Moravian Pentecost

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August 14, 2016
Moravian Pentecost

Yesterday, Zach and I went to part of the celebration of Salem’s 250th Anniversary. It was in 1766 that the Moravians began building the village of Salem. Yesterday was community day in Old Salem, all of the buildings were open and tours were free. The Salem Congregation offered a number of different opportunities for worship and I was blessed to lead one of the 4 worship services held throughout the day in Home Moravian Church.

Zach and I got there a little bit early so we walked around to see all that was going on. As we were walking up Main Street, Zach said, “This is what heaven must be like.”

“Why?” I responded.

Zach replied “Because it seems like it was touched by God.”

I never cease to be amazed by the faith and wisdom of children. Walking around the streets of Salem, it does seem like it has been touched by God. And as we gather for worship today we are remembering another time when the Moravians were touched by God.

It was August of 1727 and the Moravian community in Herrnhut, Germany was in trouble. After years of persecution and being driving out of their homeland, the remnant of the Unity of the Brethren (the church started in 1457 by followers of the teachings of Jan Hus) finally found refuge. In 1722, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a German nobleman and a student of the Pietist movement, welcomed the Moravians and allowed them to build a village on his land. Over the next 5 years, the village of Herrnhut became a place of religious freedom, where they welcomed many people of many different religious backgrounds.

Those different backgrounds meant different beliefs- different ideas, different customs, different practices. Those differences brought conflict. Then, as now, people don’t deal well with differences. We like conformity and uniformity. The conflict in Herrnhut played out in ugly ways. Arguments, enmity, antagonism led to discord, disunity, distrust. By early 1727, things were so bad that Zinzendorf was ready to put an end to the whole thing. But not without giving it one more try.

After a time of intense study of the Scriptures and devoted prayer, in May of 1727 the community came up with the Brotherly Agreement, which is a covenant of behavior for living in Christian community. We know it today as the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living. It still serves as our covenant for how we live and relate to one another

This “Brotherly Agreement” helped but it wasn’t quite enough. The discord, disunity, distrust were still there, they were still a threat to the community. They needed to have something more than words written on a piece of paper, something more than an agreement. The Moravians in Herrnhut needed to be changed. They needed a change of attitude, from an attitude of self to one for others. They needed a change of spirit, from a spirit of error to a spirit of truth. They needed a change of heart, from hearts of stone to hearts of love. And on August 13, 1727 they changed.

On this day, the fractured, hurting, broken community gathered for worship. They gathered together for prayer and praise. They gathered together to hear the Word. They gathered together to share the sacrament. They gathered together and something happened. It was not something that could be described or explained. I imagine that if you asked one of them about it, they would say: “I don’t really know what happened, but something did.”

The something that happened was that the Holy Spirit moved among them. The something that happened was that Jesus and his love became a reality. The something that happened was that they were touched by God. When this happens, you can’t describe it or explain it. But you know that it happens because from then on, things are different.

August 13, 1727 is known as the Moravian Pentecost. As the Day of Pentecost is the day that the church was born, August 13 is the day that the Moravian Church was reborn and renewed. Much of what we consider to be “Moravian” today trace their beginning to this renewal and rebirth. The lovefeast, the Daily Texts, the Prayer Watch, the mission outreach, all thrived because of what happened on August 13, 1727.

What happened was a change of attitude, from an attitude of self to one for others. What happened was a change of spirit, from a spirit of error to a spirit of truth. What happened was a change of heart, from hearts of stone to hearts of love. On August 13, 1727 the Moravian Church changed.

The most important lesson we can learn from our ancestors is that things can change, that we can change. The story of August 13 reminds us that change is necessary. It may not be welcome, but it is necessary. The story of August 13 reminds us that change is possible. It may not be easy, but it is possible. We are blessed that our Moravian ancestors saw this and allowed the Holy Spirit to change them.

Thank God they didn’t think: “We have been this way for years, we can’t change now.” Thank God they didn’t say: “I’m too old to change.” Thank God they didn’t believe: “It’s too much work to change. Let’s just move on.” The Moravians in 1727 were ready, they were open, and they were willing. God saw that and God did something about it. Attitudes of self became attitudes for others. The spirit of error became a spirit of truth. Hearts of stone became hearts of love.

As I said last week, the Moravian Church of 2016 is in a similar place to that of 1727. We have different ideas, different customs, different practices. These differences bring conflict because we don’t deal well with differences. We like conformity and uniformity. This conflict can, and does, play out in ugly ways. With arguments, enmity, and antagonism which lead discord, disunity, and distrust. We can’t let that continue to happen. We need to change.

We need to be ready. We need to be willing. We need to be open. We need the Holy Spirit. We need to be touched by God. We need love. We need the love that John writes about: Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:7-12)

As we come to the table. As we receive these reminders of the love that God has for us, and the love that God calls us to have for one another. Let us ask God to touch our hearts.
Let us ask Jesus to forgive us. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to change us.

Amen

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By Faith or By Fear

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Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Like so many others, I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics on Friday night. While it wasn’t as epic or memorable as it was 4 years ago, nothing will ever top the opening of the London Olympics, it was still entertaining. My favorite part is the Parade of Nations, when all of the athletes parade into the stadium. It was interesting that in this year’s parade, Tanzania was followed by the Czech Republic. Bob Costas had explained that since these games are in Rio, they were using the Portuguese alphabet (which is the language of Brazil) to determine the order that the different countries entered the stadium. I have never studied Portuguese, so I can only assume that in Portuguese somehow the letter T comes before C. As such, the athletes from Tanzania arrived right before those from the Czech Republic.

As a Moravian, I was interested to see that Tanzania, the country that is home to more Moravians than anywhere else in the world, preceded the Czech Republic, the country where the Moravian church was born. It was a very visual reminder of the great faith that the Moravians have shown over the last 559 years, ever since the followers of Jan Hus formed the Unity of the Brethren. Those first Moravians had great faith in the things that they hoped for; they showed great conviction in things that they couldn’t see. It was a faith that led them out of their homeland, to places that they had never seen, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Moravians had a faith like that of Abraham and Sarah. Now, Abraham and Sarah certainly weren’t leaving their homeland to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. They preceded Jesus by thousands of years. The writer of the book of Hebrews uses Abraham and Sarah as an example of faith. Faith that is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith that is seen in the lives of people like: Abel, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Rahab. Faith that is seen in “Men who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women who received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11:33-38)

This is the faith that is seen in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, who obeyed the call of God and left their home for a land they did not know, who looked forward to a city that they could not see. This is the faith that is seen in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, who trusted in God’s promise that they would have a son, even though Abraham was too old and Sarah was barren. This is the faith that gave birth to a people of God “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” (Hebrews 11: 12)

The followers of Jan Hus are descendants of this faith. If someone today were to write a letter to the Moravians, similar to the letter to the Hebrews, the faith of our ancestors would serve as a great example for us. They, too, had “the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.”

By faith Jan Hus preached against the excesses and abuses of the church of his day. By faith the followers of Hus formed a new kind of church; a unity of the brethren who held faith, love and hope as their essentials. By faith Jan Amos Comenius prayed that a “hidden seed” of the unity’s faith would survive, despite the persistent persecution and almost complete extinction of the Moravians. By faith that hidden seed found refuge on the estate of Count Zinzendorf, along with religious refugees from all over Europe.

By faith the remnants of the Moravian church gathered on August 13, 1727 and allowed the Holy Spirit to renew them. By faith Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann left their home and set out as strangers to a strange land. By faith the Moravians shared the Gospel to the very ends of the earth. By faith the small group of followers of John Hus grew into a worldwide church, from the Czech Republic to Tanzania and hundreds of places in between.

All of this happened by the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. All of this happened by faith, something that seems to be in short supply in these days. We seem to be lacking in faith, we seem to not be sure of what we hope for, we seem to not have conviction in things we can’t see.

If someone were to write a letter, not to the Moravians of today, but about the Moravians of today, the faith of our ancestors could be replaced by our fear. Our fear of not getting what we hope for. Our fear of what we can’t see. Our fear of losing what we have. Our fear of losing who we are or who we have been.

By fear the Moravians held onto the past. By fear the Moravians failed to take risks. By fear the Moravians stayed as they were; instead of becoming who God was calling them to be, instead of becoming who God needed them to be, instead of becoming who the world needed them to be. If the Moravians had always been ruled by fear and not by faith, we would not be here today. Rather than being renewed and reborn in August 1727, the Moravian Church would have died. They would not have shared the gospel to the ends of the earth. They would have stayed there in their little village, afraid of losing what they had.

The Moravian Church in 2016 is in a similar place. Our future is far from certain. This week, Moravian leaders from around the world will gather for Unity Synod. There they will confront the things that threaten to divide us, that could potentially destroy us. Let us pray that they will act in faith and not out of fear. This week, Moravians around the world will remember August 13, 1727. As we celebrate that spiritual renewal of our church let us pray for a new spiritual renewal of our church. Let us pray that our faith will overcome our fears. Let us pray that our hope will outlast our doubts. Let us pray that our love will outlive our hate.

Brothers and Sisters, we don’t know what the future will hold; for our congregation, for our province, for our denomination. We don’t know what the future will hold; for our lives, for our nation, for our world. We don’t know what will happen. But we do know who will make it happen. We do know who is in charge. We do know who is in control. Let us put our faith in God. Let us place our hope in God. Let us live in the love of God. Let us live by faith, with the assurance of the things we hope for and the conviction of the things we can’t see. Let us live by faith and not by fear.

Amen.

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Rise Up!

Colossians 3:1-11

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This is our baptismal font. Like almost all of the “pulpit furniture” it is removable. We can clear out everything up here, the chairs, pews, lectern, even the pulpit itself and the communion table. Sometimes we do clear it all out; for weddings, Christmas, special services, or whenever we just need the extra room. We pick it up and move it out, then bring it all back for the next Sunday. Everything always ends up back where it belongs. Well, everything except for the baptismal font.

Somehow, the baptismal font doesn’t always make it back where it belongs. Sometimes it stays in the parlor, or in the hall closet. Usually it stays there until either someone notices that it’s missing or we actually need it for a baptism. Then we drag it back up to the front of the church. Until recently, the baptismal font had actually been out of the sanctuary for a long time. Maybe we moved it out for Good Friday? I don’t even remember. But it was gone until just a couple of weeks ago, when I got someone to help me find it and put it back where it belongs.

It’s kind of sad that we so often don’t even notice when it’s gone. It’s sad because our baptismal font is a reminder of the beginning of our faith journey. At some point in our lives, almost all of us have received the waters of baptism. We have experienced baptism as the visible means of entry into the new covenant. Through our baptism, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are united with Christ and cleansed by his saving work, we enter into the fellowship of the church, and are called to a life of faith and willing obedience. When we are baptized into the death of Jesus, we are buried with him into death; so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glorious power of God Almighty, we too might be raised to live a new life.

The words from our Baptism liturgy remind us that baptism is important, some may call it essential. It is when we rise up from death into life. Our baptism signifies the death of our old life, our old self, our earthly self; and the birth of our new life, our new self, our Godly self. When we are baptized, we go down in the water alone and we rise up with Christ. We go down and we leave the old and rise up to the new. We set our minds on things that are above not on things that are of the earth.

Baptism is when we put to death whatever in us that is earthly; those desires of the flesh, like fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. It is where we stop following the old ways, stop living the old life, and start following the new way. After we are baptized we live a new life. At least we do in theory.

However since most of us were baptized as infants, and infants don’t engage in much fornication, impurity, passion or evil desire, ok, I guess that they can be pretty greedy, but otherwise there is not much about their old lives, their old ways, that needs to die. But adults, well, we are a different story.

It is fitting that we keep moving our baptismal font in and out of the sanctuary. It’s sad but it’s fitting. Because we ourselves keep moving in and out of our new lives, we keep moving away from and then back to our new selves, we keep moving back and forth between earthly and Godly. We rise up and seek the things that are above, then we fall back into the things that are down below. While some of those earthly things, fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, might not be much of a problem. Those other things that Paul writes about, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language; they are right down here with us when we fall back.

We know that we are falling back instead of rising up whenever abusive language replaces praise; whenever slander replaces truth; whenever malice replaces benevolence; wrath replaces kindness; whenever anger replaces joy. It is important that we keep our baptismal font before us. We need it to remind us that we have stripped off the old self, with its practices, and have clothed ourselves with our new self, in the image of our Creator. It reminds us that Christ is in us and in all.

This is a reminder that we all need. For far too often, especially lately, we have been falling down instead of rising up. We have not been seeking the things that are above, where Christ is. But we have been focused on the things that are below, where we are. We have been focused on what we want, what we need, what we desire. Rather than on what God wants for us, what God needs from us, who God desires us to be.

We have forgotten that we have died to our old ways, to our old selves. We have forgotten that we have been raised with Christ, we have been raised to new ways and to live new lives. And it shows. It shows in the way that we have failed to strip off our old selves and clothe ourselves with the new self. It shows in the extremes of anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language. It shows in our lack of joy, kindness, benevolence, truth, and praise. It shows in our doubt, our mistrust, our selfishness, our anxiety, our fear.

People look at us, and we look at ourselves, and do not see people who have been raised with Christ, who are seeking things that are above. Instead, they see people who are still dwelling below, clinging to our old lives and our old ways. It is time to for us once again strip off our old selves with our old practices, to die to our old ways. It is time for us to rise up into a new life and clothe ourselves in the image of our Creator.

We need our baptismal font. We need it to be right in front of us. We need it to remind us of who we are, and who we are called to be. We need it to remind us that we are baptized into Christ Jesus. We are baptized into his death. We are buried with him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glorious power of God Almighty, we too might be raised to live a new life. We need our baptismal font to remind us that we have turned away from sin, evil, and selfishness in our thoughts, words, and actions; and that we intend to participate actively in Christ’s church, serving God all the days of our lives. We need this baptismal font to remind us to rise up and live, not alone, not on our own, not by ourselves or for ourselves. We need it to remind us that Christ lives in us. And that the life we live now, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loves us and gave his life for us.

Brothers and Sisters, it is time to go down into the depths of the waters. It is time to confess our sins; our anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language. It is time to acknowledge our lack of joy, kindness, benevolence, truth, and praise. It is time to repent from our doubt, our mistrust, our selfishness, our anxiety, our fear. It is time for us to be forgiven for our sins, and to have our old lives and our old ways die.

Brothers and Sisters, it is time to RISE UP! to live a new life, where we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. It is time to RISE UP! to live a new life, a life filled with faith, with love, and with hope. It is time to RISE UP! to live a new life, a life where Christ is all and in all! It is time to RISE UP! to live a new life, a life turned away from sin, evil, and selfishness in our thoughts, words, and actions. It is time to RISE UP! to live a new life, a life that is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loves us and gave his life for us. Brothers and Sisters, it is time to RISE UP!

Amen

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How Many Righteous?

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Then the Lord said: “How great the outcry against the Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their Sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not I will know.”

The Lord was angry with Sodom and Gomorrah. He had heard of their sins and he was ready to deal with them accordingly. Yet Abraham stepped in and tried to save them. He asked the Lord to spare them if they could find fifty righteous people there, then forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, and finally ten. And the Lord said, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” But not even ten righteous people were found and the cities were destroyed with fire and brimstone.

Today Sodom and Gomorrah are synonymous with great sin and harsh judgement. While there are many disputes over the exact nature of their sins, the fact is that whatever their sins were, they consumed everyone who lived there. Both cities paid the price because not even ten righteous people could be found among them.

Today it is easy for us to dismiss Sodom and Gomorrah, to see it just as a story of people gone wild, who turned so far from God that they were beyond redemption. It’s easy for us to hear the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as simply something that happened a long time ago in a place that was far, far away. We can look at what happened to them and think that was then but this is now. Thinking like that makes it easy for us to look at them with great relief that we are not like them; to think that their sins are so much greater and graver than ours. But are we really that different?

Imagine if the story began like this… then the Lord said: “How great the outcry against the United States and how very grave their Sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not I will know.” How grave is the sin of the United States that the Lord will find when he comes? Who are the righteous that might save our nation? I think that we can all agree that the sins of our nation are much greater and graver than ours. We aren’t like the rest of the country.

Then the Lord said: “How great the outcry against North Carolina and how very grave their Sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not I will know.” How grave is the sin of North Carolina that the Lord will find when he comes? Who are the righteous that might save our state? We can also agree that the sins of our state as a whole are greater and graver than our sins. We aren’t like the rest of our state.

Then the Lord said: “How great the outcry against Winston-Salem and how very grave their Sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not I will know.” How grave is the sin of Winston-Salem that the Lord will find when he comes? Who are the righteous that might save our city? This is hitting closer to home. But we can still look around and see that the sins of our city are greater and graver than our own sins. We aren’t really like those around us.

Then the Lord said: “How great the outcry against Fries Memorial Moravian and how very grave their Sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not I will know.” How grave is the sin of Fries Memorial Moravian that the Lord will find when he comes? Who are the righteous that might save our church? That might save us? This really brings it home, to a time not so long ago and to a place not so far away.

We can’t really hear this and think that it doesn’t apply to us, any of this. We are Sodom and Gomorrah. We are the United States. We are North Carolina. We are Winston-Salem. We are Fries Memorial Moravian Church. We have our sins- our nation, our state, our city, even our church. It doesn’t matter if our sins don’t seem to be as grave as those of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sin is sin is sin is sin. We are all guilty of sinning. We are all sinners.

As sinners, we all do things that move us further away from God. God doesn’t move away from us but we move away from God. We move away from God, we sin, every time we do something that hurts ourselves. We sin every time we do something that hurts others. We sin every time we fail to love God with our heart, soul, strength, mind. We sin every time we fail to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We sin every time we fail to feed the hungry or give water to the thirsty. We sin every time we fail to welcome the stranger or clothe the naked. We sin every time we fail to care for the sick or visit the prisoner.

We are sinners. The outcry against us is great. Our sins are grave. God sees them and God sees us. God knows them and God knows us. So where are the righteous who will save us? How many will it take? Fifty? Forty-five? Forty? Thirty? Twenty? Ten? Do we have enough righteousness among us to save us?

Sadly, the answer is no.

No, we don’t have enough righteousness among us to save us. No, we don’t have enough righteousness to save ourselves, to save each other. It doesn’t matter how righteous we feel. It doesn’t matter how righteous we think we are. For we aren’t, and never will be, righteous enough. We don’t have, and never will have, enough righteousness among us. We can’t save ourselves. We can’t save our church. We can’t save our city. We can’t save our state or our country. We can’t save our world.

Fortunately, we don’t have to.

And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14

There is only one who can save us. There is only one who is righteous enough. There is only one that we need. Yes, the outcry against us is great. Yes, our sins are grave. But it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. Because the record against us has been erased, set aside, nailed to the cross. We are forgiven by the death of Jesus. We are free from the burden of our sins. We are alive, together with him.

Jesus has done his part. He has become the righteousness we need. He has saved us from our sins. Now it is up to us. It is up to us to continue the good work he began. It is up to us to bring about the kingdom of God. It is up to us to love as he loves. It is up to us to forgive us he forgives. It is up to us to serve as he serves. So let’s do it.

There is no reason for us to judge, ourselves or each other. There is no reason for us to condemn, ourselves or each other. All of our sins are grave. All of our sins are forgiven. So let us put them behind us, leaving them where Jesus left them, nailed to the cross. With our sins forgotten us, let us go forward to love. With our sins forgiven, let us go forward to forgive. With our sins behind us, let us go forward to serve.

How many righteous are there to be found among us? There is only one, but that one is enough.

Amen

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The One Thing That Matters

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Luke 10:38-42
July 17, 2016

Yesterday, I returned from a week at Senior High Camp at Laurel Ridge. By my count it was my 26th time being there as a counselor or dean. Which means that I have spent 6 months of my life at summer camp at Laurel Ridge. And I wish it could be more. There is just something about that place. It is the beauty of God’s creation; the mountains and trees and flowers and animals, the sunrises and sunsets, and, most importantly, the people. Each and every time I have been on that mountain, we have formed an amazing and unique faith community.

Over the years, the names and faces of those people change. People come and go from the mountain, campers grow up and move on, counselors have other things come up in their lives that keep them from coming back. Life just goes on. But the specific people, while they matter greatly, aren’t what make that place special. It’s all of the people that make it special. Nor is it the beauty of the place that makes it special, all though it certainly helps. What makes Laurel Ridge so special, what has caused me to joyfully spent 6 months of my life there on that mountain, is the presence of God.

God is certainly present everywhere. But being at summer camp at Laurel Ridge is to be in one of those “thin places”, one of those places where the distance between heaven and earth collapses. Thin places are where you feel like you can literally reach out and touch God, where you feel like you can hear God speaking, where God’s presence surrounds you and engulfs you and overwhelms you. It is where you don’t need to “be still” to know and see and feel who God is, but a place where you can’t help but see God in everything and in everyone.

Summer camp at Laurel Ridge is the place where there is only one thing that matters. The place where nothing can worry us or prevent us from focusing or distract us. Laurel Ridge is the ultimate “Mary” place- it is the place where I can go and sit at the Lord’s feet, listen to what he says, and not worry about a thing, cause every little thing will be alright. It is the place to go deep into my faith and not be distracted by anything else.

Laurel Ridge is life as it should be. It is a place where followers of Jesus can come together and be who we are-God’s beloved children, who are loved unconditionally, by God and each other. It is where we aren’t judged by the standards of the world, by what we wear or by how we act. It is one place where we aren’t judged by our faults and flaws, where we aren’t seen as or defined by what we do or don’t do, or by who who we ARE NOT. But it is the one place where we can be who we truly ARE; where we can be loved and accepted for simply being the beloved children of God.

Over the years, I have spoken with many campers and counselors and they all say that summer camp at Laurel Ridge is the one place where they can simply be themselves, without having to be who others expect them to be, who others want them to be, who others often DEMAND that they be. That is a rare and precious gift to receive and a rare and precious place to find. We often talk about heading down the mountain and going back to the “real world.” But when we do, we are getting it backwards. Being at Laurel Ridge is what life should be like, it is how God intends for us to live and to treat each other. It is not something that is only found at Laurel Ridge, but for me and many others, Laurel Ridge is the one place where it can always be found; the one place we can go to experience life as God intends it to be, as opposed to life as we have created it to be.

Summer camp at Laurel Ridge is a perfect illustration of the Mary and Martha story. This is one of those stories, like the Prodigal Son, where we can all easily identify with one of the characters. In the story of the Prodigal Son, we are either the younger son or the older son. Similarly, we are either Mary or Martha. But unlike the Prodigal, where we are at various times in our lives, both younger and older son, we don’t often switch back and forth between Mary and Martha. We are either one or the other, we are either Mary or Martha.

We are Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, trying to be as close as we possibly can to him, listening to everything he has to say. Or we are Martha, running around, keeping busy, focusing on everything but Jesus. We can all pretty easily see ourselves as one or the other, Mary or Martha. As we hear the story it is hard to avoid the fact that we don’t really want to be Martha. Because Jesus really gives Martha a hard time.

I have heard many sermons that try to explain this. Sermons that try to remind all of those Marthas among us that what they are doing is important, too. Over my eighteen years as a pastor, I have even preached them myself. But being up at Laurel Ridge this past week, thinking and praying about this story while I was there, makes it really difficult to do that today. After being there and focusing on the “one thing” that we need, I can’t stand here today and tell you that all of the other stuff matters. I can’t tell you that all of the “many things” that we use to distract ourselves, all of those things that occupy us and preoccupy us, all of those nonessentials that we turn into essentials, all of those standards that we impose on ourselves about who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do, those standards that we try to impose on everyone else about who they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to do, I can’t tell you that they matter. Because, at least in the context of today’s Gospel lesson, it’s pretty clear that they don’t.

Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Not only is Martha so worried and distracted by her own stuff, her own need for control, for perfection, to have everything as SHE thinks it should be; not only is she so distracted by this stuff that she is ignoring Jesus herself, but she is also trying to keep Mary away from him too. She is trying to make Mary conform to her expectations, to her standards. Martha is choosing the “many things” that don’t matter, over the “one thing” that does. And the church is full of Marthas.

The church is full of people who choose the many things that don’t matter over the one thing that does. The church is full of people who get so distracted by the nonessentials that they forget the essentials. The church is full of people who get so distracted by their own “stuff”, by their own needs for control, for perfection, to have everything as THEY think it should be, that they forget what God thinks is should be. While that by itself is harmful and damaging, it is made worse when they try to do what Martha did (and they always try to do what Martha did). Not only is it not enough for them to be distracted and worried by many things; by many things that don’t matter, rather than the one that does; but they have to drag everyone else along with them. And try to make them conform to their standards, to meet their expectations, to be who they think they should be, rather than who God created them to be.

For Christ’s church to grow and live and serve as he intends it to, for the church to be what Jesus needs it to be, for the church to be what the world needs it to be, what the world is crying out for it to be, we have to take it back from the Marthas who have taken it over. We have to stop letting them force the church to focus on the many things, the many things that don’t really matter. We have to stop letting them drag us into their stuff, so that we can focus on God’s stuff; stuff like feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty, stuff like welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked, stuff like caring for the sick and visiting the prisoner, stuff like loving God and loving each other.

It is time for us to put the Marthas in the church “on notice”; to remind them that there is only one thing that matters and we will not allow them to distract us and worry us with the many things that don’t. That is what this past week at Laurel Ridge has taught me, for there are Marthas at Laurel Ridge, too. And they do the same things there that they do everywhere. But on that mountain, in that “thin place”, it is a whole lot easier to see them and realize what they are trying to do. And it is also easier to focus on God’s one thing rather than on their “many things.”

Coming down from the mountain, back into the so called “real world”, that sadly changes. Down here it is easy to allow them to shift the focus to things that don’t matter. At least they don’t matter to anyone but them. When we allow that to happen, every time that we allow that to happen, we are moving further away from Jesus. It is time for the church, it is time for us, to get back to the one thing; the one thing that matters, the only thing that matters. It is time for us to sit at the feet of our Lord and listen to him, listen to what he is saying. It is time for us to allow him to create, to redeem, to bless. It is time for us to respond to him with faith, love, and hope. This Brothers and Sisters, is the one thing, it is the only thing. And we can not let it be taken away from us.

Amen.

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Taking Up Your Cross

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Taking Up Your Cross
July 3, 2016

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” John Hus understood this call to discipleship as well as anyone ever has. The spiritual founder of the Moravian Church knew what it meant to deny himself, to take up his cross and follow Jesus.

John Hus was born in Czechoslovakia towards the end of the Middle Ages. By the standards of the day, Hus had it all. He was well educated, well respected, and well loved. And he gave it all up to follow Jesus. Hus was rector (highest academic official) of the University of Prague. He was an ordained priest in the Catholic Church. He was a champion of the people in Czechoslovakia. And he gave it all up to follow Jesus.

Hus’ discipleship caused him to risk and lose all that he had, even his very life. On July 6, 1415, he was burned at the stake as a heretic. He lost his life because he had denied himself, taken up his cross, and followed Jesus. All that he had achieved, all that he had worked for, all that he had earned, he sacrificed to follow Jesus. When Hus was burned at the stake, he had no way of knowing that his ideas would live on. He did not know that his words and teachings would so inspire people that, over 600 years later, he would still be known and celebrated. He simply did what Jesus said: he denied himself, took up his cross, and followed Jesus.

However, I’m not really concerned about Hus today, even as we celebrate his martyrdom. Certainly I admire his teachings, his legacy, and his discipleship, but far too often, we Moravians live in the past. We live in the past at the expense of the present, which puts at risk the future. You may not agree with me, you may not like that I say it, but I believe that it is true. I know that it is true. We long for how things used to be and fail to dream about what they CAN be. We rhapsodize about what our ancestors did and fail to do what the world needs for us to do. We fail to do what Jesus is calling us to do. We get so caught up in who we were that we lose sight of who we are and who we are called to be. When we are living in the past, we are not doing what John Hus did, we are not doing what Jesus calls us to do: “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

We hear the phrase a lot, “That’s the cross that I have to bear.” but we don’t really understand it. Actually we think that we understand it. We think that bearing our cross is having to do something that we would rather not do, or having to go places we would rather not go, or having to deal with people who we really don’t like. For us, “bearing our cross” is something that is unpleasant but we do it anyway. We do it “for Jesus.” But when we use it like that, we trivialize what it really means to bear a cross, what it meant for Jesus and what it means for us.

Denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus is much more than simply being momentarily uncomfortable and then going back to our privileged lives. Denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus is a call for us to give it all up, to give up everything we have and everything we are, everything we think that we have “earned”, everything we believe that are entitled to, even everything that we see as God’s blessings in our lives. Because none of those things belong to us. This world doesn’t belong to us. This church doesn’t belong to us. Our lives don’t belong to us.

When we think that our life does belong to us that is when we need to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and follow Jesus. Think about what Jesus gave up. There he was the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. This was who he was and what he was doing until… For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became truly human For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

Jesus gave up everything he was and everything he had. This is what it truly means to deny yourself, to take up your cross and follow him. And this is what we so greatly fail to do. Instead we take what we have and we hold it tightly. We hold on to it for dear life, afraid that if we let go, we will lose it all, and everything will change. Jesus is calling us to do just that.

Jesus is calling us to let go of what we hold most dear, to let go of ourselves, to let go of everything that we have worked so hard to obtain. Jesus is calling us to let go of all those things that we think we have to have and that we work so hard to maintain, all of those things that we think are important. Jesus is calling us to let go of it all and deny ourselves, to let go of our very lives, to take up our cross and follow him.

As we gather for worship on this day, as we remember John Hus and how he answered Jesus’ call, as we hear Jesus calling us to do the same, we admit that it is frightening. We know that it is scary, we know that it is hard, we know that it may lead us in places we don’t want to go and require us to do things that we don’t think we can do. Yet we know that it is what we must do, if we truly want to be followers of Jesus.

So we come to the table. We receive the body and blood of Christ. And we remember. We remember that he denied himself to show us the way. We remember that died so that we might live, not for ourselves but for him. We remember that he died so that we might live, not for ourselves but for others. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

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It’s All About Love

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“It’s All About Love”
June 26, 2016

Zach and I have been playing a lot of tennis lately. Well, we’ve been playing a lot of Wii tennis. When it’s this hot outside, it’s just a lot easier to play video game tennis than it is to spend hours outside in the sun. We’ve actually become a pretty good doubles team. Ok, not really. Zach is pretty good and he lets me play on his side because otherwise he would beat me pretty much every single game.

During one of our recent games, he asked me, “Why do they call it “love”? At first I thought “Man, that’s a pretty deep question for a 10 year old. Especially to come up with in the middle of a game of Wii tennis.” But then I realized that he was talking about Wii tennis, how in tennis the score is always 15-love or 30-love or 40-love. What he was asking me was why do they call it love instead of zero. It was a good question and I had absolutely no idea what the answer was. So I looked it up on the internet.

I found a lot of different suggestions, but nothing really definitive. This was my favorite:
While all tennis scoring is baffling, the most perplexing element is the use of “love” when a player hasn’t scored any points. Though one theory claims the term is a corruption of the French l’oeuf (“the egg”) to describe the shape of the number zero, the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that love really does mean “love.” The only thing keeping a scoreless player on the court is the love of the game. In tennis, love isn’t all you need, but it might be all you’ve got.

What I learned was that in tennis, love isn’t all you need, but it might be all you’ve got. This phrase kept coming to mind as I wrestled with what Paul was saying to the Galatians. Some weeks, I get to dance with the Scriptures, when everything comes together in a graceful rhythm. Other weeks, it is definitely a wrestling match. One where I want to go one way but the Scriptures keep pulling me in another.

This passage is always a wrestling match. Much like I Corinthians 13, what Paul writes in Galatians 5 is one of those passages that suffers from familiarity. These two, among many others, are so familiar, so well loved and frequently used, that their impact gets lost. We read them (or hear them) and we think we already know all there is to know about them. We can recite “love is patient, love is kind…” and list the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control without even thinking about what we are saying. In doing so, we lose what they mean. We miss what they are saying about love.

What Paul is saying about love, at it’s most basic, is that the whole Law is summed up in a single commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” All of Scripture, Old and New Testament, every book, chapter and verse can be summed up with “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Unlike tennis, where love isn’t all you need but it might be all you’ve got, what Paul is saying that love IS all you need; love for your neighbors and love for yourself. And this love is enough. It’s that simple.

And that difficult. It’s easy to say “love is all you need” or “love your neighbor as yourself” but it’s so much harder to do it. More truthfully, we MAKE it so much harder. We make it hard to love our neighbors as ourselves because we either don’t love ourselves at all, which renders us incapable of loving others, or we love ourselves too much, which leaves us no reason to love others.

This is what Paul means when he writes about gratifying the desires of the flesh rather than living by the Spirit. When we don’t love ourselves, we try to find that love in the wrong places. We try to fill that void by doing things that, at least at first, feel good but ultimately lead to those “sins” of the flesh: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.

The same is true when we love ourselves too much. When we love ourselves too much, we have no thought or concern for others. All of our actions are about ourselves, about gratifying and filling OUR needs and desires. This leads to the same results as not loving ourselves at all: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.

When we don’t love ourselves or when we love ourselves too much, this is when we “bite and devour one another.” We get so caught up and consumed with what we need and want that we forget about what others need, about what others want. Either we forget about them or we just don’t care about them. Either way, we are not loving them. And it shows.

Maybe not in such extremes as fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, or even in drunkenness or carousing. But it shows in strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy. If these are the “works” of your life, then you do not have love. You may want to have love, you may even think that you have love. But you don’t. And it is evident by that which is around you, by that which defines you and your life. If you are surrounded by enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, and things like these. Then you don’t have love. Not for yourself and not for your neighbor.

Love is the fruit of the Spirit not the works of the flesh. It is not unintentional that Paul refers to the works (plural) of the flesh and the fruit (singular) of the Spirit. There is only ONE fruit of the Spirit but there are many works of the flesh. The fruit of the Spirit is love. It is love that leads to joy. It is love that brings peace. It is love that provides patience. It is love that generates kindness. It is love that causes generosity. It is love that inspires faithfulness. It is love that instills gentleness. And it is love that gives self-control. This is what love does because this is what love is.

When everything else is gone, when we get down to what we would call the “essentials”, love is indeed all that we have and all that we need. And it is enough. What Paul is telling the Galatians, and telling us, is to look at who we are. He is challenging us to look at what we have, to look at the works that we have , to look at the fruit that we bear, and ask ourselves, are we living by “flesh” or by the Spirit?

If we are living by “flesh”, if we are ruled by our own wants and desires, then it is not enough and it will never be enough. If we are living by the Spirit, if we are truly able to love ourselves and our neighbors, then that is enough. Love is all we have and it is all that we need. Brothers and Sisters, let us love one another.

Amen

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