Nothing spiritual transpires when the ball drops in Times Square, but that does not mean nothing spiritual can transpire in your soul because of it.
Sermon: What Do You Say? How Do You Live?”
November 22, 2015
Woodland Heights Presbyterian Church
Rev. Mary Kay Glunt
Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, “Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.” Daily Bread, August 26, 1989.
Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn’t make it.
Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!”
John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.”
“But you must!” implored his companion. “The bull is catching up to us.”
“All right,” panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.'”
Thanksgiving. For many it is the name of a holiday, a time to gather with family and/or friends, and a time to get ready for an insane shopping experience. Like many other holidays in our society,–Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day, the Fourth of July, etc., the background and meaning of the observation has been greatly lost on us.
We’ll gather together, eat our favorite foods, maybe watch football and laugh, or even argue, but in many cases, prayer and thoughts of God will be forgotten.
The first recorded thanksgiving meals on this continent were in the newly established colonies. We are all familiar with the meal the pilgrims shared with the Native Americans in 1621, when the latter helped them plant indigenous crops and so saved their lives. But even earlier, in Jamestown, the winter of 1610 had decimated their group of 409 settlers to 60. They prayed for help, and when it arrived on a ship filled with food and supplies, they had a prayer meeting to give thanks to God.
Over the years Thanksgiving has taken many forms. Each home has different traditions and different menus. But will we, this week, be like those who took time out to thank God for their blessings, or will we be like modern society, enjoying our blessings with no thought of how we received them?
In our gospel reading today, Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem. He came upon ten men in a camp outside of the village. They were there because each of them had leprosy. These men would have had bandages and wounds because of the lack of sensation caused by the disease. They may have lost appendages, noses, ears, because of the disease. Whatever it was, they were ostracized from common society to prevent spreading it to the healthy. Today we would call them “marginalized.”
Each of us, at one time in our lives, has found ourselves in a place where we are on the outside, feeling left out, abandoned, outcast, whether by friends or family, or even by God, we felt as if we had nothing, no strength, no help, no hope. Until we heard about Jesus. Until we realized that God just might help us, and we called upon Him. Likewise, these men had heard of Jesus, and they called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (v. 13). They approach Him because it was forbidden for them to approach the healthy, but Jesus heard their call and He told them: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Now I can imagine these men struggled for a moment with that command, because they weren’t to go to the priest or to be in the village at all. What to do? Trust in Jesus and be healed, but take the chance that by approaching the priest they would break social conventions? In faith, they started off in obedience, and as they went, they were cleansed, healed, delivered.
How many times have you prayed for God’s help in your life? How many times has God blessed you beyond what you were able to achieve? When have you recognized God’s hand in resolving a situation you couldn’t rectify? As they walked they realized they had been healed. I can see it now. They were dragging their feet, stumbling, perhaps using crutches, hunched over and weary. They were wondering what they were doing. Then one foot was easier to pick up. An arm no longer drooped to the side. One man stood a little straighter. Another was able to drop the crutch. Soon they were all walking without impediment or pain, and they probably jumped around, rejoicing and celebrating, as they did what Jesus told them to do.
On realizing he was healed, one man disobeyed and took a detour, first coming back to thank Jesus for the miracle. This man was a Samaritan, and he was so grateful that he set aside his own gladness, his own restoration to a normal life, in order to give thanks to Jesus.
There is an old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. But sometimes, there are no disciples in victory. Let me explain. When times are tough, we pray. When we can’t see a way out, we call on God, sometimes shouting to be sure He hears us! When we have needs, we take them to the Lord. We make commitments: Lord if you do this, I will . . . “ But sometimes, when the answer comes, we get so involved in the blessings that we forget about the One who blessed us. We forget how bad it was and how needy we were, thinking ourselves to be strong on our own once again and in no need of anyone else.
What does it mean to be thankful? Dictionary.com says it is feeling or expressing gratitude, which is defined as warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received. We are thankful, perhaps, and we shoot off a quick prayer of thanks to God and continue on our way, unchanged by the blessing, still going our own way. We forget to give God the glory He is due. I believe being thankful is more than just saying “thank you,” as if God had just opened the door for us, but being truly thankful is being changed, letting God’s mercy and grace change who we are as we go forward doing what Jesus has asked us to do.
Why did only one cleansed leper return to thank Jesus? The following are nine suggested reasons why the nine did not return:
One waited to see if the cure was real.
One waited to see if it would last.
One said he would see Jesus later.
One decided that he had never had leprosy.
One said he would have gotten well anyway.
One gave the glory to the priests.
One said, “O, well, Jesus didn’t really do anything.”
One said, “Any rabbi could have done it.”
One said, “I was already much improved.”
Charles L. Brown, Content The Newsletter, June, 1990, p. 3.
All of the men were healed. They were doing what they had been told, but one returned because the gift was so great, so amazing, that he had to give thanks to Jesus. The man who returned was not only healed physically, but upon returning he received a second blessing from Jesus, that of salvation. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
First Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
In three of the four chapters of the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul links being thankful with our relationship with God, how we live the Christian life.
Colossians 2:6-7–6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 3:15–Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Colossians 4:2–Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
So being thankful is so much more than a quick prayer, but it is a lifestyle that expresses gratitude to God for not just the answer to prayer, but for the mercy and grace shown to us.
And there’s more. You see, being thankful to God should flow out in our interactions with others. The Apostle Paul also modeled this when he said to the Ephesians: 15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Some call it, “an attitude of gratitude,” a way of living that looks for the good instead of the bad, an attitude that seeks honor instead of punishment, one that lifts up instead of tearing down.
G. K. Chesterton once said, I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
According to Dictionary.com, “gratitude” comes from the word “grace,” and so living with an attitude of gratitude is living a grace-filled life, a life so full of grace that it cannot help but pour out on those around you. It isn’t indebtedness to the other. It isn’t just appreciation either. Gratitude includes a feeling of awe, of wonder, as to why God or that person did that for me. Gratitude takes our eyes off of what is wrong with our lives and fixes them on what we have received. Psychology Today says that gratitude opens us up to connect with something that is fundamentally good and reassuring and inhibits painful emotions such as anxiety, heartbreak, loneliness, regret, and envy. It changes our perspective. It changes us.
This Thanksgiving week, I challenge you to consider which of the ten lepers you are. You may be following the directions, but are you thankful? You may be healed and moving on in life, but are you being changed by the grace God has bestowed upon you? Be ye thankful, not only to God, but to one another. Let God’s grace change you. Look for the good in those around you and affirm it, as God has affirmed you.
Link: Josh Groban, “Thankful” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5nNckK5Tmc
Whether you realize it or not, every single day you rub shoulders with people in great pain.
They are among the growing multitude of walking wounded in your midst, many presently laboring as they try to take that most excruciating of steps: the next one.
Most of them don’t wear their damage so that it can be easily seen, though. To be vulnerable like that is to risk further injury, and so they gradually learn to conceal and cover the tender, throbbing, torn-up parts of themselves from others. Though they surely suffer in the solitude and silence, at least there they find some illusion of control, some measure of safety.
And if you aren’t really looking closely at people as they cross your path, you might likely mistake them for the confident, together, secure, unaffected successes that they so desperately want to be seen as. You might well be fooled by their carefully crafted veneers of…
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Donald J. Trump the leading choice for president among evangelical voters right now. This isn’t going down well with some of the gatekeepers.
Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, summed up nicely the problem with Trump:
He’s an unrepentant serial adulterer who has abandoned two wives for other women. He’s someone who has spoken in vulgar and harsh terms about women, as well as in ugly and hateful ways about immigrants and other minorities. I don’t think this is someone who represents the values that evangelicals in this country aspire to.
Moore is right. Yet for now at least, a plurality of evangelicalswant just such a man—a serial adulterer who disparages women, immigrants, and minorities—to be their next president.
Sure, a lot can change between now and the first primaries. But how did so many evangelicals come to support a man whose values are so very…
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The past few days have brought tension and fear to many people as we followed the news reports about the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France and today’s hostage situations as well. While we are safe here in the United States, we know only too well what can happen as we remember the events of 9-11. Even discounting terrorism, we hear daily of shootings and attacks, many by family members, and we wonder, God, how can we live with these possibilities?
The situations today, with the possibility of harm, either by terror groups or by gang members or random individuals, is not that much different from the early days of the church. Only then the terror that was being inflicted was often from the state—whether the Romans or the Jews’ own leaders. There were no assurances of safety in the days of Jesus and the apostles. Each day could bring danger or death.
So how do we face the news reports each day? Do we just ignore them and pretend there are no dangers in our world today? Do we hide in our homes to be safe? How can we live with the possibilities that face us?
The Apostle Paul knew about danger. He had been beaten, stoned, and imprisoned. His own people sought to kill him, so that he had to be let down outside the walls of the city so he could escape. He knew that wherever he went there was the possibility of success in spreading the gospel of Jesus, alongside the specter of persecution, injury, or death.
Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth:
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-26).
So why did he continue on? How did he have the courage and the strength to persevere in the task given to him?
First of all, Paul viewed this life, his earthly existence, as only a portion of his life overall. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
No matter how much we love our earthly existence, the truth is that, outside of new discoveries in science, each of us will die one day. We will leave our family members and our friends, our possessions and our problems, to join Him. Therefore, Paul held loosely to the things of this world. Corrie ten Boom once said to Charles Swindoll, “I’ve learned that we must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when the Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me!” (Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p.114).
Second, Paul lived each day fully, serving His Lord with anticipation, commitment, and contentment. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Paul learned the secret of facing challenges and dangers, of celebrating successes and achievements: Whatever the situation, God was with him and would carry him through.
Finally, Paul had the assurance that God’s love would always be with him:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-29).
Paul knew that the main thing in his life was his relationship with Christ. Whatever happened to his body was only a passing thing. Did he suffer? Of course. Was he at times frustrated? Most definitely! But he had faith, faith that this situation would pass and that, one day, he would be found whole and complete in His Savior’s presence. Until that time Paul dedicated himself to living for Christ and preaching the Word of God, fulfilling the Great Commission to preach, teach, and disciple.
What about you today? Are you suffering? Are you living in fear of what might happen—whether danger, illness, or some other catastrophe? Take some time today to consider your life, its meaning and its purpose. To what are you holding on tightly? Do you know the love of God as shown in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus? Have you found meaning in the gift of grace given by God? A song I learned many years ago says:
Give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus:
Shattered dreams, wounded hearts, and broken toys.
Give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus,
and He will turn your sorrow into joy! (© 1975 Justin Time Music)
The night of His last meal with His disciples, knowing he was going to be crucified soon, Jesus told them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). The peace that the world gives is transient and based on this life, but the peace that comes from God supersedes this existence, as it is based in our relationship with a God who is above all things and more powerful than anything this world can present.
We don’t know what the future holds, or even what the next minute will hold, but we do know this, that if our lives belong to God, God will hold on to us and will deliver us from fear, carrying us through every situation. We need only to trust Him to bring us through this life to the one where we will live with Him forever. Be ready each day for whatever comes by being strong in the Lord. This is where we find victory in the midst of stress, joy in the midst of challenge—our faith!
Sitting in my office today, New Year’s Eve, I started to think about the year that is now passing on. It has been a full year, with my son graduating from high school and now having both of my kids in college. I have walked with friends and family through joys and sorrows and have myself made multiple changes in my life. I suppose the biggest change was moving from Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Greenfield, where I commuted several times a week, to Woodland Heights Presbyterian Church in Springfield, where I live.
Because of all of the changes that were occurring in our lives these past few months I have found myself unable to keep up with this blog. Even when I did write articles for the local paper in Greenfield, I didn’t get them all posted here. I’ll be catching up soon by posting those articles.
Back to New Year’s Eve. The year 2014 will be ending in a matter of hours, and what have I done with what God has provided? While this day is known for its celebrations, parties, and fireworks, I believe a major emphasis should be retrospection, thinking back to what has been and looking forward to what will be. Looking back, there are many things I would like to have done better, and some things that I wish I would not have done! There are words I have spoken and words I wish I would have spoken.
Thinking about the past can be of great benefit. We can learn from the past, from our successes and mistakes, and move forward stronger and more hopeful. However, the danger of retrospection is that we often forget that we are not to live in the past—whether good or bad. How many times have you met someone who refuses to move beyond a past event, who lives in the memory of that event, which stunts their present and future?
Whether good or bad, dwelling on the past separates us from those around us, building walls that enclose us and imprison us. There is a place for the past in our memories; the Scriptures teach us to remember the past, to learn from it. But the Bible also teaches us that the past is just that, something that is to be left behind. We are not to be controlled by our past.
One of my favorite Bible passages, Lamentations 3:19-24, says,
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
Whether the past was good or bad, whether we have succeeded or failed, whether we knew joy or sorrow, we are to learn from the past, but we are also to move forward, knowing that God is with us and will bring new hope each day. But how do we find that hope?
Lamentations continues in verse 25-26: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
We are to hope in the Lord, but what does that mean? It means that we not place our value, our worth, in our accomplishments or detriments, in the value that society places on us. Rather, finding our hope in the Lord occurs when we come to know the kind of God we serve, a God who is compassionate and forgiving, one who loves unconditionally. The cost for receiving that grace was a great one, one which we could never have paid on our own. Only one who was sinless could have paid that price, Jesus Christ, and He did so on the cross of Calvary. By that sacrifice He opened the way for us to be reunited with our Creator, to be adopted in to the family of God as God’s His beloved children.
In Christ, each day is a new day. This isn’t meant to minimize your joy or sorrow over the past, but to enable you to step forward in spite of what has been. Just as the Apostle Paul said, “16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).
This evening, as you celebrate the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, I invite you to spend some time in prayer, turning over to our Lord all that has passed before and seeking God’s grace to take you into this new year knowing that you are not alone and that you are loved and valued.
Blessings, and Happy New Year!
We’ve all heard the story of the blind men who encountered an elephant. They had never seen an elephant and wondered what it might be like. Each of the men “explored” a different part of the creature to determine what this animal was. The first blind man touched the leg and proclaimed, “It is like a pillar!” The second man located the tail and determined, “It is like a rope!” The third touched the side of the elephant and was sure it was like a wall. Likewise, the fourth felt the trunk and stated, “No, it is like the heavy branch of a tree.” The fifth touched the ear and decided it was like a large hand fan, and the sixth felt the tusk and asserted, “It is like a solid pipe.” The men argued for some time as to which was right, until another, a sighted man, came along. He listened to their wrangling for a while until he finally spoke up. “You are all right, you see. You each touched a different part of the same animal.”
Perspective, or the lack of it, has been the cause of many broken relationships and broken lives. Without a proper perspective we cannot see the proverbial forest for the trees. The blind men’s perspective was limited to what they first experienced with their hands when approaching the elephant. They were each so sure they had found the truth that they stopped looking and argued with one another. We, on the other hand, each have our own perspective of life and truth, often based on our experiences, and that perspective limits our growth and constrains our ability to find peace with others.
One of the most important perspectives we need to consider is God’s perspective. God states through Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV). Most of the trouble Jesus had with the religious leaders came back to this idea, that they had a different perspective and didn’t understand Jesus’ thoughts. They had flat thinking: this is the rule and so that is what we will do. However, Jesus was thinking with an eternal, heavenly perspective, seeing what good he could do when he healed the lame man on the Sabbath, etc.
Where in your life are you being held back by a narrow perspective? The point is not to ignore what you know to be true, or to turn away from Scripture because you want a broader perspective. That is not my suggestion in any way! However, there are times when we must examine our lives, our ideas, our perspectives, to see if we are truly looking at the individual trees instead of stepping back to see the forest.
Paul and Barnabas had such a situation. Mark had accompanied them on a previous journey but had left them when the going got too rough. Now, preparing to embark on a second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark once again, but Paul refused. This disagreement was so profound that the pair split up, with Paul and another partner going one way, and Barnabas and Mark going another. Mark was older and able to continue on the journey this time. However, Paul’s limited perspective concerning Mark split up the missionary team.
Paul may have learned his lesson before writing the letter to the Romans, as he states, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited (Romans 12:16). He goes on to state, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (verse 18).
I’m sure if Paul looked at the church today, with all of our arguments, posturing, and theological differences, he would have something strong to say. But instead, each of us has felt a different part of the elephant and, therefore, is determined that our approach to faith is the only perspective that exists. It is time for the church universal to be so, and for the people inside each of its partitions to learn to love one another and to learn from one another.
I’m not asking you to forego your theological distinctives but, rather, to find a place of peace with your brothers and sisters in faith, with your family members, with your neighbors, where God can bring you together. Step back from that tree that you have been examining to catch the wonder of the forest. Step back from your plans and ideas to be able to see God’s plans and ideas and the wonder of His creation and inspiration in those who call on His name.