Fatherhood Is…

I love this old preaching story. It has been told and retold for years. In Spain, a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an advertisement in a Madrid newspaper. The advertisement read:

Dear Paco,

Meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you.

Your Father.

On Saturday 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers. Don’t tell me, the relationship between a father and their children isn’t important! That simple story takes us to our scripture lesson.

We find ourselves in the eighth chapter of Luke.  Jesus and the disciples are in Galilee. That fact is important because the Master was extremely popular there. The crowds followed him everywhere. One of the people in the crowd on that day was a man by the name of Jairus. His name means “God enlightens.” In his little corner of the world, Jairus was a significant man. Luke tells us he was a ruler in the local synagogue. What does that mean? He was not a member of the clergy. However, that does not mean his position was not important. He acted more as an administrator or trustee over the synagogue. Sometimes, the position was paid. Sometimes, it was volunteer. Regardless, the position was always held by a respected good man in the congregation. Jairus was a good man, yet hardship does not discriminate.

This good man was facing his greatest nightmare. His twelve-year-old daughter was dying. Emotionally and physically exhausted, Jairus fights his way through the crowd to ask Jesus for a miracle. Jesus is his only hope. I have read verses 40-42 countless times this week. With every reading, I was more moved by the emotions of the father. It isn’t just Jairus’ nightmare. It is every parent’s nightmare. The death of their children. I do not know how you can read this story and not be moved. She was twelve years old. It is not easy being twelve years old. In a certain way you are nowhere. It is the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Yet, in this story, it is the end of life, itself. The daughter is dying. Yet, the story is not about death. In the end she lives. The story is about parenthood. This story gives us three divine truths about fatherhood. Let us look at them one at a time.

First, fatherhood is important! In other words, your children must be the top priority in your life. This is an old story about a young man standing in front of a judge. He was about to hear his sentence. It was an awkward moment for the judge. He had known the young man since childhood, for he was well acquainted with his father–a famous legal scholar and the author of an exhaustive study entitled, “The Law of Trusts.” “Do you remember your father?” asked the magistrate. “I remember him well, your honor,” came the reply. Then trying to probe the offender’s conscience, the judge said, “As you are about to be sentenced and as you think of your wonderful dad, what do you remember most clearly about him?” There was a pause. Then the judge received an answer he had not expected. “I remember when I went to him for advice. He looked up at me from the book he was writing and said, ‘Run along, boy; I’m busy!’ When I went to him for companionship, he turned me away, saying “Run along, son; this book must be finished!’ Your honor, you remember him as a great lawyer. I remember him as a lost friend.” The magistrate muttered to himself, “Alas! Finished the book but lost the boy!”

Fathers do much more than pay the bills. Mothers may love their children unconditionally, but fathers add sense of security and stability to the home. That is extremely important. A father’s presence makes a great difference to the life of a child. The statistics don’t lie. These statistics are a few years old, but not much has changed. They are still painful to recite. According to fatherhoodfactor.com:

  1. 43% of US children live in fatherless homes.
  2. 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
  3. 80% of rapists come from fatherless homes.
  4. 71% of pregnant teenagers come from fatherless homes.
  5. 63% of youth suicides come from fatherless homes.

Don’t tell me fathers aren’t important. If you want to be a good father, then make your children your top priority. This is a fair question. Do your children know they are your top priority? Fatherhood is important.

Second, fatherhood is challenging! In 1909, Sonora Louise Smart Dodd (1882-1978) sat in church with her father on Mother’s Day. It must have been a difficult sermon to hear because her mother died years earlier during childbirth. She and her five siblings were raised with love and care by their father, William Jackson Smart (1842-1919), a Civil War veteran. The 27-year-old Sonora began to think about the great sacrifices her father made for her and her siblings. Then, she began to wonder why there wasn’t a Father’s Day. The next day, she began a crusade to establish one. She began by enlisting the support of the Spokane Ministerial Association and the YMCA. They declared the first Father’s Day to be June 19, 1910. It was a big success. Soon other communities and states began to recognize Father’s Day. President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) supported the idea of a national Father’s Day in 1916 and President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) did the same in 1924. Some things don’t change. Nothing happened in Washington DC for decades. It took our man in Washington DC Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) in 1966 to sign a presidential proclamation making the third Sunday in June Father’s Day. Six years later, 1972, 58 years after the establishment of Mother’s Day, Richard Nixon (1913-1994) signed a law-making Father’s Day a national holiday. I tell the history of Father’s Day for one reason.

Senora Smart Dodd recognized what we must never forget. Fatherhood is challenging. Fatherhood has nothing to do with golfing, boating, or cooking out. Fatherhood has everything to do with sacrificing. Fatherhood has everything to do with adapting. Fatherhood is challenging because our children are always changing. Your college graduate does not want to be treated like a newborn babe. In the Bible lesson for today, Jairus is trying to help his twelve-year-old daughter. I have been the father of a twelve-year-old daughter, twice, and it isn’t easy. Enjoy your children at the stage they are right now but be prepared. It is going to change soon. They will change so your relationship with them must change. That is so challenging.Fatherhood is important. Fatherhood is challenging.

Third and finally, fatherhood is eternal! In the story, the twelve-year-old girl dyes. Her life ended just as it was about to begin. Her life would have been over, if not for Jesus. He resurrects her. In other words, he brings her back to life. She is one of a select few in the Bible who were resurrected. Do you remember the others who were resurrected in the Bible? There were nine in all, 3 in the Old Testament and 6 in the New Testament. Except for Jesus, do you know what happened to the other eight? They all died again in time. However, their resurrections were just the foreshadowing of eternal life. The girl lived because her father introduced her to Jesus.

Fatherhood is not just being a positive role model. Fatherhood is not just getting the person ready for life. Fatherhood is getting the person ready for eternity. Children have so many wonderful options today. They can take lessons and join teams. They can take advanced classes and go to camp. There is nothing wrong with any of those things. However, none of those things are preparing them for eternity. If you want your child to live for eternity, then be like Jairus. Introduce your children to Jesus. How could you enjoy heaven without them? Fatherhood is important. Fatherhood is challenging. Fatherhood is eternal.

Fred Craddock (1928-2015) taught homiletics at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. In my opinion, he is one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. No one influenced my preaching more than Fred Craddock. No one can tell a story like him. Let me tell you one of his stories.

One summer Fred and his wife decided to get away for a few days. They went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One night they found a quiet little restaurant and looked forward to a private meal—just the two of them. While they were waiting for their meal, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” He didn’t want the man to intrude on their privacy. But the man did come by his table. “Where you folks from?” he asked amicably. “Oklahoma.” “Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there. What do you do for a living? “I teach homiletics at a seminary.” “Oh, so you teach preachers, do you? Well, I’ve got a story I want to tell you.” And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife. Dr. Craddock said he groaned inwardly: Oh no, here comes another preacher story. It seems everyone has one.

The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born so I had a hard time. When I started to school my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunchtime because the taunts of my playmates cut so deeply. “What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through you. They were all wondering just who my real father was.  

“When I was about 12 years old a new preacher came to our church. Because of my past, I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me. “Who are you, son? Whose boy, are you?’ I felt the old weight come on me. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. “Wait a minute,” he said, “I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God. You come from a great legacy. Go and claim it.” The old man looked across the table at Craddock and said, “That was the most important single sentence ever said to me. Those words changed my life.” With that he smiled, shook the hands of Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends. It was at that moment Craddock remembered something. The good people of Tennessee had elected Ben Hooper, that illegitimate boy, to be their governor. This is the point.

You may have had the greatest dad in the world, or your dad may have been a complete loser. It doesn’t really matter because you come from a great legacy. Never forget it. You are a child of God!

God, Go It Again!

We find ourselves in the first four verses of the second chapter of Acts. The scriptures say it clearly. It was Pentecost. To the Jewish world, it meant it was fifty days after the Passover. It was also called the Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 16:10) or the Feast of the Harvest (Exodus 23:16). It was comparable to our Thanksgiving Day, a celebration of the harvest. To the Christian world, it meant it had been fifty days sense Jesus was resurrected. It also meant; it had been ten days sense Jesus ascended into heaven. Ten days is a long time to wait. They must have wrestled with Jesus’ last words about evangelizing the world. However, they also obeyed Jesus. They stayed in Jerusalem. They waited for something to happen and on the day of Pentecost, it did. While the rest of their world was celebrating the harvest, Jesus kept his promise. No longer reserved for select political or religious leaders, the Holy Spirit was unleased on all believers. Without warning the Holy Spirit blew into the disciples lives and everything changed. They were transformed. They did not change physically; they changed spiritually. The lessons they wrestled with in the past suddenly became clear. The things they could not do in the past became easy. It was an amazing moment. The words printed in your Bible are only shadows of the actual event. The first revival in the history of the world had begun and the church was born. The Methodist tradition should never wrestle with the Holy Spirit because we are a product of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember the story?

John Wesley (1703-1791) was the founder of the great Methodist movement. He was born in Epworth, England. His father, Samuel, was an Anglican priest. His mother, Susannah, was a stay-at-home mother, who set the standard high for all parents. She taught John and his siblings how to survive in this world and be prepared for eternity. John Wesley had everything he needed to be successful, but he didn’t have a clue. Until he was thirty-five years old, he only knew failure. He failed as a pastor, and he failed as a missionary. Tired of defeat, John Wesley went on a great spiritual quest. That quest ended on May 24, 1738, on Aldersgate Street, London. There is no other way to say it, John Wesley was touched by the Holy Spirit. We call it his sanctification experience. He was touched by God for a divine purpose. The only thing he ever wrote about that day was a simple phrase in his personal journal, I felt my heart strangely warmed. Those words are not impressive, but his life after that experience was. From that point on, he only knew success. He took the whole world on as his parish and changed history. When he died in 1791, he left behind 135,000 followers, plus another 541 itinerant preachers. Today, there are millions of people around the world who proudly claim the title Methodist. If we could resurrect John Wesley, then he would tell you that the Holy Spirit changed everything! Let me state the obvious.

I was not in the ministry on May 24, 1738. However, I was in the ministry two hundred and fifty years later, on May 24, 1988. I remember that year, because it was the first year, I was under a United Methodist appointment. I was serving in the old Morristown Charge in the old St. Clairsville District in the East Ohio Annual Conference; the congregations in Morristown, Lloydsville and Bannock. As May approached, I was looking forward to the anniversary of the great Aldersgate experience, because I had had my own sanctification experience. This is the truth. I was disappointed. Except for a few men riding on horses and dressed like circuit riders, there was no celebration. That year at Annual Conference, I expressed my disappointment to my District Superintendent. He was a spiritually mature man by the name of Abraham Brandyberry. He felt as I did. I asked him why the famous date was overlooked. He simply said, “Russ, there was no celebration, because no one in our time understands Wesley’s sanctification, because no one in our time understands the Holy Spirit.” There was no debate because I knew he was right. Many are ignorant of the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Fewer have experienced the Holy Spirit. Can I ask you a spiritual question?

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit?

For many it is not an easy question to answer. To help you answer that question I am going to ask you two other questions. The way you answer those two questions will be very revealing. Both deal with your priorities. Are you motivated by earthly things or are you motived by God? Be honest with yourself so you can answer the question, Have you experienced the Holy Spirit? If you are ready for my two questions say, “Amen!”

Question #1: Are you more passionate about people or property? The answer should be obvious. However, it is not obvious to everyone. What we say and what we do are often two different things. For example, I have never been in the middle of a church debate about human need. I have never been part of a church debate to borrow money to help the forgotten. I am still waiting for the first person to fundraise to fight world hunger or homelessness. However, I have been in the middle of church debates to improve our church property. Ask yourself the question again. Are you more passionate about people or property? If you have been touched by the Holy Spirit, then the only thing that really matters is people.

In the creation story, God created everything, and everything was good. He made the earth and the sky. He made the seas and the dry ground. He made the fish and the animals and the insects. When God created those things, he said they were all good. However, when he made mankind, he said something different. God looked at mankind and said it was very good. Every person is made in the image of God. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. What is more important to you people or property? Once you have experienced the Holy Spirit the only thing that matters is people! And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” Have you experienced the Holy Spirit?

Question #2: Are you more passionate the invisible or the visible church? In other words, are you more interested in Jesus or the organizational church? Do you have an easier time quoting church rules or Bible verses? Are more comfortable talking about local church history or what God has done for you today? Do you have an easier time listing past pastors or disciples? The Holy Spirit only cares about the invisible or spiritual church. Have you stop to consider the word Methodist isn’t even found in the Bible? 

Years ago, I was texting a regular worshipper of this church. They have been coming here for years and I consider them one of us. The problem is she and her husband have never joined. I was trying to correct that situation. She texted me this question, what do we have to do to join? She meant classes or something. I responded, “Nothing. All you need to know is Jesus and me.” How do you feel about that response? Maybe you do feel like we need classes or something? I do not require classes because my goal is not to make good church members or great United Methodists. My goal is to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The mission statement of the United Methodist Church. It really doesn’t matter if you know how many annual conferences exist or how long a bishop serves. It really doesn’t matter if you know about the history of Western Reserve? It only matters that you know Jesus. If you know Jesus, then you are part of the invisible church. Are you more passionate about the invisible or the visible church? The Holy Spirit only cares about the invisible church.

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit? How do you answer the question? There is only one correct answer. Your answer can not be, “Maybe.” Your answer cannot be, “I hope so.” In the life of the church, “No,” is not an option. The only acceptable answer is, “YES!” It is the question that will not go away. Have you experienced the Holy Spirit?

Wilmore, Kentucky is a small town, located seventeen miles from Lexington. It is not much of a place. According to the 2010 census, it has a population of less than 3,700 people. The only thing noteworthy about the place are the two academic institutions that call Wilmore home. They sit on either side of Lexington Avenue. On the south side of the road is Asbury Theological Seminary, my seminary. On the north of the road is Asbury University. Both schools are steeped in the Christian tradition. In my younger days I used to call Wilmore, Jerusalem west. Historically, an event happened in Wilmore that should not be forgotten.

On February 3, 1970, a revival broke out at a chapel service in Hughes Hall at then Asbury College. Chapel was scheduled to last fifty minutes, it lasted eight days. The students had been praying for a revival for some time. God heard their prayers. On that day, the academic dean, Custer Reynolds (1915-2005), was scheduled to speak. The problem was he did not feel led to speak, so he gave his witness and invited the students to share their personal experiences with God. Several students spoke. One young man came followed and told how he had been recently touched by the Holy Spirit. It was his Aldersgate experience. For the first time in his life, he was proud to be a Christian. There is no other way to say it. Like John Wesley, the Holy Spirit transformed his life. Other students followed him. They confessed their sins and told of similar experiences with the Holy Spirit. The altar was opened to anyone who wanted to pray. Hundreds of students rushed forward to pray and the crowd was washed by the Holy Spirit. People traveled from other time zones to be part of the revival in little Wilmore, Kentucky. Nothing else really mattered but God!

Seventeen years later, I enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary. I sat in chapel regularly with my fellow students. I can still hear all those men sing the hymn, And Can It Be. It was powerful.Regularly, the revival at the college was mentioned. Regularly, the words were uttered, “God, do it again. Regularly, in my prayers I uttered the words, “God, do it again.” If it can happen in Wilmore, Kentucky, then it can happen anywhere. It can happen here. It can happen to you! God, do it again!

In Awe

We find ourselves in the Book of Acts, the first eleven verses. The first three verses summarize everything that happened in the Gospel of Luke. (Remember, Luke and Acts are sequels.)  Verse four is the beginning of something new. According to the text, Jesus had gathered the disciples around him. He tells them about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Soon, the divine helper will touch each one of them and enable them to be his witnesses throughout the world. The only thing they had to do to was wait in Jerusalem. This is the truth. The disciples do not have a clue. They expose their ignorance when they asked Jesus about the completion of the Kingdom of God. Jesus redirects the discussion back to the Holy Spirit. Then something happens that no one expected. Verse nine says, he was taken up. He was levitated and raised so high that he was covered by a cloud. Not believing their own eyes, they were in awe. With their eyes squinting and their necks bent, they strain to get their last view of Jesus. It must have been one of those moments in life that they never forgot. Hoping for one more view of Jesus, two men dress in white had to nudge them back to reality. Saying good-bye is never an easy thing.

Have you ever had to say goodbye to a close friend or a loved one? I don’t mean the casual goodbyes we say at the end of a lunch or an accidental meeting. We can fill the days with words normally. I am talking about the last words that will be spoken ending a relationship. Those words are difficult. We choose our words more selectively. Everyone knows it, but no one says it.  There will be no more reunions in this world. The next reunion will be in heaven. Those goodbyes are not easy. How do you compress all those experiences down to a few words? How do you compress your emotions down to a few words? Have you ever had to say goodbye to a close friend or a loved one?

When I was young, we took a family vacation to the state of Maine. I remember it as a wonderful trip. The five of us climbed into the family car and saw the sites. We went to Maine for one reason. It was the home state of my father’s stepmother, my Grandma Helen. She was the only grandmother I knew on the Adams side. My biological grandmother died seven years before I was born. One day we connected with my grandparents in a place near Boothbay Harbor. She had cousins who lived there, Mary and Marge. They hosted everyone for lunch. I don’t remember what we ate but I do remember the scenery. That rocky coastline was impressive. I hope to travel to Maine in my retirement. It must have been late in the afternoon when we started saying goodbye. I remember standing near my mother and sisters. Grandma Helen was saying goodbye to Mary and Marge. Without warning, they began to hug and cry. One of my sisters asked, “Why are they were crying?” My mother answered, “When you are their age, you don’t know if you are going to see each other again. This may be their final goodbye.” Goodbyes aren’t easy.

It was not easy for the disciples. They had only been with Jesus for three years, but their lives had completely changed over that time. They had seen so much. They had experienced so much. It was almost cruel to expect the disciples to accept so much in such a short amount of time. In short, they were in awe. They were in awe for three reasons.

First, they were in awe from what they were experiencing. Like young people who return from church camp or adults who return from a mission trip, words cannot capture everything that happened.Our words have limitations.The words in the scripture lesson for today are just shadows of what really happened. How do you describe a miracle? How do you describe an ascension? When was the last time your words couldn’t capture an experience? They were in awe of what they were experiencing.  

Second, they were in awe of what they had experienced. They had traveled with Jesus for three years. That is not a long time. How many relationships do you have that are older than three years? However, just think about everything they had experienced during those three years! There is more to a relationship then time. There is significance. They had seen Jesus heal the sick and the afflicted. They had heard his teaching and felt his presence. They had proudly marched into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday and scattered like sheep in the days to follow. They had cried at his death and felt the numbness of his absence. They rejoiced at his resurrection. It all happened in such a short period of time. There was no time to process the events. They were in awe of what they were experiencing.  

Third, they were in awe of what they would experience. They were pre-Pentecost disciples. They have just been told they are to go into the world and witness for about Jesus. I can’t think of one group less qualified for this task. They knew very little. They understood very little. They were unprepared and unequipped. You would be hard pressed to find a group that was more impotent. They were well acquainted with their own deficiencies. They were in awe of the challenge that was facing them. That is one of the reasons we are so fascinated with the disciples. We are so much like them. Like them, we are in awe of the great challenge facing us.

The Great Commission says we are to go out and make disciples in the world. We are to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19) Does anyone here feel qualified for that task? Is it possible we have no energy left to make disciples because we spend our energy maintaining the institutional church? Or maybe our problem is deeper? Maybe we are like those pre-Pentecost disciples. We have heard about the Holy Spirit, but we have never experienced the Holy Spirit. Never forget, Jesus expects us to make as many disciples as possible. How many disciples do you think this church has made? We have no hope without the Holy Spirit.

The date was June 13, 1948. The place was Yankee Stadium. The occasion was Babe Ruth Day. They came to remember, and there was so much to remember. In 1927, Babe Ruth became the first player to hit sixty home runs in a single season. He hit 714 home runs in his career and had a career batting average of .342. In 1923, he hit .393. He was one of the first five to be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. He not only changed baseball; He saved baseball. There was so much to remember. Time can be a cruel thing.

By June 1948 the great Bambino was only a shell of his younger self. He would not see Labor Day. Cancer would take his life. He was 53 years old. Babe Ruth Day would give the fans one more opportunity to express their appreciation. Babe Ruth Day gave the fans the opportunity to say good-bye to the Sultan of Swat, the great Bambino. Goodbyes aren’t easy. That is especially true if you are never going to see the person again. It is easier to say good-bye to someone you are going to see again. It isn’t just true of professional athletes. It is true of everyone.

Bill Johnson is one of my best friends. You know Bill. He worked here with me for five years, before he kicked us to the curb for the bright lights of Salineville. He is now in Sugarcreek. Recently, his mother celebrated her ninetieth birthday. The family had a party to celebrate the occasion. From what I understand everyone enjoyed themselves. At ninety years old you have lost many in your life. Bill asked his mother, “Mom, when you get to heaven who do you want to see?” He thought the answer would be his father who has been gone for years. He thought it might be her old boyfriend Rawley. They would go fishing and drink Rolling Rock beer. Mrs. Johnson surprised Bill with her answer. Who do you want to see when you get to heaven? Jesus! I can wait a little longer to see everyone else. Let me ask you the question.

Who is the first person you want to see when you get to heaven? It maybe that child in your life that left far too soon. It maybe that spouse that worried and prayed for you. It maybe your parents who taught you how to live. It maybe that close friend who made you feel better on the hardest day. Who is the first person you want to see when you get to heaven? There is no wrong answer. There is only your answer. Who is the first person you want to see when you get to heaven? This is my answer. It is the same answer ninety-year-young Mrs. Johnson gave her loving son. I want to see Jesus. I can wait a little bit longer to see everyone else. The great evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018) said it best. “My home is in heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.”

Are You Making Progress?

We find ourselves in the second chapter of Luke, verses forty-one through fifty-two. According to the text, Jesus was twelve years old. (2:42) That was a significant year in the life of a young Hebrew man. For it was during that year, he began his studies to take his place among the men in the faith. Perhaps, that is why Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem? Or perhaps, they went to Jerusalem annually for the Passover, as was required by the law. We really don’t know why they were in Jerusalem, but we do know they were returning home. The distance between Jerusalem and Nazareth is 63 miles as the crow flies. It was more like 68 miles, because no road is perfectly straight. You do the math. If you walk about 4 mph, then it would have taken 17 hours to get home. The journey was not done in isolation. The pilgrims returned home in large packs. Those packs offered the pilgrims protection. They walked with family and friends, who filled the hours of traveling with various discussions.

Jesus was twelve years old and twelve-year-old boys begin to explore their independence. It would have been natural for Jesus not to travel with his parents. Mary and Joseph assumed their son was traveling with his friends. They assumed wrong. Jesus was missing. They send out a first century “amber alert”. They asked everyone with ears the question, “Have you seen Jesus?” Everyone answered, “No!” With no other option, Mary and Joseph returned to the Golden City. (They had to go back! How do you tell God you have lost his only son?) After three days (2:46) of searching, they found Jesus in the temple. It is easy to feel both their frustration and relief. They tried to reprimand him, but their words seem to fall on deaf ears. They thought Jesus was lost, but he knew where he was the whole time. He was in his father’s house. Listen to what I am about to say.

The story of Jesus at twelve years old is really our story. It is a story for anyone who wants to make progress in the faith. Jesus models for us how to make progress. He models for us how to grow spiritually. Verse 46 tells us what Jesus did clearly. It says:

After three days they (Joseph and Mary) found him (Jesus) in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Let us break that verse down together.

Jesus Positioned Himself

First, Jesus positioned himself. We have covered this in the past, but it is worth reviewing. In a world of places Jesus could have been. Jesus was at the temple courts with the teachers. He should have been walking home, but he was in the temple courts with the teachers. That simple fact says great deal about Jesus’s priorities. Even into adulthood, Jesus had every reason not to attend worship, but Jesus never failed to attend worship. The Bible does not say Jesus missed worship because family was in town. The Bible does not say Jesus missed worship because the weather was too bad or nice. The Bible does not say Jesus missed worship because he was tired after laboring at the synagogue’s big fundraiser. The Bible does say Jesus attended worship because worship was a priority to him.

As a nation that is not our story. Our national theology is extremely poor. There are several reasons why. One of the reasons is worship is no longer a priority for many. Everything thing else seems more important than worship. This is not just my opinion. It is fact. According to Gallup, in 1937, 73% of all Americans belonged to a church. Today, approximately 45% of all Americans belong to a church. That is a sad fact, but the problem runs deeper.

There is a world of difference between church membership and church attendance. We can belong to a church and never worship. You can worship and never join the church. According to the Pew Research Group, 38% of Americans consider themselves regular worshippers. That means they worship once a month. How bad is the situation? We have redefined the term regular worshipper. We used to define a regular worshipper as one missed worship only once a month. Now you are considered a regular worshipper of you come once a month. How many times have you worshipped this month? One of the reasons we are not making progress in our faith development is that we are not positioning ourselves. We just don’t worship. Jesus sat in the temple courts with the teachers. Where do you sit on most Sunday mornings? Jesus positioned himself.

Jesus Listened

Second, Jesus listened. Jesus is sitting in the temple with the teachers, and he is listening to what they were saying. In other words, when Jesus was listening, Jesus was learning. You know it is true. We are not very good at listening. However, we are excellent at talking. Have you ever gone to church and tried to listen but the person next to you will not stop talking? There seems to be a national shortage of good listeners. If you don’t believe me then just google this question, how can I become a better listener?

Everyone seems to have list to help us. Even dumblittleman.com. This is their list of seven

  1. Remove all distractions
  2. Be present
  3. Wait for the other person to stop talking
  4. Don’t assume anything
  5. Look at nonverbal communication
  6. Clarify
  7. Ask questions 

Do the people in your life consider you a good listener? When you come to church do you spend more time listening or talking? It is my job to communicate the divine Biblical truth in a clear way. It is your job to listen to the divine truth. American author Bryant H. McGill (born 1969) once said, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is to actually listen to what another has to say.” How much do you respect the people in your life? How much do you respect me? How much do you respect God? Are you a better talker or listener?Jesus positioned himself and listened.I don’t want to shock you, but you don’t know everything. You may want to stop talking and listen.

 Jesus Questioned 

Third, Jesus asked questions. When I was young, I lived in a home that will built in the 20’s. If you lived in a home built in the 20’s you know they weren’t built like homes today. Homes built during that decade did not have air conditioning or decks. However, they did have front porches. We never sat on the front porch, except when the weather grew hot. I have fond memories of those hot evenings because the entire neighborhood sat on their front porches at the same time. That is how we got to know our neighbors.

When I was young, I would journey to our neighbor’s front porch. We shared a driveway. Her name was Mrs. Ortmyer. I thought she was as old as the hills. She was probably my age. She served me the same snack regularly, ginger ale and soda crackers. Every night I would ask a mountain of questions. Why is it so hot in the summer? Why is it so cold in the winter? Why is the grass green and the snow white? How can birds fly and fish swim? Every evening our discussion end the same way. She would cup her hands over her ears and say, “Russell, go home! When you get older you will have all the answers you want.” I have to say it. Mrs. Ortmyer was wrong! I am older but I still have a mountain of questions. Why are some born with so much and some so little? Why are all my friends fighting the battle of the bulge, yet someone dies  every seven seconds from a lack of food? How can you raise two children in the same house, and they end up so different? Have you ever asked those kinds of questions? When I get to heaven, I have a mountain of questions for God.How many questions do you have for God?

There is nothing wrong with asking questions. Jesus asked questions. Look at verse 46 again. It says, “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”  There is nothing wrong with a sincere question. Asking God, a sarcastic question just shows your arrogance. Asking God, a sincere question means you are simply trying to understand. Look at it this way. If you don’t ask questions, it means you don’t care enough to try to understand. Jesus positioned himself, listened, and asked questions.Ask God all the questions you like. Don’t worry, He can handle it!

I love this story. I have told it many times. You may remember me telling it in the past. When Pablo Casals (1876-1973) reached 95, a young reporter asked him, “Mr. Casals, you are 95 years old and considered the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” Mr. Casals answered, “Because I think I’m making some progress.” As your minister, let me ask you this revealing important question: are you making any progress? I am not talking about the cello. I am talking about the faith. Are you making progress in the Christian faith?

I graduated from Mount Union College in 1979. During my daughter’s time at Mount Union the name was changed to the University of Mount Union. Only the name changed. In many ways the school is still the same. The core values never changed. It is still a good place.

Like today, students loved Spring break. The lucky ones went to Florida. I spent my Spring breaks in northeast Ohio. One year a group of guys decided to drive to Florida. They were in a hurry to escape the cold damp spring of Ohio for the warmth of Florida. To save time and money they decided to drive through. They figured it would take them about twenty-four hours, so they decided the six of them would drive in four hours shifts. I was there when they jumped in a van and headed south. To be honest, I was jealous. The bright lights of Warren did not compare to Miami. When they returned, they had a million stories. The one that was repeated the most was about the trip on the way down. In the middle of the night, it was time to change drivers. The driver exited the highway and woke up the next driver. They traded seats. When the new driver got back on the highway, he started driving north, not south. The mistake was not noticed until the next driver got behind the wheel. It was an ugly scene. The trip was extended by an additional eight hours. They had not made any progress in those four hours. So, here is the question you must answer. Are you more like Pablo Casals, making progress? Are you more like Spring breakers, making no progress? It is the question that will not go away.

Are you making progress? If you are ashamed of your answer, then do what the twelve-year-old Jesus did. First, Jesus positioned himself. Worship was a priority to Jesus. Second, Jesus listened. Stop talking and listen when you come to church to hear the divine truth. Third, Jesus questioned. I am not talking about cynical or sarcastic questions. I am talking about asking sincere questions because you simply want to understand God’s mysterious ways. Christian author Anya VonderLuft once said, “Life is not worth living unless you live it for the one who gave you life.”  Are you making progress?

Facing An Uncertain Future

Years ago, before a civil war threatened to divide our country, before Columbus discovered a New World, before Jesus hung on the cross for the salvation of mankind, there was a man who spoke on behalf of God. His name means “the Lord exalts” or “the Lord establishes.” However, we simply call him Jeremiah. His story is found in the Old Testament book that contains his name. He is considered one of the major prophets. That means he was wordy. In those 52 chapters, he does not hide his personal struggles. He states them clearly. He was crippled with self-doubt and self-criticism. He needed to be filled with self-confidence because his country was needy. Judah was on a downward spiral. They were nothing more than a pawn in their little corner of the world. The superpowers of their world, Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, were dividing up the land. Judah was facing an uncertain future.

That is why the words from the twenty-ninth chapter of this book must have stood out. Jeremiah was trying to calm their raw nerves. Verse eleven must have acted as a cooling ointment on their open wounds. Speaking for God, Jeremiah said:

For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Those are powerful words because he is reminding the people that they were not forgotten. Despite their uncertain future, they were still loved by God. Despite their uncertain future, God had a plan for them. Despite their uncertain future, God had a future for them. There was only one problem with all that. God’s plan for them was a great secret. They were facing an uncertain future and didn’t know how to answer the question, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? It is not just a question for ancient Hebrews. It is a question for all of us who are facing an uncertain future. How do you answer the question? What are you doing to do with the rest of your life?

Graduates are forced to answer that question. It does not matter if it is high school or college. It does not matter if it is a graduate with an advanced degree or a GED. I find that question, what are you doing to do with the rest of your life, to be cruel. Especially to the youngest graduates. Have you ever wondered why they are forced to make the most important decisions of their lives at the youngest age, when we have least among of experience? There may be a field out there that will capture their passion that they don’t even know exists today. I am not being critical when I say this, there is no occupational group I hold higher. However, I am convinced that is why so many high school graduates want to be teacher. They admired a certain teacher and wanted to be one too. The graduates do their best to answer the question about their futures but who really knows. At best, it is an educated guess. Only God knows what is in store for them. However, it is not just a question for graduates. It is a question for anyone whose life is changing. It is for anyone facing an uncertain future. What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

It is a question for the person who has labored long and hard in a certain vocation. They had experience success and now it is time to retire. Cards are sent and a party is held. Everyone says, “Congratulations! Then, they ask the question. What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” It is a fair question. You can only drown so many worms and hit so many golfs balls. Someone once said to me, “Russ, this retirement thing is really overrated. I wish I could go back to work. You will be sorry.” More people have said to me, “Retirement is great!” I am fortunate. My job filled with passion. I just want to do less of it in retirement. What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

It is a question for anyone who stayed at home to raise their children. That was their career. They did a great job! They created wonderful independent people. They got an education and a job. Then, they moved out and pay their own bills! They are doing great, but you are struggling with the question. What are you going to do with the rest of your life? You never thought you would ever miss the softball games and the band practices. You never thought you would miss the carpooling and the homework. It is now over, and your home is now neat and quiet. You miss the mess and the noise. Your home in its present state is going to drive you crazy. You are left alone with the question. What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

It is a question for anyone who has survived a horrible disease. I am glad to report all the treatments worked, and you are cancer free. You survived but for what? Television is not enough. Reading is not enough. Napping is not enough. You are left with the question. What are you going to do with the rest of your life? God must have saved you for something, but you are not sure what. What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

What are you going to do with the rest of your life? It is a question we all must answer. God has a plan for everyone in this world. Jeremiah told those ancient Hebrews that God had a plan for them. I am telling you God has a plan for us. God has a plan for you! There is no greater mystery in life than discovering God’s purpose for your life. You can be honest with me. How do you answer the question, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?

Today, I want to give you three pieces of pastoral advice to help you answer that question. These are not original. They came from Dan Borchert, who is the pastor of the Christian Missionary Alliance Church, in Bakerstown, California. These three points spoke to me, and I believe they will speak to you. Write them down for the next time you ask yourself the question, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?

Pastoral Advice #1:   Face your fears!       Fear is one of the great crippling factors in our lives.Sometimes, it is natural fear. For example, you may be afraid of heights. I am afraid of women and financial debt. (Maybe, they go together?) Sometimes, it is a fear of not being accepted by others. That kind of fear is far more common and destructive.

Sometime back a university did a survey. They had ten people in a classroom and the teacher would ask the class which line on the blackboard was the longest. Nine of the people participating were told to choose the 2nd longest. One person did not know what was going on. In 75% of the tests, the one person would go along with what everyone. Why? Out of fear. Fear of not being accepted.

Don’t be afraid to be different. We are not products made on an assembly line, identical. Each one of us is unique. God has made you in a certain way for a certain purpose. There are just certain things that you do naturally well. There are things that make you stand out. Embrace your uniqueness and face your fears! What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

Pastoral Advice #2:   Forget your failures!     One of the things we will not tolerate as a society is failure. One of the things we will not tolerate individually is failure.

Years ago, I went to a continuing education event in Pittsburgh. It started eight days after Easter so emotionally I had been on a roller coaster ride. There was the high of Easter morning, big crowd. Then came the week after Easter, small little group. I was still licking my wounds from the small little group when I arrived. I registered and found a seat at a table. I didn’t know anyone, so I just sat there alone. The presenter started by telling his story. He was the pastor of one of these big mega churches. He told one success story after another. With every story I felt worse about myself. I remembered the small little group. When he started talking about his newest building, I couldn’t take it anymore. Leaving all my material behind, I walked out and drove home. When I got home, I sat on my deck and felt sorry for myself. I sat there long enough in that state for my neighbor, Rick, to come home from work. He came up and sat next to me. He asked me what I was doing sitting there in the middle of the day. I told about my workshop and my emotional state. He looked at me and said, “What is the big deal! We have known you are a loser for years. Go back to work and make it better.” I hate to admit it, but he was right.

We spend too much time worrying about our failures and not enough time trying to make our lives better. How much time do you spend reviewing your failures? How much time do you spend in the past? Forget your failures!What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

Pastoral Advice #3:   Follow your faith!    Don’t let money be the driving force in your life. Let God be the driving force in your life. I am always concerned about people who go into a certain vocation because they are going to make a lot of money. If God has a purpose for your life, then God will take care of you. I have a friend whose wife is an oncologist. She told me once the greatest frustration in her life are colleagues who had no compassion for their patients. She said they didn’t go into medicine to help people. They went into medicine to make money. What is the greatest driving force in your life? Is it making money? Is it serving God? Follow your faith!What are you doing to do with the rest of your life?

Her name is Gustava Bennett Burrus (1902-2006). She was a proud member of the class of 2003 of Richmond High School in Richmond, California. Home of the fighting oilers. She was the oldest person in her graduating class. She may have been the oldest person to graduate from high school in the history of the United States. She was 97 years of age. To say the least, her story was unique from the rest of her classmates.

She was born in 1905 in Louisiana, one of ten children to sharecroppers. At the age of two, the family moved to Oklahoma to raise cotton. She dropped out of school in the fourth grade. At the age of 19, her family arranged her marriage to a doctor from Tennessee, Porter Burrus. He said he was a 30-year-old-widower with no children. He lied. After the vows, she learned the truth. Porter was a 50-year-old widower with 8 children. He convinced her to stay. Their marriage lasted 38 years. They must have gotten along a little. They had 11 children of their own. Porter died in 1966 at the age of 88. They had 97 grandchildren, a countless number of great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. She was so busy with all those children she never had time to finish school. At the age of 74, she went back to school to study computers. That coarse lead to other courses. When she was in her nineties, she told her son she wished would have graduated from high school. He persuaded to go back. He dropped her off in the morning and picked her up after school. They say the chemistry between her, and her classmates was amazing. They liked her and she brought the best of them out! She gave the class of 2003 this advice, “If you don’t want to get old, gray and wrinkled, die young.”  I love that story. She graduated at 97 years old! I wonder if anyone asked her the question, what she was going to do with the rest of her life?

It is the question that just won’t go away. What are you going to do with the rest of your life? Maybe this is a better question. Are you living or just waiting to die? Jeremiah was not wrong. He said, God has a plan for you.What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

A Son’s Regrets

My father died in 1996. That meant for the first time in over forty-five years, my mother was alone. My sisters and I did the best we could to fill his void, but we failed. She struggled without him. She was the perfect person for his routine. We tried many things to fill her empty, lonely days. Annually, she would travel to Colorado Springs to visit my sister, Janet. Janet did a great job of hosting her. My job was simple. I took her to the airport and picked her up at the end of the visit.

I do not remember the year. However, I do remember the weather. My mother was returning from one of her Colorado trips and I went to the Pittsburgh Airport to pick her up. It was a long trip there and back because the weather was so bad. I am sure it was the heaviest snow of the year. I crawled to the airport, and I drove slower on the way to Warren. The hour was late when I drove into her driveway. Before I escorted her inside, I unlocked the front door, turned the lights on, turned up the heat, and carried in her suitcase. That is when it happened. She looked at me and said, “Russell, you look tired. The weather is so bad. Why don’t you spend the night? I will cook you a nice breakfast in the morning.” My response to her kind invitation has haunted me for years. I said, “No. I have some things to do in the morning.” A few minutes later I was driving home. Can I be honest with you? I can’t remember what I had to do the next morning. Chances are it wasn’t that important. The truth is, I just wanted to go home, so I did. I left my mother alone in that cold dark house because I was selfish. My mother sacrificed so much for me, and I couldn’t sacrifice a little for her. I am ashamed of my behavior and that night still haunts me. It is one of my life’s greatest regrets. I wish I could make it up to her now, but it is too late.

I would like to say that was my only regret, but I can’t. I have many, but I only have time to talk about three today. I don’t believe my regrets are unique. They may be your regrets too. American playwriter Arthur Miller (1915-2005) once said, “Maybe all we can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.”  For those of us whose mother have passed it is too late. For those of you who still have your mother, they are a warning. Don’t wait until it is too late. I hope you learn from my mistakes.

My first regret is not asking more questions. Listen to what I am about to say. I know basic facts about my mother. Her name was Ruth. She was the oldest of two daughters born to Walter and Nina Milligan of Brooklyn, New York. She went to P.S. 92 during her grade school years and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School. During the Second World War, she went to Pratt Institute and studied dietetics. After graduation, she moved to Jersey City, New Jersey and worked in a hospital. She worked during the day and began studying towards her master’s degree at night. One night the work and the studies were placed to the side. She attended a social gathering at the Marble Collegiate Church. The Second World War had just ended, and dances were held so returning soldiers could meet single women. She met a young dark-haired man named Ronald from Ohio. At first, she wasn’t interested in him because she thought he was Catholic. She was suddenly interested in him when she found out he was Protestant. In time, they married and moved to a magical place called Warren, Ohio, where everyone is a little smarter and better looking. In time, they would have three children; I am the youngest. I know basic facts about her life, but I wish I knew more. My mother is gone now. I regret not asking her more questions.

I wish I would have asked her more family questions. Was Aunt Sarah Grandma’s older or younger sister? Was Uncle Lester Grandpa’s older or younger brother? Where are Grandma and Grandpa buried? I wish I had asked her more personal questions. Did you ever consider staying in New York? Did Grandma ever forgive you for moving away? At what age did Grandpa start smoking? What was her favorite color? I am seven years younger than my sisters. Was I an accident, or just a disaster? Did you ever wish I was a girl? I have a million questions I would love to ask her now, but it is too late. Am I the only one, or are there questions you never asked? I regret not asking my mother more questions. I regret not asking more questions.

My second regret is not being more secure. Webster defines security as “a firmly established relationship or reputation”. Tomorrow, I will celebrate my 65th birthday. To be honest with you, I like the fact that I am going to be 65; it is a cool age. I am glad I do not have to be young again. Being younger is hard. Being my age is very liberating. When you are young, you have so much to prove. You must prove you are the smartest. You always must prove you are the strongest. You always must prove you are the fastest. You must prove you are going to be the most successful. When you get to my age, you discover none of those things really matter. I will be the first one to admit I am not the smartest, strongest, fastest or the most successful. It is not that those things do not matter. All I am saying is, I do not care. I really don’t care what you think about me. The only thing that really matters is that I like myself. Do you like yourself? In other words, are you secure?

I regret not being more secure when my mother was still with us. One of the reasons adult children struggle with their parents is insecurity. The younger generation is always trying to prove something to the older generation. My mother loved me unconditionally, but I was always trying to win her respect by proving my self-worth. That is why there is always an edge between parents and children. Our mothers know too much about us. They know our weaknesses that we are always trying to hide. I regret not being more secure, because I would have had a better relationship with her. I know something now I didn’t know on the day she passed. She loved me unconditionally. There was nothing to prove. I regret not being more secure.

My third regret is not being more articulate. It was early spring in 2002. My mother was in a rapid state of decline. As a matter of fact, I sat near her deathbed. She was sleeping comfortably. My father had died six years earlier and she was dying of a broken heart. My sister, Susan, and I did what we could. We were taking turns sitting with her so she would not be alone. It was my turn, and I sat in the shadows of her room at Crandall Medical Center at Copeland Oaks in Sebring, Ohio. The hour grew late and once again I began to think of everything that had to happen the next day. In the silence of that room, I decided to leave. I did something for the first time. I said something for the first time. I leaned over my mother and kissed her, and I said to her, “I love you.” From some unknown power she opened her eyes and responded, “I hope so. I am your mother!” I am ashamed to admit, that was the first and the last time I said those three important words, “I love you.” I regret not being more articulate.If you still have your mother, then find the courage to tell her. I have never met a mother who got tired of hearing that they were loved. I regret not being more articulate.

This all takes us to our scripture lesson for today. We find ourselves today in the nineteenth chapter of John. It is extremely late in Jesus’ earthly ministry. The last person Jesus healed had been healed. The last lesson he taught was completed. The disciples have even observed their last Seder with Jesus. Jesus has been arrested and tried. There is only one thing left for Jesus to do: die. Hanging between two criminals, Jesus is running out of time. The crowd of Palm Sunday had disappeared and the only ones who remained were those who truly loved him. The list is small. On that small list was his mother, Mary. I am not surprised. It must have been a painful day for her. Time moves so fast. Thirty-three years earlier she had brought him into the world; now she was watching him leave. She longed for Joseph’s strength, but he was gone. Jesus sees his mother and does the responsible thing. He entrusts her to John, the author of this Gospel, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Jesus waited until the last moment, but he didn’t wait too long. He died without a single regret. I hope you don’t wait too long.

This is Mother’s Day, and it is a good day to ask all your questions. There is no such thing as a foolish question. This is a good day to become more secure and relate to her. You don’t have to prove anything to your mother; she loves you unconditionally. This is a good day to become more articulate and tell her how you really feel. Mothers never get tired of hearing that they are loved. Abraham Lincoln (1803-1865) was the sixteenth President of the United States and the first President to be assassinated. He said it for many of us, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”  

In Remembrance

How is your memory? I heard of an older couple that was having some trouble remembering so they signed up to take a memory course together. A few months later the husband was out working in his garden when a neighbor stopped by and began to talk to him about the memory course, what was the name of the instructor? The husband paused, then asked “What is the name of that flower that smells so nice but has thorns? You mean a rose the neighbor answered. Yeah, that’s it, “Hey Rose, what’s the name of that guy who taught us the memory course?” How is your memory?

It is impossible to remember everything. How many things have you forgotten recently? When was the last time you forgot a loved one’s birthday? When was the last time you lost your keys? When was the last time you forgot to return a phone call? Is there some secondary person in your life you don’t call by name because you forgot their name? Have you ever forgotten to get milk at the store or to pick up a youngster from school? Have you ever forgotten where you parked at the stadium or the grocery store? You can admit it. We have all forgotten something. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter. For example, I can never remember Ronald Reagan’s first wife. Sometimes, it does matter. Don’t forget to file your taxes by April 18. This evening we remember an event that you must never forget.

It is imperative that you remember Jesus’ last Seder. Our primary scripture is First Corinthians 11:23-26. It would be his last meal before his appointment with the cross. For it is at that meal, Jesus gave us a memorial for the ages. You know the scene. We have reenacted it. It has been reenacted in movies and inspirited some of the greatest pieces of art. That makes it easy to imagine this evening’s lesson. The Gospels tell us, the disciples were wondering about the Passover meal. This is not shocking. It was the reason they came to Jerusalem. They had been observing the Passover meal annually since childhood. Jesus sends two of the disciples ahead to make the arrangements. When Jesus arrived, everything was ready in that upper room. The menu for the meal was traditional. Each course represented something from the story of the exile. Every word was scripted. No one dared change a single word, but Jesus did change the words. Instead, of just remembering the past, Jesus began to talk about the future. He began to speak of the future when he would be separated from his disciples. We know the words that he uttered because we are his contemporary disciples. The bread represents his body. The wine represents his blood. He gave us those elements for one reason. He did not want to be forgotten. Remembering Jesus is extremely important. On Maundy Thursday we need to remember three things.

First, we need to remember past events! Did you know in the state of Ohio there are 1,750 historical markers? Each one has been placed by the Ohio Historical Society. That program started in the 1950s. I think my father read every one. It used to drive me crazy when I was young. Now I read as many as I can. Time changes things. Did you know there are 16 historical markers within the zip code of this church? Maybe you have seen them? Has anyone read the marker at the old The Mahoning Dispatch Building or the one at the Pioneer Pavilion? Each one exists for the same reason. They don’t want you to forget the past.

The disciples observed that annual Seder to remember past events. It was a meal designed to remember the past. It was a meal designed to teach the youngest about their past. Each participant heard the story again. Their ancestors were held in bondage in Egypt. They had no hope of liberation, so God sent them a liberator. His name was Moses. He spoke on behalf of God to the Pharaoh and announced a series of plagues. Each one was miserable. There was the plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locust and darkness. However, the last plague was the worst, the plague on the first born. It was that plague that changed the heart of Pharaoh. He released the Hebrews. We remember because there are events that should not be forgotten. It is not just true of them. It is true of us. We should never forget the events of that upper room. We remember because of past events are important. We remember because past events hold lessons.

Second, we need to remember past lessons! Someone asked me recently, “What is the worst thing about traveling?” I think he wanted to hear about bad food and lumpy beds. Instead, I told him about airport security. If you have traveled in the past twenty-plus years you know it is true. It is part of the day. You take off your shoes. You take off your belt. You empty your pockets. You show your boarding pass and passport. You step into the machine to get x-rayed, and you are patted down by someone who needs a breath mint. It is annoying, but I never complain. Why? You know the answer. We have learned from the past. September 11 changed our world. Someone once said, “Growing up is learning from yesterday’s mistakes.”  How many times have you said, “I will never do that again!” We remember so we don’t make the same mistakes again. We remember because of past events are important. We remember because past events hold lessons. We remember because those events remind us of our core values.

Third, we need to remember our core values. The Seder is designed to help people remember the past. However, the Seder is designed to do more. It was designed to remember past values. The Seder is an annual reminder to the Jews that their relationship with God is unique. They call themselves “God’s Chosen People.” It is a statement that is hard to argue with when you remember the events in the wilderness. Pharaoh had changed his mind and sent his army to retrieve the slaves. Moses had led the people to the shore of the Red Sea. Things looked bad. The people could not go back because of the army. The people could not go forward because of the water. They were trapped and they had no hope. However, they are God Chosen people, so God divided the waters for them. The water was held back for the Hebrews but not the Egyptians. It is not just a story of a miracle; it is a reminder that they are special. When they remember it; they remember their core values.

When we partake of the body and the blood of Christ you are not just remember some past event. You are remembering our core values. You have a unique relationship with God. You are a disciple of Jesus Christ!

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The history is interesting. It was built in the 1600’s by the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahah. He built it as a memorial for his wife, Mumtaz Hahal. The building, itself, is truly an amazing. It is an octagonal building with walls measuring 130 feet long by 70 ‘high and it is surmounted by a dome adding an addition 120’ in height. It is constructed entirely out of white marble, which is reflected by a huge pool. The interior design is magnificent, containing 12 types of inlaid stones, and mosaics of great beauty. Many consider the Maj Mahal the greatest memorial in the world today. They are wrong!

 The greatest memorial today is found at the communion table of every church. It is the body and the blood of Christ. When we come to the communion table we remember. In is important that we remember past events. It is important that we remember past lessons. It is important that we remember our core values. We have a special relationship with God. We are disciples of Jesus Christ! Saint John Bosco (1815-1888) once said, “We do not go to Holy Communion because we are good; we go to become good.”

Responding to the Resurrection

In January, Kathryn and I went to Washington DC. It was not our first trip to our nation’s capital. We had a short list of things we wanted to see. On that list was Arlington National Cemetery. My father-in-law, who I barely knew, John Trojan is there. He is in the columbarium, located in the southeast section approximately one mile from the Memorial Gate. The cemetery personnel drove us there, but they didn’t stay as we visited his plague. Instead of waiting for a ride to return, we decided to walk back. There is no other way to say it. It was moving walking by those countless graves. There are approximately 400,000 graves in Arlington. The words between us were few, but they were meaningful. That evening we had dinner at a restaurant near the National Archives building. It was full of people having a good time. Arlington was moving, but the restaurant was fun. Let me state the obvious. It is more fun to be with the living than the dead. May we never forget we serve a risen Savior. Jesus is alive and well!

We find ourselves today in the twentieth chapter of John. Each one of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, have their own account of the resurrection of Jesus. The details vary, but the main point remains the same. Jesus is resurrected! This is John’s version. Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb early on Sunday morning. It is so early; it is still dark. It was the first time the law permitted anyone to touch the dead. Corpses could not be touched on the Sabbath. When she arrives, she discovers that the stone in front of the entrance had been rolled away. She is shocked by this discovery and assumes the worst. Someone had taken Jesus body! The abuse Jesus had endured on Friday was not enough. Now they had taken his body to continue the cruelty. She wants to find Jesus, so she enlists some help. There is no other way to say it. They lost Jesus! (Don’t you hate when you lose a corpse?) She ran to tell two disciples that Jesus is missing. The first is Peter. The second is described the one that Jesus loved. That is John’s way of describing himself. Instantly, the two run to the tomb and it is at this point the scripture comes to life for us.

The story is familiar because we have looked at it countless times. It is hard to preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ annually and be original. John’s account of the resurrection is unique. It illustrates for us the three responses to the resurrection. They are not unique to John. They are not unique to John’s time. They are the same ways people respond to the resurrection today. The question you must answer is, how do you respond the resurrection? Are you skeptical about the resurrection of Jesus? Are you curious about the resurrection of Jesus? Or, do you believe, in your heart of hearts, Jesus was resurrected?

Peter plays the role of the skeptic. Look at the text with me. It says when Peter got to the Jesus’ tomb he went in and saw all the clothes of clothes scattered. Verse ten says he does something that he must have regretted the rest of his life. What does that verse say? It says after he saw clothes scattered on the tomb’s floor, he went home. He missed the whole thing because he went home. It made logical sense to go home. The problem is the resurrection is not logical. It is a miracle that cannot be explained by science.

Do you know any skeptics? Our world is filled with skeptics. Our world has always been filled with skeptics. The story of the resurrection has always been surrounded by skeptics. Do you know how many theories exist trying to disregard the resurrection of Jesus? One theory says someone got to the tomb ahead of Mary Magdalene and stole Jesus’ body. One theory says Mary Magdalene got confused and went to the wrong tomb. (You know how women are with directions.) One theory says the women confused Jesus with someone else. After all, if you have seen one Jew then you have seen them all. One theory says Jesus never died on the cross. Instead, he was drugged and once his head had cleared, he simply walked out unnoticed on Saturday. Do I have to go on? We live in a skeptical world because many believe science is the final word. Miracles are dismissed because they cannot be proven. The resurrection is a miracle, so it must not have happened. There is only one problem with this line of thought.

The final word is not science; the final word is God. God is not frustrated by scientific law. God does, what God desires. Part of God’s plan of salvation for the world was to resurrect Jesus.

Mary Magdalene plays the role of the seeker. What does the text say? She followed Jesus to his tomb. She was going to treat his body. She thought it would be her last loving act for Jesus, but she was wrong. What does the text say? It says that after Peter and John examined the scene they went home. What did Mary Magdalene do? We are told that she stayed at the tomb. She knew something had happened, but she didn’t know what. She had been part of the great story of the resurrection, but she didn’t exactly know what happened. She waited outside of the tomb crying trying to comprehend what had happened. In other words, she had a few questions.

Does anyone here have a question about the resurrection? In your mind you understand that Jesus came back to life! However, that fact has not yet penetrated your heart. You are just like Mary Magdalene? You know something happened, but you can’t comprehend the true meaning of the resurrection. Ask all the questions you want because it is the best way to learn. Do you have any questions? Do you know anyone who is a seeker? Could it be you are a seeker? It is fine to be a seeker. I have a few questions myself.

John plays the role of the saved. The text says when he got to the tomb, he didn’t go in. Peter went into the tomb first. John stayed outside. There may be several reasons. Maybe he was resting? After all, he had just been running. Or maybe he was afraid that Mary Magdalene was wrong. He didn’t want to see Jesus’ mangled body. Or maybe he did not go in because he was just afraid? Roman guards could be waiting inside to arrest any Jesus supporters. He didn’t go in until Peter went in first. When he went in, he discovered Mary Magdalene’s account was accurate. Verse eight gives us one more piece of vital information.  It says that after John examined the tomb he believed. He remembered everything Jesus had said about his own death and resurrection. John remembered those things and believed.  His belief in the resurrected Jesus saved his very soul. Do you remember what Romans 10:9 says? That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is the question of the day.

What is your response to the resurrection of Jesus? I hope you are not a skeptic about the resurrection. No, science is not the final answer. The final answer is God! I hope you are not a seeker, just curious about the resurrection. It is the one thing you cannot question. I hope you believe that you are one of the saved. The resurrection changed everything. It changed the way you look at death, itself. It changed your final destination. May we never forget we serve a risen Savior. John Ortberg (born 1957) is the Senior Pastor of the Menlo Church in Menlo, California. He once said, “At the very heart of the Christian faith is the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection”If you believe in the resurrection, then, like John, you are saved!

The Beginning of the End

We begin in the twelfth chapter of Exodus, verses twenty-nine through thirty-two. Do you remember the story? We cover it annually. The descendants of Abraham had been spared from a great famine by following Joseph into Egypt. During his life they had been shown favor, but time changed things. Joseph died and his descendants had fallen into disfavor. They were enslaved by the Egyptians. Their lives were hard, and they cried out to God. The Almighty heard their cries and sent them a great liberator, Moses. Their freedom does not come in an instant. It comes at the end of a series of great plagues. The last was the worst, the death of the first-born sons. The will of the Pharaoh was broken, and the Hebrew people were given their freedom. It was a great day for God’s Chosen People. That day was such a great day that the people held an annual festival to remember what God had done just for them. The highlight of that festival was the Seder. It is a meal with a message. That whole annual feast is called the Passover.

Fast forward the clock thirteen hundred years. The people came to Jerusalem to remember what God had done for them one more time. This brings us to the scripture lesson for today. It was Passover, and the crowd was energized. The crowd was energized every Passover. I am not being critical. I am being honest. You cannot blame them. They were energized for the same reasons we are energized during our annual festivals, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

Some were energized because they were away from home! There is some truth to that statement. Their lives were hard. Every day looked about the same. Every week looked about the same. Sometimes it is just nice to get away. There was a law that said all Jewish males within a fifty-mile radius of Jerusalem were required to attend the Passover in Jerusalem. That law wasn’t needed. People didn’t attend the Passover because they had to go. They attended the Passover because they wanted to go. It would be like passing a law that everyone was required to celebrate Thanksgiving. It isn’t necessary. We look forward to Thanksgiving and they looked forward to Passover. If nothing else, it was a time to just get away. Have you ever gone away to just get away?

I have a good friend who went to North Carolina to celebrate his brother-in-law’s 50th birthday. (You know how some have to make a big deal out of their birthday!) When he returned home, I asked him, “Rick, did you have a good time?” He answered, he said, “Yes, I guess.” Then he told me about his trip. They were in complete isolation. The restaurants didn’t serve his favorite adult beverage. The weather was cold and foggy. His bed was lumpy. The party, itself, was attended by some shady characters. At the end of his stories I said, “So you didn’t have a good time?” He said, “Well, it was nice just getting away.” It isn’t just his story; it is our stories. Maybe it was their story? Sometimes, just getting away can be exciting! Maybe the crowd was excited because they had just gotten away? If you like getting away occasionally say, “Hosanna!”

Some were energized because they were with the most important people in their lives! Passover had both a religious and a secular side. The religious side had to do with remembering what God had done for the Hebrew people. The secular side had to do with that day. It was a reunion. Everyone was in Jerusalem. People you had not seen in a year or longer were there. They were excited because they were with the most important people in their lives. Passover was like a great family reunion. It is exciting to see family. (It is more exciting to see them go home.)

Several years ago, the news was filled with the story of Katheryn DePrill. Do you remember her story? She is the young woman who was looking for her biological mother on Facebook. Years earlier, her biological mother had left her as an infant in the bathroom of their local Burger King. Katheryn was looking for her to fill a void in her life. When her biological mother stepped forward, she openly admitted her mistake and told her side of the story. She had been sexually attacked at the age of sixteen, had the baby alone in her bedroom and headed to Burger King. She is relieved to know her baby is such a wonderful young woman. Katheryn’s biological mother cannot thank her parents enough for what they have done for her baby. Katheryn said when she met her biological mother there was a lot of emotions and everyone was excited. Maybe the people were just excited on Palm Sunday because they were reunited with the people in their lives? If you like seeing the most important people in your life, occasionally say, “Hosanna!”

Some were energized because they had renewed hope! The source of that hope was Jesus. Everyone knew the name Jesus. Everyone had heard about his teachings. Everyone had heard about his healings. Jesus was the one who brought Lazarus back to life! Some had felt his powerful presence. Everyone believed Jesus was going to usher in something new, and they were hungry for change. There is no other way to say it. The crowd was energized because Jesus was offering them hope. They had grown tired of Roman rules and domination. They longed for political change. Everything they did that day was political. They laid palm branches on the ground and waved them in the air. That is what previous generations did for their conquering heroes. They yelled political things. “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” They were excited because they knew change was coming. They were right, yet they were wrong. Change was coming but it was not political change. Jesus did not come for political change. Jesus came for spiritual change. Jesus came to lead a spiritual revolution. You know the story.

Palm Sunday is the beginning of the end. For Jesus, there would be no turning back. This is the truth. Holy Week means nothing for those who believe they can earn your salvation. It is nothing more than a celebration Spring or an excuse to eat ham. However, for those of us who understand our only hope for salvation is in the sacrificial death of Jesus, Holy Week means so much more. It is not enough to just return next week and celebrate the resurrection. This is so much more.

This year, I challenge you to take a few minutes out of each day this week and remember what Jesus did on that day. It will change the way you experience Palm Sunday. It will change the way you experience Easter. This is what the scriptures tell us:

          On Palm Sunday, Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem by the crowd. He was the eye of the storm. It was the point of no return. He spent that night in Bethany.

On Holy Monday, Jesus returned to Jerusalem. On the way he cursed the fig tree because it was not baring fruit, like the Hebrew faith had stop bearing fruit. It would be the only thing Jesus ever cursed. Then, he drove the money changers out of the temple. It was a place of prayer, not profit. He returned to Bethany that night.

On Holy Tuesday, Jesus returned to Jerusalem and saw the dead fig tree. He went to the temple and frustrated the authorities. He went to the Mount of Olives and taught about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of time.

On Holy Wednesday, Jesus rested. Jesus did nothing of note on that day. However, it was on Wednesday, Judas Iscariot agreed to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, and Mary anointed Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume. The Master was preparing to die.

On Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and had his last supper with them. He transformed the traditional Seder into something new, communion, a living memorial. In the evening, Jesus went to the garden to prayer. It was there Judas Iscariot betrayed him with a kiss and was arrested. He was taken to the home of the High Priest, Caiaphas. They made their case against Jesus.

On Holy Friday, the Roman Governor, Pontius Pitot sentenced Jesus to death. The order was carried out and Jesus, the sinless one, was executed between two criminals. He was the perfect sacrifice. His sacrificial death covered the sins of the world. That means he died for you. Jesus’s corpse was claimed by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. They placed it in a tomb.

On Holy Saturday, some call it “Silent Saturday,” nothing happened because Jesus was dead.

On Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, Jesus returns to life and changes our world forever. Without Jesus there is no hope of eternal life. He died for all of us, and it all began on Palm Sunday, the beginning of the end.

Last week, I told you about the cathedral in Milan, Italy. Do you remember? It is

such a large structure with five front doors. Each door leads to a different aisle in the sanctuary. The center three doors have carvings of note. Over the arch of one of the side doors is a carved wreath of roses, and underneath it is the legend, “All that which pleases is but for a moment.” Over arch of the other side door is sculptured a cross, and there are the words, “All that which troubles us is but for a moment.” But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, “Only the eternal is important.” Jesus came to save our souls.

How Great a Sacrifice

One of the most magnificent structures in the world is the cathedral in Milan, Italy. It is such a large structure it has five front doors. Each door leads to a different aisle in the sanctuary. The center three doors have carvings of note. Over the arch of one of the side doors is a carved wreath of roses, and underneath it is the words, “All which pleases is but for a moment.” Over arch of the other side door is sculptured a cross, and underneath it is the words, “All which troubles us is but for a moment.” But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, “Only the eternal is important.” It is the eternal we are going to look at in the next weeks. The eternal grabs our attention today.

We find ourselves today in the twelfth chapter of John, verse one through eleven. According to the text, it is a few days before the Passover. Jesus is in Bethany. Jerusalem and Bethany are approximately two miles apart. It just so happened, Jesus has friends who lived in Bethany, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus normally had an open invitation to their home. However, this time Jesus has a formal invitation. The women wanted to thank Jesus for resurrecting their brother, so they hold a dinner in Jesus’s honor. Jesus never traveled alone. He brings the twelve, along with a nameless crowd. The crowd was extra-large because they wanted to see the newly resurrected Lazarus.

The event is going off as planned. Everyone is having a wonderful time. Martha is serving. Lazarus is reclining at the table. It is Mary who does the unexpected. She took a pint of perfume nard and pours it on Jesus’ feet, wiping it with her hair. Mary seems to have some insider information. It is almost as if she was anticipating the week to come. Consider these two facts with me. First, she anoints Jesus like the dead were anointed. Second, she anoints Jesus’s feet like Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. The obvious happens. The house is filled with the odor of that sweet perfume. Everyone seems to handle the anointing, except one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot. He protests the waste. He is not completely wrong. The nard was expensive. He would have made the perfect church member in the twenty-first century. None of us believe money should be wasted. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned. The very least they could have done is sell the nard and given the money to the poor. Jesus deflects his criticism and applauds Mary for her priorities. Would Jesus applaud your priorities? We always sacrifice for those that we love. How much are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus.

Where were you on March 2, 2012? It is remembered as one of the most violent weather days in the history of our country. There were 140 tornados sighted that day, 76 confirmed landings. Thirty-nine people were killed. We prayed for the grieving, and all the lives that were changed that day, but we were inspired by one, Stephanie Decker.

On that day, Stephanie was a 37-year-old wife and mother, who lived in Henryville, Indiana. It was like a living nightmare. A tornado slammed into her home. With no other option, she acted like a human shield and laid on top of her children to protect them. The good news is everyone survived. The bad news is Stephanie lost both legs, one above the knee, one below the knee. Years later, she does not regret her sacrifice because she saved her children. It is a sacrifice she said she would do again. It is a sacrifice I hope I never have to make. I do not know how her children can look at her legs and question her love for them. I do not know how anyone can question her love for her children. We sacrifice the most for the people we love the most. That leads us to the question of the day. How much are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?

How much money are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Imagine the scene with your sacrificed imagination. It is impossible to read this story and ignore the financial issues. You can still buy a pint of nard on the internet. It will cost you approximately $625 for a single pint. No wonder Judas Iscarot was shocked by her extravagance. It seemed economically impossible for a common to own such a possession. Some believe, Mary received the nard from her parents as a wedding gift for her wedding night. Mary sacrificed a great amount of money to show her devotion to Jesus. How much money are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?

The Biblical standard for giving is the tithe, 10%. That is a challenge for a great number of people. According to Vanco, only 5% of all church goers’ tithe? 77% of all tithers give more than 10% The average church goer gives approximately $17 per week. That is $884 per year. It is the question I have asked you for the past quarter of a century. If everyone gave the amount to the church that you give to the church, would our ministry contract or expand? How much money are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love.

How much time are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Imagine the scene with your sacrificed imagination. The house is filled with guests and there are a million things to do. There is food that needs to be cooked. There are dishes that need to be washed. There are children that need to be entertained. There are a million things to do, so where is Mary. She is sitting at the feet of Jesus absorbing every word. It was not that those other things were not important. It was that this was an opportunity that could not be missed. You can do housework anytime, but you cannot always sit at the feet of Jesus. Mary sacrificed valuable time to sit at the feet of Jesus. How much time are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?

It is impossible for our generation to sit at the feet of Jesus. However, that changes nothing. How much time do you spend with Jesus? I am not talking about the time you spend in the church building or the time you spend fundraising for the church. I am talking about spending time practicing the Holy Habits. How much time do you spend meditating? How much time do you spend studying your Bible? How much time do you spend in worship? How much time do you spend in prayer? How much time are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love.

How much pride are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Imagine the scene with your sacrificed imagination. The fact that Mary anointed Jesus’s feet is significant. That sounds odd to our generation. It was odd to her generation too for two reasons. First, usually someone’s head was anointed, not their feet. Second, Hebrew women never unwrapped their hair in public. They only unwrapped their hair at home. Both expose her humility. How much pride are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?

Humility is not emptying yourself of self-worth. Humility is embracing your self-worth and your gifts and offering those things to the glory of God. Are you hoarding your gifts or are you using your gifts to bring glory to God? How much pride are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love. Let me state the obvious. During the next two weeks the issue is not how much we have sacrificed for God. The issue is how much God has sacrificed for us. In the Gospel lesson, only Mary seems to see the big picture. Only Mary, understands the events to come will have eternal consequences.

Jesus sacrificed it all because he loves us! You know the story, but it is worth repeating. It all began with the incarnation. God left the perfection of heaven to slum it with people like us. The incarnation of God, Jesus was born in the ordinary, yet he lived an extraordinary life. Let me make the point clear so there can be no confusion. Jesus’s father was God, and his mother was a poor young woman by the name of Mary. The most famous stepfather in his Joseph, a simple carpenter. At twelve years old, Jesus’s spiritual uniqueness became clear, yet he did not begin his ministry until he was thirty. That ministry only lasted three years, but it changed the world. In a nutshell, he simply loved everyone. Healing the sick and teaching about the Kingdom of God, Jesus threatened the orthodox leaders of his day. So threatened, they decided Jesus had to be eliminated. The plan was simply, but deadly. During the Passover, a few days after everyone cheered Jesus as he entered the city, one of Jesus’s own, Judas Iscariot, agreed to betray Jesus. He was arrested after the Passover meal on Thursday evening. Jesus was tried twice, once by his own people and again by the Romans. It was the Roman, Pontius Pilot, official who gave the death sentence. Hours later the order was carried out. Jesus died Roman style, on a cross between two criminals. The Sunday crowd has abandoned him, but the faithful remained. They saw him draw his last breath. They saw him take out his lifeless body. They cried because all hope was lost and they were the ones who asked the question, “Why?” No knowing the happy ending we call Easter, they wrestled with the harsh reality, Jesus was dead.

It was a powerful moment in the history of the world. Jesus, the incarnation of God, was dead. Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love. This is not doubt about it. Jesus loved us so he sacrificed it all for us. It has been said many times:

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

The only things that matter are eternal!