Parable of Weeds and Wheat

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

CARY, NC

www.kirkofkildaire.org

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

Parable of Weeds and Wheat

Matthew 13:24-30;36-43

August 26, 2018

After worship today we are going to be hearing more about the new Educational year… many, if not all of you have begun a new school year and the time has come for us to begin our own “school year”… where we seek to learn together the ways of God as taught in Scripture and through the life, ministry and person of Jesus Christ.

I grew up going to Sunday School… some of my great memories are going to Sunday School… stopping on the way to get donuts at the Penny burger (dip my chocolate donut in coffee… doesn’t get better than that)…and then going to be with friends in Sunday School. Along the way I learned some scripture… but I don’t remember learning this one. And I wish I had. It would have come in handy.I wish I had known this passage when I was a child. It would have come in handy when working for my landscaper Dad and he said,

“Jody, I need you to go weed at the nursery today” … or when I’d visit my Baptist grandmother and she would send the grandchildren out to weed among the tomatoes and squash….  Or that day the Principal of my elementary school decided to punish me for some offense (I do not recall) by sending me out to weed in the lawn of the school. I went home with grass stains on my pants. Didn’t exactly make Mom happy.

If I had just known a little more Bible, and this parable in particular, I could have told them, “Oh, I’d like to weed… but Jesus said, don’t do it.” And they may say, “what?” and I’d tell them about how the servants of the master in this story are told they are NOT to gather up the weeds among the wheat…  Remember?

Jesus tells them the story about how someone sows good seed in a field… then, overnight his enemy sows weeds among that good seed… which we know to be darnel… a poisonous weed that looks like wheat… they discover this after the first shoots appear… and the servants want to know if they should go gather the weeds.

And Jesus says, “No” because if you do, you might just uproot the good wheat among them.

If I had known more Bible… I would have tried that tactic on my Dad, my grandmother and principal. But I doubt they would buy it… because who allows the weeds to keep growing in their garden… what farmer would not want to kill the weeds choking out the crop? Especially a poisonous weed.

So, once again, Jesus tells a puzzling parable meant to catch out attention and teach us a lesson about the kingdom and especially about what we are called to be and do in a world so full of weeds sown by the evil one.

Jesus acknowledges the reality of evil in the world… that affects everything from politics… to our communities,  to the church… and even every one of us at some level. I mean, who does not have a little bit of the wheat and weed within our souls.

So, what are we to do with the evil we see around us and within us? The temptation is to fix it, isn’t it? The temptation is to weed it all out until we are pure. To seek out and purge sin and evil from the world.

And indeed many Christians and many people of other religions see that as their mission in life.  Root out evil. We know the Taliban and other fundamentalist extremists in most religions believe that. They make it their job to root out evil in their religion and in their world. They believe if only we could root out evil, everything would be okay. Heaven on earth!

Some Christians believe that. Some denominations believe that.  Do you know how many church fights start because someone decides it is their job to root out evil or troublemakers?

Do you know how many people leave a church and how denominations are born because people think they cannot belong to a church with so many weeds?

So, we look for a church with no weeds and if we cannot find one, we’ll start one!

Reminds me of that old story that takes place in the South Pacific.  A navy ship Captain spots some smoke coming from a deserted island. They go to shore where they find a shipwreck survivor who is so happy he’s been found. He said, “Thank you! I’ve been alone here for more than 5 years!” The captain looks around and notices three huts. He says, “Why are there three huts here?” The survivor says, “Oh. That. Well, I live in one and I go to church in the other.What about the third? Asks the captain.Oh, that’s the church I used to go to.

You know, if you make it your mission in life to root out evil… you can spend most of your time doing that. You will always find problems and problem people to deal with.

And interestingly, you are never the problem. Almost always, you are never the problem. And if the problem is not with you but with others… you will have plenty to do.  That’s a full time job.

And it is tempting, isn’t it. I mean, Do you ever think the church would be better off without those other people who are so wrong-headed and argumentative and with whom you vigorously disagree about important matters? Wouldn’t the church be better if we excommunicate people like we used to in the good old days when the church was pure? Get rid of those sinners and problem members?Clean up the place. Or maybe if we told them nicely to go somewhere else? Wouldn’t we be better off without THOSE weeds?   You can spend your time thinking like that and trying to weed out such people if you want.

But it is not what Jesus wants. And I don’t think it will do much to promote the good work of the kingdom. I think Jesus is trying to make we keep our focus on the main work he has called us to do … which is proclaiming the kingdom of God to the world. Bring a little of heaven on earth through the life and ministry of the church. That’s why he called us here.

In effect he is saying: leave the separation of weeds and wheat to God. God will take care of that in due time. God will discern and decide who and what needs weeding out.

Because if you try to do it… you are likely to mess it up… and pull up some wheat with the weeds. Just leave that to me.Instead, I want you to pay attention to planting the good seed of the kingdom. I want you to show people a better way to live… Leave the judging to God… get on with the work I’ve called you to do… which is about sharing the good news of God’s love for all people… it means keeping your focus on things like forgiveness… reconciliation… redeeming people from hurting themselves or others.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said, “God’s purpose is not wrathful judgment. God’s purpose is redemption, and the road to redemption is by way of reconciliation. Only in that way will the world finally be saved.”

Jesus, whether we realize it or not, is giving his disciples a great gift. Do you know how hard it is to tell who is the wheat and who is the weed? In fact, somedays, truth be told, I am wheat and sometimes I am weed and I usually don’t know when I’m being either. There is a little wheat and weed inside of me. Some of the things I do that I think are so good and holy turn out to be more about me or my desire to please others than about my desire to please Christ. It’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell the motives of others.

Not to mention, The church has a poor track record of separating weed from wheat. We’ve burned people at the stake trying to sort it out. Some innocent have died at the hands of God’s holy people.  The Pharisees thought they had it figured out and they ended up crucifying Jesus. Let that be a lesson!

Instead, Jesus would say, leave the judging to God which is good news for me. I don’t want to sit in the seat of judgment… I’d rather leave that to God.

Instead, Jesus would say, I’d rather you spend your time focusing on the joyful mission I have given you to do: love the children who I love so much… they are the most vulnerable among us…  Love them. Teach them. Care for them. That’s where I need you. If you find someone who is hungry… feed them… when someone is grieving or sick, care for them… you’ll be doing the work of the Kingdom. If someone makes you mad or hurts you… don’t try to get even… seek to forgive them… it is a far better way… If you see an injustice taking place in the world… speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves… seek justice for them… that’s what we should be about.

Leave the judging to God. He’ll take care of the weeds. You just worry about sharing my good news.

One of the things I’m grateful for is that I was raised in a church that taught me that. My parents took me to Sunday School and worship…  I attended youth group and the seed of faith was planted there. It was there…not in the world where the evil one seems to thrive… but it was there that I learned how God loves me, forgives me, wants the best for me… and how God loves not just me but everyone in God’s world…

It was at church I learned God desires peace in a broken world among broken people.  We didn’t spend a lot of time rooting out evil in the sense of trying to make us the perfect church. We spent our time pursuing going about the work of the Kingdom. We left the judgement to God.  I think it is exactly what Jesus wanted us to do. Amen.

 

Thanks to Joanna Adams for a couple of insights on the passage.

Story of the Unforgiving Servant

The Story of the Sheep, Goats and Jesus

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

CARY, NC

www.kirkofkildaire.org

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

The Story of the Sheep, Goats and Jesus

Matthew 25:31-46

July 1, 2018

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

 

Before reading:

If the prodigal son story is my favorite story of Jesus… chosen for my funeral… The story we are about to read is one of the most challenging and difficult stories of Jesus… that can create anxiety, guilt and fear… in our more vulnerable moments… or it can reveal to us what really matters to Jesus… please do not read this at my funeral!

 

The setting is the final judgement… to judge is to decide… Jesus, the King of King and Lord of Lords… the one who is the ultimate and final judge has gathered all the nations of the earth together to render his judgement… make his decision about who has lived up to his expectations and who has not.  He is about to divide us into two groups… one will be welcomed into the kingdom- and the other will not. And for Matthew the lines are clear… about who is in and who is out…

 

If you dare… if you have ears… listen… but first let us pray… we need prayer to hear a text like this:

 

The Scripture is Read

 

I wonder if you know that I have a dual citizenship. I wonder if you know you have dual citizenship… some of you have more than two.

 

This week I will join my fellow Americans in giving thanks for the fact that I was born in this country and am blessed indeed. I have a birth certificate and passport to prove it. We have freedoms and privileges that are the envy of the world.  We also have enormous responsibilities for ourselves and the whole human family.

 

I did not choose to be born here, but by God’s grace I was. I will enjoy the fireworks, the barbeque and the music with the rest of you. In the words of Lee Greenwood: I am proud to be an American.

 

But I am also a Christian which means I have full citizenship in the Kingdom of God. I have a record of my baptism to confirm I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  My fellow citizens in this Kingdom come from every nation on earth. We have tremendous blessings as Christians… and I was blessed to be born in a Christian family and we have enormous responsibilities as disciples of Jesus Christ for the whole human family.  I am proud to be a Christian and citizen of God’s kingdom.

 

 

You and I are dual citizens of two communities that are precious to us. The challenge sometimes is knowing how they may relate to one another.  When it comes to my national citizenship and I turn to the Bible, it gets tricky.

 

As my theology professor John Leith put it:

“Isaiah declares that the nations of the earth are like a drop in the bucket. They are as nothing before God. The prophets of Israel made the kings of the earth the particular objects of their indictment and yet anointed David as the Lord’s anointed to deliver Israel. The New Testament declares that all authority is ordained of God, that paying taxes is a Christian duty. “Honor the emperor” is a Christian exhortation. Yet the book of Revelations refers to the emperor as a satanic beast and Rome as the great harlot” [1]

 

How we are to live as citizens of these two communities is a challenge for anyone who calls themselves Christians.

 

I always admired my Dad who seemed to get it right. He taught me to respect our country and to love God. But the order in which we do it was important to him.

Before he died he told me his first loyalty was to God, his next was to his family and his third was to his country… he loved them all… but he knew who was the King of King and the Lord of Lords at the end of the day. It was Jesus Christ… the ultimate commander in Chief.

 

Today, Matthew makes it abundantly clear that at the end of the day, God will be the great judge of all nations. No nation stands above God.  And one day God will hold all nations to account.

 

So in the story today, I have this mental picture come to mind. At the final coming, Jesus gathers all the nations together… sort of like the nations gather in an Olympic stadium: all the nations that ever existed… there is Israel— the nation he chose to bless in order that they may be a blessing… there is the United States, Mexico, Canada, Russia, Germany, Syria, Iraq, Guatemala, Honduras… every nation of the world.  The time has come to decide (the word judge, literally means to decide) who will inherit or be welcomed into the kingdom of God.  And who will not be.

 

And the basis for the decision is fairly clear… Nations will be judged on these actions:

“I was hungry and you fed me

I was thirsty and you gave me drink

I was homeless and you gave me a room

I was shivering and you gave me clothes

I was sick and you stopped to visit

I was in prison and you came to me”

 

The interesting thing is that both the sheep and the goats are oblivious to when they did or did not do such things. To which Jesus makes it clear, “Whenever you did it to the least of these my brothers or sisters, you did it to me.”

 

But the challenge of the text for me is that I can identify with both the sheep and the goats. It is a hard text. At a personal level… I’ve been both involved in great ministries to help the poor: mission trips, soup kitchen, etc… and I’ve also passed by the poor begging on the sidewalk and at the exit ramp and at stoplights. I am a mixed bag!

 

Should we be surprised that our national history is mixed as well?

 

Last summer in Israel, I remember visiting the Holocaust museum and sadly seeing the political cartoon where a ship of Jewish refugees were being turned away from our shores… only to be sent back to their deaths in the concentration camps. Not our finest moment.

 

Franklin Roosevelt, who helped so many during the depression, also interred Japanese Americans, incarcerated them is the better word… as a response to our fears and lack of faith and vision.  Not our best moment. We never seem to be at our best moments when we are afraid.

 

Our nation has been struggling with what to do with families who cross our borders. Who has not been moved the stories of children being separated from families and put in detention facilities…

 

And this is not only an American problem… all nations will be held to account for how they treated the least in our world.

 

Just a few weeks ago hundreds of migrants on rubber dinghies were adrift in the Mediterranean Sea… they had been turned away by Italy and Malta… they came from 26 countries… they left their own countries in desperation… as one person said,

 

“You do not take your family from dry ground and put them  in the water for an unknown future unless you are desperate.” Finally, Spain came through.

 

When the nations gather before the Lord at the end of history, this will be remembered.

 

When I was thinking about how our nation handles immigration issues, my sister rightly reminded me that we should hope nations of the world would be the kind of nations where people don’t have to run in fear of persecution and gangs… that each nation will create a nation where there is justice and mercy for those who need it most within their countries.

 

That is the dream indeed. It’s the Lord’s dream for every nation. Including our own.

 

When the nations gather before the Lord, no doubt they will be held in account for how they treated their own citizens who were poor or suffering or treated unjustly.

 

 

One of the things I love about our nation is that in our best moments, we remember this is who we were called to be as a nation.

 

Ronald Reagan reached into our history to speak several times of a vision of America being a Shining City on a Hill.  He said in his election eve speech:

“I know I have told before of the moment in 1630 when the tiny ship Arabella… lay off the Massachusetts coast. To the little bank of settlers gathered on the deck John Winthrop said: “we shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.”

(I trust you know that the “Shining City” reference comes from Matthew’s sermon on the mount.” )

 

Reagan went on to lift up a vision of America that “is still united, still strong, still compassionate, still clinging fast to the dream of peace and freedom, still willing to stand by those who are persecuted or alone….A country who would speak for those who suffer from social or religious discrimination, victims of police states, the persecuted, for those countries who seek harmony and peace…”

 

At his farewell address Reagan said this:   ‘I’ve spoken of the Shining City all my political life. …In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.’

 

 

 

He was speaking of the kind of country that shines like for those who are the least among us and in the world is one that aligns with Matthew 25.

 

Another vision for America came to us years ago with FDR and Norman Rockwell.

In 1941 FDR gave his famous “Four Freedoms Speech” in a time when our values were under attack. 75 years ago Norman Rockwell  brought these four freedoms to life in those famous paintings: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear.

 

Every now and then we are blessed to remember what makes our nation special and unique among all the nations of the earth.

 

As a dual citizen, I see this as a high and holy calling that should be a high and holy calling of every nation… as it was for Israel… that as we are blessed, we will be a blessing… that we will make it our first priority, to find a way to care for those who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, cold, sick and even in prison…

 

We may argue about how to do that—which we should… but as dual citizens, let us know that his is our highest calling as a nation.

 

Presbyterians should know this of all people. We were instrumental at the founding of our nation and for good reason. Calvin taught us that faith is more than about our personal salvation but is concerned for the welfare of all.

 

Again, as John Leith put it,

“Calvin… understood that the Christian calling is to embody the purposes of God in the achievements of human history… Calvin believed that God had called him not simply to the ultimate destinies of heaven or hell, but to work out the divine purposes in Geneva, in Western Europe, in the world.

 

Wherever the Calvinists went, they carried with them the vision of the holy commonwealth… they found the meaning and deepest joy of their lives in the conviction that at least in a broken and fragmentary way they embodied the purposes of God-  in their homes, in their work, in their society….”[i]

 

Our task as dual citizens is to do the best we can, to commit ourselves personally and as a community to the Christ has called us to do… to care for the most vulnerable among us…  so that when that final judgment comes, we too may hear the King of Kings and Lord of Lords say to us, “ Come on in you who are blessed by God, inherit the kingdom of the world prepared for you. “ Come on in to my kingdom. I’m proud of you!

 

Amen.

[1] P 89, Pilgrimage of a Presbyterian

[i] Ibid, Pilgrimage of a Presbyterian

The Story of the Father and His Lost Sons

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

CARY, NC

www.kirkofkildaire.org

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

The Story of the Father and His Lost Sons

Luke 15:11-32

June 17, 2018

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

 

I’ll never forget the day he left… Joe.  The day we saw him pull out of the driveway in his 1995 Toyota Tercel to head to the far country of Los Angeles, California. I remember wondering if that old clunker would make it 2500 miles and it didn’t. He had a breakdown somewhere past Texas.  Spent the night and a lot of money.  He was going with no job and only a dream. Sharon and I hugged him, wished him well… and for years now we have been praying for him. Los Angeles is a long way away. I have joked and wondered if he could have moved further away from home… only Alaska or Hawaii would be further in the US.  I share this not to tell you that Joseph is our prodigal son. He is not!  But to tell you that I have some empathy with the Father in this story.

I think about what it was like the day his youngest son walked out of his home and made his trip to the far country. How hard that was for his Dad. Even though, by all accounts, his son was not exactly a “good son”.

Just a few days earlier, he had asked his Dad for his part of the inheritance. Like asking for a trust fund. The Dad gives in and gives him his part of the property. The son sells it and uses the proceeds to finance his leaving of home He had dreamed of leaving home for a long time… to pursue what they call today, his odyssey years. He was looking forward to leaving that small town for the bright lights and adventure of the big city.  This youngest son seems to have no regard for his Father’s feelings. His actions reveal him to be selfish, narcissistic and self-centered. It is all about him. Even so, he is still his son.

That night at the dinner table, his place was empty. I imagine the older brother tried to comfort his Dad by saying,  “Dad, it will be easier now without him here. He was always using you… taking advantage of your love. He was lazy. He never helped around the house or the farm. I’m here for you. It will be easier.”

But I’m not sure the Dad saw it that way. In spite of it all, he loved his younger son.

Over the years the Father wondered why did he leave? Was it because he was living in the shadow of his older brother who made straight A’s… who was a hard worker… a good manager… everyone had him picked to take over the Dad’s small business one day. He had cast a long shadow for his younger brother. Everyone was proud of the older brother. They showed up at the Eagle Scout ceremony. They invited him to be a Rotarian and he was active in his community.

And how they loved him at church. They called him the good son.  He sang in the choir and became a member of the Session as a young adult. He went to the Bible studies.  Went on Mission trips. He was a person of faith and a model for others to follow. His father and mother were proud of him. Proud to call him the son. Anyone would be proud to call him their son.

Imagine growing up in the shadow of a brother like that!

Perhaps that’s why he left: he did what many sons would do in that situation: leave. Go out on his own. Leave all of that behind and start over. In a way he was giving a gift to his family. They would no longer have to live with a son who was ungrateful and such a disappointment. So he decided to leave. Make something of himself.

Maybe one day his Dad and Mom would be proud of him. So he took the money his Dad gave him and left.

That was the last time they heard from their son for years. Years passed and no word.

The father checked the mailbox. No word. He checked facebook… but he had been blocked. He kept looking down the driveway hoping to see his son come home… but day in day out… nothing.

It didn’t keep him from worrying. When the recession came … he wondered how his son was making a living. Being away from home did not keep him from wondering and worrying.

If he had known what had happened to his son, he would have been worried. Things had not gone well in the big city. Dreams went bust.  He squandered away his trust fund… was homeless on the streets. He moved from one homeless shelter to another… picking up a dirty job here and there. He had, as we like to say, hit rock bottom. He was lost indeed. Financially lost. Personally lost. Spiritually lost.

Lost and alone in the world. So desperate, he decided to swallow his pride and head home. He prepared a speech… was ready to take his medicine.

Along the way he was ready to hear the “lecture”.   He could imagine one of the servants meeting him on the edge of town and telling him, “Wait till your dad gets a hold of you!”

He already knows what his Dad is going to say:

“Look at you. Good Jewish boy. You smell like a pig. I tell you what you’re going to do. I’m going to put you in your back bedroom and you’re going to sit on the edge of the bed, and you’re going to think about it. I knew you would mess up. You sit right here and think about what you have done… to me, your mother and your brother. And when you are ready to get out of that bedroom and straighten up your life, you come out of there and tell me how sorry you are you’ve wasted your whole inheritance… and hurt a lot of people.”

Yeah, he knew the lecture. So on the way home the Son prepares his own speech:

“Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you. I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.”  Beg for mercy.

He was ready to make his speech. He was not ready for what happened.

As he came to the edge of town, he sees his Dad…  his Dad is running toward him… his old man is out of breath… he hugs him… he kisses him… when the son starts his speech, the father interrupts-… He won’t even let him finish his well-rehearsed speech.His Dad calls out to the servants… Go, get these rags off of him… get him clean clothes, dress shoes, put the family ring on his finger and get ready for a party. A real party! Invite the friends… get the band (not a DJ but a live band)… we are going to celebrate.  And celebrate they did.

Except the older brother. He is not at the party. Do you know where he was? Working. Working for his Dad. He is too busy working to even notice there was a party until he heads home for the day and hears music and sees some dancing.

He asks one of the servants what is going on. He said, haven’t you heard… your brother came home. Your father ordered a feast… filet mignon for everyone….because he is home safe and sound.

And the older brother said, “That’s great. I’m so glad my brother is home. Why didn’t you come get me so I could give my brother a hug? Get a plate ready for me. I’m ready to celebrate!”   No. That is not what he said.

Instead he said something like this: “He what? Dad threw a party for the rascal? I can understand letting him back in, but after what he did he ought to come through the back door and eat in the kitchen for a while. He ought to be put on probation, a trial period, maybe work off some of the money he took from the old man. That boy ought to learn a lesson or two. But a party? Where is the lesson in that?”

This older brother wants nothing to do with a party. Or his younger brother.  He wants nothing to do with forgiveness or reconciliation or any of that soft hearted stuff.

In fact, the older brother is lost to his anger… his sense of right and wrong… the grudges he held against his younger brother did not disappear over time. And his resentment is growing against his Dad. It wasn’t fair. Just wasn’t fair.  It’s not the way the story is supposed to go.

One time when Fred Craddock preached on this parable, a member of the congregation had listened to the sermon and said he didn’t care for what he heard.

Craddock asked, “Why?”

The man said, “Well, I guess I don’t like that story.”

Craddock asked, “What is it you don’t like about it?

He said. “It is not morally responsible.”

Craddock asked, What do you mean by that?”

“Forgiving that boy,’ said the man. “It’s not morally responsible!”

Craddock asked, “Well, what would you have done?”

The man said, I think when came home he should have been arrested.”

Craddock asked the man,, “What would you have given the prodigal?”

The man said, “Six years.”

That would have been the attitude of a lot of Jesus’ listeners that day. Let’s be honest: It is still the attitude of  many Jesus’ own followers even today. Maybe some of us here in this sanctuary today.

These reactions echo the sentiment of the older brother who also turns out to be lost. Understanding the lostness of the older brother is as important to our understanding this story as is the younger.

Jesus also wants us to consider the lostness of the older brother. The one who is lost and doesn’t know it. He is lost, lost, lost, lost, lost.

But, lest we forget, he is also loved, loved, loved, loved as well.  The father leaves the party … and it is a hard conversation. He tries to talk to his son… but the son is too angry to listen.

But the father listens to the anger and the hurt… maybe years of his own resentment of having to be the “good son”… Do you know how hard it is to be the good son?

To try to earn your Father’s love and respect?

And in a tender moment he wants his older son to understand… that he is loved as well… not for what he did but for who he is: his child.  And he so desires for him to celebrate the homecoming of his brother… almost as if to say, the party won’t be complete without him.

Make no mistake, the Father loves his older son as well who is lost. In a way, he is waiting for his older son to come home… spiritually speaking… to come home to grace… and know the joy of forgiveness …

Jesus tells the story because he wants us to know that God loves us like that. Jesus sees we are all lost- maybe lost to our goodness… maybe lost to our wandering- either way we are lost… and our only hope is to discover the gracious love of God for all of us… and I mean, all of us. This is a story of the revolutionary, radical love of God. Which is good news for everyone… everyone! This is the parable not so much of prodigal sons as the Loving Father!

A southern Baptist preacher Will Campbell taught me  this truth and practiced it in a radical way. He lived in a time of polarization, division and racial tension. Marches. Sound familiar. But it was the 1960s. I love Will Campbell because he was so unlike any southern Baptist minister I ever knew growing up in the south.

He grew up in Mississippi and was ordained at 17 years old in a rural Baptist church… he went to Yale Divinity school and then returned home to be very, very active in the civil rights movement. He was friends with the giants of the movement like King and John Lewis. He marched. He was a campus minister at the University of Mississippi. He was committed to justice for all. He put those thoughts and prayers into action.

And then, in 1967, he came to a realization that chilled him to his bones as a Christian. One day he realized that he had begun to hate his enemies. Specifically, he hated the Klu Klux Klan. He said, “After twenty years my ministry had become, without my realizing it, a ministry of liberal sophistication…”

While he was succeeding at becoming a good liberal, he was failing to follow his calling. He believed God loved no one more than the least, the last and the lost.

Who was more lost than the Klan? It troubled him that in their angry faces he recognized the friends, family and neighbors of the past.

So he began to reach out to various Klan members and reached out to them for prayer.  He met with them to hear their stories, to sing and pray. He never changed his positions on racial equality and justice… and people on the left and right criticized him for his actions. Sounds like what happened to Jesus.  Many in the civil rights movement distanced themselves from him. He received hate mail.

When he was challenged, he would pull out a worn copy of the Bible… “here,” he would say, thumping his finger on a passage from 2 Corinthians 5: “Reconciliation!” he would say, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. No longer holding men’s misdeeds against them.”  He would pause.  “It’s a hard idea to accept, and that’s why the gospel is a whole lot more drastic than most folks have ever dreamed.”

One night he headed down to Granite Quarry, NC (near Charlotte) to meet with Bob Jones, the Grand Dragon of the KKK who had been arrested, tried and convicted and on the following day  would be going to jail for many years. He had grown up Lutheran.

He sat in the living room with family and friends – everyone telling stories, and drinking and trying to stay upbeat…. Around 2am, Will asked if he could lead a communion service. “Well, yes,” Jones said, “Let’s have communion”

So they gathered in a circle and passed around the bread and the cup. Will picked up his guitar and said, “I’m gonna sing a song that to me is the essence of the Christiian faith. It was a country song popular at the time, called, “Anna, I’m Taking you Home”

It was a song about a wayward woman and the way in which her man forgave her.

Before he sang the song he said this:

“Lord, old Brother Bob here is going off to jail for a while.

And we’re gonna ask you to kind of keep an eye on him.

And on us.

Lord, you know he’s not a saint.

And you also know that we shore ain’t.

 

But the book tells us that’s why you died.

So that God and sinners could be reconciled.

And we’re gonna drink to that, and if it is all the same

We’ll sing a song in Jesus’ name.

 

Then the song:

Anna, take off that tight-fitting dress.

Take those cheap-looking shoes from your feet.

Wash that powder and paint from your face.

For Anna, I’m taking you home.

 

Turn off that scarlet light in your window

That tells the world what kind of girl you’ve become

I’m taking you back, where there’s folks who love you

Anna, I’m taking you home.”

 

Jesus reminds us that God’s deepest desire is to find lost souls and to bring us home… not only to bring us home, but to welcome us with a party… where love and joy abounds.

The party is already taking place. He wants us to come. Won’t we come?  It’s a great party. Let’s go! We’ll have a great time! Amen.

Jesus’ Summer Reading List: The Story of the Sower

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

CARY, NC

www.kirkofkildaire.org

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

Jesus’ Summer Reading List: The Story of the Sower

Mark 4:1-20

June 3, 2018

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

 

When the staff was discussing our summer themes for preaching, somehow our thoughts turned to what many of you do in the summer… you like to read a good story. You take a good book to the beach or the mountains. Everyone loves a good story.

 

Apparently, Jesus did as well. He told many stories… short stories, called parables. According to one count, 37 different short stories.

 

Some famous—the prodigal son… the good Samaritan… others obscure…the parable of the two debtors. Jesus used stories to convey the truth of the gospel. He created his stories from the experiences of everyday people… story of a woman looking for a lost coin… people on the road traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho… or even the story today… story of a someone sowing seed… like people did all the time. Like many of you have done this spring.

 

He was a great story teller… and you might think he told stories that were simply entertaining… that the reason crowds gathered around him is the same reason many of us gathered for years to hear Garrison Keillor tell the stories from a fictitious community Lake Wobegon

 

You know, “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and (let the congregation complete) all the children are above average.”

 

Who doesn’t like a good story?  Jesus loved them… and used them to convey a truth that was funny, provocative and sometimes hard to understand. I trust you know that many of his stories were funny, don’t you? I mean, you know Jesus had a sense of humor.

 

Take our story today for example. I can hear his crowd chuckle when he tells them that a sower went out to spread the seed… and he just spread it everywhere… everywhere… on the road (where the birds would eat it up)… on the rocky ground…everyone knows  not much will grow there… among the thorns where the weeds choke out the seed… then the rest on good soil.

 

Imagine me seeing you sow seed on the driveway or telling you to sow seed on the pinestraw in your yard.  What a stupid thing to do! You might laugh! I mean, 75% of the seed that you paid good money for is wasted… only 25% produced anything.

 

You have to laugh at the foolishness of the sower… which is how we know God’s ways are not our ways. God just throws seeds everywhere in this world knowing some will take root and others will not.

 

His stories made people laugh.

 

They also made some people mad. Angry… angry enough to have him killed. Not everyone laughed or got the joke..

 

In the story today, I think Jesus has in mind how his message has been received or not! Jesus has been spreading the word of God… he says the word is sown and not everyone responds. About 25% of the population receive it with joy, but the others are not willing or able to hear what Jesus has to say. (Sort of confirms the old 20-80 rule doesn’t it… 20 percent of the people produce 80 percent of the work)

 

There are the Pharisees and religious leaders who are like hardened ground… they have life and faith all figured out… they are clear about the law of God… they are not open to hearing Jesus out. They are angered by what Jesus says. Closed minded ideologues we would call them today. Fundamentalists who are both conservatives and liberals. They are not open to hearing anything that changes their worldviews.

 

Then there are the crowds who followed Jesus… oh, how they loved hearing Jesus preached about love and grace… they loved his word on forgiveness and loving the sinner… they love him when he fed and healed them… but when he starts talking about what it costs to really follow him and become his disciple… then the crowds fall away… The excitement dies when cost is involved. Jesus saw that happen.

 

Then there are those who are trying their best to listen and follow… but their lives are so full and busy and full of worry and anxiety… their dreams of being healthy, wealthy and wise  and  all of that activity and worry sort of crowds out the message of Jesus like weeds choking a garden if left unattended.

 

Jesus saw people who wanted to follow him… but life got in the way. As Peterson says, “the stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it”

 

Then there were the 25% who actually listened and followed…it is the seed planted in the good earth that represents those “who hear the Word, embrace it and produce a harvest beyond their wildest dreams” (Peterson)

 

Depending on where you put yourself in that story… it can be a story that sort of makes you feel guilty.  I mean, and please tell me I am not alone… but I can think of times in my life when I have not been open to listening to the word or wisdom of Jesus… I mean all of that talk about loving your enemies… all of those beatitudes… I like nursing my grudges, thank you very much!

 

I know of times when I have tuned Jesus out because I didn’t like what Jesus had to say…  his message did not fit nicely into my theology, politics or ideology. Sometimes the words I hear from MSNBC, Fox and talk radio sort of drown Jesus out. Please tell me I’m not the only one here.

 

And yes, I remember growing up and wanting to follow Jesus because I thought following Jesus would make me healthy, wealthy and wise… maybe Jesus would help my team win if I prayed to him (not thinking that there were Christians on the other team also praying…) I thought following Jesus would be a way to help me get ahead in this world. Some people still think that. They call it the prosperity gospel. Joel Osteen for example.

 

The preachers of that prosperity gospel tell you, “follow Jesus and you will prosper. You will become healthy, wealthy and wise!”But when it turns out not to be that simple- cancer comes to you or someone you love… or you lose your job… then it becomes a crisis of faith. Many give up on Jesus and the church. They become disillusioned with the church and with God. I mean, if God can’t deliver on my dreams, what is the point?

 

Fortunately I had mentors in the church who helped me grow up and learn there was more to faith than that. I wonder I you went through that stage in your faith development…

 

Then there are times… far too many times when the stresses, strains and worries of life sort of choke at the word. It’s not that we do not try… we read the Bible and pray when we can make the time… worship and faith development are important to us… but it is so hard to fit into the soccer or music or work or school schedule.

Our worship and faith sort of get crowded out in the calendar.

 

Time for prayer, study of the Word, and devotional life take a back seat… and then when the crisis hits, we are surprised when our relationship with God is not as strong as we thought. Oh, this story can make you feel guilty if depending on where you put yourself in the story…

 

But, here is the thing.  I don’t think Jesus was telling the story to pile on a load of guilt on us… that is not his way.  I think he was trying to teach some basic lessons to the disciples and to encourage them.

 

Lesson one: the church is not to be like a careful farmer who only plants seed in the place you think it will grow. Those who follow Jesus are to take the seed in their hands and toss it anywhere and everywhere it will grow. The truth is you and I don’t know where the good soil is or the bad soil. Only God knows. In fact, I’ve seen grass sprout in the middle of my driveway. How does that happen?!

 

Fred Craddock interpreted the parable and says that we learn never to give up on anybody. Why? Because we never know- we just never know- where or when that tiny little seed will begin to grow in someone’s heart and soul. He also says we need to give up on the notion that the harvest of the seed is up to us. “I get a little weary” he admits, “of people, good-hearted, good-spirit people , who,  on behalf of their churches worry you to death. Just plant the seed. It is God’s seed, and the seed carries its future within it. It is the seed, and it will grow. Just plant it. Be prodigal in planting; cast it anywhere and everywhere, no fences. Trust the seed, the gracious God (who spreads it)

 

One of the great things I love about the Kirk is how willing we are to cast the seed wide around here. Most of the things we love are because someone cast the seed wide. Sometimes take root. Sometimes not.

 

I’ve watched Jordan work with developing ministries with young adults. It’s kind of interesting. She’s been casting some seeds out there. I wonder which ones will fall on good soil and grow. So is she!

 

When I first came here, I would park my car up in the upper parking lot. People had told me that Cary is full of middle class and wealthy people. And we are. No one told me we had Latino neighbors within a mile of the church. But no one had to tell me… I said hello to them as they were dressed in their McDonald’s and Wendy’s uniforms on the way to work. Our neighbors were walking through our church. Little did I know this would blossom years later into a vibrant neighborhood ministry – Food, Fun and Fellowship. Oh how that has grown.

 

But it did because there was Stephanie… but not Stephanie alone… but many of you casting the seeds. Not knowing what would happen… but by God’s grace we have seen a harvest beyond our dreams. The Kirk is that kind of place.

 

The reason we are that kind of place is that there are people in this church who are like the good soil… they have been listening to Jesus… the stories of Jesus… they have been paying attention to the world around us… and they have decided to follow Jesus and trust in his word… every ministry we love started with seed being sown.

I know the reason we are that kind of place, it is because so many of you are people of prayer, of devotion and a growing faith whose deepest desire is not to ask God what God can do for me, but to wake up every day and pray to God, “God, what do you need me to do for you today? How can I help bring your kingdom a little closer to earth?”  If you want to know what good soil looks like, it looks like that. People who hear the word, embrace it and allow it to transform them.

 

To our graduates, I say this: the story Jesus tells is a story that is not only good advice… I think it reveals a truth about life. It is a law like the law of gravity… it is true whether you believe it or not.

 

And this is the truth Jesus wants us all to know… if we want to enjoy an amazing life that is exciting beyond our wildest dreams… if you want to live a life that can make a real difference in the lives of others… then listen to Jesus… listen to his stories… they can change your life.

 

My prayer for you and for all of us is that we can offer God the good soil that produces abundantly. This prayer is expressed well in a song we will sing… and I leave it with you as my prayer for today:

 

Lord, let my heart be good soil,
open to the seed of your Word.
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
where love can grow and peace is understood.
When my heart is hard,
break the stone away.
When my heart is cold,
warm it with the day.
When my heart is lost,
lead me on your way.
Lord, let my heart,
Lord, let my heart,
Lord, let my heart be good soil.

 

Amen.

Our Multi-Dimensional God (Trinity Sunday)

Two Words that Changed the World

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
CARY, NC
www.kirkofkildaire.org
A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.
Two Words that Changed the World
Mark 1:14-20
January 21, 2018

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

 

When it snows like it did last week, I love going on facebook to see people post about deploying what I have dubbed the Welker Snow Removal System—built on tarps. My Dad was always using tarps for everything in Florida and a few years ago, it occurred to me that placing tarps on the driveway before a snow would save a lot of shoveling. And they do! You lay down tarps, after the snow, you remove the tarps and you have a clear driveway or sidewalk. It saves a lot of time and energy. Over the years I have modified the system based on experience. I posted it on facebook. But I am glad to share it with any of you if you ask!

Over the years I have enjoyed seeing the pictures people have posted as they have deployed the Welker Snow Removal system… and seeing the results. Makes me happy. This year, Jim Leonard took the post to a new step… he posted a video of how you deploy them and the result. I replied, “Excellent” – To which he said, “I am a student of the master”. Needless to say, I loved it.

As I think about the life of the disciples… and all they accomplished by the time their lives were over… and how we remember all that was done by Peter, Andrew, James and John—simple fishermen who accomplished so much with their lives… If we were to praise them, I think they would say, “We are but students of the master”. Because that’s what they were: students, disciples.

Then, if we asked, they might tell us how it all began… one day on the shore of the Sea of Galilee… The day they were simply going about their business, feeding their families, running the business… doing what they had done every day for years… and Jesus who was a wise rabbi and teacher, came by and said two words to them:
“Follow me”. And it turns out those were two words that would change the world.
Follow me… learn from me… become my disciple… my student… And they did. And the world has never been the same.
That they dropped everything to follow him is part of the miracle of this story to me. Mark makes it sound so simple, but we know it was not. These are not simple decisions for most of us. Following a call like this always feels more complicated to me. When I was considering a call to be a minister… I weighed all sorts of things before jumping in. People told me to think and pray about it. I met with my minister. No immediate following here! In fact we encourage people to think before answering calls: : If you are asked by the nominating committee, we ask you to think about it, pray about it, and then answer. No immediate answer required. If you are feeling called to be a Minister of Word and Sacrament… we will put you through at least 2 years of a process to make sure …

But here… Jesus calls, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”… and immediately they say “yes”… Immediately.

Of course, for the first three years, they weren’t really asked to DO much. All they were asked to do was to become his students. All they were asked to do was to follow Jesus and to watch Jesus, listen to Jesus, learn from Jesus… let Jesus teach them about the ways of this thing he called the kingdom or reign of God.

They would hear stories that we read in the gospels… they would watch him demonstrate by example who God is: a God of love… a God whose deepest desire is to heal people, forgive people, bring them life and joy. God desires to help the poorest of the poor… to feed people. God desires to help those who seem to have it all (like a certain rich young ruler) but whose life still seems to miss something… this God wants to offer them what they missing in order to find peace in their lives. This God will have little patience with hypocrisy and self-righteousness – especially when it hurts others. God is hardest on those who are hard hearted and simply follow rules for the sake of following rules. Jesus will stand up for those who are the least, the last, the lonely, the left out and the lost. Don’t believe me? Read the gospels!

Perhaps the first thing a person should do when becoming a disciple is to make it a priority to learn from Jesus. That is why Christian education and nurture are so important in the life of the disciple and it shouldn’t stop when you graduate from High School. The reason we are urged to read the gospels is that they are the primary place where we learn what Jesus tries to teach us about his gospel and the kingdom he proclaims. How are we to follow and do if we do not know what it is the master wants us to be and do?

So if you are a Christian, I would urge you to read the gospels and learn as much as possible about Jesus… learn as much a possible about the lessons he teaches…?
How about setting this out as a goal? Read a Gospel, or even better- all the gospels once a year. They really aren’t that long. Perhaps pick one gospel and try to master it. And if you tell me they are too confusing, I won’t buy it. If you can read the Harry Potter series or Lord of the Rings or other books, you can do this. If your version doesn’t work for you, find another like “The Message”.

Faithful following of Jesus begins with listening and learning. This should come as no surprise to anyone here. This is so true in all other areas of life, why should it not be true in the life of faith. If you want to be a player on a state or national championship team of any sport… it all begins months earlier with listening to the coach teach you what it takes to get there. If you want to be faithful, good or great at anything: business, school, music… the first work is to listen and learn from those who know more than you do.

So why should it be different in the life of a disciple? The first thing Jesus wants us to do is to listen and learn… Then we are called to go and do based on what we have learned

It was after Jesus was gone and the spirit came, they would go and do.
With the help of the Spirit, they would take what they learned and share it one person, one village, one church at a time. And people learned from them… and taught others… and here we are today. All because Jesus said, “Follow me” and they did.

This is what the church is still doing you know. And if you don’t think it makes a difference when you say yes, you are wrong. I see lives transformed and changed all the time… I see it here at the Kirk among those who teach and lead our youth, children and adults… I see it in all of the missions and ministries that take place here… and the reason there are so many, is that so many of you say “yes” when you are asked to “follow”…

The impact disciples make was so very clear to me last week in Guatemala. We’ve been there for more than a decade now and as one person said, “the harvest is coming in”… Their lives are so different, filled with hope, just because people keep answering a call to follow Jesus to that little, remote, mountain top village.
So much progress. I see things I could never have imagined a dozen years ago… Almost like a mustard seek growing into a big tree—and if you don’t get that reference, I refer you to the gospels.

I see small businesses popping up: a family setting up a French fries and fried chicken stand… you can get French fries for 2 quetzals… about a quarter. Much better than McDonald’s or Wendy’s French fries. For about 10 qs or $1.25 you can have a drumstick. Far better than Bojangle’s.
I see the youth fundraising for their projects by selling fruit cups.

I watch all of those students you are sponsoring… from middle school to university… education changes lives… I doubt those of you who sponsor students really know how you have lifted people out of poverty and hopelessness to a much better future.

Sharon, Felicity Klintworth and I have a new middle school youth we are sponsoring: Rosa. Rosa comes from a village that is 30 minutes away by pick up. When I asked to meet with Rosa, she came along with her mother Katarina (who speaks no Spanish or English)… and her younger brother Ricardo, whose clothes reveal they are literally dirt poor. Her father Lorenzo couldn’t come because he was too busy trying to feed his family: working the fields for someone else. They live in an Adobe home made of mud. Like another student, I’m guessing Rosa and her family do not have much to eat. There is one student being sponsored who said that for breakfast she has herbs, for lunch and piece of bread and for supper beans. No meat. Just beans. Rosa was born into that kind of home.

So I meet with Rosa, her mother and her brother and say… I look forward to the day she graduates from High School… in four years. That is she keeps up her grades this last year of middle school, and the committee approves, we will sponsor her in High School. I told Rosa to work hard because I want to stand by her on the day of her graduation… Her Mom speaks to me in K’che’ and says, “don’t worry”, I’ll make her study… she will make good grades. And I look at the Mom and realize, this woman means business. She and her husband are going to make sure Rosa has a better future. And then the Mother and Rosa thank me again and again and again.
I tell you this story because it is a story that is repeated with different variations again and again. And years later, I can hold out hope to Rosa because I look at the lives of the other kids you have sponsored… their lives are transformed by your support. Sometimes it takes more than a village… it takes a world to raise a child from such desperation.

Ask Barney and he will tell you about one of his former students Samuel, who has returned to Pala to contribute to the community.

When you follow Jesus, learn from Jesus and then follow his teachings, lives are changed. There are more stories of transformed lives than I can share in one sermon… Women are being empowered. The Pastor and the Session are almost begging women to accept leadership on the Session. Friendships are deepened reminding us how relationships are treasured above all else. They love having us come… they love seeing us… and we love seeing them because they are friends. A dozen years ago there was suspicion and fear when we arrived… today there is love and grace. Following Jesus got us there. Following his way of love and grace got us there. Commitment got us there.

One of the most touching moments of the trip came when Virginia and I had a final meeting with the elders. It can be a little stiff sometimes. But they have a new group of young elders who represent the future. Three of them were scholarship students. But the most moving moment came from Pastor Francisco. You have to understand that Pastor Francisco is a complicated character and has not always been exactly “warm and fuzzy”… But at this meeting, he wanted to close with prayer… but before he prayed, he had us mix it up… Instead of the Consistory on one side and Virginia, me and our translator on the other… He told the consistory to stand between us… then he had us hold hands and pray. That has never happened. It is was an intimacy that was different.

I could tell you more… of Ingrid from another community who sees a sign about the Brenda Armstrong library… and Ingrid contacts the facebook page and before you know it, she is helping find scholarship students in her community! I could tell you about how excited the students were to talk with their sponsors as they lined the hallway of the library… some had wait for hours to talk with you. I could tell you more, but instead, ask the participant on this trip about their stories…
I say all of this just to make sure you know that because you are here… because you follow Jesus, you are changing lives… lives of individuals, lives of a church, lives in Pala, and lives in many other communities in the region.

And for those of you who are active in so ministries here, know you are also changing lives.

All because there are people here who heard Jesus say, “Follow me” and they have. They, listen, they learn and then they take those lessons of God’s love and grace to the world. They are following in the footsteps of Andrew, Peter, James and John… whose lives were transformed when they dropped everything to follow Jesus.

Because Peter, Andrew, James and John said yes, they ended up doing more than making a living which is all they would have done had they said no… If they had said no… they would have gone on fishing… made a living… fed their families and died. Perhaps passed down the business to their kids. And that would have been a good enough life. But Jesus invited them to more… so much more… Jesus invited them to fish for people. To be a part of something bigger.

I’m so glad they followed… and I’m so glad others followed them… my life is different because they said yes… my life is different because of so many others who said “yes”… I think of those who were my teachers and leaders and pastors who taught me the ways of Jesus… and I’m so glad there are so many here who are saying “yes” when Christ asks you to follow. For with the Spirits help and guidance, the rule, the reign, the kingdom of God draws just a little bit closer to earth when people say yes. And the kingdom grows just a little more… one follower at a time. Amen.

Rebuilding Ruins

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
CARY, NC
www.kirkofkildaire.org
A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.
Christmas Under Construction: Rebuilding Ruins
Isaiah 61:1-4;8-11
December 17, 2017

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

When I heard Isaiah speaking to people whose lives had been shattered, he used an image that is powerful to me,
“They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities…”

It is a vision to people whose lives had been ruined by political and personal events. They had lost their independence as a nation… and had been one of many victims to Babylon who years earlier had sieged, starved out, slaughtered and deported those who lived in Jerusalem. The city devastated, burned to the ground… Imagine Washington, DC burned to the ground. Then there was THE Temple, the architectural masterpiece that could be seen for miles, built by King Solomon in the good old days… When Israel was great! The temple, where God was said to live… now, reduced to rubble. Imagine the Vatican… no more.

People’s lives were shattered: The best and brightest were deported… families torn apart… all those things that happen when you live in a war zone. Lives ruined.

But in our text today, something has shifted… Cyrus the Great has come to power and has allowed the Jews to return home. Which sounds really good until you actually see what home looks like now: rubble and remains. All you can do now is go home and comb through the ruins like a family looking through the ashes of a burnt home… looking for something of their memories… And you wonder, how will you recover from such devastation. Their lives in ruins.

History you know is full of the ruins of once great and ancient civilizations…

For the last 7 years or so, I’ve been grateful to have traveled to Turkey and to Israel… where part of the visit is to go from ruin to ruin… There are LOTS of ruins!

I’ve been to Ephesus twice… once a great city…with a thriving economy… a great library… a great amphitheater… advanced water and sewer systems… It once was a cosmopolitan and educated town … that today, lay in ruins…

Throughout Israel you visit lots of ancient ruins… there is Caesarea Maritima, the home of Pontius Pilate on the coast of the Mediterranean… a hippodrome (sort of like one of our stadiums)… another amphitheater where you could enjoy great plays… a great port… It must have been something. I doubt they ever imagined that the great cities they lived in would ever be no more than archaeological site…

I could go on… I’ve seen ruins in Samaria… Masada… Jericho… many of the places we read about in Scripture, now are basically ruins… Time, international politics… wars… a combination has left them in ruins.

So it is a powerful image to me when I hear the Lord talk about rebuilding the ancient ruins… and of course my mind thinks God is talking not only about sticks and stones… but whatever you may perceive what lay in ruins in your own life.

For some it could be a marriage that has fallen apart… for others… it could be families where the tension is so high, you wonder when it will all break apart… you may not even be speaking to some family members… and all the talk of family for the holidays… all the Hallmark movies make it worse. It could be an illness like that dreaded word, “Cancer” that ruins your day and years… For some, it is not so dramatic, but life did not turn out as you expected… with your job, your dreams for family or career or friendship… and if feels like you are mainly walking among rubble.

And let’s acknowledge that for some, faith itself is in ruins… a spiritual crisis… you are disillusioned with God, with the Church… or the people who represent the church… personally or publically… the hypocrisy is enough to leave your faith in ruins… It’s easier to become one of the “Nones”

It’s a powerful image, “ruins”… but equally powerful for me is the image of the God who sends a servant to speak to any and all who find their lives in the ruins.

To them God says he is sending a servant…
to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… to comfort all who mourn…to give them a garland instead of ashes… “

Isaiah hears God anointing him to tell anyone whose lives are in ruins… that this is not the end of the story. How did the Hotel manager in the Marigold movie say it?
Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end”…

That’s the message of Isaiah. It was also the message of Jesus.

I find it interesting that in Luke’s gospel that when Jesus is asked to preach in the synagogue, of all the texts he could have chosen for his first sermon, he chose this text from Isaiah… of how God had anointed him to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.”

This message of Isaiah was front and center in the message of Jesus. Jesus came to rebuild ruin lives.

Which then becomes our message as well, does it not? Are we not now the ones who are God’s servants, anointed with the same message of Isaiah that was literally fleshed out in the person and life and message and ministry of Jesus Christ?
What is the church for but to be a part of God’s great rebuilding project among those whose lives are in ruins…

Some of you have been doing this through family ties and a number of other ways you volunteer and give to help people who are struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives.

One of the great symbols of God’s rebuilding project stands today in Coventry, England. There lies one set of ruins I’d like to visit one day. It is the place where in November of 1940, this industrial city was bombed endlessly by the Germans… 30,000 bombs turned the city into a blazing inferno.

The staff and members of Coventry Cathedral tried to prepare themselves for this. They removed and put into storage 15th century stained glass windows and tried to fireproof the cathedral. But the bombing was too much. On November 14, 1940, the cathedral roof caught fire and spread through the building.

When the bombing was over, somehow the 300 foot Gothic tower built in the 1400s survived, as did the outer walls of the cathedral. Everything else was rubble.

The next day, standing in the ruins of the cathedral, Richard Howard, the Cathedrals’ provost, wrote on one of the remaining walls these two words.. he wrote them on the blackened wall of the sanctuary: “Father Forgive”.

In the days following the bombing, a member of the firefighting team pulled from the ruins tow of the charred great oak beams which had supported the roof and put them together in the form of a cross. Within weeks, they set the cross and also created a stone altar from the rubble to form an altar. It was their way of saying, “God can and will redeem this disaster!”

Today services continue to be held in the ruins. I’m told that if you visit today, you will see a new modern cathedral built next to the old one.

It is hallowed ground. You can still see the charred cross… and the words, “Father forgive” inscribed on the wall… maybe speaking to those who listen a message that says if they can forgive such death and destruction, how can we not forgive?”

There is a chapel on the grounds where Christians from all denominations are invited to come together to pray for reconciliation… for justice, for peace… in other words, for God to build up the ancient ruins and repair the devastations… That’s the call isn’t it? For you and me as followers of Jesus: To be the ones in our time and place who God will use to bring comfort and good news, and healing and freedom to any and all whose lives are in ruins? To be the servant of the Lord, seeking to bring peace to a broken and busted world?

Six weeks after the bombing, on Christmas Day, 1940, Provost Howard spoke to the nation on the radio, and declared that when the war was over, he would work with those who had been enemies to build a kinder, more Christ-child-like world.”

Let us offer our lives to God, commit ourselves to be God’s servants … that the Lord might work with us and through us “to build a kinder, more Christ-child-like world”

I like the way one quote ( Steve Maraboli), says it that has been going around facebook:

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

In other words, “Want to keep Christ in Christmas?” then join Christ, in his work of rebuilding and redemption. May we commit ourselves to building a more “kinder, more Christ-like” world.
Amen.

Let us Build a House

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
CARY, NC
www.kirkofkildaire.org
A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.
Let us Build a House
Psalm 122
November 5, 2017

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

When the confirmands went to Washington, Jordan was telling me about their going to worship… one of the leaders wanted to make sure they were ready for a very important part of the worship service… so they were each given a $1.00 to put in the offering plate.

It brought back to mind when I was growing up in the church. Did your parents give you money to put in the offering plate? Mine did. Before church or before the offering, my parents would give me a quarter (believe me, it was worth more back then… a quarter is what I paid for a school lunch)… and they would say, “you should put this in the offering plate”.

One of the things my parents wanted to teach me is how giving was a part of worship… that when you come to the house of God, with God, among the people of God… you shouldn’t come empty handed… without an offering. That’s how I first learned how giving was part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. And in thinking about this text and this sermon, I came to realize, God’s people never came before the Lord, empty handed.

In our text today, this pilgrim, who has been on the road for days is delighted- rejoices at the thought of coming to the house of the Lord. If he lived in a place like Galilee he would have been traveling for a week to make this trip… If it was a festival, he would have planned a week of travel there… a week to spend in Jerusalem… and a week to head home. Three weeks without income from work. I doubt they had vacation days back then. It would already have been a personal sacrifice.

But he would have also expected to bring a tangible offering to the Lord. When God’s people went to the temple, they would never have thought about coming before the Lord empty handed…

Depending on the occasion, they might be bringing a guilt offering or sin offering or some kind of offering as they asked God to forgive their sins. They might have brought a thanksgiving offering as a way of giving thanks to God for being God… or for something God had done for them (like safe travel through the desert on their way to Jerusalem, saving them from a storm, or recovery from an illness) those who lived close enough to go to the temple daily would have brought a daily burnt offering… they might have brought a peace offering… There were lots of offerings. Almost as many as we have at the Kirk!

And this was on top of the tithe… Not in place of the tithe, but on top! The tithe was a gift of either 10% of your property or your produce for the purpose of supporting the priests and the institution of the temple. You know, the temple didn’t run itself! The tithe was their annual gift to support the work of the priest… to pay for the maintenance of the temple… and those who worked in the temple. Sound familiar?

So when this pilgrim is coming, we don’t know what he is bringing, but we can be pretty sure he was bringing something because he could not have imagined going before the Lord empty handed…

Especially when he thought about what the Lord had done for him.

The reason he rejoices in going to the house of the Lord is because it is there he will find a place of refuge… safety and security in a brutal world… It is there he will find out he is not alone, but can join others in offering praise to God… and as we all know, there is nothing quite like a group of people offering praise with heart and voice (I love it when I hear good congregational singing… nothing is quite as uplifting) ….He rejoices at the sight of Jerusalem and the temple because he will find God’s justice … and finally, he rejoices because it is there at the temple he will meet God because this is where God has chosen to live… Though the whole earth belongs to God, so that God is everywhere (at the beach and mountains)… there is something different about the house of God… where God lives in a special way, unlike other places. It was, his “thin place”.

This afternoon we are holding a memorial service for a man who died an early death at 43 years old. A little over a week ago, his wife called to ask if we could hold the service here. Of course. For what she was asking is what many others have asked… to come to the house of the Lord for comfort, of peace, of refuge of hope… They could have held the service anywhere, but they wanted to come here… So, could they hold his service here? Of course! Of course they should come… just as many others have come… that’s why we are here! If you want to know what you are supporting when you pledge… you are supporting that!

It’s like the hymn says:

Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

Especially when you need God’s grace.

When, with God’s help, your tithes, offerings and pledges, we build this kind of house, it becomes the House of the Lord. A place of refuge, of strength and a reason to rejoice, “I rejoiced when they said to me “let us go to the house of the Lord!”

I know I rejoice when I think about this house of God. I rejoice at the children who know me because their parents bring them to worship… and in the parking lot or in the store they come up to me and say, “Hi Pastor Jody”… I rejoice because God’s house has brought us together.

I rejoice when I see people dream of a new satellite congregation in Holly Springs – knowing that they will be able to reach new people in that growing community, offering a place for worship.

I rejoice that our parking lot is seldom empty… because people have come here to tutor, feed the hungry, seek help, for prayer, for counseling…to develop relationships with our neighbors… So many reasons people come here! All the time! And I think about all the people we will be serving when the new building is done… I rejoice at that!

I rejoice when I come here on Sundays and see people talking with strangers and welcoming new people… offering a home of safety and refuge and friendship to those who are alone in a new community…

Oh, the more I think about what happens here, the more I rejoice when they said to me, “I am going to the house of the Lord…”

I rejoice when I see Stephen ministers meet to equip themselves to care for those who are hurting and need someone to fulfill the law of Christ which is to bear one another’s burdens…

I rejoice in worship… when I hear beautiful music—I still rejoice especially of the music we heard on Reformation Sunday…

I rejoice when hear the names of those being offered up in prayer… when I hear the word of Scripture and am given an opportunity to reflect with you about the meaning of Scripture.

What a privilege it is you give me and the other pastors to take time to study Scripture and share what we learn through preaching and teaching and counseling.

I rejoice in great colleagues and staff members who serve you and even more seek to serve the Lord… Your giving makes that possible…

So today, I rejoice in the lives of members and friends who dedicate their pledges…who support this work of the Lord… some of you even tithing… it gives you joy to follow the Biblical model for giving… many of you making sacrifices in order to make your pledge…

What a witness to faith when you sacrifice. I rejoice that you do not come to worship the Lord empty handed, but with offerings and full hearts for the opportunity to give to God so with God’s help, we can build a house where God’s love can dwell among us and in the community.

It’s why I have come to enjoy this Sunday as something special. It is the one Sunday a year we ask you to come forward with your pledges to dedicate them in worship. No one else will do that… NPR doesn’t ask me to dedicate my pledge in worship… The Red Cross doesn’t… The Cancer society does not ask me to bring forward my gift as an act of worship. But the church does… because this gift is different. It is more than a charitable donation… and giving to God is more than a tax deduction… what you bring is an offering of faith. An act of worship. That makes this special.

What makes it even more special is when I realize that it is the only time in the year when we ask you to physically come forward to make an offering to God. The rest of the year we ask you to come forward to receive something from God… we ask you to come forward to receive the grace that comes to us in the Lord’s supper… we ask you on Ash Wednesday to come forward to receive the ashes that remind us of our need for God and how God’s grace is offered to meet that need… we sometimes invite you forward in a service of healing… where you share your concerns and we ask God to provide healing… But today we ask you to come forward not only to receive something from God… but to give something to God.

We invite you to come forward and say to God… thank you… thank you for being there for me… thank you for being my refuge and strength and a very present help in time of trouble… thank you Lord… And as a way of saying thanks, I come to gladly offer you a gift that cost me something… not just money, but a gift of love. The gift of my heart. The gift of myself. Thank you. Here is my gift. Thank you. Amen.

The Gift of our Reformed and Reforming Faith

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

CARY, NC

www.kirkofkildaire.org

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

The Gift of our Reformed and Reforming Faith

2 Kings 23:1-3;21-23

Revelation 3:14-22

October 29, 2017

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Years ago, I learned a bit of proverbial wisdom that has proved to stand the test of time. It goes like this:

Change is a given. Growth is a choice.

Change is a given. Growth is a choice.

One of the things you can count on in life is change. As much as we may worry about change… as much as we might want to resist change… and even for those who welcome change… it really doesn’t matter how we feel about it because change is a given in our world… has been since the beginning of time…but growth is a choice.

Change is a given, growth is a choice…

I can’t help but think the Reformers would agree… especially with the change part… for the world they lived in was in many ways, a world like our own. It was a world of change!

Brian McLaren  described these changes taking place 500 years ago:[i]

“New transportation technology- multi-masted sailing vessel.  (built for speed!)

1517 not far removed from 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, got lost, and was discovered by the Native Americans.

New communications technology- printing press.

New weapons technology- swords and catapults giving way to guns and canons.

New scientific worldview- Copernicus and later Galileo propose a slight revision to the standing model of the universe.”

That is the world Luther lived in… a world in which a Reformation was born. A world of change. No wonder people were feeling their world was in chaos!

Now, fast forward to our times. The changes keep coming at a faster speed, don’t they? As McLaren pointed out:

Transportation: from horses and carts to planes, trains and automobiles… and space shuttles and space stations.

Communications: from printing press to radio to TV, to cable TV, to the internet, and youtube, and social media… (from email to text to tweets) to these devices turning us all into cyborgs, electronically connected… leaving you to wonder about real connections.

Weapons: from guns and cannons to bomb, to chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, to suicide bombers…

Science- from Copernicus and Galileo to Einstien to Hubble and Darwin and Freud and a transformed universe, in both inner and outer space, from the genome to cosmology.”

Change is a given.

All these changes are hard—sometimes it is hard to keep pace. As Carrie Newcomer says, “we are going faster than our soul can go.” There is truth in that. No wonder we are stressed out… no wonder we resist!

But if change is a given and growth is a choice… then we will have to learn how to deal with it.

The Reformers seemed to know how. One gift of the Reformed faith is teaching us how to live in a world of changes.

The Reformers grabbed the new communications technology called the printing press and ran with it. They used it to put the Bible in the hands of the people… I’m sure many in the church leaders were worried by this development. But Reformers embraced it and used it to share their message. I wonder what they would have done with our technology today!

Change is a given. Growth is a choice.

There is a working theory out there that says a new reformation takes place every 500 years or so. [ii] An Anglican bishop famously said, that about every 500 years the church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.

2000 years ago, Jesus comes, and shakes up the religious status quo of his day with his message of how God was doing a new thing.  He brings a world of change to the religion of his day. How do they respond?  He is crucified for it. So were many of his followers. Talk about resisting change!

500 years later the Roman Empire collapses and the dark ages begin… and a monastic tradition is born as the church hunkers down.

In 1054 there was a great schism when the Christian church splits between east and west… a split lasting to this day between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic church.

Then 500 years ago… the reformation. We have endured many a change in the religious world over the centuries.

And today, 2017? That’s what people are wondering about… people are wondering if we are in the midst of a new reformation… transformation of the church.

It’s hard to say when you are living through it… I mean, I doubt many knew the impact of what was happening in the church 500 years ago.

Because on October 31, 1517—who was Luther? A young monk of whom very few people had heard, living in a part of the world far away from the center of religious power: Rome. Who cared what happened in the small college town of Wittenberg?

At the time, when he nailed those concerns on the door of the church… all he was asking for was a debate over church practices like penance… indulgences… how someone is saved. He didn’t have a desire or an idea that a movement would be sparked that would lead to the division of the church.

At first the church ignored him… no one wanted to debate him.

Then when his ideas got out through the printing press and he challenged the authority of the pope and the selling of indulgences… people began to notice. The Pope began to notice. They tried to shut him up… excommunicated him.

Luther didn’t want to leave the church… the church kicked him out. Back then, I bet the church thought they had managed this little monk from Wittenberg. Little did they know that God was doing a new thing…

And your life and mine is different because of what he did that day. That day changed everything!

Without Luther, you might still be paying indulgences to get your loved ones out of purgatory. Yes, through that system we would have paid off our building by now.. but still… Without Luther, you might still believe that you have to work your way into heaven… No “Amazing Grace”—at least not without a price. You certainly would not have received forgiveness without going through me. You’d be coming to me to share your deepest and darkest secrets. While I might find it interesting, I don’t think you would like it. Even then, some of you would still be burdened by wondering if you had ever done enough to please God and get into paradise. You might be wondering if God would really forgive you of some sin that seemed unforgivable to you.

You might not be able to read the Bible because it was Luther and the Reformers who made sure it was translated into the language of the people. Your life and mine would be different.

John Calvin and John Knox may not have happened. And Presbyterians would have not had such an influence on the founding of America. You remember, don’t you, that the American Revolution was also called the Presbyterian Rebellion… because so many Presbyterians were so involved. Who knows what this nation would be or if it would be without Luther’s actions.

The changes that took place 500 years ago have changed our lives forever. All because a monk from Wittenberg was reading his Bible and praying… trying to be faithful to his God.

Who could have seen it coming?Well, maybe those who read the Bible would not be surprised. Reformation was taking place long before 1517.

We see a great example in today’s Scripture from about 600 BC. We don’t know the exact day, but the day that Josiah’s workmen found the book of the Covenant (Deuteronomy) in their renovation of the temple was a day that changed Israel.

Josiah ordered everyone together to hear the words of Scripture… leading to reinstitute Passover observance which had been ignored. Call this a first reformation… the day that Book of the Covenant was discovered. And people listened to the Word of God and repented.

In that text are the clues to one of the great sayings born of the reformation… it likely comes to us from Dutch reformers who said,

“The Church Reformed is always reforming according to the word of God”

That saying for us is a confession that we know we are not perfect, we know we get it wrong sometimes…but God gives us his word to help us in such times.

I think about those years when Southern churches were supporting slavery and quoting the Bible… Not every moment in history is our best moment.

But faithful people kept on reading and thinking and praying.. and reform came to the church.  The gift of the Reformed faith that we seek to be a faith that continues to seek reformation according to the Word of God. We continue to listen for what God is saying to us in our time, place and circumstances.

I love the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation as examples of God seeking to reform the church… they comfort me in knowing that even the early churches struggled to be faithful to the vision of Jesus. John is writing to them to encourage them to repent and reform.

One of the churches had forgotten their first love, Jesus Christ.

Another is living in fear because of the suffering about to come their way. Not faith, but fear.

Another is tempted to compromise their faith… giving into the culture and letting faith take a back seat.

Another church tolerated Jezebel… they were a growing church… active church… but again, some were asking them to compromise their faith for the sake of many things. Christians simply let the culture be their guide to faith and practice… not Christ.

Another church had a great reputation… but they were living on their name and off of their past… they needed spiritual renewal.

Then there is the church in Laodecia (today’s text) … that hits too close to home… They are a wealthy church… comfortable… complacent… they are neither “hot nor cold” … they can manage on their own… self-sufficient… but they have locked Christ out of their church. They have begun to rely on themselves and not the grace of God in Christ.”  He could have been describing the church of the reformation… He could have been describing many American churches.

I find great comfort in knowing that the church was not perfect and in need of reform. Maybe there is hope for us as well! Because the good news is that God is always working to reform us. God has not left us on our own.

With Luther we trust the Holy Spirit continues to work with the church… to reform it… especially as we turn to the Scriptures to inform us  once again… and even more as we turn to the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ… whose life and teachings set the direction for reform… we are reformed when we listen for the voice of  the Spirit moving in our time and place… to see what new things the Spirit may be doing. Just as the Spirit was doing a new thing 500 years ago.

Way back when, when I was in seminary, I had a wonderful pastoral care professor, Dr. Oglesby. A wonderful teacher and pastor.  Sometimes a student would ask a question like, “Dr. Oglesby, what do you think will happen in the future when…”

And his reply was the same… “Lord knows but he ain’t telling”… and he said it with such calm. It was enough, it seems, that the Lord knew… it was enough to let go and trust in the good Lord to work with us, reform us and lead us into the future.

As they say, “we may not know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future”  Our job is to listen, to pay attention, to repent where needed and to follow where the Lord leads.

And to trust, as the Reformers taught us, to always trust that the Lord who has been our help in ages past, will be our hope for years to come. That is something that will never change. Thanks be to God! Amen.

[i] Sermon at Davidson College Presbyterian Church, September 2017

[ii] Phyllis Ticklee, The Great Emergence