Psalm 84: 1-7 and 10-12

There’s a special song of Michael Jackson’s that some of you may remember for the music video that was created to go along with it.   The music video was a blending of the horrific realities of the human condition … extreme poverty … violence … racism … but those images were tied to those of global heroes and peace makers … Mother Teresa, Bishop Tutu and others.  The song’s intent was to make the listener consider just who they were but I think Jackson was creating a lesson of awareness for society about the people we are.

His lyrics perhaps not only a point a finger at his listeners but at himself as he sings about being a victim of selfish love and whether he was pretending that those in need didn’t need someone like him.

So, on this Sunday of Labor Day … I want us to begin to contemplate our work, our lives, our labor and truthfully again amidst what will be an ongoing celebration of Vacation Bible School we need to truthfully consider just what kind of people we are.

Here are a few of Jackson’s lyrics from the MAN IN THE MIRROR: “I’m gonna make a change for once in my life.  It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference gonna make it right. I’m starting with the man in the mirror.  I’m asking him to change his ways.  No message could have been any clearer.  If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make the change.”

“BE STRENGTHENED BY THE LORD and his powerful strength.  PUT ON GOD’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil.”

My friends … change starts with us.  I have all too often in my life met those who attend churches on Sunday but who spend their weeks attempting to create challenges for those who have questions as to what Christianity is all about.  Those claiming the name of Christ disparaging others, denying the poor, and doing all they can to produce something just for their own selfish purposes.

I have known all too many people of faith, embraced by the love of the Almighty whose faith is so strong whisper meekly that they don’t have what it takes to be out there in the world … outside church doors to make a difference.  That making new disciples for Christ doesn’t matter.

But we have good news today … we actually have good news every day … Paul from his Roman jail cell; Paul wrapped up in chains and in accommodations that didn’t provide a television didn’t provide hot 3 course meals … Paul in a dank, disease ridden cell designed to harm not rehabilitate THAT Paul reminds us that even in the worse of times and in the worse of places we are the ambassadors for the Lord; we are the negotiators for the cause of Jesus Christ and God my friends … God who created the universe has put before each and every believer God’s full armor … God has given us all that it takes to do God’s work on this Labor Day Weekend … throughout this week and then on our church Rally Day and into the fall and seasons that follow! Brothers and sisters in faith PUT ON THE ARMOR … accept the SPIRIT of our LORD … allow God to thrive in you because that’s the people we are; WE ARE PEOPLE OF FAITH with a lot of work to do.

This week, St Paul’s hallways witnessed superheroes of faith.  Elaine and her team were ready for every child that came through our doors showing those children and their parents or grandparents total love regardless of where they came from or what they looked like.  They, my friends, to me are God’s Superheroes because they took a look at themselves and said that they could help make a change even if it is in the life of just one child.

Somewhere out there someone and that someone I know was many of you … took the time, made the effort, showed the love and asked someone to bring their child or children to Vacation Bible School.  Our final number of kids who signed up … 120.  Not all of them made it here but think about it … THE PEOPLE WE ARE are the kind of people who want this building called St. Paul’s to be filled with children, filled with adults, filled with the young, filled with old, filled with the Millenials, Gen X’ers, Baby Boomers black, white Latino Asian African European … THE PEOPLE WE ARE. Are the kind of people my friends who put on our belts of truth declaring that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to save the world … we are THE PEOPLE who live for justice with Justice covering our hearts or as Paul wrote … justice as our breastplates.

I am guessing that many of you, like me, had this lesson from Ephesians as part of either a vacation Bible School program or in Sunday School.  Kids love creating their own suits of armor and its such a great visual to be able to see the solid protection that is God’s truth for us when we take God on … when we reject the world and allow God to thrive we not only get God’s love, experience God’s Salvation but have God’s Spirit enhancing what’s inside our hearts with the strength to be difference makers in God’s world.

As I walked through the hallways of St. Paul’s … ok, Lillian will tell you I ran through the hallways of St. Paul’s this week during Vacation Bible School I looked in on each class smiling at God’s Word being taught but I was also transformed in the moment as I am during every Vacation Bible School program back in time … back to Main Street and Randall Memorial Baptist Church … back to the basement Sunday School where my Vacation Bible School classes were held … where amazing people like Jack Corbett, Dick Schoenfeller, Richard Seifert, Art Banzhof, and others taught me about God.  I remember the male role models because boys need men of faith to stand up with them just like girls need women of faith to be along their sides.  And, one memory was the year we made armor … our little silver shields protecting us from evil.  Our helmets; Salvation accepted by our thinking minds and then for our swords … we were told we didn’t need a weapon that can harm … we didn’t need to use insulting or bullying words to make others feel uncomfortable … I can still see Jack Corbett whose family ran the lumber yard in town … Mr. Corbett, my friend Tommy’s dad, with his thick rimmed glasses saying something like “When I go to work God’s Word guides me and boys, God taught us to love every person we meet and love is caring about them.”

As a boy in elementary school I was taught how to put on the ARMOR of GOD … and I have to admit just like Michael Jackson’s song hints at I have at times put that armor away in the closet because I wanted to fit in at a place where God’s armor would be noticed and I didn’t want it to be seen on me and some of you may have done the same from time to time.  But from my earliest days to now I get it … I know what Paul was saying … friends do you sense God’s power and love?  Are you willing to take on the full armor of God and help change the world?

Just change the world a person at a time … a meeting at a time … a gathering with family or friends at a time … choosing to love and respect all rather than separate and divide … to embrace others not reject those who are different … sharing the Gospel Good News of Jesus … are you ready and willing to be become the people of faith that we are?

On August 1st 2015 I did something I had never done before in my life.  Actually I did something that I had never witnessed before in my life.  I am not sure how many of you have ever seen someone baptized in a lake or a river.  Most of us were probably baptized as infants, which is a long standing tradition of the Christian Church but some aren’t and their baptism if they become believers comes later in life.  Some of us also renew our baptism at various moments in life but on July 31st of the year of our Lord 2015 I received a call from my youth leaders that they had some teenagers who never were baptized … they were in Wildwood for a Christian camp out on the beach called a CLOSER WALK and these young people of faith wanted to be baptized and could I come to baptize them in the Ocean.

Well, the requirements were there … enough of the teenagers and the leaders were members of the United Methodist Church because remember at baptism the church takes on a responsibility as well.   But the ocean … that meant I would have to somehow dip these people under the waters of the tides of the ocean.  YEA, I could do it … so on a very sunny August 1st of 2015 with a gathering of our youth, our youth leaders and curious people we said the words of baptism …. Then together those being baptized and a couple renewing their baptism vows walked out into the ocean with me until the water was almost waist deep.  There one-by-one I carefully took them under the waters … Each week, in our bulletin you can see one of those young people’s names. Someone I hope you pray for, Kailey Roller who is in the United States Army.  Another young person who that day stood on the beach to declare his faith was Tristan Hawkes.

Two days ago Tristan overdosed and died.

His FACEBOOK page had Jeremiah 29 verses 11 through 14 posted … “I KNOW THE PLANS I HAVE FOR YOU SAYS THE LORD … PLANS FOR PEACE to give you a future with hope.  I will be present for you said the Lord and I will bring you home. After your long exile.”

Consider who you are … consider who you see in the mirror and whether that reflection is one serving the Lord, loving others for Jesus’ sake, and being a difference maker.  Is your armor rusting or is it being worn daily.  I believe Tristan is home with the Lord; I remember his joy in declaring his faith and he showed it on social media.

Words from another song … this one from the group Genesis as we move forward.  “Far away, fading distant lights.  Leaving us all behind, lost in a changing world and you know that these are the days of our lives.  So remember.”

I remember my Vacation Bible School lessons and my awesome teachers who will always be faith heroes to me.  I will remember those who showed their love for the children this week and how this church stepped up to meet the challenge of 125 by breaking our attendance records.  And, I will never forget taking young people under the waters of the ocean in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as they declared their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  And, I will never forget Tristan Hawkes.

THE LORD IS A SUN AND SHIELD … GOD IS FAVOR and GLORY. Those who trust in the Lord of heavenly forces are truly happy!  “Put on the full armor of God and spread the good news of peace into your world each day.”  THE PEOPLE WE ARE matters to God and those we meet each day.


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