Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2019

A Fire from Within – Oct. 6, 2019

In October 1958, NASA advertised that they were looking for 7 test pilots to begin a program called Project Mercury. 500 men applied and by January of 1959, NASA shortened the list to just 110. After rigorous physical and psychological tests, the number quickly dropped to 18.

The candidates had to be less than 6-foot-tall, weigh no more than 180 pounds, be under the age of 40, have a bachelor’s degree and ‘had to have flown’ over 1,500 hours in jets. On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced the first 7 astronauts that would help launch the leap to space.

Author Tom Wolfe wrote about these amazing men in his novel “The Right Stuff”. He writes, part of what made these men faithful and strong was their belief in or embracing of God. And while some of the astronauts had weak or inactive faith, their time in space changed everything.

One of the original 7, John Glenn told reporters, “To Look out at earth and see this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible”.

On Christmas Eve in 1968, the astronauts on Apollo 8 all read from the book of Genesis. Later, Buzz Aldrin would be the first astronaut to celebrate communion on Apollo 11. And James Irwin, on Apollo 15, had a personal encounter with Jesus while on the moon and it changed his life so much, when he returned, he became a missionary for Jesus to other nations.

Many of these men admitted to having faith in God but said that only their pilot light was engaged. Yet once they saw God’s universe from a different perspective, it was like they were set on fire for the Lord. A spark from God; set them ablaze again.

I believe the same thing must have happened to Moses.

As you might recall, Moses fled Egypt and went to live in the desert with the Midianites. He married one of the daughters of Reu-el and settled in to become a shepherd. He was 40 when he arrived and had a lot to learn; it was a very different lifestyle.

Scripture doesn’t highlight the details of those years but it does record Moses’ first words about his change of location. He said, “I have become an alien in a foreign land.”

Being a United Methodist pastor, I understand exactly what he is talking about. We are Itinerant (that means we move at the will of God and the Bishop and cabinet). Moving is stressful. It takes a while to settle in, to get to know folks and to feel at home again. But after several years, a regular routine takes shape.

I am sure Moses had had a rough start but after 40 years, the desert probably felt like home to him. He was confident and at peace. At the age of 80, he was no longer the brash, hot-headed, leader he once was. Moses had learned humility, patience and responsibility.

While his priorities had shifted and his work and family took all his time, I think his passion for justice and the things of God were still alive in him. But I am also sure the flame was running much lower.

Singer John Waite began his career in the mid 70’s with a rock group called ‘The Babys’. They had some success with songs like ‘Everytime I think of you’ and ‘Isn’t it time?”

In 1982, Waite released his first solo album. The big hit on that record was called ‘Change’, listen to the chorus;

Some things ain’t ever gonna change
It doesn’t matter who you are
It’s all the same
What’s in your heart will never change

The Bible says that God looks at the heart and he knows what’s in it. God knew what Moses was capable of and what he needed to get to the place where God could use him. After 40 years in the desert, without one word from God, on an ordinary day, everything would change.

Moses led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. Horeb is defined as a barren place or a place of solitude. It may have been were Moses liked to go and pray while he watched the sheep graze.

But on this day, out of the corner of his eye, Moses saw a thorn-bush burst into flame. While this occurred once in a while in the desert, the flames usually turned the bush to ash quickly and then extinguished itself.

But on this occasion, Moses noticed that the bush was burning yet it remained intact. Curiosity got the best of him and he decided to have a look. In this passage, we have Moses thoughts recorded. He thinks, “I will go over and see this strange sight, and see why the bush doesn’t burn up.”  

Now, scripture records these happenings, “There, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in the flames of fire within the bush. Then God called to Moses, from within the bush.

Many scholars have different takes on what is going on. Is it the bush that is on fire or the angel in the bush that is blazing? Is this really a fire or a brilliant light? And finally, is this really an angel or is this God?

Some scholars believe that there is both an angel and God’s presence in that burning bush. We know that an angel of the Lord is also called a messenger. Yet Moses never really claims to see an angel just a burning bush.

Here is my take on this passage; I think Moses saw the burning bush and he recognized that it is a message from God. A theophany is the appearance of God ‘in a form that is visible to humans’. In other words, Moses knows he is seeing a miracle.

That is why Moses reacted the way he did, when God spoke to him. As Moses approached the burning bush, God called out, “Moses, Moses”. God repeats his name, so we understand the urgency and importance of this conversation.

Moses responded, “I am right here”.

Rev. Chuck Swindoll writes, “When Moses saw the burning bush he thought to himself, “How strange that is!”  If it had been me, maybe I would have been hearing the theme for ‘The Twilight Zone’ playing in my brain.

Yet, we notice, when God calls out to Moses, Moses quickly responds with “Here I am”. If I were Moses, I imagine that the burning bush would have surprised me but it would have been the ‘talking bush’ that made me feel like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone!

But not Moses; he recognizes this as a miracle and that this unusual incident is of God. He believes that God has a message for him. We can almost hear Moses say, “I am right hear God, speak to me.”

“Don’t come any closer,” God said. In other words, that’s far enough. “And take off your sandals, your standing on Holy Ground”. This was now a sacred place, ‘holy means’ set apart.

To take off one’s shoes, in Jewish culture, is a sign of respect and submission. It is like taking off your hat in worship or in the presence of a lady. It is an outward sign of an inward reverence.

In the Bible, God is described as putting his foot down on the necks of his enemy. We might say, he walked all over them. To throw a shoe at someone is still considered a sign of disrespect. So to surrender and transfer power, Moses took off his shoes and knelt down.

Now, you can go on to read how God describes himself, how he gave Moses a task and then see how Moses reacted. I have preached on that topic before, but here is the thing I want you to remember…This burning bush incident, eventually turned Moses’ tiny flame – back into a roaring fire.

At the burning bush, God revealed his holiness in a way it had never been revealed before. And Moses was so awe struck by the encounter, it radiated in his heart, mind and soul.

Later in his victory song, recorded in Exodus 15:11 Moses would write, “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”

That burning bush gave Moses a new perspective. 

The same way the astronauts got a new perspective of God’s universe by seeing it from space.  And that new perspective turned his flickering light into a roaring flame.

Irish priest Thomas Connellan once wrote, “One person with passion is better than 40 who are merely interested.”

The Hebrew word for ‘flames of fire’ (lavah) is very similar to the word for ‘hearts of fire’ (lev). I think the message from within the burning bush, was a reflection of Moses burning heart within. It just took God’s spark to set Moses in motion again.

I want to end with one final illustration from scripture.

The disciples encountered Jesus walking on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had less than 7 miles to talk with him. If they walked a slow 20-minute mile or less, that means they had approximately 2 hours to be with him.

Yet the Bible says they did not recognize him or his power and glory until he broke bread with them. That is when they saw Jesus. But their final words tell us the real story…

One of the disciples said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?”

While there may be nothing we can do to change our own hearts, God can ‘if we let him in’. So, if your pilot light feels low, imagine what Jesus can do if you let him in today.

Your assignment is…to open your hearts, minds and ears ‘to see and hear’ the Lord who is always near. And then, let him set your heart ablaze for His kingdom work.

Now, as we prepare for communion, open yourself also, to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Join me in saying, “Come Holy Spirit.”

Come Holy Spirit! Amen.

Sent – Sept. 29, 2019

In the 1986 movie ‘Back to School’, Rodney Dangerfield plays Thornton Melon, a wealthy clothes manufacturer who goes to college to attend it with his son. At the end of the movie, Melon gets a chance to address the graduating class of Grand Lakes University.

Here is what he says, “I only have one thing to say today…It’s a jungle out there. And so, to all you graduates, as you go out into the world, my advice to you is…Don’t go! It’s rough out there. Stay in school or live in your parent’s basement and let them take care of you.”

While what Dangerfield is saying makes us laugh, there is also a blunt truth in his words. The world is a jungle. It is a hard place with challenges and hard lessons to be learned. While we want a safe place to live and an easy life we are never guaranteed any of that!

And yet, most of us are more blessed than we realize. Did you know that there are over 327 Million people in the United States? And there are over 7.53 Billion people in the world according to the International Programs Center, U.S. Bureau of the Census.

If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a bed to sleep in; you’re in the top 25% of all the people in the world.   Did you know, that even the poorest 20 percent of Americans consume more goods and services than the national averages for all people in most affluent countries. We are blessed.

If you have any money in the bank, some money in your wallet, or just some spare change in a jar; You are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy people. You are blessed.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation; You are better off than over 6 hundred million people in our world today who have experienced those things. Again, you are blessed.

If you can attend a worship service without the fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death; you are more blessed than 4 billion people on this planet. What we are doing right now is illegal for four billion people somewhere in the world. Again, we are blessed.

But, we often forget how blessed we are. Not only are we blessed in material and physical ways, we are blessed by God in spiritual matters, also. After living this way for so long, we come to expect it. And we forget how much the rest of the world struggles for the basics of life.

So, you might want to ask, “WHY have I been given these things?” My answer would be that we were blessed to be a blessing to others. Those who have should be thankful and so, as faithful Christians, we should give back in service and where there is legitimate need.

Over and over in the Bible we are called to care for the least of these. We are called to care for the widows and orphans. We are called to stand by those who suffer and offer them assistance with the basics; food, water, compassion and love. And we are called to give and tithe to help with the needs of the poor.

Most of us have figured out that it is easiest to give money and to stay in the comfort of our own homes. Yet the Bible calls us to do much more. At the end of John’s Gospel Jesus declares, “As the Father has sent me, now I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

You may have noticed, Jesus used action words like, “Come and follow, Go and Make, and I am sending you to do greater things.” Our faith is about love in action.

I do not know if you have ever been in a church, where by the front door, as you leave you see a sign that reads, “You are now entering the mission field.”

One of my favorite cartoons shows church members standing inside the church reading the sign ‘You are now entering the mission field’. In the background are two pastors talking and one asks, “What do we do if they never leave the building?”

British missionary and writer C.T. Studd once wrote, “Some wish to live within the sound of a church or chapel bell; but I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”

While we can travel overseas to troubled areas to share the gospel, the truth is the mission field is at our front doorstep. Rev. R.C. Sproul described the mission field as the marketplace all around us.

Want to change the world; serve wherever you are. Your job is your mission field. Every stranger and friend you encounter needs to know Jesus, if they do not already. There are needs everywhere. Open your eyes and you will see a way to serve. We do not have to go overseas to be a missionary.

Don’t condescend to others, empower them instead. Don’t give hand-outs but give them a hand-up. And work alongside others, don’t give them all the hard labor while you watch.

Your gift to them is to not only serve them but let them serve you too. (Galatians 5:13) That is why Jesus sent his disciples out by twos or threes with no purse, no bag or scandals.

Then he asked them, “Did you lack anything?” and their answer was “No”.

Others provided food and a place to stay. That was ‘their gift’ to the disciples. Today we might say, “Don’t take your credit cards or an iphone.” Instead, live off the good graces of others. Your gift is your service and your testimony.

Each step is a step of faith in a great adventure. Steven Curtis Chapman describes it like this in his song, “The Great Adventure”;

“I opened up my Bible and I read about me.
It said I had been a prisoner and God’s grace had set me free.
And somewhere between the pages it hit me like a lightning-bolt,
I saw a big frontier in front of me and heard someone say, “Let’s go!”
Then the chorus goes like this…
“Saddle up your horses, we’ve got a trail to blaze,
Through the wild blue yonder of God’s amazing grace.
Let’s follow our leader into the glorious unknown,
This is the life ‘like no other’, this is The Great Adventure.”

Now, you might be saying, not everyone is called to be a missionary. Especially overseas mission work and you would be right! God calls people; men and women, to preach, teach, evangelize and to that kind of mission work. ‘It is a calling’. Yet we are all sent and called to serve. That is different.

We are blessed to be a blessing. And while you won’t find those exact words in the Bible, the idea is there as we read, “Freely you have received, freely give.”

I love how Isaiah responds to God’s plea in Isaiah chapter 6:8, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”  Isaiah cries out, essentially pleads, “Here I am send me!” He knows he has been blessed and he desperately wants to give back.

There are a lot of excuses to why people walk away from God. Like; what he is asking is too hard, I am not ready yet, or I am not educated enough. Others say, I don’t have enough money or time, so when everything comes together in my life, then I will make time for God and his work.

Here are some of the most current facts about our faith lives;

 3 out of 4 US Christians (74%) seldom have a “spiritual conversation” with anyone, even though most people claim to be spiritual. 37% of US Christians believe God blesses them through material things. Nearly 50% of all Americans say that God plays no real active role in their lives, yet 80% claim to believe in God.

81% of US Christians say they go to church to be closer to God. Others go for their kids or family – and some go for words of comfort. Nearly all say they are in church to get something from God, (comfort, a blessing) yet statistically, less than 20% give much back in tithes or action. I think those statistics by Barna are staggering.

Part of that, may be our own faults. Too many people think that the church is a business and that we are all consumers. Sure, we have a budget and there are business aspects to ministry, that is true but, stewardship isn’t ownership, and we do not exist to make a profit.

The church exists for 3 main reasons; First, to focus attention on God and ultimately to give glory to God (we call that worship). Second, to build up the body, as a family, so we can live more fully like Jesus in the world (we call that growing in community). And finally, to share God’s vision of hope, grace, mercy and forgiveness through service and proclamation, in all that we do (that is our mission).

In other words, what we take in is supposed to go out. What we do together is meant to change the world outside the doors. We do that through new relationships.

The truth is, the work God calls us to often requires far less than we imagine. It usually requires our attention; it requires us to use what we already have and to trust God with the rest. Then, the more we give, the more we want to give. It just feels right when we do God’s work.

Jesus said, “As the Father is sending me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) We were made for something bigger and better than setting on a pew, on the couch, or on a porch. We were created to engage the world for Jesus; to shine God’s light into the dark places and to show God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and love to all.

While the mission might seem impossible, with God all things are possible. And Jesus promises that we do not need to do it alone. We can take others with us and we can count on the power of the Holy Spirit to get us through. In the end, our mission should echo His.

Here is what God will do through his believers; God speaks it through the prophet Joel in Chapter 2:28-29, He says, “I will pour out my Spirit on ‘ALL PEOPLE’. Your sons and daughters will testify, your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

In Romans 10:13-15 we read, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  But how then can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One they have not heard? And how can they hear, if no one is preaching? How can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

We can all be saved and we are all sent into the mission field. We can be sent overseas or right in our own back yard. ALL are required; male or female, young and old. You see, God looks closer at the heart than the age or gender. And God will use whoever he calls and whoever responds.

God often uses messy people. He used tax collectors and rebels. He used murderers and thieves. God used prostitutes and orphans. Kings and the elderly. Cheaters and drunks. There isn’t a flaw he cannot overcome.  Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us, is for us.”

God equips those he uses. In fact, it may be better to say, he has already equipped those, they just don’t know it yet!

More than ever we need courageous Christians. We need people who are not afraid of being used by God; and not afraid of hard work. We all need to respond to God and follow. To go; Lead; Teach; befriend others; and take some Risks.

You see, while the world really is a jungle out there, Jesus is truly the Lord and Lion of the jungle.

The question is, what is stopping you from being sent by God to a world in need? It is time to stop waiting, so step up and Go!

Your assignment is…to invite just one other person to church next Sunday. Just one. Tell them you will take them to lunch afterward. We could even all meet at a restaurant together, wouldn’t that surprise the servers? All of us should be able to find one person, think about it, Jesus found 12.

So, be fearless, Amen.

You Get What You Give – Sept. 22, 2019

 

Back in 1993 I read a book called “A Simple Plan” by Scott Smith. Stephen King had called it the best suspense novel of the year and that intrigued me. The plot was simple, and the story seemed interesting.

It begins when three men (Hank, his brother Jacob and Lou) accidently find a downed airplane in a rural Northern Ohio forest. The pilot is dead, and the cockpit contains a gym bag with $4.4 million dollars in one-hundred-dollar bills. After briefly considering turning the money over to the authorities, they decide to let Hank keep it for six months to see whether anybody comes looking for it–believing in their innocence that if nobody does, they’ll be safe in spending it.

Of course, their ‘simple plan’ quickly runs into some problems; fear keeps them awake wondering who might come looking for the money. One of the them cannot wait to spend his money, which puts their plan in jeopardy. Greed and jealousy gets the better of another and sets in motion a spiral of blackmail, betrayal and murder.

4.4 Million dollars is a lot of money. They moralize, rationalize and literally come apart, still believing they are doing the right thing. The problem is, they never get ahead; in fact, they just get back in return, what they give to the others. Hate begets hate.  You see, once they cross the line, it is hard to go back. In the end nothing really matters. The center does not hold. 

Not surprisingly, several years later, it was made into a very popular movie. The Bible is filled with similar stories about people who lose their way, become what they hate – and find that their search for something was in vain. It is, in a way, our story. Then Jesus came to guide us and change all that.

n Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. After he emerged triumphant, he faced rejection from ‘the people in his own hometown’. Then, he went on a great healing spree. In Chapter 6 verse 17, Jesus had his ‘first opportunity’ to teach to a crowd. It reads,

“He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.”

Finally, he turned to his disciples and he began teaching them and the crowd. He goes on to teach them the be-attitudes, “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry, blessed are those who weep and who are rejected. And then he teaches the woes. Woe to you who have it good at the expense of others.”

“Listen to me,” he almost pleads, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.

If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” And then he crowns it off like this, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Jesus teaches us, in verse 35-36, “God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your father is merciful.”

My question is, who in the world thinks and talks like this? No one! Honestly, this sounded pretty strange to the people in Jesus’ day, but it still packs a wallop today! Love your enemies, pray for those how mistreat you? Be merciful, even to the ungrateful and wicked. Wow!

More important, why? That is what Jesus addresses next, in verse 37-38.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure ‘you use’, it will be measured to you.”

Unfortunately, this text often gets broken up and used for a variety of arguments and so people miss its full impact. You have probably heard people say, ‘don’t judge me or you will be judged.” Or some use this as a magic formula to say, ‘If you give, God will give back more money than you can imagine.’

But Jesus seems to be hinting at something much more basic and overarching. It is this; you get what you give. Those who are peacemakers tend to find more peace in life than those who are not. Those who learn to forgive, can forgive ‘themselves and others’ and they have a deeper sense of what it means to be forgiven.

His message goes to the core of our being. Who we are and how we treat others matters on many levels. Remember what Jesus said to Peter in the garden of Gethsemane. Peter pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the High Priest. (John 18:10 and Matthew 26:51-52) Jesus said to him, “Put your sword away. For all who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

Galatians 6:7-10 reminds us, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, – from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, ‘let us do good to all people’, especially to those who belong to the family of God.”

Do you want more love? Give out an abundance of love. Do you want more people to care about you? Spend more time showing people you care. Like attracts like. Whatever you want in your life, focus on that – and you will receive more of the same in return – because it is a universal principle.

All of this sounds great, but we live in a fallen world, right? Jesus treated others with respect and love – and what did it get him? Rejected and crucified. We don’t always get back what we give to others.

A young adult named Dan writes on his blog on the internet, “You don’t get what you give”. He writes, “I view myself an extremely compassionate and caring person. I’m the one who when my dormmates and friends go out…says “be careful” and worries about them. I’m the one who cries over missing people and murders and abductions. I would go over leaps and bounds for people. I love giving money to the homeless and hearing “thank you.” etc etc

 “Since I care about people so much, of course, I never get that same amount of affection back. I have never gotten the same amount back from anyone – save for my family. I feel that people are selfish because of this, but I continue to care deeply and help people…”

What is wrong with this picture?

Jesus said, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, – do not demand it back.” It would seem that this young man has a deeper need to be filled. He is looking for something in return. And that should never be our motivation for giving anything.

Paul was writing to the Church at Corinth, who was struggling with a similar issue. They give money to help Paul in his ministry, but they begin holding back. They just weren’t getting back what they expected. So, Paul wrote,

“And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 

“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for ‘the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people’.  And they exceeded our expectations: (here is the key phrase) They gave themselves ‘first of all to the Lord’, and then by the will of God also to us.”

I do not think any of us can live and give like Jesus until we have truly accepted Jesus. Paul says, The Macedonian Churches gave themselves, first of all, to the Lord. Then, despite their situation they excelled at giving joyfully. Only a full heart can prepare us to live like no one else lives and gives.

Colossians Chapter 3, our second Bible verse shares some more insight. It reads, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge ‘in the image of its Creator’. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, – but Christ is all, – and is in all.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

To live as Christ takes a transformation. It is like a heart transplant. It’s a second chance, a change of perspective. It’s a time when we realize, what we get from God, is far more than we probably deserve (in comparison to the rest of the world). And so, when we realize we are blessed, we just want to be a blessing to others.

Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father in heaven is Merciful.” Mercy defined in the Bible relates to compassion, or kindness that is unmerited. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. It is getting a get out of jail card. It is a showering of grace and peace.

And it is impossible to give that – unless you’ve received it.

This morning we are going to do something a little different.

I am going to invite you, if you feel a little short on compassion, short on love, short on being merciful – to come forward and kneel or stand by the railing. You see, you are not the only one who feels this way. We all feel this way from time to time.

As you feel so moved, come. Lay a hand on another person’s shoulder or hand. Be connected. You are God’s Chosen People. Come. And be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Hear then, these words of blessing and mercy,

Amen.

At a Crossroad – Sept. 15, 2019

From early on, Roman kings were often referred to as gods. Some demanded that title, but others had it bestowed on them by the people. Take for instance, one of its earliest kings in ancient Rome, a man called Janus.

Janus was said to be a humble and wise man who ushered in the golden age of money as currency and agriculture to the romans. He was said to be deeply religious and did a lot of contemplation. Over time, Janus became known as the God ‘with two faces’, one looking forward and the other looking backward.

Janus, they said, was the Roman god of gates and doors, choices and transitions, and beginnings and endings. The earliest statues depict one face as younger man looking back and the other with a beard as the older version looking forward. He looks back and remembers his youth, his past, his mistakes and his glory days. But he also looks forward at all the possibilities and promises. 

Janus honored and embraced the past – but was always ready to move into the future. The month of January is named after him. And January 1st is the doorway between the past year and the new one. So, he stands at a crossroads, of sorts.

Our Bible tells many stories of people at the crossroads of life. Today I want to focus on three specific examples. The first comes from Exodus Chapter 14. God sent Moses to Egypt to set his people free. After 10 horrible plagues, the Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Hurry up, take your people and leave. Go worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your herds and flocks, and go.”

After 400 years of being in slavery, the Israelites were finally free. But as the left, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he had his army pursue the Israelites.  Immediately, they said to Moses, “Have you brought us out to the desert just to die? It would have been better for us to serve in Egypt than to die in the desert?”

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see ‘the deliverance’ the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

But God knew their hearts, the time to wait was over. So then, the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water – so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.”

Once they were delivered through the Red Sea, they worshiped God. But every time things got tough, they lamented about the good old days in Egypt. They complained about the heat, the lack of water and the shortage of food. In Egypt they said, “We had pots of meat and we ate all we wanted.”

Mind you, they were slaves back then, but they had selective memory. The truth is, the past is never as good – or as bad as we remember it. Those who came before us had real struggles and good days just like we do. And so, it is best to remember and honor the past but then to move on.

Christian author and Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner writes in his book, “Secrets in the Dark” these words, from the passage called ‘A Room called Remember”

“One way or another, we are always remembering. In one sense the past is dead and gone, never to be repeated, over and done with, but in another sense, it is, of course, not done at all, or at least not done with us. Every person we have ever known, every place we have ever seen, everything that has ever happened to us – it all lives and breathes deep in us somewhere whether we like it or not,…”

The key he says is to remember with purpose. Remember how God delivered you and how, now, we can have peace, no matter what happened in the past. Peace with the past gives us momentum to move forward. Sometimes, many times it takes forgiveness, but ultimately it requires trust in God. Buechner writes, “no matter what happened, remember, we survived for God’s greater purposes.”

Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Life can only be understood backward, – but it must be lived forward.” That is why God told the Israelites it was time to move on.

Our second passage of scripture comes to us from Acts chapter 2. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were able to spend 40 days with the risen Lord. But this was coming to an end. Jesus explained, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Then, before their very eyes, he is taken up to heaven. This was not something they planned for – or even wanted. Unsure what to do, they returned to hide in the upper room. They were at a crossroads. How could they move on without Jesus?

Finally, Peter spoke up. It was time to trust and to move forward. So, they buried Judas and chose a replacement for him, a man named Matthias. As they were all gathered in that place, the winds of change blew through.

“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.”

We know what happened next, Peter addressed the crowd outside – and hearts were moved by his words ‘and the power of the Holy Spirit’. 3,000 came to believe and were baptized. This was the start of the early Church.

Did they still think back and remember Jesus? Of course they did. But they could not regain the past or change it. God was doing a new thing and it was time to move on. God had plans for them to share the gospel with a world in need.

Author and Episcopal Preacher John Claypool shared this story: Years ago, he wrote, a thunderstorm swept through southern Kentucky at the farm where his family had lived for six generations. In the orchard, the wind blew over an old pear tree that had been there as long as anybody could remember.

My grandfather was grieved to lose the tree on which he had climbed as a boy and whose fruit he had eaten all his life. A neighbor came by and said, “Doc, I’m really sorry to see your pear tree blown down.”

“I’m sorry too, said my grandfather. “It was a real part of my past.” “What are you going to do?” the neighbor asked. My grandfather paused for a moment and then said, “I’m going to pick the fruit and burn what’s left.” That, he wrote, is the wise way to deal with many things in our past. We need to learn their lessons, enjoy their pleasures, and then go on with the present and the future.

The final crossroad doesn’t come from scripture – because it comes from each of our own hearts. There was a time when we were all lost and suffering from the consequences of our sin. We had burdens we were carrying that became too much. All we wanted was some peace and forgiveness.

And there was a time when we found ourselves at the foot of the cross. I don’t know about you, but I was on my knees pleading with God. I confessed everything and prayed for mercy and forgiveness. It came in time, God spoke to me through my dreams and gave me peace. Yet for a while, I kept looking back. I can be kind of hard on myself.

But the winds of change were blowing, and I felt the need to move on. Have you ever been there? You see, God is always moving ahead.

As you know, I am not a country music fan, but I often find truth in Country music lyrics. Rascal Flatts came out with this song called ‘I’m Movin On” in 2001. Listen to the first verse,

I’ve dealt with my ghosts and faced all my demons,
Finally content with a past I regret.
I’ve found ‘you find strength in your moments of weakness’,
For once I’m at peace with myself.

I’ve been burdened with blame,
trapped in the past for too long,
I’m movin’ on

Today, we stand at a crossroad. This Church, in one form or another, has been at this location for 150 years. Throughout that time, of course, we have had a fire and several occasions of remodeling, but the die was cast many years ago.

The families that came here wanted something better for themselves and their children. They wanted a new start, a place where the doors never locking anyone out. A place where they could worship God, study the Bible, be in missions and gather in fellowship.

There is always a mixture of joy and sorrow from the past, but new potential and hope for tomorrow as well. Because in it, we know, God is doing a new thing. This is the time to make peace with the past, and then be prepared to move into God’s glorious future.

One where Jesus is already present and waiting for us.

It is our opportunity to live in a way ‘that others see Christ alive and active in our words and in our lives’. Jesus did not come for a moment of healing – but a lifetime of transformation. It is not enough to accept Jesus, we need to live for him as well.

He is calling us too make a difference in Cowan, Muncie, Delaware County, Indiana, these United States and to the ends of the earth.

Theologian and Author Jurgen Moltmann wrote in the ‘Theology of Hope’, these words, “From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity … is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present. The promise that the future is ultimately in God’s hands ‘is the glow that permeates everything here in the dawn of an expected new day’. It is our faith in God that directs our journey through time.”

So, at this Crossroad I ask you to stop, to look and to listen. This is a road we were meant to travel. You were made for this! Honor the past. Celebrate the present. And finally, embrace the future as you move ahead in Jesus’ name.

Jeremiah 6:16 reads, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads, and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is: and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’”

Maybe you remember Robert Frost’s Famous Poem, the Road Not Taken, Listen…

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, – long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then, took the other, ‘as just as far’,
and having perhaps the better claim,
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there,
had worn them really about the same,
and both that morning equally lay,
in leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how ‘way leads on to way’,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh,
somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.

Go against the flow. Take the narrow path of Jesus. It is time to shout out – because everyone needs to hear the Good News. God is starting a revival; can you feel it? Do you believe it?

‘We are at a crossroad’ and it is time to move on, will you join me?

May it be so, Amen.