A Sermon for the Week
“Who’s Really On Trial?” John 18:19-24 April 14, 2019
The story of Jesus’ awful suffering on that last night before the crucifixion touches our hearts. At least, I hope it does. It all began on that last Thursday morning in the life of Jesus and it was springtime in Israel.
It was not only springtime in Palestine; it was Passover time. It was the Thursday of the Passover, and a religious holiday. No one had to work. All the Jewish boys and girls looked forward to it. There would be no school or work for an eight-day spring vacation. Eight days of feasting and parties and of course, travelling to Jerusalem.
They had to come to Jerusalem because, they had to sacrifice. There were two to three million people jammed into Jerusalem for the Passover? People were shoving and pushing and shouting, and preparing for the Passover that Thursday. The stores closed at noon and that afternoon, the lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple, and it was a big business day at the Temple. 250,000 lambs, were sold, slaughtered and sacrificed on the altar. For the High Priests and the managers of the Temple it was their biggest day of the year.
That night Jesus and his disciples were eating their Passover meal and Judas left halfway through, going to the homes of Annas and Caiaphas, the High Priests. Then after that last supper, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Later that night, Judas came with the chief priests and the scribes and betrayed Jesus by kissing him. Then the soldiers tied Jesus and took him away. While his followers ran to save themselves. Finally, about two or three o’clock in the morning Jesus was brought to the homes of Annas and Caiaphas, the two men who plotted Jesus’ murder. They wanted this miracle worker dead, and now they had him. Jesus was standing before the real power of Israel, Annas and Caiaphas.
You may not know much about these two, and I would like to fill in what happened between that night after Judas betrayed Jesus and the morning when Jesus was taken before the Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate. History tells us that Annas and his family were the real culprits behind the crucifixion of Jesus. Nowadays, we usually think of Pontius Pilate, Judas, and the mob as being the instigators of Jesus’ death. They were bad enough, nut the real bad guys though were Annas and Caiaphas, the High Priests. They were the ones who wanted Jesus dead. We need to understand them, in order to better understand the Passion story of Jesus.
These two men were the most powerful Jewish leaders in Israel at the time of Christ. Their family ruled the Temple and Jewish religious life for thirty years. It was from the time Jesus was a boy until after he died. It was a family dynasty much like many powerful families. In that family, there was the old gray-haired patriarch of the family. His name was Annas and he was the boss behind the scenes.
He had four sons and one son-in-law, and they all took turns at being High Priest. That night, the son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas was the High Priest. This man was a slick politicians, kind of like many of them today.
Annas and Caiaphas were very smart men they consolidated their power. They had religious power because their family owned the office of High Priest. Once a year, the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies of the Temple and offered sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. No one else could go into the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifices.
This family also had political power. The High Priest was chairman of the Sanhedrin that was a combination of our Senate and Supreme Court. There were 71 priests in the Sanhedrin, and the one in charge was the High Priest. Annas and Caiaphas were sure enough big shots.
The High Priest also had economic power. The High Priest was the manager of the Temple and the temple treasury. Literally, thousands of denarii came into the temple treasury. They were the bankers of the country and collected all the offerings, and then decided what would be done with them. The High Priest also controlled the inspectors of the sacrifices.
When people brought their offerings to God, and if an inspector said it wasn’t perfect you had to buy another from the Temple at a huge mark up. Annas and Caiaphas became immensely wealthy men off the offerings of the temple. I have a feeling many of those imperfect lambs probably ended up as sacrifices for someone else down the line where no one would notice. I think they were that crooked. These temple markets were called the “Bazaars of Annas” and they were very rich.
Now, you can imagine how Annas and Caiaphas felt about Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ fame was growing as a prophet of Israel. Jesus had come into the temple a few days earlier and drove the sellers from the temple out, shouting, “You robbers, making my house into a den of thieves.” With a whip, Jesus drove the money-changers out of Annas and Caiaphas’ money-making enterprise. I say that because I don’t think the Temple meant much to them spiritually anymore.
Now, Annas and Caiaphas did not like Jesus of Nazareth. He was costing them money. People were starting to listen to Jesus rather than give their money to them. While their power and position was threatened, so Annas and Caiaphas arranged for Jesus to be killed. They were the real culprits, not Pontius Pilate, not Judas, not the mob. This family planned and implemented Jesus’ execution.
That night the decision of the court was already decided before Jesus was ever brought in. They first took Jesus to the house of Annnas. The old man, wanted to see this trouble maker. So, Annas looks Jesus over, and finally asks, “What are your teachings young man? What do you believe?” Jesus was quiet, but finally he said, “Why are you asking me all of these things? I taught openly in the Temple. Ask those who heard me teach.” The soldiers slapped Jesus on the face and said, “Don’t get smart with the High Priest.” Jesus was quiet. Then they took him to Caiaphas who was the official High Priest that year, the son-in-law of Annas.
At the home of Caiaphas that night, Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin and said nothing to all the questions asked of him. So Caiaphas asked him one more time, “Tell us clearly. Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” For the first time in three years, Jesus finally told the world the truth and openly declared, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting in great power at the right hand of God, and you will see the Son of Man coming at the end of history to judge the world.” Jesus tells him, that when he dies, he will face Jesus in judgment and Caiaphas doesn’t like that at all.
But, he just looks at Jesus and smiles. He has all the evidence he needs to kill Jesus and hearing this blasphemy, a man claiming to be God, Caiaphas had him right where he wanted him. Caiaphas tore his garments, as he was supposed to do when he hears words of blasphemy. He looked at the men in the Sanhedrin and said, “What’s all the fuss? The man has condemned himself by claiming to be God. Away with him to Pilate, so he can be executed.”
And, you know the rest of this terrible story. How Pilate caved to the mob to avoid a riot and condemned Jesus to be crucified.
So what can we learn from Annas and Caiaphas? First, think about this, “Who was really on trial that night?” Was it Jesus or Caiaphas? Caiaphas thought he was trying Jesus, but it was really the other way around. Caiaphas was actually on trial before Christ but he didn’t understand.
Just as many of us think Jesus is on trial, today. As many of us try to decide if Christ and his teachings still matter today. Many think they are putting Jesus to the test and think Jesus is just superstition from the olden days. Yes, I guess it does look like our Lord Jesus Christ is on trial today.
But really, is it Jesus who is on trial or is it our civilization. I think it’s us who are on trial today, not Jesus Christ. On trial for how we care for the less fortunate. On trial for how we handle of our families and raising our children. For, the way we handle our intimate love relationships are on trial. We are on trial for how we Christians serve Christ and how we share the Good News of Jesus Christ and the church is on trial for our halfhearted approach to the duties of the church.
It is not Jesus who is on trial today. It is our civilization that is on trial before Almighty God, and we don’t seem to realize it. But, as we overestimate our power as human beings, we may think Jesus is on trial. But, it is us and how we live our lives that is really on trial.
We can see also that on that Passover Thursday night, Jesus was confronting the religious leaders. The leaders of the Temple way overestimated their own power…they were more worried about their own pleasure and prosperity than their relationship with God were the ones on trial. They were more worried about protecting their own interests, their wealth, their prosperity, their lifestyles, and their institutional religion than caring for the poor, the oppressed, the widows, and their relationship with the Lord.
I don’t think Annas and Caiaphas feared God as much as they feared the loss of privilege and pleasure. The fear of God had been replaced by the fear of loss of privilege, pleasure, and power and it can happen to us in our lives. Unfortunately many of us have lost our fear and reverence for God and our real fears are the loss of all the other things we value more than God. We often live our lives protecting our life style above all else. Too often, we’re a lot like Annas and Caiaphas, protecting our good life at the expense of our relationship with the Lord.
And, the church is always in danger of being more preoccupied with our wealth and prosperity than being the servants of Christ in a suffering world. When we look at our own denomination, I see the leaders trying with everything they have to save their jobs by holding this hot mess together. While, the real mission of the church, making new disciples for Jesus Christ, suffers and seems much less important to them than the institutional church. Too many the institutional church has become more important than following Jesus Christ and to some of us, our membership becomes more important to us than taking up our cross and leading others to Jesus Christ. Many of us never even work to ensure our own children and grandchildren are led to faith in Christ by getting them in Sunday School and church each week.
So, in Jerusalem on that Thursday, it was Passover time. It was also cash in time for Annas and Caiaphas. Passover was their biggest money day of the year. Jesus, this new prophet, was a threat to their financial security and their life style, it threatened the institutional church, and so they had Jesus the Christ murdered. They believed they put Jesus on trial, but really, it was them who were on trial and so are we in the world church of Jesus Christ and our own denomination is on trial before God. It is NOT Jesus who is on trial for he is perfect. No, our civilization, the church of Jesus Christ all over the world, and the United Methodist Church is on trial before God, right now. The church is on trial before the cross of Christ. Does anyone think, or even hope we will be found, not guilty?
Rev Bud Tuxhorn, Pastor
United Methodist Church
“Devotion” John 12:1-10 April 7, 2019
We all have in our memory odors that bring back the past for us. The smell of ham and beans cooking brings me back to home as my mom cooks my birthday supper. That was what I always asked for and lots of good memories from it. The smell of bread baking always reminds me of my Grammy making her wonderful hot rolls. Those things were huge with warm butter, they were the best. There are pleasant odor memories and there are not so pleasant ones. The smell of wet feathers always brings me back to days of plucking feathers for Mom and the stink of something rotten always brings me back to a broken freezer full of rotten chickens. Scientists say words go to the thinking part of the brain, while odors go to the emotional part. That's why a whiff of ham and beans cooking brings Mom back to me in such pleasant memories.
This story from John is one of those stories that bring us back to memories in our soul. Mary, she is the sister of Martha and Lazarus, takes a box of very expensive perfume and bathes Jesus’ feet with it. Some say that the perfume was worth as much as $10,000, today. Mary wipes the perfume onto his feet and then wipes it off with her hair. In his Gospel Matthew added a line Jesus said that I think is very important… "I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."
Wherever and whenever the Gospel story is told, this story about Mary will be remembered and two thousand years later, in a place half way around the world, in a country church in West Kansas, what Mary did long ago is still being remembered. Without a doubt it is a lasting monument to this woman's love for Jesus Christ. Mary wanted to show just how much she loved Jesus and I think, maybe, she understood, the pain that was coming. She wanted to care for him as he had cared for her when she had lost her brother.
You know, we can tell ourselves we love someone on and on, but until we actually say it to the one we love it is meaningless. I remember the first time Carla told me she loved me…now, I was afraid of that word from previous experiences and I said a stupid thing, “I thought so.” She should have sent me down the road then, but she didn’t because she says, “She loved me.” It is not enough for you to say you love your spouse or your children to yourself; though it's a start. You must tell them and then find out what is most meaningful to them in receiving love and then give them love in that way. One of the ways I needed to show Carla my love was to admit, that I loved her and then to tell her and show her, so she could feel my love. Love expressed is not sufficient; it has to be felt to have any meaning. Mary expressed her love in this sincere way, and Jesus felt that love and said wherever the Gospel is preached, what Mary has done will always be remembered.
In the chapters before this story, Jesus has been performing miracles of healing and love. Anyone who was listening and watching him work in those days in Judea and Galilee should have understood that Jesus wasn’t your regular old guy. They should have understood that he was much more than a Nazarene peasant, that he was the promised one of God, the Messiah. But, the leaders of the Temple, the Sanhedrin have decided that this upstart who is threatening their jobs and their perks and has to be gotten rid of. They decide their lifestyle is more important than the healing Jesus is doing, think about that. So, they decide they have to get Jesus killed. Now, they don’t want it on their hands, they want his death on Roman hands. So, they begin scheming how to get Pilate to kill him.
So, as Mary washes Jesus’ feet, he is headed to the cross and everyone is wondering if Jesus will be brave or maybe crazy enough to go to the Passover Festival. Those who believed he was the Messiah thought he had to come to take charge of Israel and those who didn’t care one way or the other figured the Sanhedrin would find him and kill him. They assumed this, because they knew if he came to town he would surely be arrested and killed. You see a lot of the people were there just for the show…as I’m afraid some are in church…only here for the show or out of habit. Many people in Jerusalem were only there to see what was going to happen. The Sanhedrin had made up their minds and Jesus’ chances for life on earth kept shrinking. You never knew what the crowds would do, one day they would shout, "Hosanna," a Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly and soon that same screaming mob’s words would change to, "Crucify him!"
But, before we get down on them too hard, remember in America today, there are thousands of people who call themselves Christians, who will not speak up for Jesus Christ and will not tell others about him. We let those opportunities slip by every day for no other reason than we are afraid of other’s opinions of us. It’s a fact many of us are afraid others will laugh or think we’re odd if we witness for Christ. While others twist the Gospel of Jesus Christ to support their own opinions, lifestyles, and politics. For many, speaking up for Jesus' message of love and salvation in him seems too risky to us.
So, they are having a party as a thank you Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead. This was a brave thing, because the Sanhedrin, has declared that anyone knowing where Jesus was should turn him in. If they didn’t, it would get them in trouble, too. But, while others were saying, "We better just watch and wait and keep our mouths shut", Jesus' friends were having a party, celebrating him, as we should every day.
At the end of our Bible lesson we hear that the crowds came not only to kill Jesus but to see the evidence of Jesus’ power in the alive Lazarus. So, the Sanhedrin planned to kill Lazarus too, to get rid of the evidence of the miracle of Jesus. Just look at the evil the Sanhedrin is willing to do to save their jobs and their privilege. Kind of sounds like some of the things that go on with our politicians in Washington, doesn’t it? The Sanhedrin is ready to kill Jesus, and Lazarus…just as our politicians seem so ready to kill innocent babies to gain a few votes and garner more money from Planned Parenthood.
With all this going on, here is Mary worshipping Christ as she anoints his feet. Every time I read this passage, I wonder if Mary knew Jesus was about to die? I wonder if she sensed his death was coming soon. It seems as if Mary was the only one who knew and I wonder if Mary used her box of perfume to show Jesus that she understood. For, if she had wanted to anoint Jesus like a king, she would have anointed his head. People only anointed the feet of the dead.
Think of where Mary is every time we hear of her? Yep, at the feet of Jesus. There is something very special about people who spend a lot of time at Jesus' feet. When we practice the discipline of spending time with the Lord on our knees in prayer and reading scripture every day, we develop growth in faith that opens our eyes and our hearts to Christ. People who gain that kind of spiritual insight and understanding are those who kneel at his feet. That's why I believe Mary understood he was about to die. I know, we live in an instant society. I understand, we have instant everything. However, there is no substitute for taking the time, each day, to sit or kneel at the feet of Jesus, praying and reading our Bibles.
Judas thinks this was all a waste of money. He says that, the money could have been given to the poor. But, Jesus tells him to leave Mary alone. For, she is the only one who really gets it. While, Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Mary used her box of ointment worth so much more than what Judas received for his betrayal. While, Judas often stole from Jesus’ ministry while her was Mary is giving extravagantly. And, Jesus said, whenever the Gospel is preached, what Mary did will always be remembered.
Now, I understand that our most valuable possession is probably not a bottle of perfume. I doubt any of us have $10,000 bottles of perfume. But, each of has something that is very precious to us, more precious than anything else. What is it? We know what it is, we just have to search our hearts. What do we value most, in our lives? Is it the desire to succeed or our self-image or our spouse? A bank account or a pension plan or a child? Would we or could we give it all to Jesus? Would we allow our children, to leave the life we have created for them to go into Christian work? My own Dad told me not to do it. Would we be willing to give up our comfortable lives and go ourselves? Would we give more than the designated one-tenth of our income and time to God?
As we remember, God doesn't need our most valuable possession, but we need to give it, so it may serve a greater purpose. How extravagant is our love for Jesus Christ? How extravagant was God’s sacrifice of his only Son on the cross for us? Is our giving extravagant at all, or do we simply go through the motions? We sing the hymns and we pray, and we listen to the preacher. But, do we love the Lord above all else, putting nothing ahead of our Lord? Do we love others in the way that Jesus loved…do we love others as much as we love ourselves? Do we make a place for the outcast, the homeless, and those who do not know him as Savior? Remember, love expressed is not sufficient. It isn't enough to say "I love you" by singing hymns and attending church. As good as that is, love expressed is not enough. It has to be heard and felt to have meaning.
Shouldn’t we who are followers of Jesus Christ want to do much more because we believe in him? Mary's love was extravagant. She gave her most valuable possession. Wherever the Gospel is preached around the entire world, Mary will always be remembered.
I love those words in verse 3: “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” When she used the perfume, the fragrance was everywhere. When she wiped the ointment off his feet with her hair, wherever Mary went, the fragrance was there. The blessings given to Jesus were shared with others and as Jesus said, the fragrance of the ointment would forever be a reminder of her love. Wherever she walked, people caught the fragrance of her hair and thought of Jesus and wherever the Gospel is preached, Mary will be remembered, even today in this small West Kansas town.
You know this all happened just six days before the Passover in Jerusalem. Such a strong perfume would have lasted a long time. Everywhere Jesus went--as he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, as he cleansed the Temple, as he gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room, as he appeared before the High Priest and Pilate, the odor was there. The fragrance of Mary's perfume was still there as a reminder of her great love for her Lord, Jesus Christ. Then, maybe when Jesus spoke his final words of forgiveness and mission accomplished on the cross, there may have been a faint, sweet fragrance that reminded all that he had been greatly loved.
Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." And, that's why I've told the story again, today.
Rev Bud Tuxhorn, Pastor
UMC - Healy, Kansas
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-22
March 31, 2019
Many people feel that the parable of the prodigal son is the greatest of all parables and I think they may be right. It has inspired us for 2,000 years and we can all find our own story in it, if we will try while many think it is the best explanation of God’s love in the Bible. That, if we understand this story we will then begin to understand Jesus and salvation in him. This story also gives me hope that the Lord can and will still love me despite all my years of running away.
You know, I was a pretty good follower of Christ until I began to try to be the manly man I thought I needed to be to be a cowboy and then later, an Airborne Ranger. It began with drinking just to fit in with the crowd. Then of course I had to chew snuff, because the old cowboys told me that was what cowboys did and I sure wanted to be a cowboy. Then as I got older I found that many of the toughest guys disrespected women and of course, I wanted to be tough. All of it added up to the fact that I was ignoring and running from my relationship with God. I knew the things I was doing were wrong and sinful but, I had somehow got it into my head that a real man had neither time nor energy for a Christian life. The scariest part it that I had ran so far away from God that I almost, almost never felt any remorse for the awful things I was doing in my life.
But, I think our running from God sometimes comes in smaller doses. Most of us don’t turn ourselves over to every evil thing that comes by. But, I think we all sneak away from the Lord’s presence and do things we know darn well we shouldn’t do. Each one of us have our little secret sins we hide from others and we try to hide from God. But, we all know how much success we’re going to have hiding our sins from God.
So, today, we need to understand what was going on when Jesus told this story so we can better love as Christ taught The scripture lesson begins with, “Jesus was eating with a group of publicans and sinners. When the Pharisees saw it, they were very upset and said, ‘Jesus, why are you eating with these sinners.’”
But, let’s put this parable into our own life experience. Think of Jesus down in Scott City or Ness City, and Jesus is sitting in one of the beer joints since we don’t have beer joints in our towns. It is a Friday night, and he’s eating pizza and Jesus is having fun talking with those sinners. Well, about that time, some church people come by.
These hard-core judgmental Christians pass by the beer joint, and sees Jesus’ donkey parked outside. They are shocked and think maybe his donkey has been stolen and they walk right into the tavern. They don’t like the sights, sounds, or smells of the beer joint. They try to look just at Jesus because they don’t want to look at all that sinful stuff on the walls. They finally say, “Jesus, what are you doing here, hanging out with people like this?” Jesus, knowing their hard hearts, said, “I’d like to tell you a story. Sit down and relax,” and He orders them some cokes.
So, after they were settled down with their cokes. Jesus said, “I will tell you a story. One time there was a man who had two sons. The younger son said, ‘Dad, I want my inheritance. I want it now. I want to leave town so I can be free.’ This son took his inheritance and went down to Garden City and he had a big old time. He had so many friends. Of course, he pretended that the money was his own hard earned money and not an inheritance. He had a great time, but when the money ran out the so-called friends ran out, too. The good times were over, and he ended up homeless.
One day, he came to himself and said, “It would be far better if I were back home with my father. He treats his slaves better than the way I’m living.” Then as he came up the road to his home, his father was watching for him. Way off, his father recognized his son ran to him and threw his arms around him and put a ring on his finger and a coat and shoes on him, killed a calf, and threw a big party for him. The father was so happy that his lost son had finally come home.”
“When the older brother came home, he asked, ‘What is all the noise? What’s the party about?’ The servant said, "Your brother has come back home. We thought that he was dead but he is alive.’ The older brother said, ‘Who cares about that good for nothing bum.’ The older brother stayed out on the porch, pouting. The father came out to the porch and said, ‘Son, I love you. Everything I have is yours. Come in and see your brother for he was lost but now is found.’” Then Jesus added, ‘There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who comes to his senses and returns to God and God’s ways, than over self-righteous people whose hearts have become hardened.’
Did they get it? Well, those self-righteous people there in the beer joint, they didn’t get it at all. But, they’d had enough. They couldn’t stand the people in that place. They had to get out of this evil atmosphere before it rubbed off on them.
There are three characters in this parable. The prodigal son, the older brother, and the father. Let’s look at each one of them.
First, the youngest son, the prodigal himself. He is a common and ordinary person who wanted to have some fun. All, he wanted to do what he wanted to do and not to have Dad and brother tell him what to do. He didn’t want to live in the father’s house; he didn’t want to live in the father’s love.
- He wanted to go out and make it on his own, using his father’s inheritance.
I think of all us humans take the inheritance God gives us. We take the money, the brains, the personality, the health, the resources, and the time; we take the inheritance that God has been given us. Many of us say, like I did those may years ago, “God, I don’t want to have anything to do with you. I am going to go and live my life as if you never existed.” So we take our God-given inheritance and we go and live as if God didn’t exist. That’s what this story is all about. But, hopefully, as I did, we finally come to our senses and we come home to our Lord God, Jesus Christ.
Don’t make the mistake of limiting this story to someone else who completely destroys their life by stupid choices. This is a story about all of us! All of us when we take our God-given inheritance and then run away from God, living as if God did not exist.
Sometimes, we get to thinking we can find happiness in all the things of the world. We think we are going to find happiness in a nice new home, in a nice new car, in a trip, in a nice job, in a beautiful partner. We are looking for happiness, and we are interested in the things of the world, but when we get a bunch of that stuff it just doesn’t satisfy. For, there is a hole in our soul that only Jesus Christ can fill.
Finally, some of us come to our senses. We finally wake up and realize that we need to return home to our Lord, Jesus Christ and to his love. We realize we need to return home or join the loving people and loving friends in the church. That is what this story is all about. It is about when we take our God given inheritance and use it in such a way that we live without God. It is about taking our God given inheritance and leaving God and trying to forget God, and finally coming to our senses and returning to Christ.
In the story, the Bible says that the prodigal “came to” his senses. Sometimes, we finally start to realize that happiness is not found in the material things that are part of our lives: the job, the home, the vacations, and the cars. We finally wake up and come to our senses and realize that it is time to come home to God in Jesus Christ. For, we all have times in our lives when we too are the prodigal son.
Then, there is the older brother. The older brother represents the people who think their faults are less bad than other’s. Some won’t even admit they have sin in their lives, but they do, we all do. They think God loves them a little more than others. They feel that those of us who are in the church are a little better than those who are outside the church. Unfortunately, there are many self-righteous Christians who are blind to their own faults.
Did you ever wonder which of the two brothers was the saddest about their lives? The younger brother in the gutter or the older brother who had stayed home and gotten hard hearted. He had no love in him for others. Oh yes, those people love their spouse, their children, grandchildren and friends, but anyone outside of his circle, are looked down on. I wonder which of these two was more miserable.
I wonder, what would have happened if that younger brother came home and first met the brother instead of the Father? Do you think he would have made it to the father’s house? I doubt it, he probably would have ran him off.
I think many people are kept from Christian congregations and faith in Christ by their fear of encountering self-righteous church people. They fear people like the older brother and I think he is often found in our churches today. People who are finding fault and are keeping unchurched people away. When those who have been away from the church come back or those who have never been a part of it, we hope they will meet Christians whose hearts are filled with grace and love. How sad it is, if they ran into someone with a judging heart and are chased away when they are told, “You have to stop this or that before you can come into the church”.
So, we have the two brothers. One brother who is the prodigal of the flesh and the other is a prodigal of the spirit and both are loved deeply by God, the father. For no matter what we do…we cannot make God love us less, we didn’t earn his love and we can’t lose it. Think about that.
Then we come to the father in this story. The father had been waiting lovingly for his son to come home. When his lost son finally came home he threw a party. But, don’t forget the father still loved the son who had stayed home, and he went out onto the porch to find his older son, and said, “Son, I love you. Son, my inheritance is yours. Son, come in and join the party?” The father loved both prodigal sons.
So it is with God and you and me. When we have wandered away from God and whether we admit it or not, we do that more often than we would like to admit. When we take our God given inheritance and get so wrapped up in the things of this world that we forget our relationship with Christ and begin to live as if God does not exist. Sometimes, we come to our senses and we come back home to an intimate loving relationship with God and his family and God is so happy when we do.
Then, there are those who have never had a relationship with Christ, who are lost and headed to hell. Then sometimes a loving grace filled Christian comes to them and asks them to church or tells them about faith in Jesus Christ and the person says, “Yes,” to Christ and comes to faith in him. When that happens, I believe there is a celebration in heaven when they come to faith in Jesus Christ.
And sometimes, when we have stayed home in the church, and our hearts have become calloused and hard, not to our children, grandchildren and friends, but when our hearts have become calloused and hard to those outside the church. Sometimes when we start to feel that our sins are less bad than their sins. Sometimes when our hearts have become sour and loveless to people who are different than us. Sometimes, we wake up and come to our senses and we come back home to Christ and we reach out to those who are not in Christ. We come back to a loving God who wants so deeply for us to come back and live as loving children in his house through our faith in Jesus Christ.
Rev. Bud Tuxhorn, Pastor
UMC - Healy, Kansas
March 10, 2019
I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church, our church special days of the Christian year were Christmas and Easter. All I knew about Lent then, was that the school lunches changed on Fridays. But, I think those who do not remember Lent are missing a valuable time in their lives. Lent comes every year, but unfortunately for some Christians, it feels more like a flu shot than a party and we sure don’t anxiously await every for Lent to come around. But, we should, for Lent is important, it's good for us in much the same way vegetables are. We've heard all that stuff about how it makes the joy of Easter possible, but the fact is Lent just doesn’t come naturally. I guess it just isn’t human nature to deny ourselves anything we want.
The whole idea of Lent is hard to explain to non-Christians and I’m afraid many Christians don't understand it either. But, maybe it is because of the way we approach it? We go get ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday, then some make a half-hearted attempt at giving something up for Lent, and that is it. We seldom ask why or even study the Bible to try to understand why we are doing it. We only remember it at all because, we've always done it.
Some of us cut out chocolate, or stop eating meat, maybe we give up our Diet Coke for forty days, it all seems a little trivial when we think about the fact that we are preparing ourselves for the resurrection. To an outsider, it looks more like a diet than a spiritual practice. I asked people a few years ago that rather than stop doing something this Lent, to add a something to their daily walk with Christ. I asked them to add something that we should be doing all the time but aren’t. Something like a daily devotion and Bible reading time or maybe bringing a neighbor’s child to church or to Sunday School. Adding something to our lives that we should have been doing anyway with the hope that it will continue after Lent. I think that is much better than a half-hearted attempt at self-denial.
But if we don't have a good explanation for why we do these things as we remember Lent, if we don't understand it, it's not completely our fault. It is Jesus' time in the wilderness, we heard about in the scripture lesson that we are remembering and imitating in Lent and none of the Gospel writers of Jesus explain why he was out there for Satan to tempt. Year after year when the first Sunday of Lent arrives, we read about the temptations of Jesus and there us preaching about it. Jesus often went off alone to pray and talk with God, but this time it went a little differently. Israel has waited for a Savior; and while there were some rumors about a birth in Bethlehem, they've seen nothing that tells them the world was changed by it. So, what happened?
One day on the banks of the Jordan River, Jesus shows up, seemingly out of nowhere. He's come to be baptized, but it isn’t like the baptism of other people. After the Baptism, the Spirit in the form of a dove descends on him and God speaks. It is good stuff, the kind of thing that makes up for Israel’s four century wait for the Messiah.
It seems like a great time for Jesus to start his ministry. The people saw the Spirit come into him and they heard God say he is pleased with Jesus. He could have told them that Israel’s long wait for the Messiah is over, for he is here. But, he didn’t.
He showed up out of nowhere got Baptized and then immediately disappeared. I think part of the reason he went out to the wilderness is to prepare for what is to come. Maybe he needed this time as Moses, Elijah and other leaders before him went out alone with God before they began doing God’s work.
But, Jesus did not go out there to listen to God. He heard, everyone heard, God loud and clear at his baptism. No, Jesus went out there to hear from, Satan. This is not like some nice spiritual retreat. The Holy Spirit sent him out to the desert for a terrible time of soul searching. And, the trip to the desert wasn't Jesus’ idea at all. Jesus was led out there by the Holy Spirit, preparing him for what was to come in his ministry.
The very same Spirit that came down at Jesus' baptism called Jesus out to the desert where many die. The good news for us, though, is that Lent did not come naturally to Jesus, either. Jesus the Messiah has a date with Satan in the Garden and at Calvary. He goes out there, preparing to face temptation.
It is understandable, perhaps, why he doesn't immediately start his ministry after his baptism. Maybe that was his first temptation, to not take advantage of the opportunity opened by what happened at His Baptism? To be honest, I don’t like the idea that Satan could tempt Jesus. After all he is and was God on earth, how could he be tempted? But, he was also fully human, when he was here and Lord knows you and I can be tempted and fail in resisting it often. Temptations that knock us off a close walk with the Lord. God did not protect him from temptation because he was the Son of God and God allows Stan to tempt us.
One of the most powerful messages of the life of Jesus is that no one is exempt from the temptations of Satan, not even the best of us. In fact, especially the best of us. We are all vulnerable to temptation, though what tempts us may change as we grow older and as we grow in our faith. In fact the closer our walk with Christ, Satan will try even harder to knock us off our walk.
Jesus’ temptations are tailor made for him as they prey on his goodness. And, it is the same for us, the devil doesn't offer us the wisdom of God. He doesn’t always allow us to know the temptation is from him and temptation doesn't wear a nametag. Telling us we’re being tempted now. Much of the time Satan will offer us something we would really like or really want or something we think the world or our church or our family really needs. For Jesus and for each of us, the voice of evil often sounds an awful lot like the voice of good. "Take good care of yourself." "Save the world form that." "Prove your faith."
None of those things sound sinful and this is what temptation looks like for Jesus. When culture talks about temptation, it's usually describing the irresistible urge to do something that we already know will destroy us. The kind of stuff that we'd rather have stay in Vegas. The kind of stuff that looks like temptation from the very start. An alcoholic raiding the hotel mini bar in their room. A lonely spouse spending too much time with their good looking co-worker. Too tired from visitors to go to church or don’t want to leave them alone to go. What are we afraid of, that they’ll steal the furniture? And, think of the witness we give them if we go on and go to church, even if it is without them. Stuff we all know is wrong but we are drawn to do it because it is often the route of least resistance.
As we celebrate Lent, we all wrestle with the obvious forms of self-destruction. But, the goal of Lent is to help us recognize the more hidden temptations of Satan. The temptations that don't look like temptation until after we have already done them. The temptations that are the most dangerous are the ones that sound most like good. What could be wrong with anything that makes everyone happy?
Jesus has it all, character, integrity, faith, a moral compass that is unmatched, and yet he is tempted by Satan. So, the way to defeat temptation is not strength. It's not strong moral fiber or depth of character. When we think we are religious enough, mature enough, moral enough to be exempt from temptation, it is just a matter of time before we fall to something. But, for most of us our temptations won't be the hotel mini bar. They will be come about on the road paved with good intentions. When we are led by our own wisdom, when we are led by our own desire to see something good done, when we are tempted to take shortcuts to get where we want to go…We will always find ourselves vulnerable; and the greater our moral character, the harder Satan will work and the more tailor-made we will be our temptations.
The way to avoid temptation is obedience, as Jesus did. Jesus didn’t weigh the options and choose the right decision. No, instead he made a conscious effort to submit to God. "Life is more than eating bread," Jesus whispers, though his rumbling stomach disagreed. "Worship God and nothing else," he says, with all the world's kingdoms right there for him to take. "Don't test God," says the one who will be tested even up to a terrible death on a cross.
Half-dead from hunger, and all alone, this man looked nothing like a king. But, don’t be mistaken; he is the real thing. The promises made to him at his baptism are remembered and followed in the desert. Maybe this all happened, so he is more ready for later. For, we know, these will not be his last temptations. Maybe this is all a dress rehearsal, for what is coming?
When Peter, the disciple tries to talk Jesus into an easier way of saving the world, Jesus recognizes the voice of Satan. And told him, “Get behind me Satan.” When he stood before Pilate he could have struck his enemies down and walked away but where would that have left humanity? SO, he didn’t. Because it would left us with no Savior and no way to heaven. When he hung dying on the cross and the crowd mocks him, "If you are the Son of God, come down from there," he knew his duty. Then, as it is for us, obedience to God delivered him and it will save us from Satan. The one who taught with authority will live under the authority of the One who sent him.
But, what about our time in the wilderness, this season of self-denial called Lent and other things that don't come naturally. Lent isn't strength-training for the soul. It's not about exercising our spiritual muscles. It is about obedience…trust…and dependence on God. It's about realizing that everything that seems good to us isn’t necessarily the will of God. It's about learning to be led, or if necessary, being driven out to the desert of our soul where our hungers and our dreams and our all fears take turns trying to shut out the voice of God.
In just a few weeks, we will follow Jesus to a garden where, for a moment, his own desires will again conflict with what he's been called to do. "If you will take this cup from me, please take it away," Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. But, that wasn’t the end of his prayer. He then said those wonderful words, "Yet not what I want, but what you want, Lord."
Its obedience, radical obedience that carries him through and it will us. We know Lent doesn't come naturally, even for the best of us. But, that's exactly why Lent is our hope. If we can learn to recognize the voice of the tempter during these forty days of self-denial…Maybe, we will be wise enough to know him when he speaks with our own voice or through someone else during the rest of the year.
There are some places God intends to take us that we will never reach if we try to do it on our own. Places we would never go by doing our own thing. But somewhere in the desert, alone but not without God, Jesus chooses obedience to God to bring us back to where we are supposed to be. May God grant us the grace and faith to choose correctly who we will be and who we will follow!
Rev Bud Tuxhorn
Pastor Healy UMC, Kansas
“Dust to Dust”
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
March 6, 2019 Ash Wednesday
There’s something about Ash Wednesday that draws us here on a weeknight. We come because it is more than just habit or duty and is more than just the start of Lent. We come because, what we say and what we do on this special Wednesday has power from the Holy Spirit.
A large part of that power is in the fact that we speak words of truth, words that cannot be ignored, argued with, or denied. Today, when we say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We are reminded of our own mortality. The other things we say tonight we may hope are true, or fear is true, or believe, or even doubt. But, we do know we are mortal. That, we were born and that we will die.
From dust, to dust. If hearing the words were not enough, they are rubbed on our foreheads. Ashes mark us and our mortality is visible for the world to see.
Then Jesus took it a little further. He reminds us that dust is the destination, not just of our bodies, but of most of what we think is worth living for. Moth and rust and thieves can and do take away virtually every goal, dream, and treasure we love. Whether we want to admit it or not, we know it’s true. These words of absolute truth give us a different perspective than normal. As the world tries to hide and deny our mortality, while we usually try not think about it.
Dust and ashes. These are what we see if we look ahead far enough and honestly enough. These are the end of virtually everything. Today we remember this, and we know, yes, we know, it is the truth.
For some that seems like bad news even though we have known it is a fact all along. These uninviting, honest words can be a little scary. Especially for those who have not, yet, given their hearts to Christ. We all know the personal dilemma that comes when we realize that we too will die. It seems as if I spent half of my time with young soldiers, reminding them that it wasn’t just their buddy who could be wounded and die, it could happen to them also. I think we’ve all faced that moment when we realize in our hearts, that we to will have an end to our earthly life. We know how unsettling it is, and on this day we are reminded of our own mortality.
From dust, to dust. To find the Good News here, we need to remember the truth of Christ’s sacrifice for us and what it means to us as Christians, while knowing we will all die unless Christ returns first. Some of the Good News is knowing we are created by God and and all of this around us did not just happen. Our creation was not some amazing accident and God made each one of us and then breathed life into us. The dust of our beginning was not and is not just a matter of chance and it is not without meaning. Our lives are gifts from God.
So, part of the Good News is that the grace and power of God is there at the very beginning of our existence. What seems a threat, “you are dust,” becomes, a promise. Because he will be there when our earthly end comes, too. Your dust and mine is holy; it is cherished by God.
Notice something else. These ashes on our forehead are not just tossed there. They are placed there in the form of a cross. As we remember of Good Friday and Easter. Today we remember the promise that, as we have risen from dust to this mortal life, so, with our faith in Christ, we will rise from the dust of death to eternal life in Paradise.
This dust and ashes are Good News, reminding us of the power and love of God at our beginning and at our end. They remind us that, because of this Good News, we are called as we live between dust and dust to repent and follow our risen Lord. That’s what “repent” means: to turn, to change the direction in which we are going, and to turn and move in a new direction.
If you’re driving to Kansas City to Denver and you drive East you will never get there. No matter how many times you pull over to the side of the road, stop the car, get out, and apologize you will never get there. To “repent” is to turn around. God wants repentance and change, not an apology.
Today’s call to us to repent shouldn’t be centered on fear, not on what will happen if we don’t repent. It doesn’t center on what we think we ought to do. Instead, our call is centered on the love that is seen through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This turning around, this repentance is not something we can think ourselves into; it is not something we can do on our own and personally make it happen. It requires heartfelt remorse for our sins and then going in a different direction.
As we prepare for Lent, prayer, fasting and giving help us to move toward obeying God’s call to return to him. They are wonderful ways we can begin our journey going in the right direction. Jesus commands them, and he goes the extra step of insisting not only that we practice them, but also that we do it, secretly. For, God ignores the actions of those who deliberately attract attention to themselves. That’s why we’re counseled to wash our faces and live in quiet obedience. Then our reward and our growth in Christ and his growth in us will be completely safe from the world.
So, remember that you are dust and rejoice. For God is with us in the beginning, at the end, and even now, as we live in between. Repent, return to the Lord and change directions. For God who created us is calling us to him. So, we are given the special gift of Lent a time to allow us to hear His call and to respond.
Rev Bud Tuxhorn, Pastor
UMC, Healy, Kansas
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
February 17, 2019
I have to admit I am skeptical about some of the preachers in the mega churches and on TV. Some of them tell their congregations that as long as they follow their rules and give them lots of money, they will have no trials in their life. Somehow these guys think their brand of religion will ensure nothing bad ever happens to the people who support them. But, I have to admit, they do tell people about faith in Jesus Christ.
I remember once I was complaining to my Dad about a mega church in Anchorage and he asked me a simple question, “Do they tell people how they can come to faith in Jesus Christ?” Then he said if they saved one soul with their show business approach to worship it was worth it. He was right of course, but sometimes I don’t like their theology.
Many of them tell folks they have undeniable proof that their brand of Christianity is the only way. Some of them say they have the inside track on following Christ and if you will just join up and give them lots of money they’ll give you the proof. Proof that their words are direct from God, that they have proof of the virgin birth of Christ, and proof, real honest to goodness proof, of the risen Christ.
I worry for the people that follow these guys. I just know, if they claim to have proof of all that, they are way out on the end of a mighty small limb. Yes, I’m glad for the souls that are saved by these guys ministry, but I worry about anyone’s theology. When they say they can prove things from the Bible that they can PROVE Christ was raised from the grave they are stretching the truth. The fact is there isn't any undoubtable proof that Christ was raised from the grave. There is no scientific proof of the resurrection. We don't have a videotape of the empty tomb or them putting Christ in it. We have no seismograph of the Good Friday earthquake. All we have are the stories of Jesus' resurrection passed down by people of faith.
Of course, many of us would love to have some proof. Someone once said that Christianity is a religion in which you have to believe ten impossible things before you can even start to faith. Well, one of those impossible things is the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The central tenet of our Christian faith is that a young man named Jesus who was dead on Friday afternoon was then full of life on Sunday. We believe he was raised from the dead and was walking, talking, and eating with his disciples, but that goes against everything we have seen in our lives. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we Christians had some evidence, some proof of the resurrection?
I think wanting evidence, some proof of the resurrection is the reason some preachers tell people they have proof. Remember the Shroud of Turin. It, is an ancient piece of cloth on which there appears to be the image of a crucified man. Many claim the shroud was the authentic burial cloth of Jesus and that the image was created during the resurrection. If that were true, then the shroud would be photographic evidence of the resurrection, exactly the sort of physical evidence and proof that many are looking for.
But, now most believe the Shroud of Turin is not really the burial cloth of Jesus at all but is only a piece of art. Maybe it could even be called a forgery created in the middle ages. But, we can understand why they did this, can't we? Wouldn't it be great to have a video of the resurrection? Wouldn't it be great to have some proof? But, the fact is, there is none. All we have to go on are these stories told through the years by faithful believers, who believed it was true because many of them gave their lives testifying to the truth of it.
That seems to be the point of these words we read in First Corinthians where Paul is writing to a congregation he has led many of them to faith in Christ. But, they have now begun doubting the resurrection. Paul cries out, "How can some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead?" Well, to tell the truth, it was probably easy for the Corinthians to say there is no resurrection of the dead. They are saying if you want me to believe in the resurrection? If you want me to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? If you want me to believe that when we die we're raised from the dead, too? Well, if you want me to believe, show me some evidence and still today, many feel the same way.
So Paul tries to convince them to believe in the resurrection, and, at first, it sounds as if he's trying to give them proof.
But if we listen closely, that is not what Paul is saying. What he is saying is basically, "Maybe you're right.” “Maybe you Corinthians are right and all this resurrection talk is a bunch of baloney.” “Maybe when I preached to you that Christ was raised from the dead and that those who belong to Christ will be raised too, maybe I was wrong.” “Maybe I was even lying.” “But if I am wrong…then our faith is a waste of time."
What Paul is doing, is reminding them of their own faith. "If you want to know if the resurrection is true," Paul says, "Look around you. Can’t you see the risen Christ in your own life? Look at the world with the eyes of faith. Can you see the risen Christ in the world? There are no proofs, there is only what we can see and feel, please never forget, what we can feel, when we examine our faith." Have you ever wondered what would happen if God, instead of depending on our faith, decided to give us proof? What if God decided to clear all this up and gave us something scientific, something to get rid of all doubt? What if Jesus did a world tour, before he returns in the end of times? What if he did a world tour letting everyone see him and hear him, would that be proof enough? What do you think would happen? I think, at first churches would spill over into football stadiums because there wouldn’t be room in churches. Crime would cease, wars would stop, and the world would be a wonderful, peaceful place for a little while. But, then, Satan would get to work and the movies of the alive Jesus would begin to be doubted. In no time, those who speak for Satan would convince people it was a photographic trick.
No, it wouldn’t change much, because what we really want in our hearts and souls is not proof that there is a God who exists and we‘re not really searching for scientific evidence of Christ’s resurrection. What we need and I think, what we all want is a God who is right here in life with us, a risen Christ who comes to us every day to gives us life and hope. We want a God who comes not in evidence but in a relationship of trust we call faith in Christ.
We cannot see God and Christ in the world when we draw a line in the sand and say, "Give me proof or I won't step over the line." It just won’t work. God can only be seen in this world by those who have already stepped over the line in trust. When we kneel and say, “Lord I think I believe, please come into my heart and make me sure of it.” When we do, our eyes will be opened, and the world will suddenly be full of resurrection truth for us. When we encounter Christ, when we experience the power of his presence in our lives…when the Holy Spirit touches our souls and hearts we begin to know through our faith that Christ truly was raised from the dead and that our trust in him through our faith is not a waste of time. In fact, we will know it is the best thing that has ever happened to us.
Do you want to know if there is a resurrection? As I write this I can hear my wife reading the story of Mary and Joseph and their search for a place for their baby to be born to the kids. It touched my heart and soul and I know, yes, I know that child she is reading about grew up, was crucified, and rose from the grave. I know it because I can feel the Spirit in my soul, I know it by the tear that runs down my cheek as she reads it and that’s my proof. So, what do you say about that? I say, this kind of hopeful ministry happens because I know in my heart, Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, and my faith and yours is not in vain.
When our daughter was pregnant with our last granddaughter the doctors had all kinds of scary predictions. She is a diabetic and has epilepsy and they warned of birth defects that might come to the baby. The Doctor went as far as suggesting that they should abort her. Today, she is a beautiful and amazing baby girl and is perfectly healthy. But, even if she had been disabled in some way she would have still been perfect for this grandpa. I feel the touch of God as a tear comes down my cheek when I remember what my son in law said a few months ago as he held his giggling and beautiful baby girl. He looked at me and with tears in his eyes said, “And, they wanted us to abort her.” Yes, I know, I know she is perfect and in my heart I know my Jesus rose from a grave in Judea and is still touching hearts and souls today.
I think of the time after months of ministry by me and several others to a man who was dying of cancer. We all told him about how through faith in Christ he would no longer need to fear the death that was coming. That he would die and spend eternity in paradise, if he would just ask Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. I was about to give up as I watched him melt away from the cancer and one morning the nursing home called me to come see him. When I walked in he told me with the biggest smile, “I am forgiven!” Yes, I know Jesus Christ was raised from the grave and that I will, through my faith in Christ be raised too.
When my family and I were sitting and talking about my Mom who had just died. At first we were all teary eyed, but then we got into some of the better stories about Mom. Stories we all knew but loved hearing again. Pretty soon we were laughing through the tears. But, the greatest time was when we remembered that in her last years she often wondered why Dad never came to see her. Dad had been dead several years and she had forgotten he was gone. I’m not sure who said it, but someone said, “Well, she knows where dad is now and I’ll just bet they are holding hands in love right now”. Because, we know in our hearts, we know…Mom and Dad both loved Jesus Christ and we know, yes we know through the tears and the touch of the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ raised them from the grave. And, we know that because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we too will hold our Mom and Dad’s hands in love in heaven when our life on earth is done.
"How can some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead?" Paul wanted to know. Well, if we keep worrying about God's mysteries, if we keep demanding signs and proofs, we probably won’t see anything. But if we open our eyes and emotions in faith, the world is full of resurrection truth, we will see and feel signs everywhere of Christ's victory over death.
Behold, I tell you a mystery, Christ has been raised from the dead. Let us open our eyes and hearts and souls and allow ourselves to see and know him. Let us then open our hearts and receive him. Always knowing our faith in Jesus Christ will not ever, be in vain.
Rev. Bud Tuxhorn, Pastor
UMC, Healy, Kansas
“Fishing” Luke 5:1-11
February 10, 2019
When Carla and I go fishing, if we haven’t caught any fish in an hour or so, I’m all for leaving and doing something else. Carla says I’m a catcher not a fisherman, in that if I’m not catching fish, I’m done with it.
But, even we catchers have our favorite fishing stories. I had a friend who was leaving Alaska and sold me his fourteen foot Zodiac inflatable boat. You’ve seen them, they are the ones that Jacque Cousteau rides around in during his adventures. I used to rent a thirty five horse motor and go out in Prince William Sound for Halibut. Now, I didn’t have a fish finder or depth gauge, so I would follow charter boats out and fish where they fished. I don’t know why, but they didn’t seem to appreciate me doing that. They would try to outrun me but they couldn’t outrun that little Zodiac.
One day I was fishing after following a charter out, in about two hundred feet of water about five miles out from Seward in Prince William Sound. I hooked into what I just knew was a big halibut. I fought and fought and finally got it up to the surface and he was big, to me, the state record is over six hundred but mine was about fifty pounds. Now, they tell you, kill the halibut, especially a big one, before you bring it in the boat. That they’ll break your legs as they flop around. So, I had my forty four mag Dan Wesson pistol, shot him, and blew his jaw off where he was hooked. Almost had to go swimming to save him, but man’o’man was I proud of that fish. Now, that’s fishing.
I know a fishing story is supposed to make the fisherman look good. Fishermen are supposed to talk about the monster fish they hooked but got away, or they're supposed to talk about some magical bait that makes the fish just jump on the hook.
But, our scripture lesson tells a different kind of fishing story. This story begins with a story about fishermen who had caught nothing after fishing all night. Then a carpenter, borrows the boat, preaches a sermon from it to keep from being crushed by the crowds, and tells the fishermen where they can catch some fish.
Then after hundreds of of fish are caught, a fisherman, Simon, we call him Peter most of the time, immediately gives up fishing, follows Jesus, and starts fishing for people. It is a different kind of fishing story. But, there's some things we can learn from this story and one of them is how we can have success fishing for people. And, we know as Christians that is every one of our jobs, making new disciples for Jesus Christ.
Well, it’s a fact some people don't catch fish because they won’t go into the deep water. I will admit the first few times I took that little Zodiac out into Prince William Sound in the deep water I was a little scared. You feel pretty small knowing the water is a couple of hundred feet deep and is forty degrees and your miles from shore. In forty degree water people don’t live very long if they are in the water. But, if you didn’t go out there you would never catch the big halibut.
Jesus told Peter, "Let's go out to the deep water." Everybody knows the big fish are in the deeper water and the first rule of fishing is you've got to go where the fish are. That’s why I used to follow the charter boats out, they knew where the fish were.
But, this story isn’t just about fish. Jesus was teaching a spiritual principal. We could substitute fish for abundance or wisdom or love, for healing or peace, or making new disciples for Jesus Christ. All those things we want lots of. Some people don't catch anything because they will not go deep into the faith to learn how. Deep water is where we grow. Deep water takes faith. Deep water is risky. And, we have to get our mind and heart ready for it.
You can’t see the bottom in the deep water and you have no idea what is down there. You just have to trust the words and directions of others who have already passed through deep water. Our Lord Jesus Christ is always inviting us to the deep end so we may come to faith in him and grow.
Wading around in shallow water feels so much safer and fun. The minnows and the half-grown fish gather there. They stay in the shallow water for the same reasons we do…it feels safer. You can see the bottom in shallow water. Staying in shallow water is such a temptation. Shallow water is easier and it doesn't take much courage. But, Peter knew the minnows couldn't feed him. They couldn't fill him. They just weren’t what his heart was searching for. The deep water of faith in Jesus Christ is where those things we need and want are. The shallow water is where we begin the adventure, not where we finish it. There is a time for learning about Jesus and then there is a time to live what we've learned, a time to receive and a time to give sacrificially, a time to worship in church, and a time to be the church, and lead the world to Jesus Christ. And, deep water is where we have to go to get what God has for us to learn.
You know there are also some people who don't catch fish because they don't expect to catch fish. When I followed those charter boats out, and braved those mean looks, I did it because I knew they knew where the fish were and I knew, I would catch fish where they went. When Jesus tells Simon, "Let's go to the deep water," but he doesn't stop there. He then told him, "Get ready to catch some fish."
For all of us who come to church regularly. Week after week we go to the deep water of worship, but do we come preparing for a catch? Do we come believing a blessing is just waiting for us? Do we come to church expecting to be touched by the Spirit, do we hope and expect to feel the touch of the Holy Spirit as we worship each Sunday? Well, we should, shouldn’t we?
Or, do we come to get along with our spouse or to be seen by others or, worse yet, just out of habit? The reason we are coming to church matters to God. Expectation is what builds faith, "the substance of things hoped for." Without expectation, there is little hope of real, life-changing faith. When we say we believe in Jesus Christ, we are not saying I am agreeing with some theory. We're saying we expect the things that God has promised us.
When we truly take Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we're saying, “I'm now a partner with the "giver of every good gift." One of the gifts God has promised us is fruitfulness. That we will become fishers of humanity through our faith in Christ. All followers of Jesus Christ are supposed to be expecting to lead others to faith in Christ, not just the preacher or the Sunday School teacher, each and every one of us who call ourselves Christian.
I love how Jesus keeps pushing Peter further in his faith. "Leave the shore, Peter and go into the deep water.” These are easy in comparison to "Expect a blessing, Peter." Jesus was calling Peter to risk disappointment and expect a blessing.
I hope you noticed that I knelt for the Pastoral Prayer today and I plan on doing that from now on. I’m doing that because I hope, no I expect that you folks who are having difficulties in your life will come and join me at the Prayer rail. I hope, no I expect that people who do not know Jesus Christ will come to the prayer rail and pray to God for Jesus Christ to come into their hearts during the invitation song. I hope and I expect that people who have something left undone in their lives will come to the rail and pray for God to help them get started on it. I’m saying these things because I am trying to live what I am talking about when I say that we need to expect fruitfulness from our efforts for God. When we are expecting and preparing to be blessed by God, I am sure we make God's heart smile. God probably says to himself, "They get it; they believe I’ll do what I say, and I will make them fruitful in their faith walk."
There are people who don't catch fish because they’re afraid to go into the deep water, and some people don't catch fish because they don't expect to. And, there are people who don't catch fish because they think they know more about fish than God. Peter almost made this mistake when he told Jesus, "Hey, we've been fishing all night. We know fish. You’re a carpenter trying to be a preacher what do you know about fishing?"
Some people think they know more about fishing than God. It happens to all of us sometimes. It's not that we actually think we know more than God; it's just that we behave that way. We know God's instructions, forgive others and ourselves, bless those who curse us, give abundantly, go and visit the unfortunate, and we'll have a ball. He told us remember the Sabbath day, it's for worship and family not for catching up on work. But, we ignore God's invitation to abundance. We say to God by our actions, “I know more about marriage, more about healing, more about forgiveness, more about adults and children, and more about money than you do, God.” We say this to God, when we don’t ask our neighbor, who never comes, to come to church with us. As we think, “Why ask, they won’t come anyway.” We say it, when we don’t bring the neighbor’s children to Sunday School and church. Saying, “I don’t want those snotty little kids in my car this morning.” We say it to God, when we don’t give our time and treasure back to God, knowing that he gives us every minute of our lives and every dime we have.
But, Peter almost forgot that God is God. Our culture doesn't really have any use for the word humility; it goes back to the Enlightenment, in the seventeen hundreds, when Western culture told itself that humanity could know everything. Many of us think they have it all figured out, but look at how the scientists and the philosophers have to change their so called established science all the time. The digital world we live in now is repeating that bologna all over again. We tell each other often when we don’t know and answer, “I’ll just Google it,” while knowing the truth is often completely opposite of what we see there. Because, those companies are manipulating the facts to help themselves, not to dispense the truth.
Peter, was at a place we all come to over and over again in our lives, he decided that he didn't know everything, and that the emptiness and frustration for not knowing everything had made him ready to learn. Now there's a good definition of humility, a readiness to learn. You know a lot of people think the net full of fish is the miracle of this story, but I don’t think so. The real miracle of this story is that Peter decided Christ was God and that he would try to live in the way Jesus taught. Just look at what he says before the miracles begin to happen, "Yes, Lord if you say so...." My frustration, my pain, my emptiness, my despair is real, Lord, and yet and yet, you are God and I am not, use me. Like me when I followed those charters in Alaska go to the one with the instructions that will make us fruitful.
That's when our miracles will begin to happen, that's when we will start catching fish, when we decide that God is God, and we do not have all the answers. What freedom Peter was given that day, what joy, when he truly believed, "God is the maker of heaven and earth." God alone put fish in the sea, He put the big in the whale and the play in the dolphin, and it was all done just because He's God. Don’t you see if He's God enough to do all of that, what can He do with us, when we're truly ready to catch fish? I beg you, come join me at the rail when you are facing the big questions in your life you just might learn to fish.
Rev. Bud Tuxhorn, Pastor
UMC Healy, Kansas
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
February 3, 2019
I first heard the song, “The Gift of Love” in Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our music director must have loved it, because we sang it a lot and you may have noticed, I love it too. Because, I’m sure we sing it more than some of the other songs I could have picked. Did you hear the words as we sang them this morning? “Though I may speak with bravest fire, and have the gift to all inspire, and have not love, my words are vain, as sounding brass, and hopeless gain.”
That is what life is all about, the love of God and others that is what this sermon is about. It’s about love and that is what our hymns are about and love is what life is all about.
From the moment you are born, until you die; every second, every minute, every hour, every day, the purpose of life is God giving us the time to learn to love, as God loves. The purpose of every moment and every day and every year is God teaching us what it means to be truly loved by God, loving our Lord Jesus Christ, and loving others. That’s what it is all about and what it’s always been about.
The shape of God’s love in us is forever changing throughout all of our lives and hopefully it is growing. The shape of God’s love in us never stays the same. When they are little, children come up and without asking or thinking about it, throw their arms around us, giving us kisses, hugs, as they slobber all over us. The love of a little three year old gushes right out all over you and that is the shape of love when you are three.
Then, the shape of love begins to change because God’s love in us is forever changing. You become a little older and let’s say you are in fifth grade. I remember fifth grade with all the other kids. Mom would kiss me and I would wipe it off, it embarrassed me if Mom told me she loved me. In those years I most loved when I would get to ride along with the cowboys and chase cows. I loved it, there was nothing better and there were never any girls, ever in my thoughts or in my life except my big sisters. That was the shape of love in us when we were young and in fifth grade.
As we grew up the shape of God’s love in us changed some more. About fifteen years old. I remember falling madly in love with a cheerleader from another school. She even talked to me and smiled after the game. I just knew I couldn’t live without her, but I had no transportation and it made developing our relationship difficult.
But, when I finally got my driver’s license and she invited me to her town for a dance. So, I drove my ’46 Chevy pickup down there, wasn’t supposed to go, but I had an amazing evening, until it was time to go home. Mom and dad would not have approved me driving that far and my truck wouldn’t start. I never found out who took my battery cable off. But, finally the girl’s Dad showed me my battery cable was off. He wasn’t very thrilled that I had come to their town to see his baby girl. Then, I was wayyyy late getting home that night and it got ugly again with Mom and Dad. But, it was worth it, to me. This wasn’t the kind of love I felt when I was as three years old or a fifth grader with the cowboys. No, this love was the real thing, I was sure of it.
The years passed. I had been in one marriage that hadn’t ended well and had gotten used to the idea that I was a perpetual bachelor. I just assumed when I retired from the Army I would go home and work for the Bradbury’s like I had before the Army. But, one night at a line dance class I met someone. I was only there so I wouldn’t be at home alone and I met a pretty auburn haired woman who had a great smile and I was amazed she could actually do the stuff the instructor told us to do. Before I knew it, I was madly in love with her. Not at all the feelings of a five year old. Not like feelings towards the boys in fifth grade. Not even like the wonderful feelings of a young puppy love at sixteen. These feelings were much stronger.
We got married, moved to Alaska, and built a family out of our combined five girls. That is another shape of love for our children. The sheer joy of having children is unexplainable and that is another role of love in us as we grow.
As the years go so quickly by in our marriage, there is another quality of love that has always been there, but has changed through the years. It is this quality of friendship where your spouse becomes your best friend. These feelings of friendship aren’t like falling in love as a teenager or like the passionate love of a young man for a young woman. The friendship just keeps deepening. My wife even quotes me, sometimes!
And, then the grandchildren come. What can you say except that all grandparents know those feelings towards their grandchildren? The happiness of parenting with not near the work. Spoiling them and then sending them back home with their parents.
But, life too quickly changes again. For as we age couples learn to nurse and care for their loved ones as age causes illness and disabilities. Some have to place their loved ones in a care facility because they can no longer care for them. The shape of that love has moved far past the passions of before. The shape of love has moved even past the friendship that has deepened through the years. You now have the possibility of loving someone who does not even recognize you because of Alzheimers. That, also, is part of the changing shape of love.
Then death comes. The house is empty. The shape of love is sometimes a huge hole in our heart…and the memories bring tears. It is then I think of this song…”Though I may speak with bravest fire, and have the gift to all inspire, and have not love, my words are vain, as sounding brass, and hopeless gain.”
Love, that’s what life is all about. From the moment we are born until the moment we die; every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every month, and every year, God is trying to teach us one thing. To love as God loves. And the shape of love is always changing. The shape of love is always expanding. Foolish is the person who thinks that they know what love is at fifteen, or twenty-five or fifty-five or even seventy-five, because the shape of God’s love in us is forever expanding and changing in our lives.
The Apostle Paul wrote some of the most beautiful words about love found anywhere in First Corinthians 13. From the moment you are born until the moment you die; with every second, every minute, every hour, every day, God is teaching you and me the same thing: to be like God, to be the most loving person that God can make of us. That’s what it is all about. If anyone asks you what it is all about, what life is all about, it is about love, learning to love our Lord and each other with the love of God.
In First John, chapter 4, the author says, “God is love.” That is the first time in the history of the human race that the phrase had ever been said, “God is love.” I ask you the question, “How did John come to think that?” How did Paul come to write the words in Corinthians?
I want to try to answer that question. Did John look at the history of the human race and come to that conclusion that God is love? No, it seems to me, if you are looking at human history, all you see is war and killing. Did the Apostle Paul look at Mother Nature and come to the conclusion, love is most important? NO, I think not. You look at nature and its beauty, its mystery, and you can see the creator of the universe understands beauty. But you can’t conclude that God is love because there is too much pain and death in it. Did the author of First John look at other world religions and come to the conclusion that God was love? That’s impossible, look at the Baal worshippers killing babies and animist religions killing young virgins, that’s certainly not love.
Well, how did John come to the conclusion for the first time in human history that God is love and lead Paul to write those wonderful words in Corinthians? Well, they looked at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. They looked at the love in Jesus, for his parents and family, for his disciples, for all the lepers, blind, lame; he looked at the love that caused him to voluntarily die on the cross for other’s sins, not his own. They realized Jesus was the most loving person they had ever seen and his father was so loving of humanity gave his only son for our sins, not his. They saw that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. That Jesus had been raised from the dead and had conquered death itself. He then decided, “Jesus is God. Jesus is love. Therefore, God is love.” Do you see, “If Jesus is God and Jesus is love, then God must be love.” I think that is the way John came to that brilliant, first time ever, conclusion that God is love.
It is true that the very core of everything is love and that God wants us to grow in love. In the Bible, God does not command us, “grow in intelligence.” If the very core of the universe was intelligence, then God would have said, “Get smarter and smarter.” But God does not say that. If the very essence of the universe was power, then God would be essentially energy and power and God would want us to grow in power. But because the core of the universe is love, and God is love, then God wants us to be like God; to be more loving. God wants us to experience love and grow in love.
So, let me ask, “What does it mean to experience God, to know God?” I am saying for you to experience God is to experience the love of God. It is to experience love for other people, and often there are many people we would rather not love. When I think of experiencing the love of God, I think of a couple who helps foster children. One of the things they do best is to show those children placed in their home, love. I think of my wife helping our girls through their troubles with great love. I think of another wife who cares for he husband who much of the time doesn’t notice she’s there. I think of parents of a disabled child who care for that child with love into their old age until they can’t do it anymore and have to put them in a care facility. I think of those who work so hard to serve others in Jesus Christ in this church. I think of those who are brave enough to share Jesus Christ with those who do not know him and that is the purest form of human love.
That is what it means to experience God, to experience love. Love is often hard work. To experience the love of God for others often involves work, exhaustion, and sometimes tears. When you think of your own stories and experiences with love, your stories always involve work, commitment, and often exhaustion. That’s what it often means to love.
God commands us to love each other. You know, when God commands us to love as God loves, God is commanding us to be the people we were created to be in the first place.
Rev. Bud Tuxhorn, Pastor
UMC - Healy, Kansas
"Holy Spirit is Here Now”
January 27, 2019
The actions recorded in our scripture reading, happened in Synagogues all over Israel and Judea on the Sabbath. Someone would read from the scroll and then talk about the verses they had read. After they read, the speaker would try to apply the scriptures to what was going on in the world. Preaching then, as I think it should now, tried to apply the scripture lesson to the lives of the listeners.
On this day, Jesus was the reader and the speaker. A synagogue leader handed him the scroll, and Jesus finds the place and reads from the words of the prophet Isaiah…“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll and handed it back. All eyes were on him as the congregation waited for his comments about these words written seven hundred years before, Israel’s promise of the Messiah. They wondered, would he talk about the occupation by Rome and the oppression they lived under. Or, maybe he would talk about his own ministry that is growing and getting lots of attention? No one breathed as they waited for him to speak. What would Jesus, a home town boy say about the coming of the Messiah?
Jesus might have preached on the wisdom of the prophet. He might have said, "In the past, our parents hoped for a world of justice, freedom, and healing. For fullness of life in a land of milk and honey as God promised Moses." Or he might have talked about the world to come, "We, are all waiting for the fulfillment of these glorious promises! One day, the poor will be lifted up, captives set free, and the blind will see! Oh, how we long for that! How we pray for that!"
Jesus could have talked about the amazing man Isaiah! Or, he could have told them about the promises of God for a better future. He could have reassured them the kingdom of God is coming, someday! But, he didn’t. Instead, he simply said, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Many of them thought, “How could he say that the Spirit of the Lord is already HERE?” Who does he think he is, saying, “The poor are hearing the good news, right now, today?” How could he say the prisoners are being released and that, the blind will see, come on? How will the oppressed receive justice while Rome is still beating us down? How can this possibly be the year of Lord's favor?
They might have asked, “Have you seen what is going on here in Judea, Jesus? You know how horrible things are under the Romans? Don’t you know there is more brutality, more people in prison, more illness, more violence and more terrorism than Isaiah ever saw in his time? How can the kingdom of God be here, right now? You’re either crazy or a liar, Jesus?
But, he didn’t, he simply them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but, today. They were so angry, they tried to throw him off a cliff.
I can feel for Jesus, for I knew a preacher who had a family in a congregation he served who wanted to throw him off a cliff. He had the nerve to doubt the Matriarch of that church from what had always been the ruling family of the church and she believed she knew exactly what the church needed…she always knew. Don’t believe, ask her. That preacher had the unmitigated gall to move her off some committees where she had great power. He was crazy enough to doubt her omnipotence. One caring man actually pulled him aside and warned him to not challenge her. He was right about her not taking the challenge well. He was right that she would try to get him thrown off a cliff, but she wouldn’t do it herself, she was above doing the dirty work, she used her minions for that. As it turned out that kind man was right and he was thrown off the cliff and moved on to another church.
Almost all churches, all over the world hold the past in reverence. While they hope for a future that it will be just like the past. Holding on to the past may take the form of almost worshipping the building, of reminding everyone what had worked in the past and are still doing it, even though it no longer works. While talking about the future is often wrapped up in hopes for salvation and eternal life. People’s desires for prayers to be answered, for the children to hold onto faith, and come back to church. Yes, the past and the future are important to churches who are alive. Honoring our ancestors and embracing a hopeful future is the right thing to do.
But, falling too much in love with the past and thinking any good that is possible is way in the future, can get us in trouble. When we overemphasize the past, we end up thinking the past is better than anything can ever be today. While putting all our hopes in the future may let us forget what we do or don’t do today is the foundation for the future.
Unfortunately, the majority of churchgoers in the United States are sentimental for the past and worried about the future. Many believe that "the church’s best days are behind us" and that the future of the church is bleak. While if the future is bleak, it is the people in the pews fault. Many congregations are caught between trying to make the past look better than it was and having little hope the future will be any better. Evidently, many of us would rather look back with sadness at the past, than prepare for and trust a beautiful future is coming. Many end up worshipping the past while mourning that the future will be even worse than today.
I will never forget the argument over the sign that told what hymns were going to be sung each Sunday at the church I grew up in. Our church had been founded by a group of folks from Arkansas who moved to Eastern Colorado to get their own land to farm. When they came out Aunt Versey, or something like that, had brought an old board with slots for hymn selections from the old church in Arkansas. Now, we all know that signs like that were used in the old days before churches started using bulletins and were no longer needed now that printed bulletins were used. In the same way, I have a feeling Power Point may have begun making bulletins obsolete.
n our church they had finished repainting and the hymn board hadn’t been put back up. According to some, the world was going to end unless it was returned to its rightful place at the front of the church behind the preacher People were threatening to leave the church over it unless it was put back up and the song numbers were again placed on it. Now, it wasn’t that that board was bad, many people depended on it for knowing the next song…what was wrong with the entire mess was how many felt they could no longer worship in that church if it wasn’t there. Obviously, they were worshipping the past.
We all need to remember, what we are doing today is building on the work of the past while it is preparing for the future. The past was wonderful when we were raising our kids and serving Christ. But, there is no shortage of children in this town and we need to find ways to get them here. While there are many unchurched people around us and again, what are we doing to get them in church? The future will be good if we are doing what we should be doing today, making new disciples for Jesus Christ. We need to focus on the now and stop leaning on our memories and our dreams as we fully live in Christ, today! The past is often made to sound better than it was, while looking to the future depends upon those who come later to fix everything we have messed up, if we haven’t done our job today. Today, right now, we of the church are supposed to be right in the middle of Christ’s work on earth. Yes, the Kingdom of God is here right now!
"Today," may be is the most radical thing Jesus said that day. Jesus essentially told his friends, "Look around. See the Spirit of God at work, right here, right now, for, God is with us, now. Just as, our father promised Moses at the burning bush, ‘I will be with you,’ God is here with us today. Just as he was always there, always loving then, God is here with us, right now!”
Jesus is asking his friends and neighbors to open their eyes, to listen to God's promise to always be with them, while remembering God always keeps his promises, no matter what. But, this was not a call to accept that God is always with us and do nothing else. Instead, it was and still is…a call to look past the sin, injustice, trials, and evils of human life today and notice, really notice, the amazing love and compassion of God, which all of it is built on. If we can see and believe that the power of the love of God is at work in the world right now, our mourning of the past and fear for the future will end. Then we can recognize that in all of these things even in the worst of times…God is with us. Defeating our false beliefs that evil and Satan are winning, the joy of grace, mercy, and the justice of God will come into our hearts and lives. Then our mourning and fear will turn into compassion and love, giving us the power to walk in the way God wants.
Yes, the Spirit of the Lord was on Jesus. But it was also on each one of his friends and neighbors…if their hearts were open to it. Jesus was one of them, he was fully human and he was and is fully God. By stressing the word "today," Jesus transformed Isaiah's prophecy, into a powerful invitation for them and for us to start a close walk with God and to work for him right now, today. Not next week, not when we’re not as busy, but right now.
The text might have been read: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and also with you, because he has anointed you and I to bring good news to the poor. He has sent US to proclaim release to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Living in God's promise is not about yesterday. It is not about waiting for the Messiah who will come, but hasn’t yet, that is in the future and we don’t know when. While there are souls to save right now and we can do it if we will finally realize he is with us, right now! Yes, the Lord will return some day, we don’t know when. But, Jesus’ words to the people of Nazareth are to us today and to be lived out NOW! This is a hard truth to hear and receive for some of us. We love to dream of the good old days and hope someone will do the work for God that we have let slide. Jesus' friends refused, will we?
Many of them stayed mired in their worship of the past and constant worry about the future. Wishing, for the Savior to appear and take them out of the mess they had had a part in making when he was already there! Is that how we sometimes sound? Let’s not do as the people of Nazareth did.
Today, right now, Jesus' sermon remains as clear and moving, as important and urgent as ever. When he said, “This promise has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He is telling us what we need to be doing for God is here, it is right now, the work is to be done, now.
Rev Bud Tuxhorn, Pastor
UMC Healy, Kansas
January 20, 2019
Our scripture today, tells us about when Simeon and Anna, two servants of God who patiently waited for the Messiah and they finally met him. We hear of their joy when they finally see the promised one of God, Jesus Christ, the Messiah. As I read this passage, I thought about all those years they had waited to see the Messiah. Did they ever wonder if God would ever be faithful to them? Did they ever wonder if they had been lied to, by the teachers in the temple? Did they ever doubt? For it is a fact, doubt comes to all of us.
There are doubters all through the Bible, just as we sometimes are. I think many of us have our doubts. I think one of those times is with the letdown that comes after the craziness of the holiday season as we worry about the bills and all that’s going on in our crazy world. The crucifixion, and the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ causes some of us to have a little doubt. We sometimes wonder, was Jesus really murdered and did he really come back from the dead? So, I was thinking Simeon and Anna, Thomas, and all the others, I hope talking about them might help us with our own doubt.
But, maybe doubt isn’t all bad, I think many of our experiences of true joy come after we have had times of doubt, anxiety, and questions without answers. We have times that truly test our faith, like when we lose a loved one or our own health is bad? Or, when we look around us at all the evil in the world and how it seems unstoppable?
I think it probably happened to Simeon and Anna. They were human and probably had the same doubts we have. Anyone as joyous as Simeon and Anna over the proof of their faith must have doubted sometime?
Here are a few of the situations I have seen in church members when they doubted. A young soldier comes home and causes so much trouble the family almost wishes he hadn’t come. My folks never told me, but I wonder if they thought about it. Trouble in a marriage that is covered up until Christmas is over and then it explodes. Or, when we spend much more than we should on Christmas and it still doesn’t give the joy we thought it would.
Or, in the Easter season we wonder, why God doesn’t give us just a little more confidence in the resurrection. Or, why did God have to sacrifice his only Son to save the world? Sometimes, after Christmas and Easter our doubts are in wondering why the holidays don’t bring joy and peace to the world.
In our churches we see the letdown form the holidays. I am so happy you are here today, because attendance is almost always down after Christmas. While those who do show up for worship are sometimes so exhausted by the holidays that it is hard for them to open their spirits to the Lord. The credit card statements start arriving, we watch the news, and we really get miserable.
Yet, Simeon and Anna are joyous. Their long-awaited dreams have come true. I am afraid we sometimes wonder, why don't we feel that way? We see it throughout the Bible. A good example of this is Thomas, good old Doubting Thomas, the disciple of Jesus. He gives us a clear picture of his doubting. He wasn’t there when Jesus made his first appearance to the disciples after the resurrection and he told them he would believe when he saw the risen Lord for himself. He just knew Jesus couldn’t be alive; but, when he saw the resurrected Jesus, he believed.
Often the first step toward having doubts is in separating ourselves from the people of God. When we decide it’s to stay home on Sunday morning and skip church. When we just didn’t have the energy to get dressed and go or we would have to leave our company to go. Not thinking about the terrible witness we are giving those loved ones we are staying home with.
When God spoke to Elijah on the slopes of Mt. Sinai, Elijah was told to get back with the faithful of Israel to help him with his own doubts. Once many years ago my men and I had been in a swamp for several hours sneaking up and on some bad guys in a war game. After the successful surprise attack, we had properly kicked some hind end the commander told us as a reward, we would be trucked back to the barracks instead of having to walk the fifteen miles. But, we had to stand and wait on the truck, in the cold February, Georgia rain storm.
Then I had, what I thought was a great idea. I told my men if we all bunched together we would be warmer. It is true and I didn’t whine at all when they all bunched up tight all around me. Things were going great until one of the guys on the outside realized he was supplying heat for the guys inside of him and he was still freezing on one side and slowly but surely the outside guys started peeling off, so we could all freeze together.
It is the same way with our faith and the church. We can never be as close to God when we peel away from the people of God, as we can with them. People who say they have a great spiritual life alone without the church are dreaming, it just can’t happen. God gave us the church and the people in it to help us stay strong in our faith.
I’m afraid, doubt is more an emotion than it is rational thought. Doubt is influenced by our experiences and by the way we feel about life. In fact, many people doubt because it's a good place to hide from the truth. For, as long as we can live in the house of doubt, we don’t have to take responsibility for what we do and then we get to feeling we don’t need to do anything for God, like helping the less fortunate and those who do not know Jesus Christ.
We all know people who say they don’t believe in God and see no good reason to follow Christ. They have excuses for it too, like bad things that happened to them or their loved ones. They ask, “How could a loving God allow that to happen?” Or, they think because of their science education, they just can’t buy into a virgin birth or a man coming back from the dead. Some will tell you they are a seeker of the truth. But, that they are certain that the truth is not in the Bible and some man named Jesus Christ. I wonder, are they seeking the truth, or are they running away from it? Are they hiding their heart from a spiritual experience that would bring them to faith because they do not want to admit they are wrong? When you say you are seeking, but then decide to say, “No,” to faith…you are hiding from the truth.
But, despite all this, there is a place in the Christian life for honest doubt. For, doubt is always the starting place for faith. Before Gideon could be used by God, he cried out, "If the Lord is with us, why has this befallen us?" Or Job in his struggle shouted, "I cry unto you and you do not answer." Never forget that on the cross, Jesus shouted, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Doubt is like the front porch of the house. We must cross it before we can get into the house. Most of us have cried out, "Lord, I believe. Please, help me in my unbelief." The ability to doubt is one of those things some of us are really good at. Look around you and see the things in our life that should be doubted. The greatest servants have in the face of something universally accepted as true, when they have dared to say, "I doubt that!" Without being able to doubt, there could be no progress, only unquestioned acceptance of what others have said.
Science used to say the earth was flat and the sun rotated around it. The idea was challenged by a few brave souls. Some of them died for expressing those doubts. We talk about scientific pioneers, but every scientific advance started with doubt.
Even, Jesus was a doubter. He doubted revenge was the way to go, so he said, "Forgive one another." He doubted the long prayers and rigid laws of Judaism were essential to faith. So he talked about a simple faith of following him. He doubted that the Samaritans were an inferior race. So, he told the parable about the Good Samaritan and the bad priests. Yes, honest doubt is the starting point for faith and strong faith sometimes has to be fought for.
I have lain awake at night, struggling like Jacob with the angel for what I needed to believe and what to do. The answer has always came to me, but in God's way and in God's own time. Strong faith often has to be fought for.
We need to remember, there is no such thing as a faith without tears. People who want a faith without tears will find it difficult to adjust to the teachings of the New Testament and real life. I would suggest, “Look your doubts in the eye and doubt them!” This takes courage, but it will stop them from controlling your life.
I've been a pastor for almost twenty years now and a Christian many more years and I have seen people growing in their faith and others running from it. Once a church member came to my office and asked if we could talk. We talked about him doubting his faith in Christ.
But, then a lady came in from the church who had terminal cancer, she knew she was getting near her death. Yet, she still had come in to get ready for a potluck dinner. She saw us and came in to talk. She had to sit because she was so weak. She talked about all the blessings of her life, her kids, her grandchildren, and her faith in Jesus Christ. She told us that even though she didn’t have long to live here on earth, she knew she would live forever in heaven, without this stupid cancer. That’s what she called it, “Stupid Cancer”. She told about how she wasn’t happy about leaving, because she had so many things she still wanted to do for her family and her Savior. But, she was joyous that her family was in Christ and she would see them again in heaven.
After she left the man with the faith problems looked at me and told me, “I think I’m going to look at my relationship with Christ again.” I believe, that woman was sent by God…on that day…to help that man…consider his relationship with Christ? Even at the end of her life she was still working for her Lord and Savior.
So, we are in the beginning of a new year. Today is a good day…to move from skepticism to faith. It is time to celebrate our doubts and doubt them and see them as a beginning to a deep, abiding, and mature faith in Jesus Christ. Remembering, strong faith, worthwhile faith must always be fought for. Fight for it tooth and nail, for it is worth it.
Pastor Bud Tuxhorn
UMC - Healy, Kansas
“Remember the Waters”
January 13, 2019
In my second tour in Alaska I used to love to go out during duck and goose season in a flat bottom duck boat. We would go to the Palmer Hay Flats north of Anchorage. These were salt water mud flats on the North end of Cook Inlet at the mouth of the Knik and the Matanuska Rivers…
Now to be honest, I didn’t really care if we shot ducks and geese or not, for if you did they had to be cleaned and eaten. The fun, for me was in putting the rented 24 foot flat bottom jet boat in the water and going really fast and since we pulled it with my Blazer, I claimed the driving privileges.
One of the things you have to learn about in Alaska, if you’re going to run a boat in salt water is about the tides. The tides come up really fast and really high, some places have a fourteen foot change daily in the waterline and they go out just quickly. So, in water that is perfectly safe to go very fast because it is deep, just a short time later the same water becomes very shallow…VERY quickly. You can’t see the bottom near the coast, because the water is so muddy from glacial silt. Kind of a gray color…from all the ground up granite the glaciers make as they move.
So one Saturday morning we put the boat in the water on the Knik River and we were making the fast run south where we could find some ducks. Did I say, “A really fast run”? My boss and the other guy on the trip decided to sit up front watching for shallow water, I guess I was scaring them a little with my driving. So, we are screaming along as fast as that 65 horse jet motor would go…and we stopped…we just stopped. It was like we hit a wall.
I flew forward against the steering wheel and guess what happened to the guys in front watching for shallow water? Yep…they went in the water. Now, after the tide had gone out, it was less than a foot deep. But, it was 40 degrees cold, just like all the water in Alaska that isn’t frozen, almost year round. There is something else a person needs to know about salt mud flats. Glacial mud is dangerous. It is like quicksand and when my boss and friend tried to stand up and come BACK to the boat, they sank like rocks in that mud. They both had hip waders on, but the water and the mud was over the top of them quickly.
They finally had to lay down in the mud and the water to get back to the boat. Of course the boat was going nowhere either. We were getting really cold, but the three of us had to pull the boat off that mudflat. It took us an hour and we were all about frozen. We wondered later if we should have just waited for the tide to come up and lift us off. So, we had to go back to the landing on the Knik River, go to Eagle River and change clothes. When we got back they wouldn’t let me drive the boat when we headed back out after ducks. Why, on earth, would they do that?
We had a lesson that day on how glacial water can be dangerous. We looked at that great big boat with a sixty five horse motor and we saw safety and security and fun. We thought there was nothing we couldn’t handle. But, then we were reminded, the waters of the Knik River and Cook Inlet and the Palmer Hay Flats are dangerous. They have a power all their own. If you don’t respect that power, you can easily get yourself into trouble. Not only for the water, even the mud, under it, is dangerous.
Water is dangerous…but it is also important to us, the human body is made up of sixty or seventy percent water. Water transports nutrients to our cells, and removes waste from our bodies. Water helps control our temperature. It’s just a fact, without water, we can’t live. But, even though we need it for life, water doesn’t come without risks. Drowning is one of the primary causes of death. Floods and tsunamis destroy towns and villages, destroying crops, demolishing buildings, causing terrible damage. While people die every day because they don’t have access to clean water. Water where you don’t want it, is always trouble and think of the power of water when you look at the Mississippi and Missouri River? Water is dangerous. No matter how hard we try to control it, it goes where it wants to go. Look at our levy systems, when the water decides to top them or wash them away, it just does as it pleases as the Corps of Engineers stand and watch.
Well, the dangers of the water don’t change when we talk about the waters of baptism. Oh, the water sitting here in the baptismal is nice and quiet and safe looking. But, there is power there and it is a power that we can’t see, we can only feel the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of Baptismal water is a power which marks us and claims us for Jesus Christ. We are filled with the presence of God’s Spirit and grace. In our Baptism we are given work to do for the Lord that cannot ever be hidden from. No matter how much we think we control our own lives, our lives will never be the same.
We should never think our baptism is safe and what we have to do for our Lord is over. For, the Spirit of God isn’t a nice safe house to hide in. When we are claimed by the waters of baptism, we aren’t sent out on a safe and gentle stream. No, the journey of faith is a rushing river, full of rapids and shoals, glacial mud flats, and tides, when we are called to do the Lord’s work. But, we won’t have to do them alone, for God’s Spirit will always be with us as our guide. The Lord pushes and pulls us one way or the other to get us where he wants us, but it isn’t always safe. It is only when we followers of Christ work together and listen to our guide, Jesus Christ, we can accomplish what we are called to do.
Jesus knew all this when he went to the Jordan to see John. John was calling folks to repent, turn back to God, and be cleaned up by baptism. But Jesus didn’t need cleaning up. John knew Jesus didn’t need it. He also knew he wasn’t worthy to do it, but Jesus had him do it anyway.
Jesus understood baptism wasn’t about what we do. No, it’s about what God is going to do in us through baptism. Jesus showed us that baptism is about claiming our adoption as God’s children and being initiated into the family of God as God claims us as His own.
It isn’t safe for us and it wasn’t safe for Jesus, either. Jesus knew what was going to happen when that water touched Him. Jesus knew that His baptism would set Him against Satan and the world. He knew that the waters were dangerous, he even knew His baptism was going to lead to his death on a cross.
But all that didn’t matter to Him, he did it anyway for our sins not his. For in these dangerous waters, in the mud flats with the fast moving tides it was and is the only hope for the world. A hope that still comes to us today when we claim our inheritance and remember our baptism.
Friends, today when we remember our baptism and give thanks to God for it. We are again committing ourselves to a life where we give up control and give our all to God. In our church we call baptism and Holy Communion sacraments. The word comes from when a Roman soldier pledged his loyalty and obedience, they said he was making a “sacramentum”.
In the same way, as we renew our baptismal covenant as we remember our baptism we need to be willing to give up the comfort and control we think we have. We need to turn ourselves over to our Creator who calls us to be more than we ever thought we could be. To be baptized is to be called by God to be a follower of Jesus Christ. While knowing, the road with Jesus sometimes leads to crosses. Yes, these waters are dangerous, but they shouldn’t be feared. For when these waters touch our souls and our lives, when the Spirit of God comes into us. It reminds us we are children of God, called to lead the world to Jesus Christ and that no matter what happens in this world, our Lord will catch us and bring us to him.
The river of life in Christ is not safe. But God is with us, and we share together the mark of baptism in Jesus Christ that binds us together. Baptism is also a public act of the church when the congregation pledges allegiance to God and to each other. This power is the exact same power that parted the seas for Moses and calmed the waves for Jesus. Now, that’s real power.
The waters of our baptism are to run through our lives, carving out a spot in our hearts, a spot which can only be filled with the love of Jesus Christ our Savior. It grows with time and experience, as God’s people gather together at the river to remember just what God has given us. These waters that seem so gentle in this baptismal are filled with power. A transforming power changing us and preparing us for a lifetime of witnessing for Jesus Christ.
In a moment, we will come forward to touch the waters and hear God’s voice speak to us personally. To those of us who have already been baptized, I invite you to come and touch the waters and remember your baptism. As you open your heart to God’s call in your life.
To those who have not yet experienced the healing waters of baptism, we invite you to come also, come and touch the water as you look forward to your own baptism. When we are baptized we have taken God’s mark to proclaim our faith in Christ to the world and it is not supposed to be kept private. I hope you look forward to the day you want to declare Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and be baptized. We could even do it today. But, please feel free to come and touch the waters. Open your heart as you listen for God’s call on you.
For all of us remember there is power in these waters. They aren’t safe, they don’t mean nothing. When we accept the water s of Christ we are initiated into Christ’s world of obedience and sometimes that’s not safe. While at the same time these waters have the power to heal all wounds.
Come to the place where the healing waters flow. The current is sometimes strong, but God is always with us. Come and see and know the wonderful power of Jesus Christ.
Pastor Bud Tuxhorn
UMC - Healy, KS