Living as an Example

Isaiah 55: 10-13
Matthew 13: 1-9 & 18-23

July 16, 2023

One never knows what is awaiting around the next bend in life … there are curves that surprise us and straight stretches that seem like they will go on forever. At times it seems like we can swerve all over life’s highways as we please but then we hopefully discover it is essential that we carefully guide our journey in this thing called life along a safe and fulfilling narrow path because failing to do so will careen our journeys down a treacherous twisting track that more than likely will lead to a future of disaster.

And, my question of the day friends is … how are you navigating you? I am not asking how you are complaining about some other person or groups of people whether they are familiar or mere names in the news. I am asking you to reflect on how you are directing your life’s journey because we each have our destinies locked into our own personal guidance systems so that when our days turn to evening and then close themselves out the reflection will be one that we will feel good about. Is your life one that others look at as an example of faith … a legacy that others hope to emulate? Have we become change agents as our days pass by that bring about a positive response from those who witness our actions, hear our words, and observe our behaviors?

Last Sunday while you were singing songs of faith here at St. Paul’s YOUR RED BIRD TEAM was out on Interstate 81 heading south. Mike and Scott were in Mike’s car and the rest of the team: Sherry, Jim, the other Cherie, Rosemary, Mary Ann, and I were in the van. Those beautiful Blue Ridge mountains would soon embrace us on all sides offering a sense of the beauty of the Creator’s intent for humanity. It’s hard not to feel in awe of creation when you drive through the mountains … just as it is nearly impossible to deny the existence of a Creator when you sit on an empty ocean beach and breathe in the salty air while the tides rumble in.

I can imagine Isaiah’s thoughts as he took God’s teaching to heart and shared it with the people of Israel who had been held captive in Babylon because of their prior disconnect with God … God’s people who had chosen to desert God to join in with the world ended up in captivity far from home but a reconnect can happen and it did happen … a renewal of faith can be a reality … and even those of any age who have denied that a Creator is beyond their concept of life … even those individuals have within themselves, thanks to God, an inherent possibility to discover that yes … a higher power exists who is constantly and lovingly calling humanity home.

Isaiah declared God’s words to God’s people, “The mountains will and hills will burst into singing and the trees will shout with joy! Cypress trees will come up in place of thorns. A sign … a sign that will last forever … a reminder of what, I the Lord God have done.” Isaiah understood how those tree-covered hills and mountains can change the perspective of we humans. God’s love for ALL humans can transform and rescue each and every one of us … an awesome love; an amazing love.

And, so we travelled to the hollers of Kentucky not knowing who we would meet but friends, on the day that the Samaritan was heading down Jericho’s road he also did not know who he’d meet. The Samaritan had his own plans for the day … he did not know there would be a beaten man on the other side of the road but when he spotted that beaten man the Samaritan did not follow the example of the Levite nor of the pompous self-absorbed religious leader … he did not recall voices saying that those who struggle have only themselves to blame nor did he attempt to judge the worthiness of his time and service to a mere stranger … perhaps the religious leader had those thoughts or the Levite did but the Samaritan crossed the road living as the example that Jesus Christ in his answer to the lawyer’s question provides for you and for me … who are our neighbors? The ones who actually hear and understand God’s expectations are the ones, in God’s eyes, who “demonstrate mercy” even to strangers. And today and tomorrow and the day after that, the teaching of Jesus Christ provides us with God’s directive that we are to “go and do likewise.”

And, that’s why we go to RED BIRD … on a mission trip to the mountains to help strangers. That’s why we feed the hungry through our PANTRY … that’s why we bought solar batteries for clinics in Sierra Leone. Never judging always loving humanity; our neighbors.

People who declare a connection with God … people who have taken time to read or hear the words from the Holy texts will find the common theme that some call the GOLDEN RULE … love all of your neighbors; help the poor; welcome strangers; and love God.

We have had conversations about wristbands lately because of the newest pink wristband that I will wear forever on my left wrist. It is the hope of my family that those of you who receive the wristband later today will likewise choose to wear yours wherever you go. A simple pink wristband providing you with an opportunity to answer questions as to why you are wearing a pink band. Perhaps you will say that you believe in sharing hugs with every other human no matter who they are and that you choose to be a difference maker not a judge of who another person is. That you are dedicated to smile and care for all others … you can always add to your conversation the prophesy that Micah shared that “the Lord God has told humanity what is good and what the Lord requires from us: to DO JUSTICE, EMBRACE ALL OTHERS with faithful love and to walk humbly with God.”

A simple pink bracelet with a pig’s picture …. And we hope it will be a reminder to those who wear it that yes, we are to love ALL of our neighbors, offer loving hugs and be difference makers each day … living life as an example that reflects our relationship with the Creator of the universe … our God.

If we were to turn back to the prophet Isaiah, a few verses before today’s reading we would hear the prophet declare a reminder to humanity, “SEEK THE LORD … when he can still be found, call on the LORD while he is yet near.” It is easy in the world we live in to push God aside … to abandon any connection to the reality of God … even when you drive along the mountains or breathe in the air of the ocean but as our team approached the Red Bird camp last Sunday; we saw police cars, a fire truck, an ambulance, and a tow truck. One driver had not properly navigated the narrow roads where shoulders don’t exist instead offering careening open valleys and mountain edges as signs of danger. The car had gone off the roadway and flipped over landing on its roof. It takes some time for rescuers to arrive in the hills and we do not know the fate of that driver but having driven along those roads you know that life and death are tied closely together. So what happens friends if you put off seeking the Lord … if you feel that you don’t need to be religious or have religion because you are better than God … if you choose not to live the life that Jesus declared was one where we cross the street to help the beaten stranger no matter whether the stranger’s circumstances were his fault or not … what if life ends before you plan on its conclusion?

It is a question I have to answer all too often from family members of the unchurched. From the quiet saddened voices of sons and daughters and husbands and wives of the God-disconnected who treasured using their living moments to join humanity’s chants and divisions rather than going forth to care for others or experiencing God.

I wear two other reminders on my right wrist. This white one that has been worn down over the years merely says ONE. It came from Bono’s ONE FOUNDATION that emphasizes we are all ONE people with a responsibility towards all others in the world … to me it is a constant reminder that there is ONE GOD always present even on our worst days … the other was given to me by an elderly lady in North Wildwood more than 20 years ago. I handed out some of these here at St. Paul’s a few years ago and perhaps some of you still have yours … it says MAKE EVERY MOMENT MATTER … EVERY SINGLE MOMENT WE HAVE is our opportunity to help someone and to use our time for a purpose beyond ourselves. That wristband has rarely been off my wrist during the last 20 years; a constant in-my-face challenge as to how I should live.

Isaiah delivers a strong conceptual message from God right before today’s reading, The Lord God declares, “My plans are not your plans nor are my ways your ways. My word that comes from my mouth; it does not return to me empty. Instead it does what I want and accomplishes what I intend.”

God’s plans … God’s directives … our choice to actually hear the Word of God, which exists for the people of God or to reject it. To MAKE EVERY MOMENT MATTER in a way that the GOD of creation has clearly taught or to reject the call … deny the reality of God’s existence … to not even attempt to use the skills and abilities that God has given each of us so that we can become difference makers … for my friend Farhat it is her poetry and willingness to be a volunteer bringing together people from different faith groups … our Governor recognized her for her efforts just a few weeks ago. Scott who has used his abilities to almost magically pull together construction projects for the benefit of people he does not know whether he did it while working for Habitat or on our mission trips … DIFFERENCE MAKERS … MAKING EVERY MOMENT MATTER … for GOD who offers us the information we need to hear as to our obligations. All of us gifted … Mike Minder age 74 at Red Bird … a woman from another team in her early 80’s … kids from other churches who dug post holes so that a ramp could go up and you thought that today’s kids could only play video games but last week those kids were working on projects for total strangers not caring about why but hearing God’s call to do … to love … to make a difference.

Last Sunday, we did not know what challenges we would face. We had not yet met sweet Rosetta Smith and her son RANDALL. We had not yet set foot in Mr. Thomas’ house where he showcased photos of family members on every wall. It did not matter to us why the people we would help needed our help. We would do our best no matter what … no matter who they were or how they’ve life. We did know the UNO was in our plans and that together we’d come back changed for the better by being in the hills.

On the last night a young woman pastor from Ohio shared the message and she focused on a message from Paul, “God has made us what we are! God has created us for a life of good deeds, which God has already prepared for us to do.” So, in the end it is up to us how we choose to live but God has planned for us to be activists. Do we live as God’s example so that others sense God’s love and our love for all of our neighbors? Do we use whatever skills we have … whatever talents we have been given … no matter our age … to take on the tasks for God’s purposes? Those are our choices and challenges. Yours and mine. We are recruiting RED BIRD’s 2024 team so perhaps next July 7th at this time you will be seeing the mountains and perhaps if you listen carefully, you will hear those mountains and the trees of the field clapping their hands as the hills and mountains burst out in song because you have chosen to help a stranger’s life get better.” AMEN

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