Joel 2: 22-32
LUKE 18:9-14

October 23, 2022

Do you know what you don’t see much of any more? Well, there are probably lots of answers to that question. I know you don’t see telephone booths much any more, which leads to the question of where in the world does Super Man make the transition from Clark Kent into the well known super hero. You really don’t see many black and white TV sets any more and I don’t think you will find aluminum foil covered rabbit ears atop any TV sets in South Jersey and whatever happened to those dials where you had to turn the channels from 2 through 13 and then do something extra to get channels above that number something about UHF channels versus VHF channels.

Haha … some of you here today just don’t remember those things at all. You younger folks might remember backing up your data on floppies or waiting for your America Online dial up telephone signal to connect you to this weird thing called the internet. What about wind up watches that keep on ticking if you remember to wind them but don’t overwind them because that will break the springs inside. I wonder if kids would even recognize a roll of film much less put up with the wait of mailing in your roll of film to get developed or taking the rolls to the local pharmacy; I have to admit that there was something special about seeing the return envelope packed with photo’s you forgot about …. Just waiting to be opened after school…. And then of course you discovered at least 2 or 3 photo’s were out of focus and you had paid for them to be developed.

Well, I had already been focusing in on what has vanished from my daily life when last night’s dinner check arrived. My son-in-law Ryan said he’d split the bill with me, which made me happy, and he handed me his credit card. Donna’s sister, who is visiting from Florida with Donna’s mom, tried to hand me some cash but Donna quickly pushed her hand aside and said she had a couple of 20’s to go towards the bill. Colleen laughed … she said “Ryan and I never have any cash. NEVER.” I looked at my son-in-law and he shrugged repeating the word “never.” Of course we laughed remembering times when my youngest and her husband had suggested places to dine out at that only took cash, which meant … well it meant that mom and dad would have to pay or else dish washing would follow … because you see … I still always have cash on hand.

This does relate to the prophet Joel because the young man, Ryan, sees visions of turning to his father-in-law at those cash only places whereas his father-in-law, me, dreams dreams that one day Colleen and Ryan will once again realize cash matters and they will be ready to pay cash for a purchase … perhaps even that beautiful copper coin with Abe’s image on it, now not Abraham from the Bible for those too young to recognize Abe Lincoln, it’s our 16th President whose face is on the penny and perhaps it will again have value in the future.

But, I am here today friends to challenge you to take an accounting of where you are in the 21st century, a personal report card of faith for today … not how you were doing in the 1990’s or in the 1960’s but today in the world that we are living in and to ask you whether or not you are taking account for your relationship with God and truly asking if you accept Jesus as YOUR teacher.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus shared a parable to distinguish once again the difference between being a person of faith or one who claims to be. That the tax collector was justified before God rather than the pompous self absorbed Pharisee who I am sure thought of himself as being closer to God because he decided he was.

Jesus has left instructions on living life throughout the Gospels … God uses Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John plus the first chapter of Acts to provide clarity to 21st century humans just as God used those gospels in the centuries before ours. Offering a guide to those who said they are believers … people of faith … those amongst the population who say they are Christians … you know that group of folks who have heard the Scripture I used in last week’s sermon referencing the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus saying we cannot be who the same people we were before we gained our faith … before we were saved … before we actually raised God to primacy in our love and made the decision to verify that we believe by doing not sitting back and putting a mere adjective, Christian, before our names. We must be changed … as some would say, ‘reborn.”

There’s something special about the ultimate God truth … we can sense creation and the fact that there has to be a higher power who put all the pieces together to bring about the universe but when you experience God’s love … when you sense the Holy Spirit … when you discover Jesus fully and completely getting the peace that goes beyond all human understanding as Paul would sermonize to the people of Philipi … that’s when you get God’s ULTIMATE TRUTH … that God loves each human being and all God asks in return for each human to live with God now and then through eternity is that we actually believe … that’s the test for each of us in our lives and that’s where you need to focus in your self evaluation … what faith grade would you put for yourself when the report card time of your life’s faith journey must be recorded? Is it a passing grade … I hope and pray that it is.

Sometimes people ask about sermon messages and where they come from. Well, I had decided on this little series of sermons starting with a PASSING GRADE, last week’s HEARING THE TEACHING, and today’s REPORT CARD. The season of being back in school was clearly in my mind. But I opened up this beautiful book I have with Peanuts comic strips and immediately read a cartoon about Charlie flying a kite and that struck me because these days you never see kids flying kites … you never see families flying kites together. Charlie launches his kite into the air. His nemesis Lucy is looking into the sky with Linus and she says, “Isn’t the sky a beautiful blue today Linus?” And then she points her arm into the air extending her forefinger saying, “Look there … did you ever see anything nicer?” And in the next frame Charlie Brown’s kite crashes through her finger, her hand and her arm.

So, where does Charles Schulz and Dave Delaney collide along with the prophet Joel and Jesus’ parable in Luke … it begins with the open fields that are our churches today. Beautiful places … home to incredible music of faith … locations where prayers are lifted up … sermons are preached and God’s Word is read … places where people gather together like this beautiful church called St. Paul’s in West Deptford New Jersey.

In the 21st century there are fewer open fields in neighborhoods that even offer kids a chance to fly kites … their parents wouldn’t trust them to go by themselves to the fields and they are all too busy to discover the beauty of flying kites together as a family … one even has to wonder how many kids get to go off schedule to be with other children to discover the beautiful sky that Lucy discovered in the comic strip before Charlie’s kite came tumbling down her arm.

What I see … yes, as Joel would say. “Your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions.” …. What I see through this comic are the fields of empty churches including this church, which today has all those seats empty where people we all know used to sit. COVID has provided an excuse to young families who already were not willing to trust their children to the beautiful fields that God provides perhaps fearful that their kids might get swept up in God’s love through Jesus Christ and reject all those scholarships and riches the world has for them.

This takes me back to you, me, Joel, and Jesus. Perhaps we need to start with Jesus because He is always a good staring point for our days and our lives.

Jesus teaches us in today’s parable that God is looking for us to admit to God our shortcomings before God. “God show mercy to me, a sinner.” Because after all God is God, right? But I want to tell you that God wants you and I to be the new kite flyers. Of faith whose kites of faith land upon those who might be seeing the beautiful churches and going right past them … Jesus COMMANDS … in Matthew’s Gospel … “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” He told Peter and the disciples in the Gospel of John, “Feed my sheep.” And, Luke reports in Acts Jesus last words were the directive “You WILL BE my witnesses.”

So, church … our report cards cannot have an A unless we are following what Jesus told us to do before He went back to God … “Children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the Lord your God!!” Are you receiving a passing grade on that one? Are your friends, your family, your neighbors … you know the people you are inviting to church with you … are they seeing you glad in your God? The God who sent Jesus? The God who created the universe? The God with whom I hope you know you have changed for so that you can spend eternity with God … through love …. What is your grade?

Do you realize that God is the Lord and your God and that no other exists? Do you praise God for the wonders God has done for you? For your friends? We have God miracles here at St. Paul’s and their stories should be shared! Are you … telling the story of Jesus? Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord and truly believes will be saved!

So, in two weeks we celebrate the saints of the church. Please be sure to get me the names of anyone who went home to the Lord this past year. Are you concerned with making sure there are new saints amongst the future generations … amongst your friends …

Or, are you amongst the many who are allowing church to become worn out buildings of history to be put into the pile of forgotten buildings like Blockbuster Video stores? Are you fearful that your kite of faith might land on a friend and they might become angry with you … Just before the kite envelopes Lucy’s arm in that comic strip Lucy looks skyward and says ‘Did you ever see anything nicer?” I ask you today when you look skyward towards the heavens and think about God … do you say to those around you … “have you ever seen anything nicer than God?”

We all have a responsibility to God … to worship God … to love God … to be the kites of faith flying with the rainbow colors of love for all humanity that highlight Jesus’ role in history, which is to be our Savior, our Prince of Peace … Immanuel, God with us.

Start flying high for God today … think who to invite to church and then with a huge smile reflective of your praise for and love of God go out into the world and make disciples because God has poured out God’s spirit on all believers young and old .. healthy and those with dis-ABILITIES … people of all races and backgrounds … we will prophecy, we will dream dreams and see visions and we have the capability of sharing our faith with joy. It’s not passe, it’s not outdated … it just needs to be done. AMEN

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