Letting Go of Expectations


The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!’” (John 12: 12 – 13). 

The waving of palm branches and shouts of “hosanna” are signs of expectations. The first king of Israel, David, rode a donkey as a humble animal reflecting his identity as a shepherd king, The prophet Zechariah, five hundred years before Jesus would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, promised, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Is taken directly from Psalm 118. It is a psalm written to welcome kings back to Jerusalem as they returned form a victorious from war. The crowd would place that image onto Jesus as he comes riding into town. The people are recognizing him as king and liberator. Expectations are high.

And yet their expectations go out the window, as the Jesus parade keeps moving. He rides past Pilate’s headquarters, no overthrow of power. His parade takes him to the temple where he makes a mess by turning over tables and passes judgment on the way their religion is being practiced. His ride takes him through the city of Jerusalem to outside the city gates to a hill called Calvary. The same crowd that shouted hosanna on Sunday will be the same ones who shout crucify him on Friday.

Expectations shattered.

He is a humble king whose way of ruling is the way of love.

It is a love that we will miss if we don’t let go of our expectations of what type of savior we think we need. Don’t let your expectations keep you from experiencing the love of God. Don’t let your assumptions of what you think God is supposed to be doing in this time to keep you from receiving what God has for you.

I know we all want normal. I want normal. I want to get back to living with clearly defined boundaries that keep everything nicely in place. I need a box for everything including God. But if Palm Sunday in a time of quarantine teaches us anything, it is that our expectations are sometimes wrong. Don’t let what you possess, possess you. Don’t let what you have come to define as normal, keep you from the new life that God wants to give you.

What expectation of normalcy do you need to lay down? What possession that has possessed you do you need to release? What sin do you need to lay down? What habit do you need to surrender? What assumptions do you need to just let go of?

One Word New Year

What if one word had the power to set the direction of your life?

What if instead of a list of New Year’s resolutions, you considered setting the course of your life based on one word?

What word would you chose for 2020?

For me, it is the word “intentional.” I want to live a life that focuses on being intentional on loving those in front of me, intentional in my work, and intentional with my time.

What about you? What word would give you the focus needed on becoming the person you want to become?

What is your word?

Going On a Bear Hunt

When my kids were younger the choice bedtime book was “We’re Going On a Bear Hunt”. The classic book describes a family going through the elements of nature in search of a bear.

On weekend hiking trips we would turn the story into a fun game of searching for an imaginary bear. We have been chased by bears. But mostly our occasions were spent hunting bears.

As a family hunting our imaginary bear, I tell myself this is crazy. Normal people don’t chase bears, they run away from them.

Sometimes we discover that the biggest risks bring the greatest opportunities. I have realized that taking no risks is the greatest risk of all.

As you set out to make resolutions this New Year, ask yourself, “What bears in your life need to be chased?” What opportunities need to be taken?

Let’s go into the New Year boldly declaring, “I’m going on a bear hunt, I’m going to catch a big one!”

What bears are you chasing this year?

The World Was Not Worthy

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Do you know what has gone to the wayside in our society? The photo album. When was the last time you sat down with the family and thumbed through an old collection of photos? I can’t remember.

The author of Hebrews is pulling out the photo album in chapter eleven. The author is flipping through the old family of faith photos and reminiscing on long-gone loved ones whose sojourn has made this world a better place.

He/she comes to the end and says, “They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11: 37-38).

Every year on November 1, Christians around the world observe All Saints Day, which honors all saints of the church that have attained heaven. In my tradition, United Methodist, the first Sunday in November is the day to recognize All Saints Day. It is a day of remembrance, to recall the loved ones lost over the past year, to collectively remember the faithfulness of God in life and death, and that there is a future with hope, with God’s reign enduring forever. We will call out the names of those who have passed away, light a candle, and ring a bell in their honor.

In some ways they are the ones that “the world was not worthy.” They suffered much, they loved deeply, and they kept the faith. They kept promises and remained steadfast. We can probably list a multitude of reasons why we were not worthy of their time, presence, and love. And yet, God gifted them to us.

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The late William Stringfellow described saints as “those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”

They are the ones who have taught us that despair is no way to live. Hope is what keeps the heart beating. A life of judgment doesn’t go near as far as a life of forgiveness. Tearing down others is destructive but building up one another makes a community. Loving will always take one further than hate.

We are not worthy of their gifts. And yet, without them our walk toward sainthood would not be complete.

You’re George McFly!

If you had a DeLorean time-machine, what period of history would you like to visit?

In the 1985 classic, Back to the Future, Marty McFly, a 17-year-old high school student, is accidentally sent thirty years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, the maverick scientist Doc Brown.

The fascinating thing about the movie is how it came into existence. The idea for the movie came from Bob Gale. He co-wrote the script after coming across his father’s high school yearbook. He wondered if he would have been friends with his dad if they were in school together. This idea was the beginning concept for Back to the Future.

I have asked similar things about people of history. Would I have like the music of Elvis if I was hearing it the first time? Would I have thought going to the moon in 1969 the greatest of ideas? Would I have stood up for the Jews in Hitler’s Germany? Would I have marched for Civil Rights in the South during segregation? Would I have shouted “Crucify him” or claimed him as Messiah when Jesus walked among us? Would you?

It is a tough question to answer without actually being present in those moments. Our hope is that we would be on the side of love and justice. We hope that we would stand on what is right. We like to think that we would have saw something in Jesus that would have convinced us that this travelling rabbi truly was the savior of the world.

We can’t travel back to the past and place ourselves in those situations to see what type of response it provokes from us but we can know something about how we would respond by examining our current actions toward the injustices and hatred in our current world.

What is your response to the brokenness of the world? What is your answer to the division that exist? Is your first response one of blame? Ignore? Hide? How intentional are you in trying to understand the issue from all the different sides? Have you ever attempted to put yourself in the shoes of the other person? Tried to see the struggle from their perspective? Examined an issue from the viewpoint of the person you disagree with?

There is a story in scripture where Jesus finds himself in the middle of the day at a well located in the Samaritan city of Sychar. The scripture says, “Jesus tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’” (John 4: 6-7). A lot is going on in this passage. First, Jesus is in a place of needing something from someone else. He is tired. Secondly, the person available to meet his need is someone his culture considers nonredeemable and unacceptable. The person is also a female that is not a relative and that makes this conversation all the more shocking. She acknowledges the situation: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria” (John 4: 9)?

This encounter turns out to be a life changing experience for the woman. In the end she goes back to her hometown and says, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he” (John 4: 28)?  We are told that many Samaritans – those considered enemies of the Jews – believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. And it all started because Jesus – the Son of God – expressed a need for water. This place of intimate vulnerability allowed him to connect with her on a level that gave him permission to speak into her need for living water. The story gives us a powerful image when we are told that before she goes into town to tell the townspeople about Jesus, she “left her water jar” (John 4: 28). If her empty water jar represented her lack of connection, she no longer needed it. She found connection through the vulnerability of Jesus. If Jesus is willing to take this approach to connecting with someone his culture considers wrong, how much more should we?

A young expert in Jewish law comes to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25)? Jesus replies by asking him what does the law say and the young man says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10: 27). There you go, says Jesus. Do that and you will be alright. But needed to justify himself – justify why we are not required to love the minority,  the liberal, the conservative, the Republican, the Democrat, the immigrant, the Muslim, the one so different than me – wanting to justify himself, he asks, “Who is my neighbor” (Luke 10: 29)?

Jesus tells a story. A story that makes the main character and the hero of the story a Samaritan – someone his culture would not consider a good neighbor. It was the Samaritan that takes care of the Jewish victim. There were righteous people in the story but they passed by on the other side when they saw the pain of the man in the ditch. It was the Samaritan that restores him back to life and gives him back his dignity. At the end of the story, Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers” (Luke 10: 36)? The Jewish religious scholar could not even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” He just said, “The one who had mercy on him” (Luke 10: 37). Yea, go do it like that, live your life like that, Jesus says.

The question is how? How do we begin to love the neighbor that is so different than us? How do we begin to make a connection with someone who is not like us? How do we build the bridge necessary for reconciliation to happen? The key is in how Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. He says, “Love your neighbor as yourself. The “yourself” phrase brings to mind a powerful tool that we have as human beings. It is the power of empathy.

Our Summer at the Movies series we will be looking at the power of empathy. How do we possess it? How do we identify it? How does it make us better human beings? Today’s message is simply an introduction to the need for empathy in our lives. The next two weeks we will explore how do we live from a place of empathy. This is going to enrich your relationships – marriage and friendships. It will help you in getting along with your co-workers. But most importantly I believe this lesson is exactly what we need as a society today. How do we begin to connect with the “Samaritans” of our world and build a bridge to better understanding and deeper compassion? Empathy will be our guide.

Let’s start with a definition of empathy. Empathy is connection. Empathy is the ability to feel our way into another’s place of pain and hurt. Empathy empowers love. It creates a moral demand on the heart. Brene Brown says, “Empathy is a vulnerable choice because that means I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”


Empathy doesn’t require a “fix it” approach. Empathy is simply about the connection. When someone is facing a challenge or dealing with a difficult situation, they are not usually looking for a magic response that will fix everything. They are looking for someone who can help them not feel alone. They know you don’t have the answers. But what they want to know is do you have the connection. This is what it means to show empathy. Empathy is what it looks like to love your neighbor as yourself.

In the end, Marty has gotten his parents back together. But before he could do it he had to live in their world and connect with his dad. George McFly thanks Marty for all the advice but in reality all that Marty did was help George live into his true self. Before the scene closes, Marty encourages his parents to show some sympathy to his 8 year old self.

Empathy is being able to see the world as others see it. We will be talking about how to actually do that in the upcoming weeks. But my challenge for you this week is start the practice of looking at the world through a different lens. Everyone was given glasses on their way into worship today. I want to invite you to put those on. As you watch the news, scan twitter, or question why your Facebook friend puts all their intimate business online, simply ask yourself the question, “Why does he or she act that way?” “Before you rush to judgment ask yourself, “What is it in them that is causing them to respond in that way?” Before you give your opinion ask yourself, “What would you do if that was your child? Spouse? Friend?” Empathy is being able to see the world as others see it. Now look around. See how much cooler everyone looks when we all look at the world through empathetic eyes.

Next week we will dig deeper into empathy and examine steps to practically live it out. Let’s pray.





(Sermon preached at Gainesville First United Methodist Church, Gainesville Georgia on Sunday, July 21, 2019)

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

My niece wanted to be gymnast when she was younger. She tumbled, flipped, bounced, and jumped. One day she asked me to join her in standing on my head and walking across the room on my hands. I told her that after a certain age gravity and medical insurance did not allow it.

Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor suggest that Jesus should have asked the disciples to stand on their heads when he taught the Beatitudes. Because this was in fact what he was doing – asking them to look at the world upside-down.

Take a look:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5: 3 – 12).

It all sounds sort of upside down. Blessed are the poor, the mournful, the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers……doesn’t seem to fit. Blessed are the hard workers, the ones who dry up their tears, the fighters, the ones with talent and money, and those with good looks. But blessed, happy, in favor with God for those who are persecuted……I don’t think that made Fortune Magazine’s article on rules for the good life.

And yet, Jesus is saying this is what life looks like from inside the kingdom of God. God’s reign is demonstrated in the lives of those who embody the beatitudes. The beatitudes are descriptive. They are a reflection of what it means to walk the way of Jesus.

In Matthew 16 Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16: 24). The beatitudes is what it looks like to deny ourselves and take up our cross in the way of Jesus. In these opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is describing what he sees when he looks at those who chose to follow him. Does he see you? Do you see yourself?

Again, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor says, “The world looks funny upside down, but maybe that’s just how it looks when you’ve got your feet planted in heaven.” Blessed are those who stand on their heads, for they shall see the world as God sees it.

This way of seeing the world gives followers of Jesus a new way of dealing with violence. When violence shows up on our streets how do we respond? When it reveals itself in the killing of those who have taken on the responsibility to protect us what do we do? When it reveals itself in the lives of abused women and children? Immigrants? Minorities?

Violence engages us. Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post said, “We don’t cover safe landings at Dulles Airport.” We are drawn to violence. We are voyeurs who peak through the blinds of our homes as those around us kill one another.

We have become a culture where violence is being encouraged when there are opinions or expressions we disagree with from people on all sides of the political divide. We can speak against ideas, without celebrating violence. Where violence is a problem, words really matter. The author of the letter of James says, “For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (James 3: 7 – 10).

How does love respond to violence? Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Violence breeds fear. Fear breads more violence and the cycle continues. But there is a perfect love that cast out fear. A love that extinguishes hate, that destroys violence. It is a love that strips violence of its power. We see it from Jesus on the cross. Jesus not only endured the cross but went to the deepest parts of hell and emptied evil of its power.

Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story about being at her nephew’s first birthday party. Will was round and as bald as Buddha and like every one year-old he liked being the center of attention. Love was his only expression. He gave it and he received it. At his age he thought that was the only way that the world functioned.

After cake and presents, Will showed off how pleased he was by doing a little twirling dance in the middle of a circle of adults. Jason, Will’s seven-year-old brother, had had enough. He charged into the middle of the circle, put both hands on Will’s chest and shoved. Will feel hard. His rear end hit first, followed by the thump of his head on the ground. He looked utterly surprised. No one had ever hurt him before, and he did not know what to make of it. His mother hugged away the pain and the tears and helped him to his feet. The first thing Will did was totter over to Jason. He knew Jason was the one who caused the violence. But since he hadn’t experienced it before, he wasn’t sure what to do next. So he did what he has always done. He put his arms around Jason and lay his head against the boy’s body. Taylor says, “What Will did to Jason put an end to the meanness in that room. What I wanted to do to Jason would only have multiplied it.”

Violence doesn’t start on the streets or back alleys. Violence starts in the heart. The real enemy isn’t the one who pushes us down but whatever it is inside of us that wants to push back. The apostle Paul challenges us, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17). He goes on to say, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12: 21).

And this is how we respond to violence. Grief and anger are understandable, even unavoidable. Nevertheless, it is possible by standing in the grace of God to have our anger and grief turned into compassion for others. We saw it this past week as the Hall County community came together so beautifully. We see it in the work of Sacred Roots Farm and the ministry they do with women who have been rescued from sex-trafficking. We see it in the bridge-building ministry that we are involved with at Baker and Glover in a population that is predominately Hispanic/Latino. God is using Gainesville First UMC to be peace-makers.

There is still work to be done. There is still places in our world, our community, and in our homes where we are to practice peace-making. We are being called not to hide from violence, not to respond to violence with violence. We are to stare down violence and to love courageously. We are to work through the fear against evil and to strive against systems that oppress.

Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called children of God.

There is a moment in one of the Lord of the Rings books where after all the battles with evil had been fought and where the characters almost died. Sam turns to Frodo, “I thought you were dead and I thought I was dead!” Then, pausing to let the reality sink in that they almost died and yet they didn’t, Sam asks, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” “Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

This is the promise embedded in the beatitudes. It is the way of life for those who are living in the upside down reality of God’s kingdom. The world with all of its violence and pain and hate will not prevail. The beatitudes are a bold declaration that when you think death is more powerful than life and fear is greater than love, Jesus says, “Everything sad is going to come untrue.”

I leave you with words from Jesus and a prayer that has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Let us pray:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.

Wheat and Weeds

Matthew 13: 24-30

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”


Matthew 13: 36-43

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

whear“Green Bean” was what they called me. I spent many hours on my great-uncle’s farm in Cleveland, Georgia picking green beans. It seemed fitting to the adults around me that my nickname would be green bean. We would pick bushels of green beans early in the morning and then come down the Farmers Market in Gainesville and sell them off the back of a truck. The ones we didn’t sell we would take back home to string and snap so my mother could can them.

In the weeks leading up to harvest time, we would take a hoe and dig out the weeds around the beans. I was never really good at telling a weed from a bean plant. The adults saw that I was cutting into their crops and decided to give me another task.

In the religious business there are those who have convinced themselves that they are the experts at telling the difference between a good crop and weeds. There are many who go around naming what represents a weed and what doesn’t. They are servants trying to tell the Master what belongs in the field and what needs to be plucked out.

The Russian novelist put it best when he said, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

The Apostle Paul put it this way, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” Romans 7:20.

But of course this doesn’t stop some from still trying to create a clear dividing line between what they believe to be good and evil. The drive for purity is strong. If we can get rid of the problem-causers, rabble-rousers, we can get on with the mission of the church. The only problem is when we start down this road we may well discover that others may start making similar conclusions about us.

The parable of the wheat and weeds is a parable on honesty. Johnny Carson once said, “Choose your enemies carefully, because you become like them.” It is easy to become intolerant of intolerant people and hateful toward hate-filled people. The parable calls us to be honest with ourselves and to recognize that the line that runs between wheat and weeds many times runs down the middle of our own hearts. In an attempt to pull out the weeds, we can easily become the destroyer of God’s crop.

There is an ambiguous notion to life that Jesus picks up on in the telling of parables. It would have been a lot easier if Jesus would have stuck to black and white declarations instead of elusive story-telling. In chapter twelve of Matthew’s gospel, the opposition to Jesus reaches its boiling point in a conflict over the issue of Sabbath observance. We are told, “The Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” Matthew 12: 14. Then the religious leaders accuse Jesus of being in cahoots with Satan.

It was after this that Jesus gets in a boat and turns to telling stories to a crowd that has gathered along the beach.  Jesus doesn’t simply tell stories to illustrate a point in his teaching. The parables are a reshaping of Israel’s very story as it centers on Jesus. They are a radical way of saying this is how God’s story is being shaped by the in-breaking of the kingdom in and through Jesus. Jesus is feeding his audience bite-size snapshots of God’s kingdom.

We think the kingdom of heaven is like this…….but Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is really like this. If you are always the good and righteous character in the parables of Jesus, then you are probably reading them wrong.

The kingdom of heaven is compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field……that’s me. But while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat…..that is everyone that doesn’t believe, act, or do what I think they should. The servant of the house……that’s me because I always know what God wants to do……….says to the Master, “You want me to go and get rid of the weeds?” because you know we cannot tolerate messing up a pure church. The farmer replies, “No! For in the gathering the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.” What? How dare the farmer to think I don’t know the difference between wheat and weeds. How dare him to think that I don’t have the competence to make the kind of judgment implied in separating wheat from weeds.

It is easy to forget our calling to plants seeds when we are spending all our time pulling weeds.

Imagine how different our church would be if we acted more like the Master and less like the servant. Imagine if every time we thought we recognized a weed among the wheat we took on the attitude of the Master.

If the Master knows the difference, I don’t know why he doesn’t just show the servants the weeds and have him pull them out. It would make things easier. If everybody who wasn’t like me, thought like me, and acted like me was just jerked out of the church, it sure would make my job easier. If the Master Farmer knows the difference, then just get rid of them.

It isn’t just a parable about honesty. It is also a parable about patience. Maybe the Master Farmer knows that in some miraculous way what might have started out as a weed could be transformed into something of value. I mean this is Jesus telling the story……..dead to life, old to new, useless to life transformation is his mission. Maybe this isn’t just a parable about honesty. Maybe it isn’t a parable just about patience. Maybe this is a parable about grace. “Let them grow together” the Master Farmer says.

It seems to me that weeds are only a concern for those who have forgotten the message of God’s amazing grace.

I don’t want you to think that I am ignoring the judgment. There will be judgment in the end. But I think what I am hearing is that we need to leave the judgment to God. The future might include a word of judgment. But the present presents a word of hope. Imagine if we learned to live together, worship together, and be in community together and let God do the sorting.

I am still not good at telling the difference between a weed and good plant. For some, this as a short coming in religious leaders. Just the other day I was talking to my neighbor and he said, “There was once beautiful daffodils that lined the edge of your driveway and the woods. But I haven’t seen them bloom since you moved in.” It occurred to me that the first year I moved into my new house I had sprayed weed killer along the edge of my drive way and the woods because I thought they were wild onions. And now, now I miss out on all those beautiful daffodils.

Let anyone with ears listen! Amen.

Do Unto Others

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7: 1 – 14)

do unto othersI was invited to a United Methodist Church when I was fourteen years old. I made a commitment to put Jesus at the center of my life when I was fifteen years old. I heard the voice of God calling me into ordained ministry when I was seventeen years old. The United Methodist Church has been the lighthouse that has pointed me in the direction of God’s kingdom my entire adult life.

It would be foolish to think that things are not going to look differently in a few years. The truth is regardless of what happens to the people called Methodist, the entire Christian movement is going to take on a different look for our children and grandchildren.

When it comes to the way we do church the question that keeps me up at night is “Who will never be reached if we only do this?” If we only do church the way that it is currently being done, who will we be missing? I know people who will never step foot in the doors of this building. I know families who will never come to know Jesus by walking through the big, wooden, beautiful, and yet for some, intimidating doors.

What concerns me is that as we continue to debate issues of human sexuality, we are losing a whole generation of people. We are missing out on our opportunity to share the love of Jesus with many people because they are turned off by our squabbling and by our missional insistence that this is the only way church can be done.

I don’t want you to hear that I am saying this is not important. How we understand scriptural authority and  interpretation and life experience is vitally important. Since 1972, when the church set parameters in the Book of Discipline for ministry to, with, and by homosexual people, The United Methodist Church has struggled with this matter.

The 2016 General Conference – legislative body of The United Methodist Church – took a major step toward trying to resolve the struggle when it approved a Commission on a Way Forward to be appointed by and make recommendations to the Council of Bishops. The Commission was charged with finding a way forward for our church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible, and that balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible. The hope is that decisions made in 2019 will allow the 2020 General Conference to focus on our mission and shared ministry. With the theme “God is Able,” the delegation will meet February 23rd through the 26th to discern God’s will and direction for the future of The United Methodist Church. If you want to learn more, go to http://www.ngumc.com/gc2019. [i]

The writer of Matthew’s gospel in the New Testament is concerned with the identity of his Christian community. The author represents a group of Jewish Christians who are no longer welcome in communion with the Jewish people. It is post-70 AD and deep division is developing between the Christian and Jewish community. This deep division is also playing out internally. There is a critical spirit and judging of one another that is threatening to divide the community. Only in this gospel is the word “church” used. And much like today, they are a community of believers trying to figure out exactly what is it that the word “church” means.

Fred Craddock tells the story of the first church he served near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It was during his tenure that the community exploded with laborers brought in to work at the newly developed nuclear plants. The young pastor wanted to attract the workers to his church. But there was a problem. The church didn’t want them.

After service one Sunday, Rev. Craddock called a meeting of the church’s leadership and presented his plans. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think they’d fit in here,” one church member said. “They’re just here temporarily, just construction people. They’ll be leaving pretty soon.” It was decided that they would take a vote on the following Sunday.

At the outset of the meeting one week later, one of the church members said, “I move that in order to be a member of this church, you must own property in the county.” It was quickly seconded and passed.

Years later, Fred Craddock returned to the area to show his wife the church that he once served. The parking lot was full; cars, trucks, and motorcycles surrounded the old structure which now sported a sign that read “BBQ: All You Can Eat.” Unable to resist, the Craddocks walked inside and saw the old pews lining a wall, and the organ pushed into a corner. The space was filled with different sized tables which were filled with people filling themselves on pork and chicken.

Dr. Craddock leaned over to his wife and whispered, “It’s a good thing this isn’t still a church… otherwise, these people couldn’t be in here.”

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye” (Matthew 7: 1 – 3).

 Matthew warns before we start throwing stones make sure you are aware of your own failures and need of God’s forgiveness. He wants there to be some hesitancy when it comes to identifying and naming faults in other people. If Matthew was around today, he might tell us that if we keep at it there might a sign hanging on our front door that reads, “BBQ: All You Can Eat.”

The rule we know as the Golden Rule is given in this context. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s best. We are all in need of God’s forgiveness. We should not deny in others what is required of our self.

It reminds me of the story in the bible where a group of righteous men interrupt Jesus in his teaching to bring before him a woman they caught in the act of adultery. They asked Jesus if her punishment should be stoning because that is what is written in the law of Moses. Jesus ignores them at first and starts doodling on the ground as though he doesn’t hear them. But when they won’t let it rest, he says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Then he decided to doodle some more.

One by one they leave. Jesus is left alone with the woman. He says, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

This brings us back to the Gospel of Matthew: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7: 12). The Golden Rule reminds us in a world where we will do whatever it takes to be right, don’t forget to also be compassionate.

A form of the Golden Rule is found in all major religions. There is a famous story told in Jewish circles about the rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus. A non-Jew came to him and offered to convert to Judaism if the rabbi could recite the whole of Jewish teaching while he stood on one leg. Rabbi Hillel stood on one leg and said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. The rest us commentary. Go and study it.”

What makes the rule golden is the context of Christian love. The Golden Rule only works when an investment in relationships is made. It requires of us to consider how someone else would want to be treated. It demands of us to look into our own hearts and see what inflicts pain and then refuse to inflict pain on anyone else.  In the gospel of Luke, the Golden Rule concludes the paragraph that begins, “Love your enemies.”

The Golden Rule is given in the context of love, mercy, forgiveness and how to live in the context of a Christian community. It requires the imagination of putting oneself in the place of another person and seeing his or her needs. It requires an act of courageous love.

A few years ago in Duke University Chapel, Bishop Will Willimon shared a story of a man named High Thompson. Thompson had recently been the recipient of an honorary degree at Duke. In 1968 Thompson was a young helicopter pilot flying patrol over the countryside of Vietnam. On March 16th of that year, Thompson and his crew were flying over the village of My Lai. Down below they observed a nightmare taking place. An American unit, in the midst of war’s madness, had lost control of discipline, reason, and humanity. They were slaughtering unarmed civilians in the village, most of them women, children, and elderly men. As would later be determined, more than 500 individuals had already been executed.

Seeing what was taking place, Thompson landed the helicopter between the troops and the remaining villagers. At a risk to himself, High Thompson got out of the helicopter and confronted the officer in charge. He then airlifted the few surviving villagers and radioed a report of the scene back to headquarters. As a result, likely sparing the lives of thousands of villagers.

On the day that Thompson received his honorary degree he was asked how did he find the courage and strength to do what he did. He said, “I would like to thank my mother and father for trying to instill in me the difference between right and wrong. We were country people raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia. One thing we had was the Golden Rule. My parents taught me early, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ That is why I did what I did on that day.”

Jesus knows that as soon as we are born that our inclination is to look after only ourselves. We don’t always have the interest of our neighbors in mind. We don’t care for those who need to be cared for. We don’t treat others the way we would like to be treated or even the way we would treat Jesus if he was standing in front of us.

Jesus also knows that when a group of Christians get together to make decisions on the future of the church and the mission of the church that we don’t always act in ways that reflect the light of Christ. So, before we make any decisions, I believe Jesus would say, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” I don’t know about you but I am not quite ready to hang up a sign that reads, “BBQ: All You Can Eat.” What about you? Amen.

[i] Read more at www.ngumc.org/gc2019

(Preached on Sunday, February 10, 2019 at Gainesville First United Methodist Church, Gainesville, GA)