First Corinthians 15: 1-11
LUKE 5: 1-11

February 10, 2019

There is something … something since my earliest days that has always caused me to consider how small I am … how insignificant David Delaney is WHILE  at the same time leading me to understand that I am someone truly special … incredibly special because the GOD of CREATION church … the GOD of CREATION  sent Jesus for me … the Light of Christ shines brightly for me, insignificant Dave Delaney whose accomplishments and failures will fade away if they haven’t already. CHRIST’s LIGHT & God’s LOVE not only for me but also for you and you.  In fact, in God’s eyes and God’s perspective … OUT THERE in the Light of Christ .. that shines in each corner of this world … every single person is incredibly special despite the fact that we are all still sinners and can’t get away from that sin … God loves humanity created in God’s Holy Image even though we are sinners … all of us; especially me because I can’t worry about your sins or the sins of others while I have my own that I need to bring to God for God’s action and forgiveness.

You see the spotlight of God … the spotlight does not shine to make me or any other person a star because I go to a particular church created by humans or adhere to human rules.  I don’t get added glory or brownie points with God because I hold the status of pastor in our denomination having met the human standards created by people I don’t know and never will know. In our reading from Corinthians today … it is clear that Paul … the very same saint of the church whose name this building carries … the same Paul when if you are asked what church you belong to or attend or if I am asked where do I pastor … the answer is St. Paul’s but church the truth is we are Christians … just as Paul was a Christian.  We are members of the universal church of Jesus Christ that should NEVER LOWER itself to human rules and regulators who attempt to make themselves seem more worthy of God’s love or less of a sinner or somehow more of an expert on God’s rules than other humans but instead church MUST BE A PLACE that adheres to the commands of God, which Jesus shared in simplicity .. LOVE GOD and LOVE NEIGHBOR.  Paul declared that he was the least important of the apostles and that he was who he was by the grace of God.  I am hear to ask myself again and to ask all of you … are you also here by the grace of God and because you have discovered God’s love for you and chosen to believe.  Paul wrote, that God’s grace was with him and I pray “God’s grace is with you” giving you a personal relationship … with the Almighty and that you have taken God’s command seriously by loving the Creator and loving all of your neighbors.

Paul tried to gain the attention of that early church … writing “I want to call your attention to the good news … Christ died for our sins, in line with the Scriptures, He was buried, and He rose on the third day, in line with Scriptures …” CHURCH, Jesus Christ is RISEN … <HE IS RISEN INDEED>!

945 days ago I stood before you for the very first time.  My daughter Colleen and my Son in Law Ryan read the Scriptures of the day from Jeremiah and from Matthew.  As many of you have since discovered … sitting amongst you that day were 25 of my craziest friends because I wanted to discover the DNA of this place.  I discovered that this is a church that loves whoever walks through these doors … a church that gets God’s message that a Church is to be God’s place … where any ANY human made in the image of God has equal standing … equal importance … and equal love because that’s what God wants even though many church going people and congregations might attempt to sort out humans to meet their personal standards and bias first because their self created rules dismiss God’s call because their precepts and concepts and prejudices to them set the GOLD STANDARD that they think God should follow.

That day we heard from the Gospel from Matthew how the disciples questioned Jesus asking Him “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  That friends is when Jesus called over a little child and declared “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely NOT enter the kingdom of heaven.”  If you don’t turn your lives around and become like a child you will DEFINITELY NOT … enter.  Jesus words … harsh and perhaps contradictory to the rule makers who set human standards.  Jesus continued “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

I spoke that day of the challenge that people of faith face.  Not easy times I said … I said that those were the days when people of faith need to go out into the world carrying the JESUS message in our hearts and that our challenge is to get our faith lives back on track.  I spoke of my personal challenges and I shared the words of Chuck Mangione’s song LOOK to the CHILDREN, which are in your bulletin insert this morning.

In Romans Paul writes what I consider one of those challenges for people of faith where we could all go “duh … I knew this.”  He writes, “You know what time it is.  The hour has already come for you to wake up.  Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith.  Let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light.  Let’s behave as people who live in the day … dress yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ!”

We heard Lillian read the story of the calling of the disciples in today’s Gospel reading.  Jesus first boards Simon’s boat and teaches the crowd that had followed Jesus to that place along the Sea of Galilee.  When Jesus finished teaching he asked Simon to row the boat out into the waters to fish.  Yes, you know the story … Simon and his crew had been fishing all day with no success but one more time because Jesus had said to drop the nets over the side of their boat they did and were overwhelmed with the catch but Simon Peter kept looking at Jesus and he dropped to his knees before Jesus and his response to the Son of God might be surprising after this great catch of fish but Simon said LEAVE ME LORD … I AM A SINNER. LEAVE ME LORD … I AM A SINNER.

Now, Simon Peter knew he was unworthy to be in Jesus presence … Simon Peter knew that just like each of us … Simon Peter knew his own sins … so he wanted Jesus to leave him.  I am not quite sure if Peter thought Jesus might find some people who weren’t sinners … people not engaging in sins every day but I haven’t met those folks yet have you?

The good news … even in light of the fact that Simon Peter declared he was a sinner and didn’t say that he was going to mysteriously and suddenly stop sinning … Jesus said to him, “Don’t be afraid … from now on … you will be fishing for people.”  And, Simon Peter followed Jesus … as a sinner; as a man with all of his human frailties and weaknesses.  Peter declared he was a sinner … Jesus knew he was a sinner … but Jesus chose him to join Jesus and help bring God’s Light into the world with the other 11 sinners and all the apostles and saints to follow who likewise were sinners but the admonishment from Christ. DON’T BE AFRAID … because Jesus friends is the LIGHT that takes away our sins … God forgives our sins … God understands our human weakness and therefore makes it simple all we have to do is to look to the children … the children they know in their eyes are the answers we seek and their hearts feel the way to go … they know more than we.  They embrace and love and play with each other without restrictions, standards and bias … He said, “I assure you if you don’t turn your lives around and become like a child YOU DEFINITELY WILL NOT enter …”

If you were here last Sunday you heard me say how much the broadcast of the musical RENT impacted me.  One of the things it did was bring back memories … especially the memory of one special man, MATT McCROSSAN.

In the 1980’s and probably into the early Nineties, one of my responsibilities with the Social Security Administration was to obtain applications for benefits from individuals unable to get into an office.  This was pre-internet and the agency didn’t take applications by telephone then.  The world was impacted by a new disease called AIDS and people were afraid.  I remember having to go to a place called the KING DAVID’s CARE CENTER in Atlantic City where the sickest of the sick were dying daily.  I saw humans in conditions that still harbor images that make me tear up.   During those same years I was on radio and television, which is where I met Matt.  He was the spokesperson for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance.

After one television interview Matt looked at me and said ‘you are afraid of me, aren’t you Dave?’  And, my first response was ‘Of course not.  Why would you say that?’  Matt then asked if I would not only shake his hand but hug him.  My mind immediately thought AIDS … hug … no way but then it hit me.  I had been around so many other individuals with AIDS who were so much sicker than Matt and I had survived. I considered Matt a friend by then and then I thought how stupid of a man I was especially as a Christian for always stepping away from him so I hugged Matt and from that moment on we always hugged whenever we saw each other laughing about my earlier reluctance until the day he died of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS and on that day I cried at the loss of my friend.

Children hug … children play … children love … every day is their first day of Spring.

This church … St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of West Deptford is a special place.  This church is about love and caring … yes, we are all sinners but friends we love and express that love in our greeting of strangers who come to worship here.  We show that love through our FAMILY PROMISE weeks, the work many of you do in Camden, how we treasure our children in Sunday School, Church, and Vacation Bible School.

The truth is … at least in my mind … that St. Paul’s is a place where church happens even though many of you might fail a test on what the United Methodist Church theology is.  But, this morning I need to make you aware of a reality of the United Methodist Church.  No, there won’t be a test after but it is possible that you may have questions and I will be more than happy to try to answer them.

At the end of this month a special General Conference of the global United Methodist Church is being held in St. Louis to address issues specific to our Book of Discipline, which is our human created rule book.  These issues are related to human sexuality and this conference is the result of a vote of the 2016 General Conference of our denomination.   The delegates to the conference represent clergy and laity from around the world.  In 2016, a Commission on a Way Forward was established to present to the church options as to how our church regards marriage ceremonies of individuals who are of the same sex by our clergy and within our churches and what the denominational understanding is of clergy members who are gay or lesbian.

As you can imagine, the discussions have been difficult.  Over the course of years, friendships have ended as the internal church debate has heated up.  Most United Methodist churches, like ours, have continued to celebrate being the church of Jesus Christ every week without getting involved in this debate but other churches have been overcome by it.

At this point in time no one knows what the outcome of the special General Conference in St. Louis will be as those delegates attempt to determine whether changes are needed in the rule book of our denomination.  But, more than likely the news media will be reporting on the United Methodist Church’s internal debates from St. Louis and you may be seeing more and more memes on social media or even debates amongst friends.

Our Conference’s website and the denomination’s website both provide some excellent background material as to what has brought us to this point in time.  But today, I am asking that we as a church pray for the delegates to this Special General Conference beginning with our delegates from New Jersey.  And, that we pray for all of the leaders of our church especially our bishops.

But, I want this church … this church of Jesus Christ to face each day as people who love God and love our neighbors.  I want us to be a place where those in our community say And that church is all about caring for others, welcoming any human created in God’s image who walks through the doors.

As a United Methodist Church we will go forward understanding that humans establish denominational rules but as Christians we live by the grace of God.  Our paths are in the Light of Christ.

It’s been 945 days since I preached my first sermon here at St. Paul’s … I did not know then if I would still be here today and frankly, no one can predict if I will be here tomorrow or 945 days from now but we can here Jesus … When I look at my Facebook photo I am holding William and Ellie May showing the joy in their baptism on my face and theirs … twins whose parents have them in church almost every Sunday smiling and laughing and accepting all of us who have held and hugged them.

So today I will end this message with the same words I used on Sunday July 10, 2016 …

And, Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Please look around this church today … Look at the children of God and remember that all of God’s people were created in Gods image and it’s time we look at each other as a child of God open to love and care for all.   We can be difference makers … Hear God’s call for your lives and take it on with childhood energy!  The world needs you and me!


Watch a video of today’s worship service:

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