TIME TO LISTEN
1 Kings 8: 22-23 & 41-43
MATTHEW 7: 23-27
June 14, 2020
Donna said that he almost looked like a “spaceman” as he waved from the other side of the door yesterday. Reverend Alan Mercer, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church, which my family attended for a few years back in the 90’s and the church where Colleen was baptized. He was there fully masked and gloved while placing a bag of food at the door for Rasheed Johnson. Al had listened and Rasheed had food.
Reverend Heidi Link, whom I really don’t know at all, but I am friends with her music director, is the pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church … Rasheed out of the blue is a name that now matters to her too. She has people who will help. She cares … Heidi listened and Rasheed will have support. We texted this morning and she is praying for all of you and for me.
Friends, I had a conversation this week with someone who asked me quite bluntly ‘where have all the caring people gone?’ Why aren’t people showing love for all of their neighbors … helping the hurting; embracing the confused; and focusing in on the good rather than identifying reasons to dismiss others or worse call them names or put them down. My response … there are more good people than this person realizes but sadly all too many believe that they should not speak out; some are hesitant to help a stranger; and actually most people don’t take the time to hear the call of God and some including all too many church goers don’t really want to listen to Jesus Christ or for the Holy Spirit’s directions … they would rather fit in and be in control for themselves.
Church, although I have only been on this planet for a few short years, as I observe … as I pause to hear God like last week when God directed me to the prophet Malachi … I do believe that the global landscape and times that have arrived for this present generation are one of the greatest opportunities for people of faith to take on God’s call … and to live for Jesus in literally generations. Never in my life time … and I would argue never in generations has the God of Abraham and Moses …. The God of David and Solomon … the God who reached out to the prophets … the God whose grace and love gave us Jesus … The Creator of the universe … that God whom we are here to worship today … is truly and clearly the obvious option for people in the nation we call home. Our neighbors and those who reside within our boundaries that by the way does include those who live in Puerto Rico have only one answer to bring change and that’s Jesus Christ. We’ve glided through the years in our comfort; our personal desires have emptied churches in the summer months or when church is inconvenient and for too many years diminished the call of the Lord’s Table. The words in bright neon have taught us … IT IS ABOUT YOU! GET AS MUCH NOW AS YOU CAN! STOMP on OTHERS IF YOU HAVE TO!
But, if we listen carefully for God … for Jesus … opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit … the Trinity of God is still there for those of us who believe. God’s love for all as shown through Jesus’ death and resurrection is still powerful and the Spirit’s guidance focused on love for all is still calling. I truly believe that here in 2020 we are in one of the greatest moments in time for believers who follow Jesus! By listening to God, rediscovering our faith and then energizing our faith into positive actions we can bring more people around the world to the peace, hope, love and salvation of God! Just look at St. Paul’s we are now a global church; our ministry exceeds geographic constraints.
These are the times of Jesus Christ … the door to stronger faith is wide open! First for ourselves and then that faith can impact others … Christ can heal the broken including our own brokenness … and the love Jesus shared can lead humanity to love all others when faith is at our core. We can showcase the love that Jesus shared reflecting that we are His. If we are ready and willing we can show the world that Christians are people who love, care, feed, welcome, and do what God has taught through Jesus!
It’s all too easy to rearrange the puzzle pieces to say “poor me” … “woe is me” … “I need more … deserve more” … “they can’t make me do that” when the truth is if we listen God’s overly abundant love resonates in each and every corner giving us hope and peace. In today’s Gospel lesson we heard Jesus declare that “many will come to Him saying Lord, Lord … didn’t we” but He will know the truth and declare, ‘AWAY FROM ME EVILDOERS … everyone who hears these words of mine but does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. It fell with a great crash!” Are you listening church? Never before in our lifetimes has God’s call been so clear … it is time to listen to Jesus!
A new meme on Facebook … if you claim to love all people but don’t wear a mask in public then you are a hypocrite … I think about those pushing to be in close contact while the numbers are up in Florida and Texas. The times we live in can be times when our love of God shines through humanity’s dark clouds with a piercing light able to show the contrast between the choices of love of self and personal desires and love for others just the simplicity of masking can say that. These are the times for revival and renewal … these are the times for taking Jesus out of the dusty never opened Bibles that sit in the homes of church goers so that He can be revealed along with a joyous fervor to the world … its so much more than the old Jackie DeShannon song ‘What the World Needs Now is Love” … because what the world needs are people pausing to listen to Jesus Christ and then energizing His teachings … bringing His healing … Using His floodlight to overwhelm the darkness … it is time for those of us who have God and Christ to listen.
I think of my conversations lately with EdnaMae who is fully aware of her health realities and she talks about God being good and how blessed she is. I consider this church, which I believe has come to understand that it’s not about gathering close in the building where we could spread the Coronavirus but instead its about feeding the hungry, caring for the broken, sharing in the Lord’s Table, and worshiping in numbers greater than any in our history. If we listen … listen to God … then we will realize it is not about us … not about I … nor me … nor mine! It is not insisting to hug the vulnerable because it makes us feel good as individuals … it’s about masking and keeping our social distance to make sure we don’t cause someone to become ill.
Solomon declared, “Lord God there’s no one like you. Listen from heaven and forgive the sin of your people. Teach them the best way for them to follow, and send rain on your land.”
We have friends Erik and Erica. They have two incredible daughters. Erik is a high school teacher and Erica is a nurse. In my time as a pastor at Central United Methodist Church I honestly cannot remember a Sunday when they weren’t there … they brought their family members when their family members were in town rather than skipping church. It just so happens that Erik is white like me but Erica is black. They have a good home in a ‘well-to-do’ neighborhood. They have lived there for years and as Erica has gone to the hospital to work there were even pictures of neighbors celebrating that she was a “hero.”
This week I learned a story I had never heard before. Since Erik and Erica moved into the neighborhood one of their neighbors every single day had raised the flag of the treasonous, defeated Confederacy flying it so that Erik, Erica, and their kids along with all their other neighbors could see it. Every day sun or rain the flag of slave owners basically shoved in my friends’ face. Erik is sarcastic so I am surprised he didn’t say something but perhaps he decided not to declare war on the one whom already had declared hate … but this week the flag is no longer being shown in the neighborhood.
Perhaps it took the voices of young, old, and middle aged going to the streets to remember George Floyd, Breonna, and AHMAUD. I don’t know the man and Erik is still wondering but the flag is down … perhaps thrown out as the trash it represents.
And, Rasheed … Donna has a friend named Kathy who has some health issues and is a little older than us. One day this young black man standing about six foot three saw her struggling with her garbage and he offered to help. She let him … then another day it was groceries from the car … she let him but this time she talked to him and he didn’t have a lot food and she could tell he was disabled. She listened … this older white woman listened to this young black man. She connected him to food.
We have discovered that Rasheed has a developmental disability and mental health challenges. He gets SSI but since he can’t understand things very well. An organization gets his checks but clearly they have not kept his refrigerator full. All of you who support our food pantry and who financially support this church have helped Rasheed because St Pauls food has fed him but I called out to others with churches closer to him. That’s why Reverend Al Mercer was bringing food to our doorstep yesterday … that is why Pastor Heidi is asking her church to make casseroles and a mask for Rasheed whom they never will meet. They listened and are loving this young man.
I spent time with Rasheed yesterday and there is more to his story and amazingly God provided a connection to help …. Well not amazingly because God is God after all. We just have to listen.
Donna described Al as a spaceman … wearing a mask and gloves outside yesterday … Al’s son is recovering from COVID 19; his son is about my kids’ age and he will be ok but Al knows we need to be careful. Al is listening not demanding.
Oh, and in the early 1990’s Alan Mercer and Dave Delaney were men with families attending the same church together. The church had the name Peace and we were good guys who saw each other on Sunday’s. We both had jobs … my family changed churches but stayed in contact with the old church. One day God decided to reach out to Alan Mercer … calling him to be a pastor; Alan never planned on having that job leading a church he was doing quite well thank you … but he heard the call and is now the pastor of that church we used to worship together at. And, Dave Delaney … well he had a good job too back then and planned on keeping it … you know that story because here I am.
We have to decide but I am here to declare that these times of the global pandemic are the best of times for people who follow Jesus … we are not going backwards … we are not returning to what was … this church is now a global church and today amongst you are individuals in Asia and across the United States and in other parts of the world. We have to decide … you and I have to decide … are we standing up and representing God and Jesus Christ or ourselves regardless of where we live or who we are?
I believe as Solomon did that there is no one … nothing … like God! And, that we are called to listen and follow the teachings and directives of God’s Son Jesus. Clear instructions if we listen and then the Holy Spirit is there to guide us. Together, we can continue to showcase Jesus Christ and God to the world through our words and actions but I fear that as things are opened up … and I have already heard the voices of ME and MINE being raised … will we choose to say it’s about strangers like RASHEED whom we may never even meet … is it standing up to remember Breonna, AHMAUD, and George. Or is the return to our personal comfort zones the thing we lust for?
We are in the best time in our life to stand up for Jesus … it’s not about packing a church building in tight on a Sunday so no one can see whose inside … it’s about taking the love of Christ and the commands of God into the world.
But church … you have to listen … you have to connect … it’s time. TIME TO LISTEN to the ALMIGHTY.