Is That a Smile I See?

Isaiah 9:1-4
Matthew 4: 12-23

January 22, 2023

One of the earliest fun moments that I had with my grandson, once he was beyond that baby stage of life, and that I continue to have is voguing together with him for the camera. Dax can break out into these wonderful silly giggles even though at times he can be a very serious boy but when it is selfie time with his Babu, that’s me, we both get into goofy mindsets. And, our word for those moments is the all familiar CHEESE! And then the posing begins with smiles and silliness!

Yes, say CHEESE and we are making faces always encompassed in break out smiles. Those smiles feel so good … those smiles can produce laughter and every once in a while, if we are lucky, our smiles are captured in a keeper photograph!

CHEESE … nothing specific about the kind of cheese, which has always made me wonder a little bit. We don’t say Gruyere to get people to smile … BRIE … nah it’s not a smile producer either. Limburger creates a grimace if you have ever taken a whiff or nibbled on some. But, here in America when you hear someone ask you to SAY CHEESE … instantaneously the perspective changes and the vast majority of folks will smile for just a moment or two … and frankly, they will look their best!. I never understood those who turn away from the call of the grand fromage … CHEESE!

Our Gospel reading might be an interesting discovery for some of you because it certainly was for me. Now, I can only read so much into Matthew’s quote of Jesus, but it appears we learn here in chapter 4 that Jesus had an ongoing clarion call …. Almost like ringing a bell … we heard, “From that time forward Jesus began to announce …. “Change your hearts and lives! HERE COMES THE KINGDOM of heaven!!”

So as Jesus led this parade of disciples and others through the Holy land … did they get everyone’s attention with the call out CHANGE YOUR HEARTS … CHANGE YOUR LIVES. In the musical GODSPELL, we hear the singer tell the audience “Turn back O man! Forswear thy foolish ways …” and perhaps the songwriter was taking this statement of Jesus from Matthew …. A lesson for each of us friends.

When we change our hearts for God …. When we change our hearts because we know Jesus is more than a name; that Jesus is a Savior … our Savior and our rescuer … shouldn’t folks who see us be saying “Is That a Smile I See?” I know that our dear sister of faith, Eve Cervantes, had a never-ending smile … even after the stroke … and her joy reflected the teaching of Scriptures … “REJOICE in the LORD … ALWAYS …. Again I say REJOICE!!”

As you saw in this week’s prayer requests, we had another doctor’s appointment this week for Megan and we watched video images of her heart and saw how her heart’s valve functions. It was fascinating to watch and if set to music it might have been a better program than many of the selections on television these days. That was Megan’s physical heart … the body part that keeps my beautiful daughter alive and sharing those all so special hugs of hers, but the hug part actually does not come from her physical heart. Yes, I know Valentine’s Day is coming soon and we will pass along cards with hearts on them but the messages to hug, to love and even to smile come from our minds … come from our souls … hugging, loving and smiling are reflections of who we are if we choose to share those actions. When Jesus declared CHANGE YOUR HEARTS He was talking about how you and I and how those He spoke to make and made a choice. How we continue to choose to live our lives … yes, we are in worship right now … our choices but what’s next? What visage will be on display from you and from me?

On my tie today you can see Dax with his huge smile … it’s the smile of a child, which Jesus says we have to become to see the Kingdom of Heaven … “you must be like children,” He said. Perhaps it is in that special innocence that adults block with our protective considerations of image or stoicism that somehow we feel is fitting for a human over the age of 11 or 12 to be restrictive in our smiles, our hugs, and our love.

But I need to ask you … if you have changed your heart for Jesus Christ shouldn’t you be smiling and deflecting the world with that changed heart of yours and with your smile and love and hugs rather than throwing temper tantrums and grumbling along your pathway because things didn’t go your way? Which attitude in life is more likely to get friends to want to be like you … which is more likely to get people to ask about your faith. The grumbler and temper-laden style or the loving and caring one?

If you say I am a Christian but they see flames from your eyes and harsh disagreements from your lips … will they change in your direction? Actually, if you take that approach to life what is God thinking about you? Have you changed your heart … that’s what Jesus’ impact is supposed to have on us. But, perhaps we need to hear the prophet Isaiah again explain the dot-to-dot connection between God, faith, and the reaction that follows in people who have CHANGED THEIR HEARTS

“The people who were walking in darkness,” Isaiah reports. “Those people have seen a great Light. Light has dawned. You, God, have made the nation great … You, God have increased its joy. THEY, those who changed their hearts, REJOICED before You, God, as with joy at the harvest! God, You’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them!”

Wow … REJOICE … in the LORD ALWAYS!!, don’t you think? It’s pretty darn hard to rejoice and be joy-filled and sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come” with a sullen unsmiling face and an angry disagreeable attitude towards others or at least that’s what I think and believe. No matter the storm … no matter the worries … God has taken away the burdens from my life because God gave me Jesus Christ. Even after I rejected Christ … God didn’t reject me … on that day in Atlantic City when I again knew Jesus Christ was real and He is my Savior and that God’s love was something I desperately needed … on the day I got back in the race towards that future heavenly goal … I knew I had to face the world usually smiling and always full of joy!!

I have hope because I know Jesus left the tomb and He is Risen <<HE is RISEN INDEED>> I have faith because I have come to trust God and obviously we can all discover God’s reality almost anywhere we go. And, as Paul wrote, I have the greatest of all these things LOVE, which God delivers personally to me each day through God’s Holy Spirit. You bet I have reason to smile each day; I have reason to be joyful each day!

Friends Jesus Christ came to change our countenance … .Jesus Christ came to change our hearts and our souls and our minds … we won’t always be happy … we won’t always be healthy … we will be mixed in with the world but what we have and hopefully each of you with us today will always have is the assurance of our faith that should deliver great joy to us so that we can pause to praise God as we journey with Jesus Christ by our side.

So, it is time to smile and SAY CHEESE …. Gary are you ready … everyone here this is the time to get out your cell phone’s and start voguing …. CHEESE CHEESE …. SMILE for the CAMERA … people online take photos of those who are with you … SAY CHEESE SMILE SMILE ….

Now, you need to post those photo’s on your social media and on our FACEBOOK page …. You need to let others know the joy you had in church today … let folks see you and see a church and ask “Is that a smile I see?” We need to see people smiling … we need to laugh. When COVID started and I started my morning Facebook video stream it was on the second day that I received several messages “Can you be funny tomorrow” and so I try each day to bring smiles to the world through PD@930 but also it’s for me because I need the smiles and laughs too.

But, at the end of the day what makes me really smile is knowing that the God of the universe is walking with me …. That the God of Creation sent Jesus Christ to teach me and you and every other human being how to live. That Jesus Christ declared to me … CHANGE YOUR HEART … and just like His disciples, Jesus is calling us to follow Him.

And, once we have Jesus … once we have God … if we let the Holy Spirit change our frowns into smiles and erase our temptation to let our temper out but rather release an ongoing stream of hugs … all we need is a church to pull it altogether. A church where joy is found … a church where the missions of God can be undertaken .. a church where everyone is welcome … a church we can invite our friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to knowing that they will be accepted and welcomed and find joy in connection with God where people smile and laugh but most importantly friends …

Having sat many hours these last few days in the hospital holding a hand tightly of someone of great faith who knows where she is going when this life is over … I want my friends … I want my family … I want my neighbors and co-workers to know where they are going when this life’s last breath is released. Don’t you want the same for those you care about?

Can you smile when you talk about faith … can you invite folks to church … can you consider how God wants to use your life with the talents and abilities God has given to you whether you are young or old.

We heard this morning JESUS ANNOUNCED THE GOOD NEWS! JESUS SAID, COME FOLLOW ME! From that time forward Jesus began to announce CHANGE YOUR HEARTS AND LIVES … here comes the kingdom of heaven.

We celebrated Eve Cervantes life yesterday … she knew how to smile and show joy. She and Ron led the Cherub Choir before her stroke. She saw the great light of God and she rejoiced!

Are you ready to smile for God? For Christ? Will you share your photo’s that we will be posting on FACEBOOK with your friends and family and co-workers and strangers letting them know you find joy in worship … joy in the Lord and joy in knowing that You have a place waiting for you when you’re time is over.

It’s your heart … your choice … your mind … your soul. I pray that your faith always makes you smile. AMEN

© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ