Psalm 32: 1-2
ACTS 3: 1-6
LUKE 15: 1-7

March 27, 2022

I don’t remember when I was taught to ride a bicycle. It might have been on Shirley Avenue in Buffalo or more likely it was on Los Robles Street in Williamsville NY. I just don’t remember but what I do remember was watching my brother Mark learn with my dad. My mom anxiously watching from the porch as dad would run along the bike until he let go and boom … down Mark would go. Mom would gasp and dad would start all over again. I am not sure what Mark’s age was but it was probably the typical ‘child learns to ride a bike age.’ I do remember exactly where I was on the day when dad let go and Mark didn’t fall. He rode down the sidewalk with this huge smile on his face looking to the left and right probably not paying close attention to the straight ahead. I was in my next door neighbor’s yard watching. Together with my life long friend, Mark Tammaro, we cheered my brother on. He was up on an adventure that continues to this day and I remember believing he could do it … And, he did. He also believed and worked at it!

We all know that the truth about riding a bike is … that to go forward you have to pedal and you have to pay attention to the direction that you are heading. It is also smart to have a helmet on your head just in case you fall. Because if you fall … if you don’t pay attention … if you don’t steer properly that can be the end of your bike riding smiles or worse. It might be another vehicle that brings you down or your own carelessness or merely the unexpected accident. My pant leg once got caught in the gears and I flipped completely over landing head first on the street and the scar on my right arm still visible today it came from a skid taking me down into a gravel lot when I was 14 years old … many stitches later I was back on the bike. Every parent hopes and probably prays that their children will stay on the right path; will not be steered in the wrong direction and that they never are brought down from their rides in life.

But sometimes life, friends, can get in our way even when we think we are moving along quite nicely. This morning we are reminded of the joy in heaven when just one sinner figures life out, discovers God’s love, and as Jesus said, “changes both heart and life.” Jesus continues, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner” who comes home to God and moves forward in the right direction “than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.” Please note, Jesus said “more joy” because they celebrate righteous folks up there too!

God, like any good loving Father does not give up on anyone. God wants every person to be someone who creates those heavenly parties … riding life in the right direction with a final destination in heaven. If we pay close attention to Jesus’ parable of the morning then we will realize that not only the angels in heaven will be partying when a lost one comes home to God but that when that lost lamb comes home it is God who is thrilled. It is God who is calling everyone in heaven together … I am guessing God does a group text rather than just emailing those angels … saying to them, “Celebrate with me because my lost sheep is home!

Do you remember when you were lost? Disconnected from God? Choosing to live in the world rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you? Your moment of salvation or your maturing in faith … do you remember? The end of the days when you did not read Scripture as part of your daily routine … the end of the days when prayer was just occasional rather than regular … the end of the days when you invested time attacking human beings, the neighbors God has put on this planet, with your words and actions just because you could and they were not in front of you? Aren’t you glad that your works and words today are reflective of your faith? But, do you remember when the change came to you? When you put behind the world, took up your cross and made the active decision to change and follow Jesus Christ as your Savior, Teacher, and Master?


Nil Armstrong who took those first small steps on the moon once said, “I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine.”

When it comes to having a dynamic, loving and faith-focused life connected to God, I wonder how many of us have wasted some heartbeats focused elsewhere? I know sadly that I wasted some of my potential faith walk moments … I actually lost my faith.

I have brought this Bible with me today because this Bible represents my rescue to me and I see it every morning on my kitchen table. Many of you know that I am living proof that a person of faith can toss it all away to join the world … the faith that became part of my reality as a young child that was enhanced by great Sunday School teachers, by a pastor who remained both a friend and mentor until he went home to God, two great parents whose faith never was in doubt, other individuals of faith, and yes God’s Holy Spirit all tried to direct my faith life and lovingly build up my faith until one day … one rather simple incident, driven by another human being, took it all away; nearly erased my faith forever … In an instant, I joined those actively rejecting God’s reality and quietly ran as far away from any faith connection that might impact my life.

To be a person of faith … to be an believer … to belong to God and to use that frequently misused word to be “saved” by God requires action and involvement. I was an extreme case because I went from believer to a person who clearly rejected God and Christ but when someone claims to believe but then joins the world’s chorus rather than the church choir whose song is about loving God and loving neighbors aren’t they rejecting God and Christ as much as I did? When individuals wear their ‘I am a Christian t-shirt’ pulled from their closets and then go out into the world to condemn the poor saying their poverty is the fault of the poor person and that they should not be helped rather than offering the poor food and drink from their own kitchens or any other resource that might be available… are they with God or against God?

The raising of your hand in a church service … stepping forward at an alter call or even occasionally attending a worship service with your eyes focused on and your mind concerned about the time running long does not make a person one who is wrapping their bodies and souls around God. Samuel wrote, “Does the Lord delight in burnt sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice,” Samuel wrote.

And, Jesus told the rich man to give away all of his life possessions prior to finding Jesus and then to take up his own cross to follow our Savior! Jesus says we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbors in the same way. Taking on those actions that Jesus teaches in the Gospels is obedience … it is faith. And, as that pastor of mine, Stanley Lewis, who was with me before I lost my faith as well as afterwards wrote in his notes in one of the books he gave me … “in James the reality of true faith versus illusional faith comes down to how we live our lives. Faith following God’s guidelines requires taking on the tasks God expects. Prayer, worship, Communion, praise, and then using our time out beyond our homes as well as in our homes for God and Jesus Christ. Loving God and all others.”

Pastor Lewis told me that he preached a lot from the book of James so his notes make sense since it is in James that we read “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all?”

So, in this Holy Season of Lent is Jesus just a name to you or is Jesus your Savior? In this segment of the year that concludes on Easter morning when we proclaim “He is Risen!?” <<He is Risen Indeed!>> have you sensed God’s forgiveness in your life? Are you loving your neighbors and God? Are you truly happy as the psalmist was?

This Lenten season is the most important one of our lifetime! The world is again experiencing war … people are divided and hating each other in every corner of the world usually over trivial things that they accepted as normal and ok in others just 10 years ago … churches are closing and parents are choosing not to train their children in faith, which means when those children fall down either as young people or as adults they will have no lessons of Jesus to remember as to how to get back up.

There are those with no faith and those who lost their faith, like I did, who are out in the world just like the man who was crippled since birth. The crippled man saw Peter and John he began to ask them for a gift … but what Peter had for that man and what Bill Southrey had for me was Jesus Christ.

RISE UP … in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene … rise up, ride straight ahead on God’s path wearing the helmet of the Holy Spirit for your protection!

I received this Bible on the day I rediscovered God and Jesus Christ as my personal Savior so much more than a name in the books. All the training I received brought fresh again but I know I have to work at my faith … I know I have to go to God for forgiveness because even though I have Jesus I still fall from time to time and need to be picked back up and put on my ride to heaven leaving behind what’s in the past and striving towards my goal which is to see Christ Jesus in heaven one day!

Paul taught … “All good things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to God’s purpose.” Today, friends … today if you need to get right with God talk with me … pray … find a person of faith … open up the Gospels but then join me in doing all we can together to show our small corner of the world that Jesus is more than a name … that the Easter is more than a basket filled with candy … and that we all need a Savior so that when our “finite number of heartbeats” on earth are over and we face God, one-on-one, that we can joyfully report that we didn’t waste the time we were given to do the work of the faithful. That faith work is our call … our salvation comes from God’s love for all of God’s sheep on earth!

Live your life with Jesus as Your Savior not as merely a name. AMEN

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