Isaiah 41: 8-13
JOHN 14: 23-29

May 26, 2019

Yesterday, I went to my very first baby shower.  I have to admit that I was curious about the event that was planned for my daughter knowing that men were being invited into what was once a very secretive female only tradition.  The very concept of giving a baby a shower before his or her birth always confounded me since newborns are rarely placed into the shower but instead settle into their baby baths.   Who gives this traditional shower to the baby? Megan suggested, more for my brother and my sake than the baby’s, that we bring squirt guns and then soak Colleen’s belly … was that the secret tradition concealed from men for so many years … a baby shower using squirt guns?

Well, it was more than a picnic but it was essentially a picnic for family and friends.  As I sat with my brother, my niece’s boyfriend Jonathan, and Ryan it became clear that the lack of inside information about baby showers was truly a generational reality.  This was also my brother’s first baby shower but Jonathan and Ryan both confessed to have attended many such gatherings in their young lives.  Although the mom to be was involved in the planning so it wasn’t really a surprise shower there was a successful surprise element as my niece Joann from Florida who was not expected to attend showed up and this truly surprised Colleen adding to her special day!

Family from both sides … friends … food … good weather … smiles all around … my first Baby Shower and I survived but much more importantly the mother and the father to be were both happy and pleased.  Plus they received lots of goodies that will now completely fill their home with baby oriented items.

Some of you may have read my Facebook posting about this weekend’s traditional American holiday.  That to is much more than a picnic; this weekend was created not to pull out the grills … not for the shoobies to return to the Jersey shore.

Actually, one of my high school friends who lives in Philly and has a place at the shore with her husband didn’t know she was a shoobie.   And, now I am wondering whether those of us who live on this side of the Garden State are considered shoobies too but thankfully we don’t have Pennsylvania license plates.

But Memorial Day … this is not a weekend created for men and women who enjoy parading around in their uniforms saying “look at me.”  This is not a weekend to raise money to stock the local Legion hall’s coffers; my dad always grew angry when he came across his fellow veterans with their hands stretched out looking for money at the end of May.  This weekend was created to be more than a picnic … it is a weekend to remember those men and women who actually gave their lives protecting our freedom … defending our Constitution … giving so that we can be here today.  It is Memorial Day weekend and I am so thankful that so many gave their lives while serving our nation that at least through this day in history we are free to speak and free to worship and we do not bow to a king or a ruler.

At the beginning of this week Carol and Don Strock joined with me and hundreds of others at the Annual Conference of the Greater New Jersey United Methodist Church in Wildwood.  I am thankful for the Strock’s just as I am thankful for each of you.  A gathering of church folk along the boardwalk and beaches of Wildwood will never alter who we are … a meeting of people developing plans for the future that will be shared cannot change who we are.  This physical building called St. Paul’s, which is so beautiful and offers us a sense of the Holy does not change who you are or who I am just because we walk through the doors.

The truth is … the truth my friends is that FAITH is more than a picnic … FAITH and CHRISTIANITY are much more than a label or a meeting or a membership in a human created place … FAITH, CHRISTIANITY is about making a decision as to how we live life … how we go to meetings … what we join in or what we don’t join in … our words and our actions reveal or hide our faith … yes, to a degree it is about our connection to buildings called churches but only if we worship God when we go there.

I was struck by the words of the prophet in today’s Scripture reading because Isaiah is sharing with those who identify themselves as being God’s people what it is like to walk with God.  It is a Scripture lesson better told in its original language than in English because sometimes there are nuances in the original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible that the English language just doesn’t get right.  But the message of living as a person of faith comes through rather clearly … “DON’T FEAR; because I am with you!  DON’T BE AFRAID, for I am your GOD!”

Let’s stop right there … FEAR is something that is being honed to a sharp edge here in America these days.  Just listen to our leaders at the highest level … they find their power and strength in creating fear in their followers.  They want people to fear those who are different than they are;; fear other nations; fear people with different cultural heritage or religions … they create images of their opponents to make them appear unable to protect or defend our nation.

IF … and this is one of those moments that we all may falter in … IF you allow yourself to be overcome in fear on a daily basis then how in the world can you claim that God walks with you?

GENESIS 15 – DO NOT BE AFRAID; I am your shield and great reward!



PSALM 23 – Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadows of death I will FEAR NO EVIL.

PSALM 27 – THE LORD is my LIGHT and my SALVATION whom shall I fear?



Dear church … in this messed up world.  In this world of confusion … I so want you to hear the value that God can have in your life if you are willing today as the month of May morphs into the month of June … I want you to hear the value of walking with God and living for God as a Christian … it won’t be a picnic … God never promised that but God has promised so much more.

When you walk out of church today will you be holding God’s hand or will you allow God to hold your hand.  There is a subtle difference … but as we hear the prophet teach this lesson is not what the English language hints at … God is not going to kill those who are your opponents what God is going to do friends … when you allow God to take your hand and walk with you … your eyes will naturally look up to God; you will sense God’s power and love … God the creator … God who sent Jesus to rescue us … God who created all humanity in God’s Holy Image … when we are focused on God then who will we fear …

When we witness God’s perfect love there is no fear because we are assured that here on earth we can be working to bring heaven to this place by replicating God’s love in our words and our deeds … laughing in the face of fear … holding tight to the understanding of our former President who clearly proclaimed during a time when the people of this nation were facing the unknown … THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR is FEAR ITSELF.

I love the verse from MARK … DO NOT BE AFRAID … JUST BELIEVE.   I often wonder how many of us do not bring up our faith because we are afraid what would happen if we did talk about God or Jesus?  If in the midst of people condemning others what would happen if Christians said EXCUSE ME … We are to love our God and love our neighbors as ourselves …. Let’s stop with the hate … let’s end the division … let’s not chant hate-filled slogans … let’s lift each other up and cheer each other even the strangers in our midst along the paths of life we are on.

The Hebrew context of this morning’s lesson from Isaiah actually teaches that those walking with God will not notice their opponents because those walking with God will be focused on God … He writes, “You will look for your opponents and won’t find them.”  Of course you won’t find your opponents … your opponents cannot create fear because your eyes are on God … you have allowed God to take your hand.  TURN YOUR EYES UPON JESUS.  LOOK FULL IN HIS WONDERFUL FACE.  AND THE THINGS of EARTH WILL GROW STRANGELY DIM in the LIGHT OF HIS GLORY and GRACE.

Yes, this weekend will be filled with barbecues … picnics … gatherings … but people will be challenged; my friend Randy’s life is on the edge and I am so glad I saw him this week; war and hate will not disappear but church I want to ask you to consider where you are going in the days ahead.  Are you willing to reach up and let God say these words about you?

“I am the Lord your God who grasps your hand who says to you DO NOT FEAR I WILL HELP YOU.   DON’T FEAR … I will help you.  The Holy One of Israel is your redeemer.”

Church are you willing to love Jesus … He said “Whoever loves me will keep my word … my Father will love them.  Peace I leave with you … Don’t be troubled or afraid.”

So, we have a mission trip the first week in August to America’s poorest county … are you joining us?  Vacation Bible School the last week in July who are you inviting to make sure their kids get some God in their lives?  Disputes at family gatherings … hate in political discussions are you ready to throw some God on those fires?

Life is more than a picnic … people of faith we are told to bring love into the world … thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven we are about to pray … FEAR NOT GOD IS WITH YOU!

Wednesday I hugged Randy … I laughed with him but the most important thing is we shared our faith and prayed.  He is not afraid … I am but know I shouldn’t be.  So, I am going to work on getting closer to God and I hope you are too.


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