Vacation is Over; Time to Get to Work
James 2: 14-26
MATTHEW 19: 16-22
August 28, 2022
Bryce Harper didn’t exactly get a vacation … his time off was due to an injury but he certainly came back from his time away to show he always belonged …. First with a home run led barrage in his minor league return and then last night with a single that was part of the Phillies first inning outpouring of runs that led to a team victory.
But, we aren’t still in the stadium … we are in the church of God here in West Deptford or you are worshiping with us online from some corner of God’s world … the question of the day as we conclude this series of sermons focusing in on the song ‘Michael Row the Boat’ is ‘ARE YOU ON VACATION’ … vacation from your walk in faith and if you are, what good is it doing anyone? And, when will the vacation be over?
Culturally, Americans for decades have demonstrated that we believe that church … you know, the place we have established is our place to at the very least relate to the concept of worshiping God. Some of us even refer to these buildings as God’s house … we have sanctuaries; altars; some like St. Paul’s have awesome stained glass windows enhancing the experience, and with other people in church we get to sing hymns, hear the Bible read, and even on occasion stay awake for a preacher’s sermon.
Oh, yes, back to our demonstration to the world … and also what we showcase to God … to Jesus … well we actually like to ignore the Holy Spirit but truthfully the Spirit of God pays attention too. We demonstrate every single year that the summer season is a vacation season from church, from God, and from worship. Some have even gotten into the practice of extending the vacation with the exception of Christmas Eve and Easter morning. They let their kids take the extended vacation too …. You know, you really don’t want the kids too focused on church and God do you? Forget that Jesus!
Now, I am not pointing a finger at our church family here at St. Paul’s but in the United States there is a clear and documented phenomenon that church attendance decreases …financial giving shrinks and programs are reduced once June arrives. And, over the last few decades churches are shrinking … the lessons of Jesus Christ are being ignored … that is … if folks even know what those lessons are any more since they have found more convenient human gods to listen to, they don’t read Scripture, and skip church.
I am happy to say this church …. Here at St. Paul’s … we have once again used the summer season to host an awesome VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL … we have gone on a mission trip while also making financial donations and even donations of underwear to those needing our support and our food pantry just keeps on ticking.
In our very familiar Gospel lesson of the day, the young man who had figured out the TEN COMMANDMENTS from Moses approaches Jesus wanting to know about eternal life. This young man was arrogant but inquisitive. He wanted to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on his way to heaven. Get his ticket stamped.
If you notice Jesus again mentions “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF” but the discussion goes further … Jesus tells him to give to the poor and then to actually FOLLOW JESUS. Not merely acknowledge Jesus had a birthday … or that on Easter when Christians celebrate HE IS RISEN <<HE IS RISEN INDEED>> going out to get a basket of candy and attend church … Jesus talks about following Him.
By taking an action … changing one’s life … and the young man walked away saddened because his worldly life was too valuable to him … his time invested in making himself important and rich and insuring that each of his children had a college scholarship by choosing youth sports, traveling teams, and computer games over worship … over Jesus.
This month, we have been singing seven of the untold number of verses of Michael Row the Boat Ashore; we have been singing with enthusiasm! One of the verses we have sung is SISTER HELP TO TRIM THE SAILS Hallelujah … it is one of the original verses recorded for all time back in the 1860’s. But in the first written record of the song the lyrics read Brother lend a helping hand followed by Sister help for trim that boat … and then Jesus is on the other side of the deep and wide Jordan River.
As we pointed out last week, Michael is not a song about a row boat competition it is about a life journey to get to “the other side,” to heaven. Michael is Archangel Michael who tradition claimed escorts souls to heaven … and in the original verses waiting for those rowing to the other side is Jesus, the Son of God.
Now, trimming the sails means to modify or adapt the sails that are moving a boat forward so that you take advantage of the prevalent winds to get to your destination. It involves work … lending a helping hand … work … to get where you want to go.
Those men and women who started singing about getting to heaven were not denying the grace of God and the salvation connection we have by accepting Jesus Christ into our lives. Those newly freed former slaves … they knew the goal but they knew that there was more to it than just stating “I am going to get to the other side of the Jordan where Jesus is waiting because I made a statement and then I took a vacation.”
The man who approached Jesus made a statement that he accepted the laws of Moses … but something was telling him there was more. Sadly, when he found out that he had to change his life and actively do something … he went away; lost not just in the moment but lost forever apparently because we don’t know if he ever changed and actually actively followed Jesus Christ.
So, we don’t need to look at the clouds this morning to sense a storm is coming … we are in the midst of another challenging moment in human history. What direction are you choosing to move forward and hopefully to leave the storm behind … And, eventually on that day when time here is over … what are you doing to reach the other side of the Jordan where Jesus is waiting. Are you just saying you have that membership card?
How many of your friends … how many neighbors … how many co-workers … how many family members … how many children whom you know ARE ON an unending schedule of vacation time from God and Christ and totally ignoring the nudges of the Holy Spirit.
How many individuals have told you that they waved a hand in church …stepped forward one day to an altar rail and asked for a membership card and magically that was it. … back to the old life; time to escape from reading Scripture … no need to pray unless someone is really sick or in need of something or its Thanksgiving and a prayer is expected.
I just thought of an interesting question … I know that in America … we are expected to pray before we gorge ourselves with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, … oh I’m getting hungry … veggies, and pies … lots and lots of pies. We expect a quick prayer of sorts but do you think we should pray before our Christmas Day dinners; we have so many things to unwrap and that guy who dresses in red to thank? Our Easter brunches … before gobbling down the first bite of chocolate candies after that horrendous Lenten season when we give up chocolate for … who or why do we give up chocolate for Lent again?
Anyhow, I went off track … took a brief mind vacation from today’s sermon … we really do need to escape this church stuff don’t we? Pack God into a box like our crèches … our mange scenes only to come out when we like to showcase a connection no matter how vague it might be.
SISTER HELP TO TRIM THE SAILS … HALLELUJAH … BROTHER LEND A HELPING HAND HALLELUJAH. Oh yea, that’s right … God, Jesus, Spirit and the other side after the main feature is over here on earth we should be concerned, right? And, that prayer we pray in a few moments … THY KINGDOM COME THY WILL BE DONE on EARTH as it IS IN HEAVEN. That … oh my if that were to happen Christians would have to do more than say NA NA … I am a Christian … we might have to do something … because if not us then who? But we are on vacation, right? Our time … our valuable time and no room in our lives for God … no room for Jesus for the kids … we have overpacked our souls so God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit can go hitch a ride with someone else … get on the train or find some folks rowing a boat ….
SISTER HELP THE TRIM THE SAILS HALLELUJAH … BROTHER LEND A HELPING HAND HALLELUJAH.
You do know that activism in faith is a Scriptural requirement don’t you? You can read about worship in the Psalms … remember “LET EVERY SINGLE CREATURE that has breath PRAISE THE LORD”? And, “Praise God in God’s sanctuary! I will sing and make music with all my soul!” That’s Sunday work … perhaps.
James in his letter to early Christians and to us clarifies what should be taught to each person on the day that they discover Jesus either in church, watching online or wherever else the Spirit moves them. “WHAT GOOD IS IT … if people say they have faith but DO NOTHING to show it?” Now, I know Jesus in that all too famous JOHN 3:16 tells Nicodemus “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And, many use those few words to ditch the responsibilities of faith.
Nice message but Nicodemus came at night knowing he had to change … Jesus did not merely hand out a card to Nick saying he was in. He said he had to REALLY BELIEVE and belief takes action not just words … and in verse 21 Jesus tells Nicodemus about the work part, “WHOEVER DOES what is true … DOES … comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works … W-O-R-K-S … works have been carried out in God.”
Amazing how many people miss the whole message of Nicodemus because they like their vacation time … they want others to take it on … they are not about to help trim the sails or to lend a helping hand and then they wonder why churches are dying even though they don’t participate … they wonder why hate is prevalent … they question morals but they don’t do the W-O-R-K-S that Jesus told Nicodemus are a part of believing in HIM, in Jesus, and having everlasting life!
So, Jesus in that famous conversation is agreeing with James … “Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone.” James even goes further by reminding those individuals claiming they believed in God and Christ that “Even the demons believe.”
So, as this last Sunday of August moves us forward towards the school year … our Rally Day is coming in two weeks … Bible study classes are returning … have you been on VACATION from God? Are you ready to rejoin the team and play a role in leading God’s team to some new victories? To grow this church for God and Jesus Christ so we can take on new mission challenges? To bring more kids to church and Sunday School?
Are you ready? James minds us that even Abraham, who truly believed in God, needed actions to be complete in faith … “His faith was completed by his faithful actions.”
God provides evidence every single day that God is alive and well. If you can discover God … then believe in Jesus Christ … if you believe in Jesus Christ and have faith that He is you Savior … then take on the directives of Jesus, the teaching of James … in this life we are not taught that God allows us time away from our faith because God needs us each day … WHOEVER DOES what is true … DOES … comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works … W-O-R-K-S … works have been carried out in God.”
Sisters help to trim the sails … brothers lend a helping hand … Hallelujah!