Exodus 23: 1-9
MARK 11: 15-18

August 29, 2021

It is the season my friends … the season of amazing fresh produce from farmer’s markets all across South Jersey and in fact in most parts of the United States. I smile when I go into my market searching for delicious sweet corn and the best Jersey Fresh tomatoes I can find. And, when I can find those ripe melons and pints of blueberries I just smile.

We all know how good the season’s best choices will taste when they are coming home from the market. But, I am sure that you are like me and sometimes you sit the tomatoes or the melons or the corn aside …. You have great plans for them; perhaps even a recipe where they will join with the right spices and creams to create an amazing meal but they sit too long … an array of interesting colors develop on their outsides and the insides turn to mush or worse. A circle of ‘itsy bitsy’ flies start to circle in your home and that delicious fruit that once had so much potential ends up with a trip to your outside garbage can.

If we don’t celebrate the freshness by putting it to good use … things get old, worn, spoiled and no longer capable of being what they could have been and I am here this morning to tell you that can happen to people like us …. With our faith. Faith that was once fresh but doesn’t get put to use … the spoiling factors of the world are waiting to make their way into our minds into our bodies’ activities … into our very souls.

Jesus declared in one of the most confusing moments in the disciples journey with Him, “DO NOT LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED … trust in God and trust also in me.” Jesus was going to tell them that God has a place for people of faith and that God has a companion for life’s journey, the Holy Spirit. Jesus was trying to refocus those still in the Upper Room with Him on the journey and the outcome of faith. Phillip even questions Him saying, “Lord show us the Father that will be enough for us.” But, Jesus won’t fall for that He declares to Phillip and to us, “Don’t you know me?” Phillip and Christians …. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. I assure you that WHOEVER BELIEVES in ME will do the works that I do. If you love me YOU WILL KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS.”

I am sure that you are familiar with those Maundy Thursday statements of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior, right? But did you listen closely … WHOEVER BELIEVES IN ME will do the WORKS I do. Now this is a place where James comes to mind when he wrote that faith without works is dead, which is different than saying you must have works to believe. Jesus has said WHOEVER BELIEVES IN ME; not just the pastor or the Sunday School teacher or the Trustee but WHOEVER BELIEVES IN ME will do the works … activism is a reflection of faith whereas doing nothing is well it is doing nothing and spoiling the faith that might have been. And, Jesus adds the IF STATEMENT allowing that some might not choose to agree. BUT, IF YOU LOVE ME … you will keep my COMMANDMENTS and we will know what they are because Jesus made them simple … LOVE GOD and LOVE ALL of your NEIGHBORS.

And, so on this HEALING SUNDAY I am here to state that we need to shake up our faith all of the time. We need to embrace fresh ideas … well they may seem like fresh ideas but truthfully it is easy for us to focus on the world’s ideas and philosophies in a way that make the expectations of God and Jesus Christ almost new concepts that might seem foreign to us.

God gives us the option … we don’t have to believe. God does not force us to believe. We don’t have to love Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We don’t have to celebrate that HE IS RISEN <<HE IS RISEN INDEED>> but if we reject God and reject Jesus we as church folk understand the consequences.

And, I believe that we all need to be healed … healed of whatever limits our relationship with God. Healed of the reasons we have made habits of so many realities in life that faith, God, church, worship, prayer … well I could go on and on but the connections to the Creator and to our Savior easily can fall out of habit. Healed of whatever blocks the Holy Spirit of God from reaching us and moving us to make disciples for Christ.

In Hebrews we read, “It is impossible to please God without faith because the one who draws near to God must believe that God exists and that God rewards people who try to find God.” I think we could argue that simple verse could lead to some interesting heavenly conversations when it comes to the church of 2021. This week I had conversations with a missional-focused church activist and with my friend Pastor Derrick Gatling from First Jericho Baptist Church in Deptford. Both of these men … these Christian men … made almost the same comment to me separate from one another. People are not returning to the churches because they have gotten into the habit of not going to church since March of 2020. And, Pastor Gatling added “Dave, it seems like no one is interested in bringing friends to church any more.”

I have shared that this sermon series is in many ways a reflection of Jim Cymbala’s book, ‘Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire.” In that book Cymbala writes, [1]The Christian world today is not playing nearly as well as we think. We seem to have grown adept at putting a positive spin on every conceivable situation. ‘These are wonderful days!’” Yet, Cymbala writes “church attendance is at an all time low as culture becomes more promiscuous, more violent, and more hateful by the day.” He adds a very challenging question, “So what has happened to the church as light and salt in the earth? What do spin doctors in the body of Christ make of these things?”

In the first few weeks of the this series I have spoken about our need to find a place to escape. Our need to pray with intention. And, to worship with intensity but today we are faced with a truth that I think applies to most of us. We need to be shaken up in our faith and I think this can only happen if we revisit God’s Word because the truths of our faith are scattered throughout this book we call the BIBLE; our Holy Book and one of the most neglected choices for time investment known to 21st century church goers.

I am sure that none of you are surprised to hear that the number of Bible studies in the United States has decreased over the last 5 years because how many of you have started a small group study or excitedly joined one? Even with the ease of the Bible app on our phones, it seems that we don’t seek out Scripture truths and the expectations of God that can be found from Genesis to Revelations perhaps because we would rather watch Bridgerton, The Witcher or Lupin along with tens of millions of others than hear what God expects of us. WE NEED TO BE SHAKEN UP.

Very few members and friends of this church were around in the year of the Lord 1939 but just to remind you … there was a holocaust happening in Germany under the direction of a hate-filled leader named Adolph Hitler. On Sunday mornings when people in Germany were attending church their Jewish neighbors, their disabled neighbors, their LGBQTi neighbors were being loaded onto trains and shipped to death camps. Of course they knew to keep quiet as they sang their hymns. But did you know about a ship called the SS St. Louis? It was a German ocean liner that in 1939 sailed away from Europe with more than 900 Jewish refugees … they were escaping the horrors of their homeland and coming to a new place of possibilities called the United States of America. But when that ship was within sight of the shores of Florida and the people were rejoicing … Americans declared we don’t want those refugees here in our country. Who knows the harm they will bring to our land … send them away! Send them away. And, the good church going folks sang their hymns. And, the SS St. Louis approached Canada but it was turned away … no one wanted these refugees NO ONE but there in the TORAH was God’s teaching “DO NOT OPPRESS an IMMIGRANT. You know what it’s like to be an immigrant because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.” Scripture also refers to aliens in the land in case anyone wonders about whether God cares about immigration status … and so the SS St. Louis was forced back to Germany and a significant number of those good human beings died in the death camps.

And, this morning as planeloads of Afghani refugees fly into Dover and into McGuire Air Force base what am I hearing from church folks and seeing on their social media? SEND THOSE REFUGEES somewhere else … not my nation. Let them go home … to die. But, I will tell you that one congregation of the United Methodist Church in New Jersey did reach out to me asking how they could take in Afghani’s … Muslim refugees into their homes. We are working on it with them. I am sure their neighbors will be ticked off or worse.

Friends, it is so easy to be spoiled by the world but today if we want to again sense the Spirit of God and be directed by God’s Holy Spirit we need to be shaken up. Don’t you think Jesus’ disciples and followers were shaken up when they saw Him pushing over tables and throwing out those who were using the church for their profit and exploitation of others? We know God can get mad … Scripture teaches us that … we know God has expectations … read Matthew 25 again to hear Jesus specifically address some folks who thought they were fine in God’s eyes but whose lives were not.

And, so I come back to the Torah. To Exodus. Words in Scripture that Jesus paraphrased frequently because after all this is God’s call not Pastor Dave’s not the United Methodist Church’s … God’s call DO NOT SPREAD FALSE RUMORS (Boy, oh boy is that a 2021 expectation of God that we fail at.)! DO NOT PLOT with EVIL PEOPLE (I think we know who is evil in this world just through their words and actions.) DO NOT TAKE SIDES with IMPORTANT PEOPLE to DO WRONG (Who are you lining up with? Do you worship any human being because of their importance and are ready to do what they say …. Germans did in Hitler’s time); BRING BACK YOUR NEIGHBORS OX or DONKEY even if that neighbor is your enemy. Don’t undermine the justice that the poor deserve. Don’t put an innocent person who is in the right to death. DO NOT OPPRESS AN IMMIGRANT (And, back in those days there were no legal documents to worry about immigrants were folks from other lands who have moved into your land.).

Cymbala writes,[2]We need the fresh wind of God to awaken us from our lethargy. We must not hide any longer behind some theological argument. They days are too dark and too dangerous.”

Friends, that fresh wind is something we need … we need to be healed so we can take on the mission of God … the mission of Christ … the call of the church. We need to rediscover the power of the Holy Spirit both as individuals but also as a church. Cymbala writes,[3]what we sincerely turn to God, we will find that God’s church always moves forward not backward. We can never back up and accommodate ourselves to what the world wants or expects. Our stance MUST REMAIN militant, aggressive, and bold.”

And, perhaps that is where our freshness has spoiled. We have not valued our faith more than anything. We have not been bold in sharing God’s truth because we want to fit into the world and perhaps are even embarrassed to aggressively extend invitations to church but to a beer and beef of course we ask folks to come. We can be aggressive and bold without being proverbial bulls in a china shop because our weapon is love of God and love of neighbor and our partner is the Holy Spirit of God.

So, today’s challenge to me and to you is to rediscover God’s expectations through Scripture if we want our faith to again be fresh and vital. If we believe … if we love God there should be no other option not even those binge-worthy shows on Netflix I mentioned this morning.

Can you imagine a coach in the Super Bowl or a manager in the World Series watching his team getting beaten badly saying to his players, “Hey guys, just go out and enjoy yourself. Isn’t this fun we are on national tv. If you have friends in the stands go ahead and visit with them …. The game doesn’t matter.”

I pray that you will join me in this quest for a freshness of faith that can last a lifetime. Paul’s words are so true today, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Together let’s be the new sources of light for God and Jesus Christ … fresh in our faith! AMEN

[1] FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE by Jim Cymbala published by Zondervan

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

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