1 JOHN 2: 23-29
LUKE 13: 22-30

September 20, 2020

I need to begin today in a personal way … on September 20th in the year 1920 on a very hot and humid day in a farm house at 703 Pavement Avenue in Lancaster New York;  the last child of Lillian and Clarence Roll was born.  A baby girl they named Ethel Cora.  That little baby became my mother and she went home to the Lord 8 years ago but if she had survived … she would have been 100 years old today.  Happy Birthday mom up in heaven.

Perhaps, it is not inappropriate for me to mention mom today because mom instilled in her boys our faith connection with God and Jesus Christ.  Mom made sure that Mark and I were two boys who did our Sunday School homework … yes, back then we had readings to accomplish and work to do for Sunday School during the week. And, verses to memorize although now that I have matured those memorized verses are lost back in the grey matter.  Sunday School was more than an hour a week.  But mom and yes, dad who also would have turned 100 earlier this year, did all they could to make sure their boys moved forward in life with Jesus Christ.  They wanted us to have the Holy Spirit as our guide and most of all they wanted us to love God.  Be on God’s team!  Because you see from that birth on the farm until her death mom always moved forward with Christ.

So, on this brisk morning in September as I woke up thinking of family … I couldn’t help but to consider God’s family but its also personal … my brother goes to two churches every Sunday … I am a pastor; not that having this job or Mark attending two churches on Sundays insures that either one of us will have heaven as our destiny or that we are better than the next person when truthfully like all of you my brother and I are sinners desperately in need of God’s forgiveness and embrace.  But, mom and dad I hope are looking out at their two sons today smiling because Jesus Christ matters to the Delaney Boys … God’s lessons on living matter and I can tell you that Mark and my faith bring us both joy and our faith in Jesus Christ is a regular point of conversation although I will admit Mark more frequently is asking me where certain verses are in the Bible so perhaps those early lessons struck home more with me than with him.  After all, I am the smarter and handsomer brother even though my parents loved him more than me.

But this morning friends my personal recollections are relevant to you and yours as well as to me because time is evaporating … I am tired of proclaiming that fact with regularity but as this church once considered to be a community church reaches the entire world this morning … the truth in this time of pandemic and division is that our hours, days, weeks, and months are rapidly passing us by … so the question … the challenge .. the most important consideration this morning for you, for those who are sitting with you, for your family members, and for me … ARE YOU MOVING FORWARD with CHRIST?

John, the self proclaimed most beloved disciple, writes in 1st John about the symbiotic relationship humans have with God and with Jesus Christ.  I truly believe that we as humans easily slip into new priorities and our relationships waver with time, which makes it easy to hold God as an aside after having committed to God and Christ at one moment in our lives and in comparison somehow we tend to elevate ourselves to a higher position in the scheme of life and perhaps even in our concept of the after life.  We know that there was an argument amongst the disciples as to who would sit next to Jesus in heaven when the truth that Jesus clarified is that they should be happy that that is their destination.  When worship is not about God and Christ it seems our priorities become THE PRIORITIES and see ourselves as being more worthy than needy.

It’s hard to explain how individuals whose claim of purpose is to have the opportunity to worship God insist that they must have the right to choose what seat they place their fannies into … even in this time of pandemic.  That their rules must overrule common sense and somehow then one wonders if it is worship they seek or is it a place where they can be seen and heard and perhaps even worshiped with God’s word and presence and worship being pushed back into the background noise if even that.

John wrote, “Everyone who denies the Son does not have the Father.”  If your priority is your seat, your comfort, your way, socializing, coffee time, breakfast planning, up close gathering, rather than praying, pausing, sensing the Holy Spirit, listening,  singing hymns and songs of praise, confessing and taking the bread and cup then are you essentially denying that your worship is a means of moving forward with Christ and instead church is just  all about you, your friends, and your priorities?

And, so I drone on and on about reading the Gospels each day.  Not that I have a limited vocabulary but rather that if I accomplish one thing in this bizarre year 2020 it will be to get more of you who worship with this church online on Sunday mornings, in the Backyard on Sunday afternoons or in Holy Communion on Wednesday mornings. .. I will get more of you reading at least a few verses from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John or the first chapter of Acts every day for the rest of your lives.  If I can just get some of you to change … Reconnecting with Jesus Christ … hearing Jesus Christ and shutting down the world’s influence in your life.  Moving forward with Christ. A success!

As people of faith, I would think you’d want to dance and sing and march and shout all about Jesus the Christ!  God’s incredibly awesome and amazing gift of love that makes our lives better here and definitely better after the here is over!  I know most of us are very reserved especially related to showcasing how we feel about God and Christ. We are not about to dance down the street with joy as David did when the Ark was recovered … when God was again home with God’s people.  “David and the entire house of Israel celebrated in the Lord’s presence with all their strength, with songs, zithers, harps, tambourines, rattles, and cymbals!”

If we are moving forward together with Jesus Christ don’t you think we should celebrate our faith … don’t you think we should be bold enough to parade down the street singing, clapping, shouting out to strangers WE LOVE YOU!  GOD LOVES YOU! … loud enough … cheerful enough … to let the world notice that we aren’t worried about our seats, our place of prominence in buildings but rather we are willing to be out in the world making some joyful Holy Spirit kind of noise for God but also in celebration that God loves us so much that Jesus came to rescue us from our sins and to provide eternal salvation for each of us!  If we can become known for our loud celebrations of faith that proclaim love for all with dancing in the streets rather than being known for how we fit in with the power brokers of the world.  Now, that would be moving forward with Jesus Christ!

My mom knew that … my dad knew that … dad couldn’t sing very well but mom could play the piano and mom played and sang the songs of faith … dad sang along and if you mentioned Jesus Christ to dad he’d just smile and share!  So, friends can you dance, can you sing, can you make some noise for our king?  The heck with the pandemic’s gloomy clouds … push aside the stupidity and sinfulness of political campaigns where your goal is to tear apart others … get into the parade of Jesus … if you have God in your household … if you and your family know their destination then get up on the floor … David danced with all of his strength before the Lord and the ENTIRE … did you hear that word?  Have you read these words from Scripture … not just a crazy pastor … not just the hired music director but the ENTIRE house of Israel shouted, danced, sang and blasted trumpets … oh how I wish we went into the world after worship with a powerful united commitment to move forward with Christ, don’t you?  Who in your community, in your family, down the street or at work are you afraid of revealing the joy you get by moving forward with Christ that causes you to align with the world and quiet the joy of your faith?  Who are you afraid of losing from your social grouping or what clique will cross you off if you share Jesus’ words or bow down rather than repeating the words of politics that hurt … if you celebrate God’s teaching while pointing out how wrong some of the loud words and views of the world are?  WHO? WHO will you lose, do you care?

I have to pause in this moment of joy to remind each of you that Jesus was pretty clear that not everyone who calls themselves a believer or follower oh His will be saved.  It’s pretty clear that even the person with a shining perfect attendance pin at church who says the right things during the hour of church time but then lives a life countering the Gospels just won’t get there.  In today’s reading, Jesus is asked directly “Lord, will only a few be saved?”

Now, that presumptive question might have come from a critic, a follower, or a reporter from one of the major television networks … ‘will only a few be saved? Jesus in His response said to the questioner and to those around Him, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate.  Many I tell you, will try to enter and won’t be able to.”  Jesus proceeds to use a parable to explain God’s expectations and the truth that might shake some of you … actually, the truth that should shake some of you … Jesus taught, “The owner will shut the door and you will stand outside knocking on the door saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will reply, “I don’t know you.” But you will begin to say, “We ate and drank in your presence and You taught in our streets.’ He will respond, “I don’t know you or where you are from. Go away from me, all you evildoers!”’ Jesus continues, “there will be weeping and the grinding of teeth.”

A package arrived at my brother’s house this week and my sister-in-law opened it.  She thought it was mine and had been sent to Mark by mistake because it appeared to be a political sign.  It said ALLEN DIGGS 2020.  I laughed and said, no it was Mark’s I had bought that as a silly gift Allen is Josh Allen the Buffalo Bills quarterback and DIGGS is Steffon DIGGS, the Bills’ wide receiver.  My intent was for my brother to step away from politics and showcase a sign to his Virginia neighbors that would make them wonder and perhaps ask question and then laugh and feel better.

If you and I had lawn signs saying JC and HS in 2020!!  Would we put them up so that others could ask JC? HS?  Would we be brave enough to say JESUS CHRIST and THE HOLY SPIRIT are who I want guiding me in 2020 and in the years to come?

Our opening song of worship written by Tim Hughes  this morning had these words, ‘Here I am to worship … Here I am to bow down … here I am to say you’re my God.  Altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me.’ 

If you are invested in a life with God into the future then you can no longer invest your time, your words, and your actions with those in the world who counter God.  Because if today is your last day … then might God’s response be that God doesn’t know you because you chose to be aligned with those who don’t follow Jesus’ teaching, which by the way you can find in the Gospels from Matthew chapter 1 through Acts 1, you might just stop in Matthew 25 because there Jesus sorts out people who claim to be believers explaining who ends up with God and who ends up in the fiery pit as Jesus calls it.

Are you ready to view worship on Sunday’s as worship whether you are in your homes, the church’s backyard or somewhere else?  Are you squeezing in time for Holy Communion and for reading God’s Word?

Are you ready to celebrate God’s presence in your life, Jesus as your Savior and the Holy Spirit as your guide by dancing, parading, shaking the rattles and tambourines and banging on cymbals and drums?  Will you join the joy-filled parade of loving all neighbors … embracing everyone …when we schedule it and will you tell the world on your social media that Jesus Christ matters?

The good news my friends, when we move forward with Christ … as John would put it, “if what you have heard from the beginning remains in you, you will also remain in relationship to the Son and in the Father,  This is the promise that He Himself gave us: eternal life..”

Our choice … keeping Jesus in us not faking it but truly living each day as if Jesus teaching mattered even if our neighbors don’t like it and then sharing it for the future generations to see that faith in God and Christ is life changing, meaningful and follows the Gospels while rejecting the world!

Thank you mom for being the driving force that created a foundation but also for teaching your sons that our faith walk is not determined by any building we go into but rather whether or not we choose to move forward with Christ worshiping God and putting God ahead of all … letting God’s Spirit be our guide.

Friends … teach your children … be the living example of a person of faith in this era when loving all of your neighbors goes against the plan of the day … do all you can in your life to insure that you get through the narrow gate because just saying you believed one day and then living as a stranger to God and Christ won’t get you through. AMEN

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