes, he was moving along but sometimes in this life as we continue to move forward, God is telling us to change direction. Do you pay attention when you sense God’s nudge to do something for someone? For church? Regardless of your decision, you can’t sit back … you can’t reminisce … you can’t pretend to sleep through the future because time keeps on ticking. Unlike the priest and the Levite, the Samaritan came by that spot on the road and moved with compassion to the other side … the hurting side that needed him.
Do you think he might have remembered what the Lord God “DEMANDS of believers” that was written in Micah. That’s the translation from the Contemporary English Version … it goes beyond the word EXPECTS which is still powerful but our Old Testament reading from Micah reads “THE LORD GOD has told us WHAT IS RIGHT and he DEMANDS that we SEE THAT JUSTICE IS DONE … THAT MERCY IS YOUR FIRST CONCERN and that we HUMBLY OBEY OUR GOD!”
The Samaritan’s first concern was not his journey it was mercy. His wallet filled with a variety of credit cards was not hidden away nor was his ATM card kept safely encompassed in his wallet … no HE SAW THAT JUSTICE WAS done and then he told the innkeeper he would be back because the Good Samaritan was humbly obeying our God not the world’s influencers who tell us ignore the homeless, reject the strangers in the land even fear them forgetting that God has told us strangers might be angels in disguise … wonder how many of us have turned our backs on God’s angels throughout our journey because they were hurting strangers. The world’s voices consider caring for someone or mercy a weakness and in recent years have even created a mocking word for those amongst us who show love for all. But God tells us MERCY is our first concern.
And, Dr. King declared to those college students …. “The time is always right to do what’s right” and church are you ready to buy into that? Are you focused in on doing what’s right? To reject the world and make the active choice to stand up for justice for the least of those around us? Is MERCY your first concern or do you mock those who are merciful and showing justice by saying they are WOKE?
Oh, I said that the Good Samaritan lesson has a part we often forget. It does because perhaps we don’t like hearing it … after all the Good Samaritan parable is a nice stand alone story; man helps man get his life together. But, Jesus teaches the story after answering the question from the legal expert ‘WHAT MUST I DO TO GAIN ETERNAL LIFE?
Jesus smiled in affirmation as the legal expert replied to Jesus question of what is written and the expert replied, “YOU MUST love the Lord your God with all your hear, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbors as yourself.” Jesus said “Do this and you will have eternal life.” When asked who is neighbor is, Jesus told the story … “THE TIME IS ALWAYS RIGHT … to do what is right!”
“The Lord God has told us what is right and what He demands: “See that justice is done, let mercy by your first concern, and humbly obey your God.”
Friends, in a few moments we will sing SEND THE LIGHT … and then we will be off into the world. This church continues to gain people in worship both in person and online. We continue to be in mission for God while welcoming anyone and all of God’s people who come through the doors. At times the pastor sings “joy to the world, the Lord has come” and rings a bell. As you consider your journey … on the day before we remember Dr. King … have you connected the dots and are you living your life as God expects? Rejoicing always in the Lord? Truth is, whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward but how we move forward and when we choose to change our paths is up to each of us. Live for God … live for Jesus with joy! AMEN