A FORK in the ROAD

Isaiah 58: 6-11
JOHN 21: 15-19

May 1, 2022

Easter … I seem to remember Easter because it was a day that concluded a week that was quite busy for this church family and for me. I woke up early on that recent Easter morning to get to the Red Bank Battlefield Park for our sunrise service …. Gary was there carefully streaming the live video and allowing viewers to imagine what was being said. Rob Tomer’s son-in-law was there with his family playing music as the sun rose to the east and the Delaware flowed to our west. Remembering that the Son of God had Risen!

I remember Easter here in this Sanctuary because we had 2 beautiful worship services with lots of people … people filling this sanctuary at 930 and a good crowd at 11. Most of you were here at one of those services or watched them on FACEBOOK.

Perhaps the opening of my sermon struck home with you as I stood up here and declared: “Friends, how alive are you this morning? How are you feeling? Has the God of creation provided you with a sense of total and complete relief since your sins and my sins are forgiven? If ever there was a day to worship God with thanks, reverence and joy. Today is the day, EASTER IS HERE!”

Of course you can always sense the resonance from this special House of God whenever I declare as I did that morning: “Jesus Christ, the Son of God; HE IS RISEN!!! <<HE IS RISEN INDEED>>”

Jesus is Risen Indeed … God has not stopped forgiving our sins … the Table of the Lord is set for us today but did you ever wonder why the world out there … in fact, the world that distributes people from buildings called churches on Sunday mornings, does not live as God expects us to live? Does it bother you that the teachings of Jesus Christ seem to vaporize when human beings settle into our cars and turn on our radio’s or sophisticated computerized automobile sound systems?

Do you often wonder why anyone would reject what the prophet declared God offers God’s people … “He will rescue your bones. You will be like a watered garden; like a spring of water that won’t run dry.”

Have you wondered why when facing the fork in the road with one option being on the road with Jesus at our side guided by the Holy Spirit but the other choice that so many take is the one that in the view of Hollywood imagery offers the heated glowing pitchfork of the Evil One as an element of the final destination for living life that way.

When you leave worship today … after having shared in the Sacrament of Holy Communion … which fork in the road will be appealing to you? Where will you deliberately direct your life’s actions until we meet again. There are only two choices … And, no one will force you to choose one or the other. We heard from the prophet what God’s expectations are, which by the way Jesus reinforces in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, whereas the other option pretty much is to ignore anything that Jesus declared in His simple statement of God’s clear test for believers … “LOVE GOD and LOVE ALL of YOUR NEIGHBORS just as I have,” Jesus said.

By the way do you get that awesome sense of God’s presence when you hear me say HE IS RISEN … <<He is Risen Indeed>> and then you respond in joy? I sure do.

I have to admit that I come to you today deeply troubled by the actions I have witnessed this week from people who cast themselves as leaders in the church of Jesus Christ because their words and their actions are clearly focused on setting their own rules in contradiction to God’s teaching … they are focused on EXCLUSION rather than on loving ALL others … they are ignoring who Jesus hung out with so that they can slam the door on people who are not like themselves. And, I am troubled, frankly angry, and deeply saddened knowing their actions will turn people off of Christ.

Today’s Gospel where Jesus gets in Peter’s face three times …. ‘Do YOU LOVE ME?” Jesus asks … Jesus who loves you and me. Jesus who loves the homeless and the challenged … the addicted and the scorned … those who are rich and those who are poor … Jesus who does not require people to speak English in order to understand the words people speak or think. Jesus was presenting a challenge to one of the leaders of His disciples … DO YOU LOVE ME MORE THAN … all the other stuff and people?

Church in today’s world; in the year 2022 … every single day each of us, you and me, we reach a fork in the road of life options and our choice represents whether we love Jesus more than our love of finding a place of position in the world because our responsibility just like Peter’s, as followers of Jesus Christ, is to “FEED JESUS’ SHEEP’ by being the Light of Christ to the entire world. By living as Jesus taught in love.

And, so church this Thursday is a date on the calendar established by President Harry Truman and the Congress, literally a life time ago, as our nation’s NATIONAL DAY of PRAYER. A day when the people of the United States are to come together to pray together … as Americans ‘red and yellow black and white they are precious in His sight’ … well our nation is made up of a wide variety of folks and the National Day of Prayer was established not to have a national religion nor a State-run church that dictates how we pray or where we worship … a National Day of Prayer so with our neighbors we can focus as united citizens on the reality of God and our need to pray. It has been my honor to coordinate West Deptford’s National Day of Prayer program for the last several years and I will be doing so again this Thursday. We will have several special guests joining us … to pray together … to hear music and to listen.

Earlier this week I called a minister from one of our West Deptford churches. A man I have known for a few years. We exchanged pleasantries … and then I asked if he would be part of this Thursday’s program. He said yes and then I mentioned that there would be a rabbi, a Muslim, a Hindi, and possibly representatives of other faith traditions present. He immediately said I WILL NOT PARTICIPATE WITH THEM … And, friends, he had the gall to say “I do not believe as a Christian I should be with THEM.”

I can just imagine what he preaches from his pulpit … I can just imagine the fork he turns to when facing individuals who do not behave like he thinks people should behave or live their lives … he had slammed me into a wall with his rejection of God’s teaching and frankly I struggled to say goodbye … I attempted to explain how important it was to show Jesus to the world … I could hear the prophet’s call “I choose the releasing of wicked restraints … the untying of a yoke. I choose freeing the mistreated and breaking every yoke. I choose sharing bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless in our homes. “As the prophet taught it is then that “your light will break out like dawn and you will be healed quickly. The Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. And, if you call out; God will say “I am here!”

If you remove the yoke from among you, the finger pointing, the wicked speech; if you open your heart to the hungry and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted your light will shine in the darkness and your gloom will be like noon.” And, Jesus asked …. “Do you love me? Do you love me more than these? FEED MY SHEEP.”

Thankfully, I called my friend Pastor Derick Gatling from down the road in Deptford. He soothed my soul and brought focus back to me. Brothers and sisters in Christ … we all need to have faith-filled friends. We all need to have voices we can listen to who remind us of our need to choose the turn in our road towards Christ. And, I remembered that I had a shirt that Pastor Gatling had worn to a previous National Day of Prayer program … UNITY “[1]Making every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” In that shirt’s message … and on that dark morning for me; I knew in the moment that God calls us to be like this church is; like St. Paul’s … welcoming to ALL … loving to ALL … encouraging ALL to take on active roles in the church of Jesus Christ no matter where we come from, what we look like or who makes up our families. When we shine the loving light of Christ … that light just might be seen as something worth having by friends and strangers alike.

I know I have a GPS that usually works … I remember road maps that often helped me to get to there from here but frankly I know there is more to life than driving down the highway in my car … I know that I face choices and so do you that can be life altering not just for your life but for those who see and hear you.

Do you love Jesus church? Are you ready and willing, a mere two weeks past Easter 2022, to take care of any one of the “sheep” of Jesus Christ or do you think some should be avoided or excluded as this man told me this week he was doing?

The God of Creation is ready to guide each of us continually and provide for each of us even in parched places. God will rescue our bones. We will be liked watered gardens; like springs of water that won’t run dry.” We will be in a place where we will “[2]rejoice in the Lord always!” When Jesus is our choice.

But we have to choose to make the decision of taking the fork in the road that puts us on the pathway for God and Christ guided by The Spirit of God. Opening our hearts to the hungry … removing the yoke of fingerpointing and wicked speech from our lives … providing for those who are afflicted.

And, today as we take the bread and drink from the cup I pray you will hear Jesus whispering … “I love you.” but also hearing Him asking you to answer the question “Do you love me?” And, if you do then Jesus will continue to give the directions you and I are to take … “FOLLOW ME.” AMEN

[1] Ephesians 4:3
[2] Philippians 4:4

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