Psalm 72: 1-4 & 10-14
JOHN 1: 43-51

January 14, 2024

In the latest version of Willy Wonka’s story that’s currently in our movie theaters there is a moment when Willy finds a note from his mother that is oh so relevant on this Sunday … on a Sunday when this nation is called to remember the life and lessons of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a note in its simplicity reflective of Old Testament and New Testament lessons … or as Jesus would teach humanity these are the lessons that ALL commandments, rules, and expectations rest on … you know them because I have continuously preached them to you … “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with ALL OF YOUR STRENGTH. The second is this, ‘You shall love ALL of your neighbors JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.” Jesus said, “There are no other commandments greater than these.”

Therein lies the challenge for every single person who has made the claim to be a Jesus follower … every person who self identifies as a Christian …it’s the challenge of a King … to OBEY what is taught by Christ and to ACCEPT what is expected in life by God by living those expectations. Perhaps first you need to determine if you are willing to rank God as your Lord … your KING whom you will obey because in a democracy we have freedom to disagree openly with our leaders and to note their faults and to criticize their actions without any obligation to blindly follow mere human leaders. God gives us freedom too but the consequences of rejecting God are much greater and permanent.

However, as folks who are in worship on this Sunday … we are openly showcasing to others that we consider God to be of value. If God has value to us and we understand God’s love for us as demonstrated through God’s gift of Jesus Christ to ALL of humanity it only makes sense that we would obey God, right? To make every effort in our lives to do what God tells us to do. Which makes loving God with ALL of our being as well as loving ALL of our neighbors as Jesus loved us … it’s our first challenge for every day.

As David Crowder sings in his powerful song of faith, [1]Turn your gaze to heaven and raise a joyous noice. O, the sound of salvation come! The sound of rescued ones. And, all this for a king. Angels join to sing, “All for Christ the king!” Ah, the KING … our KING … is that Jesus to you?

The note that Willy discovers from his mother by the way simply reads, “It’s not the chocolate that matters … it’s who you share it with.”

And, so friends today as we worship God … as we celebrate having Jesus in our lives … and I hope on another day when we call on God’s Holy Spirit to guide us in our lives … who are you sharing life’s essential truths with? How are you walking with God and are you striving to embrace the prophet’s teaching of God’s expectations for believers … “to do justice … embrace faithful love … and to walk humbly with your God?”

This is a weekend for service … a weekend to remember how the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood up for justice for all those who were subject to the lynch mobs’ ropes and the abomination of sheet enshrouded cowards who torched the symbol of the One who stood for love in order to to intimidate and frighten humans loved fully by God who did not look like those under the sheets. Across the nation we are reminded this weekend of our need to feed the hungry … to care for the homeless … to bring peace to our nation … basically to take on the challenge of an American hero but more importantly to take on the challenge of our King, Jesus Christ.

We are called to love and to share … to give to those who are hurting. Just pay attention to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25 where those who do not share with the poor … those who do not demonstrate love have a destination in eternity that is not named heaven. Famously Jesus said, “What you have not done for the least among you … you have not done for me.”

Have you found Jesus the way that Phillip found Him? Jesus was there for Phillip and Phillip figured it out with ease. There in Galilee Jesus said, “Follow me” and Phillip followed. But in an interesting twist in the choosing of THE TWELVE disciples … we heard today that it was Phillip who found the skeptical Nathaniel. Nathaniel whose quote, “can anything from Nazareth be any good” has lasted for the ages. He was probably a friend that Phillip watched football games with, and Phillip asked him to see Jesus, because as he said, “We have found the ONE … you know THE ONE written about in the Law and the Prophets … come and join the team!”

Even after hearing his friend’s skepticism Phillip did not give up and he convinced Nathaniel to discover Jesus. This is an interesting lesson for each of us because if you are like me, you have skeptical friends … you have doubting friends and you have denying friends … do you want them to see Jesus? Do you want them to discover your faith? That is truly the challenge we are called to take on for our King … for our God … for our Lord Jesus Christ.

You heard the conversion … Nathaniel realizing just who Jesus is … as he declared, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son … the KING of Israel.” Interesting that when John wrote the Gospel, he quoted Nathaniel as calling Jesus KING. A KING in those days was the highest form of leadership for the people of Israel. They were not about to call Jesus Caesar and there were no elected offices to relate to … so KING … a leader to bow down to and to obey.

Jesus told Nathaniel that as one of the faithful … as a believer … he would “see greater things … heaven would open up” for all connected with Jesus Christ.

Here we are on the Sunday of a three-day weekend. Many of you no longer need three-day weekends because you are retired. Some of you are thrilled to get a bonus day off in January and a few have work obligations that eliminate any connection to a national holiday. Of course, most of you have been thinking about a football game scheduled for 430 tomorrow afternoon. But as this weekend approached did you think about giving back… for God… out of love for total strangers?

In 1957 in a sermon preached deep in the south in Montgomery Alabama, a place where someone like Dr. King was not welcomed to even sip at a water fountain or go to the same bathroom facility as the power brokers of the time … in fact, think about it … church going folks justified banning people from going to restaurants because of the color of the skin of the other humans. What king were they serving? Clearly they never heard the lessons of Jesus Christ and if they heard them they outright rejected them because Jesus insists we love ALL equally … it is a warning to those of us alive today because there are some amongst us who attempt to divide us by fermenting human hate against individuals who do not match the power brokers of our times personal characteristics … sad but true many attend places called church while harboring hate and division in their hearts … perhaps they long for cross burnings and lynchings.

Dr. King on that day in Montgomery Alabama declared, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?” He also taught, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” And, a challenge to all of us, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Love, sharing, service ….DO JUSTICE, LOVE ALL with MERCY and walk humbly with God …

And, this week I started thinking about my friend Teddy. Teddy passed away 14 years ago yesterday at the all too young age of 60. I met Teddy at the Cooper River Park in Camden at an event celebrating folks who had “dis-ABILITIES.” Teddy happened to be paralyzed from the waist down due to a car accident that occurred when he was only 32 years old. I was a speaker at the event and Teddy was also on the program. Robbie Friedman, the Director of the Camden County Office for the ‘dis-ABLED’ introduced us knowing we’d hit if off … Teddy wanted to discover everything about Megan but he also was curious about me and my life and my faith. Obviously, if you knew Teddy you wanted to hear his story too. He sang for the program that day and I spoke and afterwards we talked more, and our friendship became as they say “solid.”

Boy he could sing … “Love TKO and Come Go with Me.” In our many conversations he talked about being out in the public doing things from his really cool motorized wheelchair. He talked to me about being blessed by God and I have to admit I shook my head looking at his smiling handsome face every time he said things like that because I wanted to imagine who he could have been if that car had not taken away his legs but he persevered; he sang; he smiled; he had faith; and oh how he could laugh.

One of his special moments came at LIVE AID when he got up with tears pouring down his cheeks to thank those who loved him and to sing with passion, “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.” I often asked him about the words to WAKE UP EVERYBODY, which he didn’t write but I remember him laughing … I can see him laughing right now saying, ‘Dave man … how can a man of faith not sing to the world that we need to wake up? We got to stand for love … hatred can’t go away without love man. War and poverty it’s up to us. And teach those kids … those inner-city kids and people from the burbs like you.” Yea, a special guy … thankful Robbie introduced us.

And, on this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend I have played my friend singing that song several times … hearing his awesome voice declare, “The world won’t get no better if we just let it be. The world won’t get no better we gotta change it … just you and me!”

In the Psalm reading for today we heard how God delivers … well friends this weekend is a weekend to remember how loved we are by God and rescued by Jesus but called to be the ones who deliver on God’s promises … we are the ones to hear and respond to the needy … we are the ones to bring faith lessons to those who have not heard … we are the ones to rescue anyone subject to oppressions and violence ANYONE because in God’s eyes ALL are equally precious and loved. It’s not that chocolate … what matters is who you share what you have with and who you are willing to love! AMEN

[1] ‘O Praise Him (All This for a King)’ David Crowder Universal Music Publishing

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