CONNECTING THE DOTS
Psalm 96: 1-6 & 10-13
MATTHEW 22: 15-22
OCTOBER 22, 2023 – THE RETURN
“O Lord my God …” Church, I hold a special performance of ‘How Great Thou Art’ as one of my essential church memories as does my brother. Evangelist John DeBrine and Tenor Ed Lyman came to our church when we were kids for a Sunday evening service … mom and dad brought us both. Frankly, I don’t remember if we were kicking and screaming NOOOOOOOOO we don’t want to go to church or whether we both went willingly. The truth is one night … one evening of worship at that Baptist Church, we grew up in, has touched each of our lives, strengthened our faith, and mattered to the two of us for 50 or maybe 60 years. It made me feel so good the first time Mark and I talked together as adults about that special night. That he felt the same as I did. About Jesus Christ … our mutual Savior and what a great God exists in this universe loving all of humanity and teaching us to love all of our neighbors and to actually be engaged in justice-focused activities.
How often do we renege on church commitments? How many times have we decided that the TV special or the meal out mattered more than an opportunity to lift our arms up to worship the Creator God who gave us Jesus Christ. I have often wondered how many other Ed Lyman/John DeBrine moments I have lost or missed out on during my 31 years of life because I had other priorities over God.
Opportunities to strengthen my faith … to get closer with God. How many times, in my time on earth, have I decided that the prerecorded TV show I am investing hours binging in is worth more than reading a chapter from one of the Gospels or perhaps a Psalm with less then 200 words in it. Time … MY TIME … lost time perhaps or well invested minutes with God.
“It’s Astounding … Time is fleeting … it seems as if madness takes its toll but listen closely … I’ve got to keep control.” Friends, that particular song talks about how warped time is but it is the truth … 2023 has taught me once again that we are so busy that we lose control of our journeys and many good people discard faith or hold their God-connection as an afterthought. Time is fleeting … it’s astounding! Gone in a wink of an eye or an EKG metric.
So, are you connecting the dots of your faith life leading you to God? Do you have your special faith-focused moments of your journey that you smile about when you think about them and sense God’s love through those memories … and where are you hanging out these days for or with God? Creating new memories? Feeling closer or more apart from the Creator?
Over the years, Mark and I have talked about that one particular special service as perhaps a turning point in the lives of two men … well we were just boys that night … named Delaney who still hold our faith to be an essential element in our daily lives. DeBrine was from New England. Lyman I discovered later on was once known as the “Singing Marine” and also he was called the “Golden Voice of Sacred Song.” HOW GREAT THOU ART … one song, an eternal truth.
And, this morning you heard today’s chosen Psalm provide a clarity of direction to you and to me, “Sing to the Lord a new song! Share the news of His saving work every single day! Let the countryside and everything in it celebrate!”
So are you singing that new song? Celebrating? Have you found within your schedule the capacity of sharing the news of His saving work every single day? Do you see the stars? Hear the rolling thunder?
Oh my dear church … “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee! How Great thou art!” Yes, church today I definitely can continue to sing and state very clearly that I believe in that simple phrase Ed Lyman sang before my brother and my family and my church family members so many years ago … “How great thou art!” And, I am thankful that “God, His Son not sparing sent Him to die to take away my sins” and yours too.
I had planned to be with you last Sunday morning. My sermon for the 15th of October had been carefully crafted yet not quite complete but God had a different plan for me … a direction I would have never chosen but thank God I decided to stop by that Urgent Care … thank God that an ongoing cough, slight wheezing in my voice and some congestion had me seeking a Z-PACK because otherwise … well let’s just say I thankfully saw my grandson yesterday, played hide and seek in the parsonage with four generations, and I will be watching my football team today, and I have been and will continue to be in deep conversation with God on an ongoing basis since about 7pm on Saturday October 14th in the year 2023 because if that Urgent Care Visit had not happened …
Today’s Gospel lesson was the very familiar one where the King James’ translation of Matthew’s history of Jesus quotes Him as saying, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” but it it is the conclusion of his retort to the Pharisees and some of Herod’s followers that I want us to focus. In Eugene Peterson’s THE MESSAGE Jesus is quoted as saying, “Then give Caesar what is his and give God what is His.” Matthew continues by reporting that “the Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads.”
My question to you … as good people of the church … my moment of wonder this morning for those of you who join us in person or online each week is whether or not you are connecting the dots to fully understand what it means to give God what is God’s. Do you love God enough to offer God anything in return for God’s love? GIVE GOD WHAT IS HIS! The Pharisees went off shaking their heads because I am sure that they were already taking good care of Caesar but now they were told that they needed to give God what is God’s. Those words apply to us as well.
And, as I journeyed through this past week being poked and prodded by medical folks at Inspira I again was calling out to God … I was pulling God close … and then pushing God away. These were moments of clarity to the life of David Robert Delaney whose faith connection was perhaps weaved in a moment of song so many years ago … proclaiming “My God, How great Thou Art!”
In his book, ‘Milky Ways and Fireflies,’ author K. William Kautz writes, “The greatest thing we can cultivate in a child is a sense of wonder but it’s the adults who have lost the ability to be amazed by the glories that surround us. We are the ones who need to get out of bed in the middle of the night to watch the fireflies perform beneath the Milky Way and just stand in awe of everything that is.” And, Jesus Christ stated … “If you don’t change and become like a child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
So, have been busy connecting the dots of faith in your life? Since you have been reading the Twenty Third Psalm each week since the middle of summer have you figured out why God has offered us peace like a river … more of a directive again from God. “I lack nothing … The Lord lets me rest … The Lord keeps me alive … The Lord guides me in proper paths for the sake of The Lord’s good name … Goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life and I will live in the Lord’s house for as long as I live.”
Ah the dots of life. The rest stops and starting lines and frantic checkered flags waved as we accomplish or attempt to accomplish one or another life task. Kautz suggests in his book that there are three states of being that we experience in our lives. Ignorance, unknowing, and wonder. These are closely related to our relationship with God or I should say, our willingness to have a relationship with the Holy.
Ignorance is an active desire to remain uninformed … you know skip church, never open the Bible, listen to music that never contains the name Jesus or even God. Even feigning a disconnect to any type of faith when a conversation turns to God or religion. A state of being amongst we humans including church attenders that we are safer not challenged to adjust to God’s expectations by just not knowing or acting naïve about God’s teaching.
Unknowing is perhaps the most challenging phase of life, Kautz writes, because it is our implementation of our inner need to know so we have to “UN-KNOW” or break the habits of ignorance, of what we had accepted before with a willingness to discover truths that may impact our lives. An active realization that Isaiah suggests with a supposition related to faith, “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desires of the afflicated, then shall your life rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday sun.”
Wonder is the spiritual location of connection, satisfaction and peace that goes beyond understanding. It is a return to our child-like innocence for a connection where God matters and the adult challenges of life are backpedaled out of the way. To be like a child … Jesus call to us.
Wonder is the transition where we are willing to give up anything leaving it behind … to pick up our cross to follow the Son of God out of love and devotion. It’s mysterious … it’s challenging … it is a place where it is ok to not have all the answers because God has them for us. Kautz writes that it is then that “grace begins to flow out of us and intolerance that once defined us no longer has a place in our lives.”
So about those dots … Today’s bulletin insert has a crude square made up of dots. I created it to replicate what my mother would create most Sunday’s during church when her two boys were acting like teenage boys and disturbing everyone around us. Mom would say shhhhh play the dot game. Dad probably just gave us a look.
I would think that most of you know the game. The goal is to be the person putting the closing line onto each box, which would then reward you that specific box. The person with the most boxes once all the boxes were blocked in was the winner.
Surprisingly, even though I played the game with my brother … I still listened to the message of Pastor Lewis because later in life I compared notes with my pastor, my mentor, and my friend discovering my favorite books of the Bible just happened to be the ones he preached on the most. Amidst the dot game I still heard the preacher because I was IN CHURCH.
I am not suggesting that you play the dot game in the limited time that is left in my sermon today but there are 25 potential boxes on the insert. Five rows and five columns. I want you to use this game to connect the dots with your faith today … in the first row of five boxes write your favorite five books of the Bible. In the second row name your favorite five people from the Bible. Third row your favorite songs of faith. Fourth row favorite Bible stories and in the fifth row name 5 people who have impacted your faith journey. If you can’t come up with answers perhaps there’s work to be done … remembering HOW GREAT GOD IS.
You’ll notice a fill in the blank puzzle for you to work on as well.
As I lay in that hospital bed unsure of what would be happening I quietly sang that special hymn but I also prayed with renewed energy. I knew in that bed and I know now in this pulpit that I have new songs to sing for the Lord my God! I am asking you to look at your faith lives because I so want you to sense God’s saving work each and every day because we just don’t know the number of days we have.
To each of you here or watching online today … don’t put your trust and and your loyalty to human beings … I am here to declare that the Lord God is incredibly great and that the Lord Rules not some tv-centric politicians focused on division, fame, fortune, and power!
It’s easy to avoid connecting the dots in our faith lives … it’s easy to push God aside because that is what the world wants us to do but when you rediscover through the innocence of the child within you suddenly it is easy to rediscover how great the Lord God is.
Your very soul will want to join with mine in singing HOW GREAT THOU ART!!! And, it is in those moments which can be these moments today in church that you will suddenly be free to laugh, to express joy like my grandson Dax did yesterday without hesitation and celebrate with heaven … rejoice with the faithful … and then no matter what your struggles or challenges are you will … I hope and pray … wake up to the realization that you can rejoice and celebrate and worship with the time you have left in your journey showcasing to those around you that you belong to God … that you follow Jesus Christ and that the Holy Spirit is directing your life … the Lord is coming! How Great is our God! My Savior God to me! AMEN