‘Holy Season is Here or Don’t You Care?’

Isaiah 49: 8-16
MATTHEW 6: 24-34

February 26, 2023

I often share with you some of my Sunday morning wake up happenings. There are times when I hear music that impacts my message or the cat does something or perhaps I read a news story or God just nudges me.

People ask me about when or how a sermon is weaved together. Do I ever just repeat an old sermon? Or, do I copy some other preacher’s sermon to fill my time. Believe me, I have met pastors who either use others’ sermons or just pull an old one off the shelf. I do try to remind the church of my age from time to time … but otherwise when you hear a sermon from me it reflects ever changing experiences from my life and faith. I pretty much keep praying that God’s Holy Spirit will take me to a place where my words are reflective of today’s world sort of ‘praying without ceasing’ as they would say … and in those prayers I ask God that each message I bring is a Spirit directed call to me as your pastor, as a “preacher,” and as a man of faith.

I try to use what’s called the Common Lectionary as my foundation, which is why frequently the Scripture you hear at St. Paul’s is the same Scripture being used at your friends’ churches across the country. Sometimes other Scripture lessons move me and they appear in the bulletin and you hear them read in church but I never know when the Spirit will nudge me … nudge me to change or alter what I had planned for a Sunday.

Today was one of those days when I glanced down at my FitBit watch, which I purchased to keep track of my steps to insure that each day I walk enough steps to be this awesome physical specimen you see before you now … well, that part might not be working as planned but my watch does the Dick Tracy trick and provides messages to me including e-mail headings. And, as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and my wrist turned so I could read my watch these words from Ephesians were glaring back at me:

“FOLLOW GOD’S EXAMPLE AS DEARLY LOVED CHILDREN AND WALK IN THE WAY OF LOVE.” Paul’s words written in a letter to the church of Ephesus. They were the lead message from one of my daily devotionals called God’s Minute.

Those simple words, written more than 2000 years ago, my friends those words are the challenge that we need to be facing in the year 2023 as we head into and maneuver around HOLY SEASON 2023. Do you know? Holy Season is here or don’t you care? Are your days just one continuing stream of life-binging where you have some very specific plans for your time and none of those plans feature a renewed connection to the Holy … to God. After the week I have just had, I am really concerned with whether or not enough folks even want to hear the Scripture calling “FOLLOW GOD’s EXAMPLE as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love.”

You see, Holy Seasons on the calendars of life are not exceptions to what God expects from us in non-Holy Seasons but they are specifically designed combinations of weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds which hopefully encourage people of faith … people like you and me … to renew our God connection. To again sense the Holy Spirit’s ever present nudges. To be revitalized in the everlasting commitment we may have once made and to know again that God wants God’s people to “WALK in the WAY of LOVE!” In other words, to WALK WITH JESUS each and every day.

As I looked at the words on my watch from Ephesians I immediately thought of Mother Teresa’s service to humanity and I remembered a few of her words, Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” Interesting … she said our strength lies in small things not in Nobel Peace prizes; we each have our own small gifts from God; our personal abilities and capabilities regardless of age. We can pray or read the Bible. Not a single one of us who are witnesses to this message are totally incapable of doing something small in our lives for others or for God. We are incapable of rejecting God’s call to love others; to serve others; or to “walk in the way of love” but we can choose to reject it all. We can choose to deny this Holy Season is a faith opportunity rather deciding it is about eating chocolate again in less than 40 days.

I have been thinking about the “peace.” The special peace of God … our need to focus in on peace … one night this week I stared at the rainbow peace flag from Italy that reads PACE, it is framed on my living room wall. “God’s peace, that goes beyond human understanding that keeps both hearts and minds SAFE … safe in union with Jesus Christ.” Peace … the elimination of fears through God’s love and our faith … safety all coming from true faith not faith built on appearances but faith proven by example … to be a child … to walk in love … with Jesus.

Paul’s writing in our Scripture tells us to follow God’s example as dearly loved children … we are not asked to perform complexities beyond our means … beyond our personal skills, abilities, or education … God wants us to go through this life walking in the way of love as God’s dearly beloved children. And, so I ask … HOLY SEASON is here …do you care? Are you ready to get renewed and revitalized so that your life walk is one that is lined up behind Jesus the Christ and with God … walking in love each day. Or as our hymn said, “living for Jesus; a life that is true.”

In our Gospel lesson of the day, Jesus declares “NO ONE CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS … either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be loyal to one and have contempt for the other.” Now, Matthew is reporting Jesus offering a comparison of serving God or wealth but the message of Jesus is crystal clear … none of us can be faithful to God if our priorities are focused on anything else; if we have another god in our lives … if our focused time investment is poured into something other than growing our faith and walking in love then how can we claim to love God?

Did I mention that it’s the Holy Season … have you thought about friends to invite to Palm Sunday here at St. Paul’s where we will follow worship with a pancake breakfast … to Maundy Thursday’s evening service? Or to worship with you on Good Friday amidst the darkness of that day? Friends who may not have been in church literally for generations … friends who might benefit from a walk with God as a child … are you planning to adjust your schedule for a couple of these Wednesday lunch time services or on EASTER to join us at sunrise and then back at church at 930 or 11 in the morning?

DO YOU KNOW that it is the Holy Season for Christianity around the world and do you care in the least? I sure hope that you do … I sure hope that you are using these 40 days to examine your faith walk … perhaps considering joining the mission trip to Kentucky … or joining a Bible Study class just one or two hours of your busy 168 hours each week.

We hear God’s speaking to the prophet “On the day of salvation, I helped you; I have guarded you. Sing heavens! Rejoice earth! Break out mountains with a song. The Lord has comforted His people!” Yes, God has done all of that but … after we have had our so-called ‘day of salvation’ how have we treated God? When we pray “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” what have we been doing to bring that about? Who have we been sharing our faith with?

On Tuesday … I met with a group of area clergy and I know I have already shared this several times but one of the pastors said that last Sunday at the church to which he is appointed … on the Sunday before this Holy season began … the only people in church were himself, his wife, and three others. Yes, I understand that where two are gathered the Lord is present but that church was once full of people in worship on Sunday’s … Holy Season meant Palm Sunday hosanna’s in that church … Good Friday services … Easter joy at the call that Jesus Christ, He is Risen! <<He is Risen Indeed>> but what happened … did the people from the church’s past not care even about the Holy Season much less God’s role in their every day lives? Did the people who once populated that church choose a master other than God to live for … did not a single person who was part of that church have the courage or the wherewithal to invite a young family to come to worship God? Were the folks so worried about their tomorrow’s that they lost track of worship, God and now on the Sunday before the Holy Season of 2023 began only the pastor, his wife and three others were in church? How are you serving God at St. Paul’s for the days to come … DO YOU KNOW THIS IS THE HOLY SEASON?

Then you may have read about the time I spent with James, his mom Lawryn, and his dad Dave. James was 28 years old … I met him vented in the ICU of Inspira. He would never speak again … never walk again … never express love again and his parents called for a pastor because they didn’t know what to do or what to ask or what to say. They had no church … they had no relationship with God … their days were busy; good people from what I could tell. And, just the day before James entered the hospital someone Lawryn worked with gave her a Bible and suggested reading it. She did not know her son had less than 10 days left .. a Bible with a written inscription to her. She showed me the Bible … she had been reading the Bible … given to her by a friend … a co-worker not afraid to pass along God’s Word. And, Dave and Lawryn made the decision to donate James’ organs so that others could live after his breathing was over. A heroic decision … when she heard about Megan she said GET HER HERE NOW we will give her one of James’ kidneys but wrong blood type … And, I wondered who had failed to invite James and his parents to church when James was just a boy. He was dying at 28 … no church … no God-connection … Whose Holy Season was too busy with the world that they didn’t think that this beautiful family might benefit from Jesus Christ … from faith … from worship … or even from a Palm Sunday with a pancake breakfast?

NO ONE CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS …. EITHER YOU HATE THE ONE and LOVE the THE OTHER … YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD and …. Well just fill in the blank as to the choice you serve in your life. “”SING HEAVENS! REJOICE EARTH!! BREAK OUT MOUNTAINS with a Song the Lord has comforted His people.” Are you singing as a comforted person filled with the peace that goes beyond human understanding?

In First Peter we read, “To this YOU WERE CALLED because Christ leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps.” WALKING WITH JESUS

And, then I received an e-mail from the detective who coordinates the chaplains for the Prosecutor’s Office with a dire alert urging vigilance and preparing those of us who are chaplains to potential violence impacting our communities. It is hard for me even to comprehend that this group exists but a Neo-Nazi group had proclaimed yesterday as a “national DAY OF HATE” to attack Jews any way possible. This proclamation apparently motivated by last week’s shooting of two men on the way home from worshiping at their Los Angeles’ area synagogue. I thought of my friend Helen Swede’s dad, David, who was the first Holocaust survivor I ever had long conversations with … I wondered how can the people of the church of Jesus Christ not have resounding shouts of love for all of our neighbors … that would drown these rats and send them scurrying back into their dark places but people of faith have started supporting leaders who put people down only encouraging these hateful ones … I was WARNED to be READY to help care our law enforcement officers or neighbors in case they were harmed … ok, in case they were shot or victims of bombings here in America by NEO NAZI HATE GROUPS …

And, so I must ask … DO YOU KNOW THAT THIS IS a HOLY SEASON of GOD and in your hearts, minds and souls are you striving to get closer and closer to God and then to share your faith … to live your faith … to realize that God has you and me inscribed on God’s walls … on God’s palms. Do you understand that although you may have forgotten how to invite family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and strangers to church and that churches are vanishing left and right … God won’t forget you and won’t forget me.

Do you rejoice always in the Lord? Do you sing to God? Pray to God? Read and study God’s Word? The Lord declared, “At the right time on a day of salvation I helped you … I have guarded you …”. And, God has given Jesus to us “as a covenant to restore the land” but our role in that covenant is to live for God. “As dearly loved children walking in the way of love!”

One church with a pastor, his wife and three others … James, his mom and his dad … hate groups in America … empty churches … it is HOLY SEASON … God’s HOLY SEASON. AMEN


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