First Thessalonians 2: 1-8
Matthew 22: 34-46

I was talking with one of my friends the other day and she was telling me that her grandson Bobby is going to be SPIDERMAN for Halloween and he’s all excited. In fact, he wants to wear this costume all of the time.

On Friday night we held our annual PUMPKIN PARTY here at St. Paul’s and it’s clear that a lot of thought was put into each costume. Some of the kids were wearing store purchased costumes and others dressed up in creative get-up’s that moms and dads helped create. Our adults were in the swing of things too … having fun.

And, most of us will have a collection of candy at our homes ready to distribute to children from the neighborhood whom we know and don’t know. In the past it seemed that my neighborhood was well known for the quality of the candy because parents would drive their kids to our street to let them off. Of course the fact that my friend Fred Scerni gave away full size candy bars as did his immediate neighbors might have been an incentive for that. In fact, I would try to find a few different masks each year and head over to the Scerni’s to say TRICK OR TREAT with my hand out … Fred finally said, “Dave … if you want a candy bar I’ll give you one.”

Halloween in America; it’s a time when neighbors welcome children … it’s a time when we willingly spend money to give a treat to costumed characters and even to teenagers who appear at our doorsteps dressed as … well dressed as teenagers. We look at each visitor to say IT’s OUR TREAT and often we call to those in our home ‘come to the door and see these kids.”

So, what else are you giving away to others without a cost to them? What do you have to offer to children dressed in a variety of ways … to adults whose appearance may be different or whose language is not your own? Paul writes, “We have been examined and approved by God … to be trusted with the good news and that’s how we speak.”

Imagine for a moment giving away speech. Yes, obviously you and I talk all the time. Some of us … uh people like me … talk a lot or write a lot. But, I want you to imagine that each word that you speak or write has a value in real dollars to it. I know the candy bars that I bought to hand out for free each cost me something. By the way … I went Reeses Peanut Butter Cups this year so I may have to institute an exercise program if my house doesn’t have a lot of visitors.

Anyhow, let’s say each word you spoke or wrote cost you a quarter and each completed sentence a dollar and a paragraph five dollars. REAL MONEY … what words would be worth giving away to others as your treat? Would they be the words of the GOOD NEWS of JESUS CHRIST that have everlasting value … have your hearts been examined and approved by God? Are the words you speak and write away from this place of God … this church … this holy place of worship … are you words more focused on providing a treat to others that shares the joy you have in your faith knowing its your mission to make new disciples of Jesus Christ or are you giving away the rotten candy in your words and keeping the good stuff to enjoy here on Sunday’s?

One of our challenges in life is that we wonder whether we will get approval from others and fit in. It’s interesting how Paul addresses this issue in his letter to the church in Thessalonica. “We aren’t trying to please people … but we are trying to please God, who continues to examine our hearts.”

I find that to be an interesting challenge for people of faith … people who believe … people who truly follow Jesus Christ but who have to live out in the real world. First, are we trying to please other people by doing what they expect?

After midnight in the early hours of Thursday, I sat in a booth with the owners of The Piston Dee and Ish. It was a good conversation but it affirmed how they feel the most important part of succeeding in life … in owning a business … is giving back to others. We talked about how that counters the business model of most American businesses and that no school of business would ever teach future business owners to give up profits to charity … but they do and then they slept in the cold just because a crazy pastor had said it would help bring attention to the needs of homeless children.

So in this life … are you striving to please others, please yourself or please our God? What is the source of the treat you have for others, the joy you live with in your joy-filled moments and whose mission is the focus of your daily tasks?

By the way God does continue to examine our hearts. One of the reasons that James speaks out, “My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.” is because GOD continues to examine our hearts. To say one day out of the blue … I believe … I believe or to say ‘I go to church at least once a month’ is not really an example of your heart but of your moments. Faith is much more than a moment … faith is a change … faith can be found wrapped up in the last verse of today’s reading from Thessalonians, “We were glad to share not only God’s good news with you but also our very lives because we cared so much for you.”

Now, if you remember my premise for all this … your bank account is going to be charged for the words you speak and write. But, you are going to give away words … you are going to share words with deep meaning knowing that your words have value.

Five years ago today … mother nature pulled a trick on us. We called this trick SANDY … and she became labeled as a SUPERSTORM. Perhaps it was the perfect storm … hurricane winds, nor-easter, full moon with high tides all crashing down on New Jersey.

A few days before the storm I was in Sacramento California at a conference when my District Superintendent called to remind me that I was our District’s Emergency Management team leader and that a storm was coming. I laughed the storm off … but on October 29 2012 it was no longer a joking matter. The ocean raised up to meet our back bays … water rushed in with intense power pushing houses into neighboring houses where they collapsed upon each other …. Lifelong treasures destroyed … weeping from children and wailing cries of anguish from seniors who watched the life’s collection of things destroyed and their homes vanish. The storm was the trick …

The treat … the joy … the mission was born out by everyday people of faith. Almost immediately I began receiving calls from United Methodist churches across the country who had teams of workers ready to help us recover. I watched college student Ryan Seckinger, who has visited us here at St. Paul’s, come to church saying he HAD to get into the flood zone to help and he came with us crossing National Guard lines to unload FLOOD BUCKETs like we have built into our church at Bay Head.

The early days were about mucking out, holding people in our arms and praying, crying, and partnering but as time as rolled around churches like ours have helped A FUTURE WITH HOPE rebuild 250 homes. 391 of our New Jersey United Methodist churches have sent teams to the shore … 430 volunteer groups from around the nation have come here and been housed in our churches.

Faith … is about caring for others without thinking about how much it costs you in time or money …. Faith is about giving away what you have whether its your talents or goods with a smile saying its your treat for someone who needs it more than you.

Faith … when you truly believe and know that God is checking your heart and finding your heart is in great shape … faith my friends brings us joy.

And, our mission … it can be summed up in Jesus response to those who wanted to bring him down … the mighty and powerful wrapped up in their politics of hate and power … Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless and now he was about to cause the Pharisees great embarrassment because when their legal expert challenged him about the greatest commandment His answer was one they didn’t want to hear nor accept, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being,[a] and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

That my friend is our life’s mission … love God and love all of our neighbors giving back to them with our words, our hearts, and our actions. It’s our treat, our joy, and our mission! AMEN.

Watch the videos of our worship service:
Worship Part 1: Opening

Worship Part 2: Sermon & Healing

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