I Learned a Thing or Two Along the Way

Psalm 103: 1-2 & 22
MARK 2: 13-17 & 22

MARCH 3, 2024

A few days ago, I was reading an online article in ‘The Athletic’ about one of the sports teams I follow. As you all know, I am a curious sort of human being and I actually read the comments that others post to articles about my favorite sports teams. And, at times I will add my words of wisdom too. Not that anyone reading those sports articles really cares to hear from me, but it is more an opportunity to vent and add my point of view.

What caught my eye this week was a reference to one of my all-time favorite comic strips, PEANUTS. You know … Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, and all the rest. If you come over to my house, you will be greeted by Charlie … you will find not one but two manger scenes featuring the characters from that classic comic strip fulfilling Biblical roles just like some of you will be taking the parts of the disciples and Jesus on Maundy Thursday. I even have a Peanuts coloring book in my office, which I color in on occasion and I have the book ‘PEANUTS, A Golden Celebration’ in my dining room. Plus, I have a couple of Peanuts t-shirts and ties as well.

The commentator compared his sports’ team to Charlie Brown’s unsuccessful attempt to kick a football while it is being held by Lucy Van Pelt. If you have followed the comic, you know that at least once a year beginning on November 16, 1952 Charlie lines up to kick the football and just as he reaches the ball Lucy lifts it up and Charlie misses and lands flat on his back. The dialogue changed year to year but year after year … you would think that Charlie would have learned to stop but no Schultz had dear old Charlie approach the ball with Lucy’s encouragement, raise his leg and land flat on his back for a moment of slap stick comedy perhaps but also a lesson of life from Schultz. Schultz was attempting to get his readers to understand that we don’t have to repeat our mistakes from the past … that we have a choice to break old habits that do nothing but harm.

And, that lesson I believe applies to each of us in our lives and especially in our faith lives. As someone who majored in history and as a believer in teaching children the truth about our history, I agree that history will repeat itself unless we pay attention to the impact of the past so we can have a better future by choosing other options.

The commentator wrote that his team played like Charlie Brown trying to kick the ball. The team repeats the same failures game after game and season after season … never learning to get better.

We are in the season of Lent… on a Sunday when we share in Holy Communion… the question I have for this day is whether you and I are willing to learn from the lessons our life has provided to us or whether we are we still excitedly without regard to the impact on ourselves and others repeating the same mistakes that we have always repeated even if those actions we repeat over and over again may be harming ourselves, hurting others we love dearly, and perhaps even diminishing our relationship with God and Jesus Christ or precluding a relationship from even existing.

The psalmist declares, “Let my whole being bless the Lord! Let everything inside me bless His Holy name!” Now, there is a challenge, right?

I cannot get inside your head … I don’t know very much about most of your histories that have led you to being with us in worship today. Perhaps this is the first time some of you have heard me and you are wondering about this guy wearing a Charlie Brown tie and talking about Lucy lifting up a football. But, you know who you are. Even if you don’t enjoy examining yourself … you are in the best position to honestly take a look this morning at who you are, how you are choosing to invest your days and hours, and whether or not your focus is on allowing your whole being … everything inside of you … to be focused on blessing the Lord through your words, your actions, your social media posts, and your life itself.

When we paused for a silent prayer of confession a few moments ago … did you pray? I know for me those few seconds are not enough time for me to list to God all of my failures, my sins, and my shortcomings in not connecting with God the way Dave Delaney should. But frankly … in this current season of Lent, the church calendar is giving each of us a new opportunity for renewal and a chance to not land flat on our backs repeating our actions that in our heart of hearts we fully know have not been aligned with God and perhaps … actions that have hurt those who are closest to us in this life. You know, folks that “have our backs” in our worst moments … are we doing right by them?

You have heard me through the years talk about this special meal of the Lord that we call Holy Communion or the Great Thanksgiving. I have shared how my pastor years ago when I was a boy … how he was able somehow teach me about the holy connection we are able to share in every time we pause our busy schedules to pray to God and to eat the bread and drink from the cup through Holy Communion. I fully understand because of those early life lessons why John Wesley, whose faith led to the creation of the Methodist movement, once said he wished he could receive holy communion several times each day … and even though we only offer it once a month on Sunday’s …. St. Paul’s has a weekly service of Holy Communion on Wednesday’s open to everyone because when we allow God to work with us through the meal it is transformative.

As Christians, Communion is one of our two Holy Sacraments instituted to the world by Jesus as the way of sealing a contract between God and humanity. The words Jesus spoke at that meal when blessing the bread and wine were meant for you and me. Yes, He said them to the Disciples but this meal … recorded in the Gospels … was a teaching moment for you and you and you and yes for Dave Delaney. I have no doubt that God is hoping that each person who takes in the simple piece of bread and the splashing of the fruit of the vine today or whenever they attend a church offering Holy Communion will have already learned a thing or two along life’s journey about loving God. God makes it easy for us to we agree to the contract God opened up to ALL of humanity that first Easter week.

This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you and for many so that their sins may be forgiven.”

Friends, in these life moments we have … are you agreeing to the covenant of God? A covenant is a contract that requires agreement from both sides … it is not a dictate in which you have no choice. So, have you made the changes in your life because of the teaching of Jesus Christ and the expectations of God? Have you learned from your past mistakes and your active choosing to diminish God, which is something all humans have done in our lives, or are you still focused on continuing that journey.

Jesus was talking about Himself and us when He said, “No one pours new wine into old leather wine skins; otherwise the wine would burst the wineskins and the wine would be lost!” It’s the everlasting and always ongoing message that humans need to learn from our past … let our discovery of God and Jesus Christ to sink in and then to change. Yes, we often hear that phrase to be “born again” but Jesus did clearly say that we MUST change, we MUST BELIEVE, and be like children in their innocence … he told Nicodemus in that nighttime meeting recorded in the Gospel of John, “Unless someone is born of water AND THE SPIRIT, it is not possible to enter God’s Kingdom. You MUST be born anew!”

Regardless of our ages, I believe we can always learn. I learned about Holy Communion as a boy … I learned my grievous error in rejecting God because of the words of a guy who had a job as a minister but was focused on money … thankfully, in those moments when I was brought back to faith I remembered all that I had learned and just needed a guide to put me back “in the race” as Paul wrote to the Philippians.

What we need to learn is that life’s journey does not go along the paths we want it to travel in and we have absolutely no control over how long or short our participation is in it. And, today … in this season of Lent with the Table of the Lord in front of us … God has not changed. You heard from the psalmist, “God forgives all sins … saves your life from the pit … crowns you with faithful love and compassion.” We are aware, I would hope, that God is “compassionate and merciful and VERY PATIENT and full of FAITHFUL LOVE.” Amazingly, we should have discovered by now that “God won’t be angry forever and won’t deal with us according to our sin.

But … those truths of God come with our participating in the covenant or the contract. “God’s faithful love is for those who honor God.

Jesus came because “healthy people don’t need a doctor but sick people do.” Jesus sat down with and loved the most notorious sinners of His age … Levi got up and followed Him. Not every tax collector and sinner eating with Jesus chose to follow Him but some did my friends … some actually listened and changed their lives using what they knew to take them forward.

God has made God’s ways known to all of us … the season of Lent is here, a season to invest time by our own choosing in reading the Gospels and praying more, making worship a priority and scrambling to invite others to meet Jesus just as Levi did.

In that first comic when Lucy was holding the ball for Charlie Brown in 1952 … the reason she lifted up the ball was to keep it clean. Jesus wants to lift us up to keep us clean, to give us hope, to change who we are but it is a two way street. Can you and will you learn from life so that you will let your whole being bless the Lord? Everything inside you …. Bless God’s Holy Name?”

The good news is that you can … you can make this day’s Holy Communion more holy in your heart than ever before and then live the change so that God notices but also those around you see that you are changed because of your faith. And, then you will find it easier to bless the Lord everywhere … everywhere you travel! AMEN

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