The Ultimate Disappointment

The Mackenzie River is Canada’s largest river system. It runs through vast sections of its barren Northwest Territory and empties into the Arctic Circle. It was named after a Canadian explorer, Sir Alexander Mackenzie (1764-1820). He lived near the end of the eighteenth century and longed to lead an expedition across Canada to the Pacific Ocean. His incredible journey was completed in 1793, 11 years before Lewis and Clark. That was his second attempt. His first attempt ended in failure in 1789. The first attempt failed because the group traveled on the Mackenzie River. They hoped it would empty into the Pacific Ocean. Instead, it turned north. History tells us the original group was devastated. In his diary, Mackenzie himself, called the river that now carries his name, The River of Disappointment.

Have you ever experienced disappointment? Have you ever been disappointed in your spouse? Have you have been disappointed in your children? Have you ever been disappointed in your parents? Have you ever been disappointed in your friends? Has anyone here ever been disappointed in the government? Have you ever been disappointed in your church? Have you ever been disappointed in your pastor? Have you ever been disappointed in yourself? You can admit it. From time to time, we all do it. You turn your critical eyes inward, and you don’t like what you see. You are not alone. Some of the greatest people in the history of the world have been disappointed in themselves. Consider these names with me. We consider them great:

          Did you know, Alexander the Great (356 BC-323 BC) conquered Persia, but broke down and wept in disappointment because his troops were too exhausted to push on to India?

          Did you know, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), the father of modern international law, knew disappointment? Near the end, he said, “I have accomplished nothing worthwhile in my life.”

          Did you know, John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), sixth President of the U.S., knew disappointment? In his diary he wrote, “My life has been spent in vain and idle aspirations, and in ceaseless rejected prayers. I hope I did something beneficial for my species.”

          Did you know, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) wrote words that continue to delight and enrich our lives, and yet he knew disappointment? He wrote these words for his own headstone, “Here lies one who meant well, who tried a little, and failed much.”

          Did you know, Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), who opened Africa and established an empire, knew disappointment? His last words were, “So little done, so much to do.”

          In 1858, the Illinois legislature–using an obscure statute–sent Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861) to the U.S. Senate instead of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), although Lincoln had won the popular vote. When a sympathetic friend asked Lincoln how he felt, he said, “Like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.”

You are not the first person, and ours is not the first generation to experience disappointment. It is one of those things that links one generation to the next. However, this evening’s scripture lesson is not just about being disappointed. Our scripture lesson is about the ultimate disappointment, death! If you are ready to look at this evening’s scripture lesson say, “Amen!”

We find ourselves this evening in the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew. Much has already happened. The events of that first Palm Sunday, just days earlier, seem like years ago. The cheering crowd has disappeared, replaced by a grieving handful. The picture is not pretty. Jesus is being executed. In my station in life, I have witnessed many die. It’s always hard. No matter how prepared we might be, the end is shocking. The person goes from being a human being to a corpse, in a matter of seconds. Each time, I’m reminded of the fragility of life. It was no different for Jesus. The young man, full of life earlier in the day is now gone; he is now just another rotting corpse. The eyewitnesses of his execution are not just disappointed, they are devastated. We visit the death of Jesus annually, but it never changes. The death of Jesus is shocking. It must have been hard to witness. Today, Good Friday, we are forced to answer this question:

Why was the death of Jesus necessary? There isn’t a single answer. There are several answers. Let me give you just three. Each one is a reminder.

          1. The death of Jesus reminds us of the ugliness of sin! Our world has demoted sin. Many believe they can earn their salvation. That is simply not true. We are saved by grace, because we are all sinners. (Romans 3:23)

          2. The death of Jesus reminds us that the eternal is more important than the temporary! Jesus’ hours of agony on the cross made the opportunity of eternal life possible.

          3. The death of Jesus reminds us of God’s great commitment to us! The people that love you the most, have sacrificed the most. Jesus sacrificed it all.

The theological reasons behind Jesus’ death cannot replace the sting of his death. After all, death is the ultimate disappointment. If death makes you uncomfortable, say, “Amen!” There is no way to observe Good Friday without accepting the death of Jesus.

Years ago, it became of tradition to worship on Good Friday at a local cemetery. A mausoleum inthe middle of a cemetery is a good place to be on Good Friday. After all, Jesus was dead. For me, the first year was the most uncomfortable. It was new, so I came out in the middle of the afternoon to just settle. The weather was perfect for Good Friday. It was cold, and the rain could not have been any harder. I stood at the back door and watched the rain come down in buckets. I was thinking about the death of Jesus, and I was humbled. I was completely alone, except for an elderly woman. She wasn’t inside, she was outside, holding an umbrella, standing next to freshly dug grave. I didn’t know her story, and yet I did know her story. Her long-time husband had died, and she came to visit him. The rain and the thunder could not mask her crying. Listen to what I am about to say. She wasn’t just crying. She was wailing. Her heart was broken; the love of her life was gone. She wasn’t just disappointed; she was devastated. For a second, I thought about going out to comfort her, but she needed to be alone. With nothing else to do, I watched her grieve. Then, it hit me. It was Good Friday and she was crying over the death of a loved one, just like Jesus’ loved ones cried for him.

It is Good Friday. How many tears have you shed for Jesus today? How much do you really love Jesus? After all, Jesus is dead, and death is the ultimate disappointment. C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) once said, “It costs God nothing, as far as we know, to create nice things; but to convert rebellious wills, cost him crucifixion.” May God bless us as we make this spiritual pilgrimage together.

Why Are Memorials Important?

We find ourselves this evening in the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew. Those must have been anxious days. The disciples didn’t know exactly what, but they knew something big was about to happen. The time had come for the annual Passover meal. The scriptures say it clearly. Jesus did not spend that evening with his family, as many did. Jesus spend that evening with his disciples. They knew the ritual, yet they were in for a surprise. This is the truth. The disciples were about to learn something new and the disciples were about to experience something new. Let us look at both.

In these sacred verses, the disciples learn there was a traitor in their very midst. Jesus tells the disciples one of their own was a traitor. It could have been any of them. Each one had an opportunity, but the traitor ended up being Judas Iscariot. It must have been hard for them to accept. He may have been the most trusted disciple. Elsewhere in scripture, we are told he was group’s treasurer. How severely has history judged Judas Iscariot? Many believe, he is the greatest traitor in the history of the world. You know the story. He so regretted betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, he took his own life. That must have hard for the other eleven to accept. At that Passover meal, the disciples learned someone new. Judas Iscariot was a traitor. Yet, there is more.

In these sacred verses, the disciples experience something new. It started off as the same old thing, but it ended up being something new. The scriptures call it the Passover meal. We call it the Seder. The meal itself became a teaching tool. Everything they ate symbolized something from their national’s exodus from Egypt. Like all rituals, there is comfort in the familiarity. That comfort is broken when Jesus changed the ritual. Before the meal is complete, a new ritual is born. Jesus passes the bread and calls it his body. Jesus passes the wine and calls it his blood. Our tradition embraced this new ritual to the point it was called a sacrament, a means of grace. Sad to say, what was meant to unite believers has often divided believers. This evening, I want you to remember one thing about communion. Distilled down to its basic form. It is nothing more than a memorial. Jesus said it himself, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Don’t dismiss memorials. Appreciate what memorials are designed to do. This is the question you must answer. Why are memorials important? There are two reasons.

The Past

First, memorials are important because they remind us of the past. In downtown Lexington, Kentucky is a memorial to Brig. General John Hunt Morgan. He was not really from Kentucky, but he was from Tennessee. In became famous during the Civil War when his Confederate cavalry unit covered 1,000 miles. Desperate to take the Civil War into the north, “Morgan’s Raiders” started in Tennessee, swept north into Kentucky, crossed the Ohio River and entered Indiana. Then, they made their way east into Ohio. They were finally stopped on July 26, 1863 in West Point, Ohio. Have you ever been to West Point, Ohio? It is just south of Lisbon so one day I decided to find the spot. It was hard to find but I found it. I stood at the memorial and looked at the view. Not must has changed in West Point since 1863. There must have been nothing there when Morgan was stopped because there is nothing there now. It was just the same, but the world, itself, he has changed. How much has our world changed since 1863? How much has our world changed in 157 years? How much has medicine changed? How much has transportation changed? How much has communication changed? How much has America changed since 1863? How much has America remained the same since 1683? Let me ask you a harder question, “How much has our world changed in the past 2,000 years?” Every several years we do a “Living Last Supper.” It is fun to see the men portray the disciples. With bad wigs, beards and robes, they recite their lines. The goal is to make it like the great painting, The Last Supper. It is a great experience for a church, but it is more important to remember the past. Memorials make us remember the past. Communion forces us to remember that night. It was just Jesus and the disciples. First, memorials make us remember the past.

The Important

Second, memorials remind us of what is important. One of my favorite family pictures sits on my dresser. The picture is an old photograph. It is faded but I can still make out the images. I pick it up every day and look at it. My Aunt Phyllis tells me it is a photograph of an Adams family reunion. The year must be about 1900. The picture is not unique. You may have one of your own family. Everyone is sitting in front of a farmhouse. All the men have beards; all the women are wearing long dresses. The oldest are sitting on chairs in the middle. The youngest are sitting on the ground. There is a young boy sitting in front of the oldest man. That young boy is my grandfather, Roger Adams. He was the only one in that picture I ever met. Everyone in that picture is gone today. However, I look at that old faded photograph every day because they are family. The blood that was flowing in their veins is still flowing through my veins. Those strangers are family!

I like to think the core values of the generations that are represent are my core values. Not a single person in that old photograph is extremely handsome or rich. Not a single Adams ever invented something that changed the world or wrote a book that made a single individual think. They are just a collection of hard-working farmers from northeastern Ohio. However, being an Adams means certain things. First, it means you are a good person. In other words, your word means something. Second, it means you are honest Third, it means you are loyal. Loyal to your spouse, children, friends and country. Forth, it means you are a Christian. Adams have always been strong churchmen and believers. We understand Jesus is our only hope of salvation. We always have and I pray we always will. That is what is important to us. What is important to you?

Memorials remind us of what is important. Communion, a memorial, forces us to remember Jesus. It is impossible to partake of his body and blood and not think of him. Think about this next line. When we eat the bread and drink the juice Jesus becomes part of us. Communion forces us to remember the most important thing in life, Jesus! Yet, there is one more thing communion does. It separates communion from all other memorials.

I read recently; 25 million people visit the National Mall in Washington DC annually. I have been there several times. It is a special place. I am humbled every time I go to Arlington National Cemetery and look at all the memorials, including the Tomb of the Unknown Solder. I love visiting the Lincoln Memorial. There is a sadness about the Vietnam War Memorial. I am unsettled when I walk thru the Korean War Memorial. I was moved the only time I walked to the Jefferson Memorial. I have visited Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King Memorial. Someday, I want to go to the top of the Washington Memorial. I have seen the World War II Memorial. Can I be honest with you? They are all great, but none can hold a candle to the greatest memorial, the body and blood of Christ, communion. It doesn’t just remind us of the past. It doesn’t just remind us of what is important. It reminds us of eternity. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) wasn’t wrong. He once said, “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.” May God bless us as we make this spiritual pilgrimage together.

Do You Remember?

We find ourselves today in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew. Like visiting an old friend, we find these words to be comforting. According to the text, a great crowd had gathered in the city of Jerusalem. The size of the crowd can’t be over emphasized. Matthew calls it a very large crowd (Matthew 21:8). Mark says many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut palm branches from nearby fields. Some people followed Jesus; some people ran ahead of Jesus (Mark 11:8-9). Luke says the crowd was so great that the religious leaders encouraged Jesus to rebuke them (Luke 19:39). John tells of a great crowd that had gathered for the festival (John 12:12). You can’t question the size of the crowd. It was great.

They had all come to celebrate the Passover, a time to remember their proud past as God’s Chosen People. The law required the people to attend, but no legislation was necessary. Everyone wanted to be a part of the great holiday. It was a time to do three things. First, they made their annual animal sacrifice at the temple. Second, they paid their annual taxes. Third, it was a time to reconnect with family and friends. It is for that reason that everyone wanted to be in Jerusalem for the Passover. It has been estimated that the population of Jerusalem swelled to 2,500,000 on that Passover, and the name on the lips of everyone was “Jesus”. What was on the mind of the many was revolution.

They had grown tired of foreign domination. They had grown tired of Roman ways and laws. They longed for independence, and Jesus seemed to be the best person to lead a revolution. He seemed to have it all. He had the power to heal the sick. He had the power to control nature. He had the charisma to win over any crowd. The crowd seems to be trying to draft Jesus for this military position. Don’t ignore the next line. The crowd did political things. Just like their ancestors who experienced military victories, they spread cloaks and palm branches on the ground. Others waved palm branches and yelled, “Hosanna to the son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” They did all they could do to enlist Jesus, but there is something wrong with the picture. Two thousand years later, we see the imperfection clearly. Jesus wasn’t interested in the political scene of that generation. Jesus was only interested in eternity. That is why Jesus rode in on a humble animal and not a mighty steed. That generation was nearsighted and missed the reason why that day was so important.

I hope you don’t miss the significance of that day. Palm Sunday is not just the Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. During Holy Week we remember what Jesus did each day. It is a spiritual pilgrimage. If you just show up next week and celebrate the resurrection, then you have cheated yourself of an opportunity to draw near to Jesus. In the history of the American church, there has never been a Palm Sunday like this one. Due to the pandemic, our daily routine has been upset. We suddenly have extra time. I would challenge you to take some of that time and remember what Jesus did every day of Holy Week. It is important for you do it this year, because we may never have this opportunity again. So, let me ask you this question: what do you remember?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Monday? According to the Bible, two significant things happened on that day.  The first event of Holy Monday was the cleansing of the Temple. It had nothing to do with fundraising to help some good cause but had everything to do with using the faith for personal gain. The Temple was a place of prayer, not profit. The church is a place of prayer, not profit. The second significant event of Holy Monday is the cursing of the fig tree. It was the only thing Jesus ever cursed. Like the bald eagle symbolizes America, the fig tree symbolized Israel. The cursing of the fig tree was an act of judgement upon Israel. God was doing something new. Do you remember what happened on Holy Monday?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Tuesday? According to the Bible, Jesus went back to the Temple, where he was challenged by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It was also there that he taught about the Kingdom of God. Two great stories came from that day. He taught about paying taxes to Caesar and he noticed a widow’s slim donation. He also told the parable of the two sons, the parable of the tenants and others. Then, he went to Bethany, near Jerusalem, where he was anointed. He was being prepared for death. Do you remember what happened on Holy Tuesday?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Wednesday? Some call it Spy Wednesday. It was on that day the plan to trap Jesus was conceived. One of his own, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Some say, he did it because he was greedy. Some say, he did it because he had grown tired of being an outsider. He was the only non-Galilean of the twelve. Some say, he did it to force Jesus’ hand. He never dreamed Jesus wouldn’t fight back. We don’t really know why he did it, but he did it. In the end, Judas Iscariot regretted his betrayal and committed suicide. There is nothing else to say. Do you remember what happened on Holy Wednesday?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Thursday? We call it Maundy Thursday. That was the day Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, showing true servant leadership. Then, they observed the Seder. It was a meal with a message. Everything they ate and everything they drank reminded them of their people’s past. After all, they were God’s Chosen. During the meal, Jesus changed the words and created a new memorial, Communion. The bread is his body and the wine’s his blood. After the meal was completed, Jesus comforted the disciples and went to the garden to pray. It was in the garden Jesus was arrested. Do you remember what happened on Holy Thursday?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Friday? We call it Good Friday. It was good for us, but bad for Jesus. He had two trials on that one day. The first trial was in front of his own people. It was a “kangaroo” court. Jesus never had a chance. He was found guilty. They wanted to execute Jesus, but they lacked the legal authority. For this reason, they sent him to the Roman Governor, Pilate. He knew Jesus was an innocent man, but he feared the mob. They rejected Jesus and accepted Barabbas. The order was given that Jesus must die. It was a public affair. It was a way of deterring crime. First came the whipping. Then came the crown of thorns. Finally came the cross, a Roman way to execute. Jesus was not tied to the cross; he was nailed to the cross. He was hung between two common criminals. His death came quickly, and they put his body in a tomb. The sky grew dark and the people wondered. His family and friends cried, because he was dead, and their dreams were gone. Do you remember what happened on Holy Friday?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Saturday? Some call it, Silent Saturday. Others call it Black Saturday or Easter Eve. There is nothing to remember about that day, because Jesus was dead. The people who loved Jesus, both family and friends, struggled with his death. Some of them were in shock. Some were in denial and some of them cried. Their great dreams of a bright future were over. Jesus was dead! Even today, people are uncomfortable with the death of Jesus. How comfortable are you with the death of Jesus? You know what happened on Sunday. It is the worst secret in the history of the world. It is also the very foundation of our faith. It changed everything.

One of the most beautiful places in the world is the cathedral in Milan, Italy. I had the good fortune to worship there several years ago. Worshippers are welcomed by three magnificent doorways. Over the first one, is a carving of a beautiful wreath of roses, and underneath it is the legend, “All which pleases is just for a moment.” Over the second is a sculpted cross, and the words, “All that troubles is just for a moment.” But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, “Only the eternal is important.” The message is clear. We should live for the permanent and the eternal. How much time do you spend worrying about the temporary? The great pandemic has forced millions to worry around the world. How much time do you spend worrying about the eternal? The only things that really matter are those things that will matter in 100 years. What matters in 100 years? The only thing that will matter in 100 years is Jesus. Rick Warren (born 1954) is the founding pastor of the Saddleback Church in California. He once said, “Nothing will shape your life more than the commitments you make.”  How committed are you?

Give Up Indifference!

Perhaps the greatest name in American history is Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). Everyone knows his story. Self-educated, he became a lawyer in Illinois and in time became our sixteenth president in 1860. His election was not embraced by all. Before he could be sworn into office, the country was divided over the issue of state’s rights. (We still struggle with state’s rights.) Lincoln sat in the oval office during the bloody years of the Civil War, tested time and time again.

History tells us Abraham Lincoln often visited military hospitals during the Civil War to cheer up the wounded. On one occasion, he saw a young soldier who was near death. Lincoln’s heart was broken. “Is there anything I can do for you,” asked the compassionate President. “Please write a letter to my mother,” the young soldier replied. Unrecognized by the soldier, Lincoln sat down and wrote as the youth told him what to say. The letter read,

My Dearest Mother,

I was badly hurt while doing my duty, and I won’t recover. Don’t sorrow too much for me. May God bless you and Father. Kiss Mary and John for me.

The young man was too weak to go on, so Lincoln signed the letter for him and then added this postscript,

Written for your son by Abraham Lincoln.

Asking to see the note, the soldier was astonished to discover who had shown him such kindness. “Are you really our President,” he asked. “Yes,” was the quiet answer. We can admire Lincoln for many reasons. One of the reasons was his compassion. Do the people in your life consider you compassionate? Maybe this is a better question: Has there is been a time your life when you needed some compassion? I wrote this message in the middle of the great pandemic cause by the coronavirus. Now is a time when compassion is needed. Webster defines compassion as, “A sympathy for the feeling of others, often including a desire to help.” Compassion has always been important because our world can be a hard place. You know it is true. You don’t have to be a soldier in a civil war to relate to that story. I have never met a person who never needed compassion occasionally.

Have you ever felt victimized? You did absolutely nothing wrong and you tried your very best. The problem is everything went wrong. Your entire world attacked you and you found yourself filled with self-pity. In a world filled with seven and a half billion people, you felt completely alone. Then, from a most unexpected source, God sent you someone who showed you kindness and compassion. The rest of the world questioned your motives and desires, but your angel only gave you peace. Compassion can be a powerful medicine. The scripture lesson for today is filled with compassion.

Let me let you in on a little secret. It has become my custom to take a nap on Sunday afternoons. I have no proof to support the following statement, but I believe it is true. I expend more energy on Sunday morning then the rest of the week combined. I get up early on Sunday mornings to review my material and update my prayers. I participate in three worship services, which means I preach three times. I relate to countless people and try to remember everyone’s story. I try to welcome everyone who enters our building. There is a certain amount of stress to my job. I try to be prophetic; I am speaking for God, yet I can’t insult anyone. Some have real thin skin. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I find these few hours to be exhausting. When I leave the church after Sunday morning I am spent. I struggle with the simplest conversations because I can’t focus. I eat a lunch out, enjoy my wife’s company, turn off my cell phone and take a nap on the sofa. It is the deepest sleep I have all week. This fact is not exciting, but it is true.

According to the text today, Jesus was a better man than I. When Jesus left worship, he didn’t nap; he healed the sick. I don’t just mean a healing I mean a multitude of healings. Verses thirty-three and thirty-four say, “The whole town (of Capernaum) gathered at the door (of Simon and Andrew’s house), and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.” One of those healings, the first one mentioned, was the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. Verse thirty is key to our understanding of this morning’s message. It says she was healed because they told Jesus about her. I am not exactly sure who is included in the word “they”, but “they” must have included Simon Peter. She may not have been healed if “they” had not told Jesus about her. “They” had compassion on her and got her some help. They got her the best help you can possibly get someone in need, Jesus. She benefited from their compassion. Do the people in your life consider you a compassionate person?

Today, I want to cultivate your compassionate side. I want to do this by giving three pieces of pastoral advice that you should never forget. Our world needs more compassionate people because our world has a surplus of struggling people. You can find the struggling everywhere. You can find them in your neighborhood. You can find them at work. You can find them at school. You can find them at church. We are not excluded. Our world is filled with suffering, broken people who need compassion.

Compassion is sensitive to the needs of others.

First, never forget, compassion is sensitive to the needs of others. British statesman and financier Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), whose fortune was used to endow the world-famous Rhodes Scholarships, was a stickler for correct dress—but apparently not at the expense of someone else’s feelings. A young man was invited to dine with Rhodes. He arrived by train and had to go directly to Rhodes’s home in his travel-stained clothes. Once there, he was appalled to find the other guests already assembled, wearing full evening dress. After what seemed a long time Rhodes appeared, in a shabby old blue suit. Later the young man learned that his host had been dressed in evening clothes too, but he put on the old suit when he heard of his young guest’s dilemma.

Simon’s mother-law was in bed with a fever. The story doesn’t come with a medical chart and a graph with all her test scores. The truth is, we don’t know the source of her suffering. That is not important; all that is important is that others had compassion on her. They got her help. Does anyone in your life need help? Do you have anyone in your life that needs Jesus? If you do, say, “Amen!” Compassion is sensitive to the needs of others.

Compassion takes advantage of interruptions.

Second, never forget, compassion takes advantage of interruptions. Have you ever noticed there are times when your agenda and God’s agenda don’t match? You know the scene. You have a million things to do. You have a deadline to meet or a sea of people waiting for you. You are in a hurry trying to get it done in time and suddenly, someone shows up who just talked to you. They have a problem and you are the

only one that can help. I know it is hard, but remember, compassion takes advantage of interruptions.

Consider these ten Bible stories with me:

1. The Parable of the Good Samaritan

2. The Greatest Commandment

3. The Blessing of the Little Children

4. The Healing of the Ten Lepers

5. The Healing of the Paralytic

6. The Healing of the Man Blind from Birth

7. The Rich Young Ruler

8. Zacchaeus

9. Blind Bartimaeus

10. Nicodemus

What do they all have in common? They are all special moments in the Bible that were produced by interruptions. Jesus had compassion on these people and used these interruptions to do real ministry. Have you ever noticed there are times when your agenda and God’s agenda don’t match? The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law was not on the agenda for the day, but Jesus healed her because this was an opportunity for true ministry. Compassion is sensitive.Compassion takes advantage of interruptions.

Compassion is gracious.

Third and final, never forget, compassion is gracious. When I was in the Cleveland area, I had a parishioner who claimed he hadn’t missed church for fifty years. One day, I figured out he had heard 2600 sermons, plus the messages on the liturgical holidays. You do the math, fifty years times fifty-two weeks. I was impressed.

One year I got involved in the annual pulpit exchange. You know the event. It is a way to get to know other preachers in the area. I went to the Presbyterian Church, and the Lutheran Church minister came to my church. The Lutheran preacher was just great! He was new to the area and everyone was surprised to discover he was Korean. Mr. 2600 sermons saw the Lutheran minister and thought he was Japanese. He stood up from his pew and began yelling some ugly language. He said, “We fought them in the war. I don’t have to listen to them in my church.” He stormed out of the church, never to be seen again. Everyone wanted to know what happened. I wanted to know if he had heard a single word of those 2600 sermons. There is no room for prejudiced behavior in God’s church, because compassion is gracious.

I really don’t want to offend anyone, but I must ask, how much of a difference is Jesus making in your life? How many sermons have you heard in your life? How many of those sermons altered your life? The world doesn’t really care about your opinions. The world needs your compassion. Compassion is sensitive.Compassion takes advantage of interruptions. Compassion is gracious.

Let us end at the side of our dying Civil War soldier. You remember the soldier. He was wounded and Abraham Lincoln came to visit him. In time, the president wrote a letter home for him and said his good-bye’s. The soldier couldn’t believe the president’s kindness and compassion. But he really couldn’t believe it when the president said next, “Now, is there anything else I can do?” The lad feebly replied, “Will you please hold my hand? I think it would help me see this through to the end.” With the weight of the world on his shoulders, Lincoln held the young man’s hand until he died. How many hands have you held during life’s most difficult moments? The situation may not be death, it may be divorce. The situation maybe a family problem, it may be a personal pain. It may be disease; it may be disappointment. How many hands have you held? How many people in your life need compassion? Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) was a Scottish Baptist minister He once said, “Kindness and compassion make a person attractive.” How attractive are you?

Give Up Enemies!

We are in the first chapter of John. It is early in Jesus’ ministry; he is still collecting his disciples. In the story prior to our reading, Jesus welcomed Andrew and his brother, Peter. The next day, Jesus invited Philip to be one of the folds. In verse 44 we are told the original three disciples, Andrew, Peter and Philip, were from the town of Bethsaida, a town on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. Philip told Nathanael about Jesus. At first, he is not impressed. As a matter of fact, he was quite cynical. The source of his doubts came from Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth. He assumed Jesus was like everyone else in Nazareth: a second-class citizen. Everyone at that time knew the truth about the citizens of Nazareth; they were a little less intelligent and less attractive than the average person. Rooted in this first-century prejudice, Nathanael says, “Nazareth! What good can come from there?”  It wasn’t until he met Jesus that his mind was changed. You know the truth. We have no problem understanding verse 46, because our society is filled with prejudiced behavior. Have you noticed our society is filled with racial tension? That tension is rooted in our prejudices. This is not an isolated case. Our prejudices have been damaging the church for a long time.

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-148) wrote that during his student days, he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus, he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So, one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church so he could talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with “his own people”. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus, but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior. That is an ugly story, but this is the truth. Every church struggles with their own prejudices. We are no exception.

Several weeks ago, our country celebrated Martin Luther King Day; a day to remember the life and spirit of the Civil Rights activist. It is a national holiday, and it has become my custom to give a little history on each one. Several years ago, I asked the congregation, “How long have we been celebrating Martin Luther King Day?” Do you remember what happened? One of the saints here yelled out, “Too long!” Some of our white faces giggled at that comment, and I was uncomfortable. Those two words, and our response to those two words, did more damage than we will ever know. Several days later, I found an opened letter on my desk. It was written by a woman who was visiting us that day. She told me she was relocating from the south and was looking for a church home. She was upset that in church of all places, someone would yell out such a thing. She was shocked that some thought “too long” was funny. She was appalled I didn’t reprimand the congregation. She may be right. It is safe to say, she will not be back. I wonder, how many Christian people she will tell about her time with us? Every church struggles with prejudices.

When I was in college, I took several sociology classes. One of the things we looked at were our prejudices. I remember, clearly, three things about our prejudices. This is what I remember: 1.) Everyone is prejudiced. 2.) Our prejudices are learned. 3.) Our prejudices reveal our fears. I don’t pretend to be an expert on prejudiced behavior. However, I will admit it is one of my great challenges in my discipleship. I live in a white world and have very little interaction with non-white people. Everyone I know is just like me, socially, economically and politically. I struggle relating to how others live and how others think. It would be easy to ignore this topic, but I won’t do it. We are disciples of Jesus Christ and the Master expects more from us. We are supposed to be a little more like Jesus every day. Jesus loved unconditionally. Let’s look at those three statements.

Everyone is Prejudiced

This is sociological fact number one: everyone is prejudiced. There is not a single person in this world that escapes. Sociologists says the reason we are all prejudiced is the numbers. Did you know, the United States Census Bureau estimates the world’s population is more than 7.8 billion? It’s impossible to know everyone. How many people do you know? In 2013, the New York Times reported that the average American knows about 600 people. That figure seems high to me. Do you think you know 600 people? Why are those numbers important? They reveal to us why everyone is prejudiced.

Sociologists tell us everyone is prejudiced because there are so many people we do not know. With so many unknown people, we gather in groups together to gain some sense of control. It is impossible to know every individual; it’s much easier to know the stereotypes of various groups. Look at the text with me. Nathanael did not know Jesus personally, but he did have some preconceived opinions about Nazarenes. The stereotype broke down once he met Jesus. Just admit it, you are prejudiced! You will always hold a certain amount of prejudice, because it’s impossible to know everyone. Our prejudices fool us into believing that we have some control.

Our Prejudices are Learned

This is sociological fact number two: our prejudices are learned. Last Saturday morning, I had a private baptism. I enjoyed the baptism because I officiated at the baby’s parent’s wedding several years ago. It is nice when I can maintain a relationship with a couple beyond the wedding. Baptisms are important for two reasons. The first reason is spiritual. We deal with the original sin, inherited from Adam and Eve. The second reason is practical. The parents are promising that they will raise the child within the Christian faith. That promise is important because no one has a greater influence on the baby than their parents. If the parents make that promise with a sincere heart, then it will be life altering for the child. If the promise is made lightly, then it will have very little influence on the baby. The greatest role model in a child’s life is the child’s parents. Have you ever stopped to consider how much you learned from your parents?

Parents are not just biological parents; parents are role models. So, whatever you want your child to be or do, then you must be or do it. If you want your child to be hard working, then you must be hard working. If you want your child to be kind and compassionate, then you must be kind and compassionate. If you want your child to vote, then you must vote. If you want your child to drink milk, then you must drink milk. If you want your child to be a Christian, then you must be a Christian. Being a good role model in life is so important. Our children can learn so many good things from us. The problem is, sometimes they learn negative things from us, like our negative prejudices. If you want your child to not be a prejudiced person, then you must not be a prejudiced person. Nathanael did not enter this world instinctively knowing there was something wrong with the citizens of Nazareth. It was something he learned along the way. It may or may not have been his parents. Regardless, our prejudices are learned. Would you like our world to be a better place? Then answer this question: What prejudices are you passing on to the next generation?

Our Prejudices Reveal Our Fears

This is sociological fact number three: our prejudices reveal our fears. Sociologists say the group you dislike the most, frightens you the most. I know that is true because I have seen it countless times. I have lived it. Years ago, I was out at the mall with Vlad. It was Vlad’s first trip to America. You know Vlad, he was the first Russian orphan we brought to America to get prosthetic legs. He lost his legs in a Moscow rail yard jumping trains. Vlad was in his wheelchair; I sat on a bench watching people pass. Everyone looked at Vlad because they noticed his stumps. Everyone looked, but only one talked to us. The only one who talked to him was young black man, wearing a baseball cap that hung to the side. He had one gold tooth in his mouth and a gold bracelet around his neck. His oversized leather coat promoted his favorite NFL team, the Oakland Raiders. His old jeans were faded and riding low. When he started walking our way, I tried to ignore him, but it was impossible. When he started talking, his dictation was poor; I could hardly make out his words. I will admit it, I was intimidated. I thought he was going to ask me for money, so I grew defensive. I couldn’t believe what he was saying. He didn’t ask me for money. Instead, he wanted to know about Vlad. He wanted to know what doctor was helping him. I could not have been more surprised. He pulled out a business card and handed it to me. He said, “This is my doctor; he is the best.” Then, he pulled up the legs of his faded jeans and exposed his prosthetic legs. As he walked away, he said, “If you need any help, call me, my number is on the back of the card.” I have never been more ashamed of myself. I had to admit it, I am a prejudiced person. That is one of the things we have in common.

Years ago, I was sitting at Hospice House next to a man who was near the end. The disease was winning. When I arrived, I was surprised to find him alone. I was shocked that his mind was so clear. He was one of the finest men I had ever known. I knew his end was near, so I gave him ample time. We talked about many things, his family, his work, his childhood. As he laid in that bed and reviewed his life, he told me things that he had held secret for years. He told me about visiting his grandparents as a boy. Out of the blue he said, “Russ, did you know my grandparents were members of the Ku Klux Klan?” I said, “Seriously?” He said, “Yes! The group would meet at their house because they owned several acres. I remember everyone was nice to me, but I had to leave once the ceremony started.” He added, “They stored their hoods and robes in my grandparent’s basement. There was a safe in that basement which held the group’s treasury and a list of all the names of all the members.” He was being so honest, I had to ask him the next question, “Did you ever join?” He said, “No!” I said, “Why not?” He said, “I was too young; I was just a boy.” I said, “No, later. Why didn’t you join when you became an adult?” He ended by saying, “Russ, by then, we all knew better.” Can I ask you this question?

Do you know better, or are you holding tight to your prejudices? You may think you are making that other group look bad, but in truth, you are only damaging yourself. How foolish have you made yourself look lately?  Jesus once said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By doing this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  

Give Up Arrogance!

Billy Graham (1918-2018) died on February 21, 2018. If anyone deserved to go to heaven, it was Billy Graham. He preached the gospel to more people than anyone in history. Only God knows how many souls he won for Jesus Christ. Yet, Billy himself never forgot the truth. He was a sinner, who was dependent on God’s grace. Those closest to him told us, Billy Graham helped plan his own funeral. As he listened to his own arrangements, he had a simple request: less about Billy, more about Jesus. Billy Graham was a humble man. He never forgot, he was saved by grace and by grace alone! How humble are you? With that in mind let us look at our Gospel lesson.

We find ourselves today in the eighteenth chapter of Luke. Bruce Larson (1925-2008) was the Senior Pastor of the University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington. He once said, the first thirty verses of this chapter are vital because these verses contain the qualities, we must possess to live the abundant life in Jesus Christ. In our reading for today, we discover one of those qualities, humility. At the very heart of this parable is humility. Like all parables, it is easy to imagine.

Two men went to the temple to pray. There is nothing surprising about that line. The people of Jesus’s day valued prayer. They prayed regularly. Daily, morning and evening prayer was scheduled at the temple in connection with the sacrifices. However, the temple was always open for private prayer. Prayer was not isolated to the Sabbath. Prayer was a big part of their daily lives. In Jesus’ story, one of the men was a Pharisee. He is the embodiment of arrogance. He stood upright and reported to God all his good deeds. He fasted twice a week and gave generously to the poor. The other man was a Publican, or a tax collector. He is the embodiment of complete brokenness. He stands at a distance beating his breast. He is not proud of the life is he living. He admits he is a sinner, and he asks God for mercy. The two gentlemen in Jesus’s story are from opposite ends of the universe. There is nothing surprising in the story until the last verse. Verse fourteen says, “I tell you that this man, (the tax collector) rather than the other, (the Pharisee) went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Can I ask you a question? Do you relate more to the tax collector or the Pharisee?

John C. Maxwell (born 1947) is an American author, speaker and pastor. He has written many books. His primary topic is leadership. He once said, “There are two kinds of pride, both good and bad. “Good pride” represents our dignity and self-respect. “Bad pride” is the deadly sin of superiority that reeks of conceit and arrogance.”  We call bad pride, arrogance. How many people do you know who have “bad pride?” How many arrogant people do you know? Our world is, and always has been, filled with arrogant people. Webster defines arrogance as “offensive displays of superiority.” If you don’t believe me, just ask the internet highway.

Who are the most arrogant celebrities? That is the question I punched into my google search engine. You can find anything on-line. There are many sites with such a list. This one came from a website called “top-ten.” According to them, these are the most arrogant celebrities—

I will give the top five to you in reverse order:

          5. Charlie Sheen

          4. Alec Baldwin

          3. Lindsay Lohan

          2. Kim Kardashian

          1. Kanye West

I was surprised that Justin Bieber wasn’t on the list. He came in at number eleven. However, he was number one on the list of annoying celebrities. It pains me to say it, but John Wayne, “The Duke,” is number six.

Then, I punched the question, what are the most arrogant countries in the world? Once again, I will give them to you in reverse order:

          5. South Korea

          4. Israel

          3. Italy

          2. India

          1. United States

Ok, I will tell you. Great Britain was number six and Russia was number seven. Just think about that for a moment. Kanye West and the United States of America have this sad thing in common. We are both viewed by the world as the most arrogant. That means, we are the Kanye West of the world. Could it be our national pride has turned into our national arrogance?

Then, I punched in the question, who are the most arrogant people in history? Our generation is not the first to struggle with arrogance. History is filled with arrogant characters. One of the names on that list is found in the Bible, Herod the Great (74 BC– 4 BC). Jesus was born under his rule. Do you know his story? Insecure and paranoid, he thought the entire world was after his throne. For this reason, he never trusted anyone, including his own family. Everyone said and everyone knew, it was better to be Herod’s dog than it was to be Herod’s son. He hated everyone and in return everyone hated him. Herod the Great knew that everyone hated him, to the point that he feared that people would celebrate at his death. How would that look? He wanted to fool history, so he gave a sinister order. He ordered that on the day of his death, three hundred innocent lives should be taken. He hoped the loved ones of the three hundred would mourn openly, tricking the world into thinking they were grieving for him. I am glad to report, that order was never executed. Listen to the next line. Arrogance fools itself into thinking it is attractive, but it is not. Let us return to our Gospel lesson. It is about arrogance. Here is a question you must answer.

Why does God hate arrogance? There is not a single answer. However, there are four answers. Let me list them for you and give you a Biblical illustration with each one.

  1. Arrogance damages our relationship with God.  The one thing we know about God clearly is that He loves being worshipped. The problem is arrogance lies to us and tells us we are equal to God. In the story of the exodus, Pharaoh believed he was a god. (Exodus 5:2) The Egyptian people at that time saw him as a god in human form. His arrogance led to him challenging God. In the end, the Pharaoh lost. He was devastated, because he was not a god. He was just a man. He illustrates the point. Arrogance damages our relationship with God.
  • Arrogance damages our relationships with others. In my station in life, I have seen it countless times. Siblings live less than a mile apart, but they haven’t spoken in years. Their stories are different, but the stories are the same. There is some ugly scene in the past no one will forget. The relationship between the participants has been eroding to the point that they no longer speak. They think the word, I love you or I am sorry, but they can’t utter those words because their personal pride is so great. Each one plays the anti-Joseph. In Joseph’s story, he reunited with his brothers because he was humble and forgave them. (Genesis 50:15-21) If Joseph can forgive his brothers, then why can’t you forgive? Could it be your pride, your arrogance, is holding you back? Arrogance is a dangerous thing. Arrogance damages our relationships with others.
  • Arrogance damages ourselves. When arrogance fills our hearts, we begin to make poor decisions. We forget about the long range and concentrate on the short term. We have seen it countless times. Celebrities take senseless risks because they believe it will never happen to them. It did. It is a story of self-destruction. In the Bible, Naaman is a story of self-destruction. (Second Kings 5) You remember is story. He had a good life and a powerful position. Then, the unthinkable happens. He gets leprosy. A servant of his wife’s tells him about Elisha. It is the prophet who tells him how to be healed. He is to wash himself seven times in the Jordan, then he will be healed. It seems like a quick fix, but it is hard for Naaman to do because he is an arrogant man. The story has a happy ending. Naaman washes himself in the Jordan and he is healed. Arrogance is a dangerous thing. Arrogance damages ourselves.
  • Arrogance damages our purpose. One of the great challenges in the local church is not a lack of gifted people or money. One of the great challenges in the life of the local church is a surplus of arrogance. Everyone seems to know what is best for the whole and everyone seems to control everything. This is the truth. You don’t and you can’t. That is why conflict is common in the local church. If you think you know what is best for the whole, then you are more like James and John than you think. Do you remember the story? (Mark 10:35-45) As Jesus is traveling down the road, James and John comes up to Jesus with a request. They want one to sit and his right and the other to sit at his left. Those are positions of authority in a political kingdom. The problem is Jesus didn’t come for political reasons. He came to establish a spiritual kingdom. The entire discussion is a distraction and waste of time. James and John are guilty of being arrogant.Arrogance is a dangerous thing.Arrogance damages our purpose. Never forget, God hates arrogance. Do the people in your life consider you arrogant? Do the people in your life consider you humble?

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) was born in Romania, but he is remembered as an American author and Holocaust survivor. On April 19, 1992, he wrote an article that appeared in Parade Magazine. In his story, a man is sitting on a boat surrounded by other passengers. Without warning he begin to chop a hole in the boat under his seat. The other passengers begin to shout and shriek at him, “What are you doing? Have you gone mad? Do you want to destroy us all by sinking the boat?” Calmly the man answered, “I don’t understand. What I am doing is my own business. It is none of your business. The hole is under my seat, not yours. The egoist ignored the truth that they were all in the same boat. Let me remind you.

We are all in the same boat. This is the bottom line. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then check your ego at the door and join the team. It is not all about you. However, it is all about Jesus. Do you remember the quote from John C. Maxwell He once said, “There are two kinds of pride, both good and bad. “Good pride” represents our dignity and self-respect. “Bad pride” is the deadly sin of superiority that reeks of conceit and arrogance.”  How many people do you know who have “bad pride?” Are you guilty of “bad pride?” Do the people in your life consider you arrogant?

Give Up Darkness!

Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962) is considered one the greatest violinists of all time. It was common for him to tour Europe. One day he was traveling to London from Hamburg, Germany. He was traveling by boat but had an hour before it sailed. To kill the time, he walked into the local music store. The proprietor asked if he could look at the violin Kreisler was carrying. He then vanished and returned with two policemen, one of whom was holding the violin, “You are under arrest.” “What for?” asked Kreisler. “You have Fritz Kreisler’s violin.” He responded, “I am Fritz Kreisler.” They responded, “You can’t pull that on us. Come along to the station.” As Kreisler’s boat was sailing soon, there was no time for prolonged explanations. Kreisler asked for his violin and played a piece he was well known for. “Now are you satisfied?” he asked. They were, and Kreisler performed in London on schedule. That story is about making a proper identity and so is this morning’s scripture lesson.

We find ourselves today in the third chapter of John. The story and the background are familiar. Nicodemus was one of that society’s leading citizens. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish Ruling council, also known as the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of the Jewish faith. Regularly, people came to him to ask him questions about the law and to ask him how to solve their personal problems. Yet, in our reading for today, Nicodemus was the one with the question. He hoped Jesus had the answer. Our reading for today is a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.

Through the ages much has been made about the timing of their discussion. According to verse two it was at night. Some say Nicodemus came at night to protect his reputation. How would it look for a leading member of the clergy to be seen talking to an itinerant preacher? Others say Nicodemus came at night because the day was complete. The two men could talk without interruption. You can make a case for both sides of the argument. However, you can also say the darkness of the night represented Nicodemus’s spiritual condition. He is spiritually confused and in the dark. He is trying to answer that question everyone must asked, who is Jesus? He knew he had come from God because he had heard about Jesus’ miracles, but what does that mean? Making a proper identification is extremely important, but it is not always easy to do.

You know it is true. Each one of us has an identity. The truth is each one of us has more than one identity. How many hats do you wear in life? Let me use myself as an example. I have been out at the mall and someone will walk up to me and say, “Aren’t you the preacher?” I have married or buried one of their loved ones. You know me as your pastor. My parents knew me as their son. My sister knows me as their brother. Kathryn knows me as her husband. My children know me as father. My neighbors know me as the guy in the red house or the guy who is always walking his dog, the world’s best dog, Macy. You get the point. Each one of us is an individual, but each one of us has several identities.

Today, I am going to ask you to identify Jesus. Some believe Jesus is just a fable from the past, like Paul Bunyan. Some believe Jesus was just a wise teacher or philosopher. Others believe Jesus is their ultimate friend, who believes in them when they don’t believe in themselves. I hope you believe Jesus is more. Do you believe Jesus is the Christ? Do you believe Jesus is your Savior? Do you believe Jesus is your Lord? Who is Jesus? It’s a hard question. That is why so many are living in the dark. This message will dig into your soul and will force you to examine your ways. That is a good thing because this is the season of Lent.

Who is Jesus? Do you understand Jesus to be the Christ? One of the great stories in the Bible is Peter’s confession. It is found in Matthew 16. Jesus asks the disciples the question, who do you say I am. He is hoping they identify him correctly. In verse 16 Peter does. He says, “Simon Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” The Hebrew word Messiah is the Greek word Christ. That verse is vital because for generations the Hebrews had been waiting for the Messiah. The problem is their understanding of the Messiah was all wrong. They understood the Messiah to be the great problem solver. There would be no corner of their lives that would not be improved once the Messiah came. When the Messiah came, there would be no more violence. When the Messiah came, there would be no more disease. When the Messiah came, no one would be oppressed. When the Messiah came, everyone would be well-fed and happy. When the Messiah came, their lives would be perfect. Do you know of anyone who is frustrated with Jesus because their problems remain? If you do, then you know someone who is living in Peter’s generation. Listen to what I am about to say.

The word ‘Christ’ is a title. It is given to Jesus more than 700 times in the New Testament. The authors of the New Testament writings understood the sacredness of Jesus. He was not just another good person. He was the greatest person who ever lived. Do not take those words lightly. There are over seven billion people in the world today. I have no clue how many have lived in the world from the beginning of time. The total number of people is astronomical, but there has only been one Christ. His name is Jesus. He was the son of God; he was the incarnation of God. You know it is true. There is something about that name. Until you understand the true meaning of Christ, you are living in the dark.

Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Savior of the world! Is Jesus your Savior? I hope your answer is YES! The salvation of your soul depends on it. That is why Jesus came into the world. Do you remember the story? We tell the story annually. Mary and Joseph were betrothed to be married. Don’t just jump over that phrase. In their world it meant a great deal. It meant they were legally bound, but she was still sexually innocent. Mary was a virgin, yet Mary was pregnant. Joseph was placed in a difficult situation. He decides to divorce her quietly, but one night he had a dream. In the dream, he was told to take Mary as his wife. The child in her womb is truly unique. This child will be the greatest life that ever lived. Matthew 1:21 says, “She will give birth to a son and you will give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” A savior is one who protects us from harm. A lord is one you obey. Until you know Jesus as your savior, you are living in the dark.

Who is Jesus? Is Jesus your Lord? What does that mean? It can refer to two things. First, you can be describing the very nature of Jesus. For example, Jesus is the Lord, or Jesus is God. Second, you can be describing your relationship with Jesus. Jesus is your Lord or Jesus is your Master. When you are in bondage to someone, you must do what they say. Because, they are your Lord. How many people do you know understand Jesus as the Christ? How many people do you know have claimed Jesus as their Savior? How many people do you know that have grown deaf to their master’s requests? They want Jesus as their Savior because they want to go to heaven. They haven’t claimed Jesus as their Lord because don’t want to change anything about their lives. Is Jesus your Lord and Savior?

Several years ago, my wife, Kathryn, had a wedding in the Cleveland area. The bride and groom were former Youngstown State University students, Katie and Ben. I didn’t have any responsibilities at the wedding, so I got to play out my favorite role, the minister’s husband. I love that role because it is undefined. You can do what you want. I did nothing but tag along. I went to the rehearsal and sat in the back pew of the church playing games on my cell phone. When the rehearsal was over, Katie’s mother walked up to me and asked me if I was Kathryn’s husband. I proudly said, “Yes.” She said, “I have someone you have to meet. He looks just like you! He will be at the reception tomorrow.” Prior to the wedding, Katie’s mom walked up to me and said, “Have you seen someone who looks just like you? It is Katie’s uncle.” I said, “No!” We went to the reception and ate. As the dancing was about to begin, we decided to leave. We had an hour drive ahead of us and church in the morning. As I was putting my coat on when Katie’s mom returned. She said, “Did you see him?” I said, “No!” She said, “Don’t go any anywhere. You have to meet him because he looks just like you!” We promised to stay. I will admit I was a little nervous about meeting my double. I looked over the crowd and looked for someone who looked like George Clooney. I didn’t see anyone, but I soon saw her return. She was dragging a man who looked like Rodney Dangerfield on steroids. His round face was round red, and his stomach was exploding over his tight belt. As proud as could be, she looked at us and said, “You two could be twins! Do you see it?” I smiled and said, “Yes!” Then, I shook his hand. I looked at him and said, “It is hard to believe there could be two handsome studs like us at the same reception.” He sucked in his huge Texas size stomach and said, “I hope we don’t intimidate these young guys!” It isn’t just a story of identity, It’s a question of identity. So, let me ask you the question one last time.

Who is Jesus? Unless, you understand Jesus to be the Christ and your Lord and Savior, you are living in the dark.  Mother Teresa once said, “Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is to love Jesus.”