Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Dare to Pray

Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 11:1-13
July 28, 2013
© 2013


Nils Friberg had been the pastor of the First Swedish Baptist Church in Oakland, California when my mother was young. On retirement, he and his wife returned to what was then Lakeside Baptist Church when I was growing up. I remember that when he was asked to do the pastoral prayer, even after walking across the chancel became difficult for him; he would step behind the pulpit, lift his hands high, look straight up and boom out a prayer in a heavy Swedish accent. I thought he was looking right through the roof directly into heaven, compelling God to listen to his prayer. Nobody else I knew prayed like Dr. Friberg. I wanted to learn to pray so I could know God would listen.

Only years later did I learn that lifting hands and looking up was a standard posture for prayer in the early centuries of the Church. In the second and third centuries Christians painted and carved pictures of women leading prayer with their arms uplifted. This is a remarkable sign of the transforming power of the Gospel, as in the religions of pagan Rome, women were relegated to subservient roles and even prostitution.

In Colossians 2:6 we get a hint that following Jesus was a total way of life, not religious practices, as was common among the pagans. Prayer was not something these early Christians did, it was the way they lived.

When we think of prayer, we think of how we fail in intensity, confidence, frequency and duration. As you listen to the words of Jesus today, I hope you will realize that God enjoys listening and responding to our prayers.

The theme of the General Assembly that just finished was, “Lord, teach us to pray.” We all identify with the disciples’ request in Luke 11:1-13. We are more familiar with how Matthew presented of some of this material. What surprises you in Luke, why? Jesus didn’t just teach how to pray but what to expect from God when we pray. To understand Jesus’ explanation, you need to know he used a humorous hyperbole. Hospitality, especially to travelers, was such a strong cultural value that turning down the friend’s request was laughable. The whole village would be shamed not to care for a traveler. Also bread was not the meal but the means by which the meal was eaten, dipping into a common pot.

[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least [to avoid shame] he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

 9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Though “persistence” is a possible translation of verse 8, “avoid shame” fits the point of Jesus’ teaching that God joyfully hears and responds to our prayers.[1] To teach persistence in prayer, to pray and not give up, Jesus told the parable of the widow and the judge in Luke 18:1-8.

The familiar triplet – ask, search, knock – assures those who pray they will receive, find and be opened to by God.

Typical of Middle Eastern teaching, Jesus drives his point home with a third image, parents giving good gifts to their children. Typical of Luke, he specified that Jesus promised the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

Since God enjoys listening and responding to our prayers, what did Jesus teach about how to pray? We are used to the liturgical version of the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew. We recite it together every Sunday, which is probably how it was intended to be used. But here Jesus gives it to us in its simplest, stripped down version, more suited for private prayer. Yet, it is still about “us” not “me.” We pray as a community, even when alone. No elegant title, just familiar “Abba” in Aramaic: Father, Dad, Papa. Five basic petitions. No need for a script or a rosary. Your fingers will do. Honor God. Put God in control. Provide for us today. Forgive because our life is about forgiveness. Keep us out of trouble.

I recognize that as a pastor I have more opportunity and time for prayer than most of you, but I want to suggest some simple practices I have found helpful that I think you can all handle. Every morning I face the four directions of the compass, starting with east to give the new day to God. As I face each direction, I think about who and what are out there and hand them over to God

When someone tells me of a trouble they are having, I ask if I can pray for them and may exchange phone numbers. About a month later a call and ask how they are doing.

In your bulletin today is a sign-up sheet for a prayer triad. The idea is for three people to get together four times to pray for our church between September 1 and November 21 at times and places that work for you. I have prepared a guide to help you pray four of Paul’s prayers for New Testament churches for our church. My goal is to have 10-12 triads (that’s 30-36 people) this fall and then to repeat it between New Year’s and Lent, aiming for 30-36 triads (90-108 people). It’s simple enough, anyone can do it. I’ve seen its power in a few congregations. Imagine the spiritual impact of 100 people praying for this church!

When we lived in the Daybreak community for mentally handicapped adults in Ontario, Thursdays were our evening to have dinner at Stephenson House and handle the evening routines to give the regular assistants a break. One of my roles was to help Michael Arnett get ready for bed. Michael could not read and needed specific instructions for each step of his routine. Remove his clothes and hang or put them in the hamper. Put on his pajamas. Wash up and brush his teeth. Lay out his clothes to put on in the morning. Set his alarm so he could be ready for his ride to the sheltered workshop in the morning. And last of all, to kneel by his bed and pray.

When Michael prayed he held a small wooden cross that Father Henri Nouwen had brought him from Latin America. He stared at that cross with such intensity, that much like Nils Friberg, he seemed to be looking straight into the heart of God. No Swedish accent, but with the halting, irregular voice of one whose brain and body don’t work well together, he prayed like no one else I’ve ever known except Nils Friberg. He prayed for the people in his house, for everyone in the Daybreak community, including his even more disabled brother, Adam. For his parents. For people from all over the world who had visited the community in recent years. For people in the world who were suffering disasters that Michael heard about on the news but had no way of understanding. Not once did I ever hear Michael ask God for anything for himself! But he prayed with the absolute confidence that God enjoyed listening to him and responding to him.


[1] Bailey, Kenneth E., Poet and Peasant; 1976, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI; pp. 119-141

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Purity of One

Colossians 1:15-29; Luke 10:38-42
July 21, 2013
© 2013

When our grandson Sam started showing signs of ADHD, his mother Rachel exclaimed, “My mother is medicated for ADHD as an adult, and my husband is medicated for ADHD as an adult. I’m doomed!” When their adopted daughter Elizabeth proved to be a highly focused kindergartener, Rachel observed, “We just had to go outside the gene pool.”
We live in an ADD world where distractions that compete for our attention seem to multiply daily. Multi-tasking has been exposed as a path to ineffectiveness. Distractions feed our anxiety and depression.

This is as true for a church as it is for us as individuals, especially a church on the interim journey between pastors. What kind of worship, education, fellowship and outreach will we need in the future? Of the candidates available, which ones merit further consideration? What qualities should we be looking for? Will we make it?
Being present to Jesus is the only thing needed to cope with the distractions of our lives and for our church. Strange as it may seem, a Zen story give this perspective. A young man approached a wise master and said, “I want to know God.” “Do you, now?” the master replied, “Come with me to the river.” When they had waded out into deep water the master grabbed the young man by the hair and held him under water. When he brought him up, he asked, “Do you still want to know God?” “Yes, I do,” the young man sputtered. The master plunged him under the water a couple more times, each one longer than the previous. The last time the young man came up gasping and shouting, “Air! I need air!” The master said, “When you want God as much as you want air, you will know God.”

Today is the familiar but unsettling story of Jesus with Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42. Luke seems to tell it out of chronological order as a counter-point to the Good Samaritan we looked at last week. Though their brother Lazarus does not appear in Luke, he is in John 11 and 12 where the sisters’ temperaments matche this story but with affirmation.
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
A lot of women react negatively to Jesus in this story, feeling he was unfair to Martha, with whom they identify. One commentator imagines immature sibling rivalry with Mary sticking her tongue out at Martha when Jesus’ back is turned. In an understandable effort to see Jesus in a positive light, some engage in some awkward exegetical gymnastics. If the story is seen as contemplative life in competition with activist life, that difficulty follows.
I think other commentators get it right when they view the story through the lens of hospitality. Martha opened the story positively by inviting Jesus, and probably a number of disciples, into her home. She was thrilled to be with Jesus. But instead of a simple lunch that would let them enjoy each other, she shifted her focus from Jesus to the meal and put on an elaborate spread. Jesus was not criticizing Martha’s hospitality, he was inviting her to enjoy being together, keeping the focus on those for whom she was preparing food, including Jesus. With that focus, she could well have prepared the meal without distraction.
One of the challenges with this story is that the early manuscripts are not clear about verse 42. Yet “There is need of only one thing” is the key to unlocking the story. That one thing is keeping focused on being present to Jesus which is the only thing needed to cope with the distractions of our lives and for our church.
Vince Lombardi coached the Green Bay Packers in their glory years in the 60s. He is still remembered for saying, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." I have always thought that was theologically and sociologically off base, but it does reflect the importance of a singular focus. The hymn that we read from Colossians 1:15-20 also emphasizes a singular focus but puts Christ there, not winning.
Yes, this is a hymn that the church may already have been singing when Paul used it to explain that Christ is the center of everything. Philippians 2:5-11 is also such an early hymn that Paul also used to focus on Christ. Though they take different approaches, both hymns center on Jesus’ death on the cross at the core of our redemption.

In verse 27 Paul revealed the mystery, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” We have immediate, intimate access to the Christ who is the center of everything! Paul went on to write in verse 29 that while he toiled and struggled in his mission, the energy and power to do that was not his own but was breathed into him by Christ.

In his book Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard brings Jesus’ assertion to Martha that “there is need of only one thing” together with Jesus’ sixth Beatitude in Matthew 5:8. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The Bible frequently identifies purity, not as morally clean, but as unmixed. Pure gold or water is only gold or water, nothing else. Like the Zen master, Jesus said in effect: if the only thing you want is to see God, you will see God. There is need of only one thing: being with Jesus.
Being present to Jesus is the only thing needed to cope with the distractions of our lives and for our church.
Not only are we easily worried and distracted by our many tasks as Martha was, we misread Mary as a student and turn our encounters with Scripture and prayer into additional tasks about which we fret, sure we’re not doing enough. Jesus may be saying to you something like I sense him saying to me, “Norman, Norman, you are worried and distracted by all your preaching and teaching preparations. Relax, slow down. Let’s enjoy some quiet together, without guilt, without regret, without worry.”

In Colossians 1:18, Paul was very specific that Christ is the head of the Church. In our society we tend to think in terms of individuals, but Christ dwells among us as a community of faith. In his book Christ the Center German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “Christ can only be conceived of in the community.”
A group of men in Spokane, Washington wears red caps with Happy Helpers logos and gathers on Thursday mornings to do repairs around the church and help people in the community.  They use the hour before they tackle repairs to support each other.  Their founder, Seward Besemer, says, “I always tell the group not to lose track of the thought that the first reason for life is fellowship.” (The Lutheran magazine, July 2001)
For any congregation, the interim journey is cluttered with distractions. The sometimes arduous Search and Call process. The forces that tug in conflicting directions both past and future. The Martha-like resentment toward other seemingly more successful congregations. The differences of opinion among ourselves. I suggest we all listen for Jesus to say, “There is need of only one thing,” which is for all of use to enjoy being present to Jesus together. So whether it’s a business meeting, a Bible class or a worship service that might not be your favorite style, ask how to be present to Jesus with each other.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What Is “Old Time Religion?”

Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37
July 14, 2013
© 2013


What is your image of “old time religion?” Depending on the era, you may or may not resonate with some of the “antique” features we’ve sampled in today’s worship.

Whatever time you associate with “old time religion,” the song taps into our nostalgic longing for a time in the past that seems to have been better than our present.

The song Give Me That Old Time Religion started out as a Negro Spiritual that was first included in a list of Jubilee Songs in 1873. I wonder what “good old days” the former slaves were nostalgic for in 1873? After hearing it at a camp meeting in Lexington, South Carolina in 1889, Charles Davis Tillman published it for white churches just as the era of Gospel songs was getting started.

For the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) “old time religion” goes back to 1801 when Barton Stone hosted the revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky that helped launch the Stone-Campbell movement.

Words that could be translated “religion” are rare in the Bible. The Hebrew Scriptures have none at all, just not the way they thought. The New Testament only has two scarce possibilities.

One could be translated “superstition” and has a negative connotation. In Acts 17:27, when Paul saw all the idols in Athens, including an altar “to an unknown god,” he said they were very “religious” or “superstitious” or “afraid of many gods.” In Acts 25:19, when Festus and Agrippa were trying to figure out what to do with their prisoner, Paul, they concluded he was the victim of a dispute about points of the Jewish “religion” or “superstition.”

The other word that is translated “religion” means “ceremonial observance” or “rituals.” In Colossians 2:18, Paul cautions about such worship of angels. In Acts 26:5, Paul describes his former life as a Pharisee as one who followed the strictest “religion” or “ceremonial observances” of Judaism.

James 1:26-27 defines “religion” or “ceremonial observance” in a distinctly Christian way: bridle your tongue, care for widows and orphans, and keep yourself unstained by the world. “Religion” is not ritual but life!

In the very familiar Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, Jesus gave us a powerful picture of this kind of religion – real “old time religion” if you will. After he rejoiced in the reports from the 70, he told his disciples they had seen things that prophets and kings had longed to see but didn’t.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Rich Young Ruler asked the same question as this Lawyer. Some have wondered if they were the same person with Luke telling the story a little differently than Matthew 19 and Mark 10. Since Luke 18 also tells the story of the Rich Young Ruler, I’m confident they were two different people. Jesus quoted from the Ten Commandments to the Rich Young Ruler, who seemed to be caught up in following the rules precisely. But this Lawyer quoted the great commandments about loving God and loving neighbor from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. He was probing both deeper and broader into what relating to God is all about. But self-righteousness triped them both up.

Common people at Jesus’ time often had an antipathy toward Priests and Levites who were contemptuous of them while arrogantly flaunting their own piety. So many who heard the way Jesus portrayed the Priest and the Levite were at least nodding if not cheering silently and waiting for the third character to be the hero whom they expected to be a devout Jewish layperson. So even Jesus’ most sympathetic listeners were shocked when a Samaritan is the hero of the story. When Clarence Jordan paraphrased Luke for his Cotton Patch Version, he set it in Georgia in the 1950s and used the N-word for the Samaritan. We might get the impact if we thought of the Samaritan as an Arab or a Palestinian or an Iranian.

Jesus turned the Lawyer’s question on its head. Instead of “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus asks, “To whom can I be a neighbor?” By using the Samaritan as the hero of his story, Jesus continues to push us to consider the least likely candidates to whom to become neighbors.

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is rightly understood in the vast witness of Scripture mandating ministries of mercy and justice for the poor and of racial and cultural harmony. With the way Jesus turned the question to finding the unlikely people to whom to be a neighbor, his story also challenges the church today to pursue ways to become neighbors to the non-religious people in our increasingly secular society.

Several recent studies have confirmed that “no religious affiliation” is the fastest growing religious identity in the United States, especially for those under 50. In some areas, a majority of young adults have no church or religious experience, and for many who do it is negative. Through our sons, I feel I have had some opportunity for interaction with some of these folk. They are not asking “religious” questions. They are not asking about “eternal life,” as the Lawyer asked Jesus. But they are trying to figure out how to have a satisfying, significant life.

The “old time religion” of the Good Samaritan challenges us to actively pursue becoming welcomed neighbors to these non-religious folk. It is the mission of the church in our time and the shape of the church for our grandchildren. Having our presuppositions questioned is uncomfortable and can even be scary. But real conversation, authentic relationships with people about religion, church, God, Jesus, faith, life is also exhilarating. When we are in way over our heads, the Holy Spirit shows up as unexpectedly as did the Good Samaritan.

Brian lived across the street from us in his teen years and became good friends with our son Jon. His mother was a non-practicing Protestant and his step-father a non-practicing Jew.  Brian had never gone to church until he started coming to youth events with Jon. I am not aware of a conscious moment of trusting Jesus, but he has expressed thanks to Jon for introducing him to Christ, which has been important in coping with his life challenges. Brian and his wife have an autistic son. Brian has pursued a high-stress career that often puts him in New York City. He fled his office and the city on foot on 9-11 to get home to New Jersey. Brian is part of a group of guys who have gone camping together on Memorial Day weekend for years. What started out as a lark evolved into a men’s spiritual retreat. Now that they are married with children, this group also camps with their families on Labor Day weekend. I am convinced hundreds of Brians are in Odessa waiting for someone to be their neighbor.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sent Everywhere the Lord Intends to Go

Galatians 6:1-10; Luke 10:1-9, 17-21
July 7, 2013
© 2013


Two weeks ago the Board reviewed June’s worship experiences to decide on the rest of the summer. The testimonies were such a big hit, they decided to have one each Sunday, not bunch them on Old Time Religion Sunday. They also suggested that I share the testimony of my spiritual journey and calling to pastoral ministry. That works well with today’s Gospel story from Luke 10 that affirms that Jesus has sent each one of us, not just pastors, as laborers in a special part of his plentiful harvest where he himself intends to go.

At my ordination in 1975 my Dad seemed  unusually emotional. I didn’t understand why until after he died in 2007 and my Mom passed on to me his discharge papers from the Navy after World War II. He had indicated plans for seminary and ministry, which I never knew and he never fulfilled, except as a layman and undertaker.

After college and an MA in Christian Education from Wheaton Grad School, I worked in Christian education curriculum development, research, writing and editing with no thought of pastoral ministry. In the non-denominational church Candy and I belonged to, a fight over the summer Sunday school program prompted the Christian education committee chairperson to leave the church. I was asked to fill-in and then replace him. Then I was invited to join the pastoral staff part time and was ordained when it was clear this was God’s fit for me.

Almost three years later a variety of forces precluded having two part-time ministries. Though in the same church, I left the staff. For nearly a year and a half I went through a dark night of the soul, seriously questioning my calling. Encountering Proverbs 17:22 in a small group opened the first window with, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” The response to my leading a discussion group at a Wheaton College seminar for engaged couples flung open a door that irrevocably affirmed my pastoral calling.

Luke 10:1-9 indicates that Jesus sends every one of us to a special place in his harvest where he himself intended to go. At the end of chapter 9, three people had offered to follow Jesus but were unwilling to make the necessary commitment.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

Jesus’ call balances stability and flexibility. They were to travel light: no money, no luggage, not even extra shoes as they went from town to town. But once there, they were to stay in the same home. In his Rule, St. Benedict warns of “gyratory monks” who wander from monastery to monastery “restless servants to the seduction of their own will and appetites.” (ch. 1, p. 47) We might call them church hoppers looking for the most dynamic preacher in town. Early in my career, before pastoral ministry, I identified Hebrews 11:9-10 as a guiding metaphor for my life. Abraham lived by faith in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Though we have had long relationships with the congregations we’ve served, we really have no home base, which interim ministry emphasizes further.

Jesus sent the 70 out as “lambs into the midst of wolves.” Our sons’ friends have helped me appreciate the secular but spiritually hungry people who are today’s plentiful harvest into which Jesus is sending us. Only a minority of people in their forties and under participate in church or “organized religion.” While we may feel uncomfortable with this cultural sea-change, I believe it is an opportunity for churches who will find ways to welcome them.

Though God’s call caught me unexpectedly, pastoral ministry has been a great joy, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. The 70 Jesus sent out did not have uniformly positive experiences, but Luke 10:17-21 reports not only their spiritual satisfaction, but also Jesus’ response.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

21At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

I trace the start of my adult spiritual journey to studying the book of Job in world literature as a senior in public high school. With my devout parents, I had been in church from infancy and accepted Jesus as my savior as a young child. Through adolescence I was increasingly drawn to literature and the human dilemmas and suffering I encountered there. While I did not reject faith, literature seemed to address these issues, which the way I perceived faith in my church did not. But studying Job in a totally secular environment was like hearing God say, “I really do understand and care about the predicaments and suffering of human life.” Job not only gave me insight into God’s role in human suffering but also an invitation to an intimacy accessible through contemplative living.

An important milestone on this journey was a four month sabbatical Candy and I took 21 years ago in the L’Arche Daybreak community in Ontario. It is a community of about 50 mentally handicapped adult “core members” and about 100 “assistants.” From this experience I learned a contemplative practice of intentionally looking for the presence of Christ in the pain of suffering people.

In the Gospels we see Jesus’ followers as a diverse often contentious group. Their joyful unity in this story comes from pursuing the mission on which Jesus sent them. In 2000 we came to Texas and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) after a fractious experience with the congregation I served in Wisconsin. With the wide diversity of paths of my journey, the Disciples’ emphasis on the essential unity of the Church has been a good fit. With Jesus and the mission on which he sends us into his harvest at the center, our other differences fade.

Like the 70 who marveled that the demons submitted to them, I am amazed at how God has shown up in the course of my ministry. I am convinced that preaching is a key ingredient in God’s call to me. I love doing it, but it terrifies me. How dare I stand before God’s people every week and presume to speak on God’s behalf? Yet, God seems to show up.

One man’s story is more about Jesus’ plentiful harvest than about my preaching. His wife was an active member in a church I served, but he was a seemingly convinced skeptic who had no church background. He was a high school industrial arts teacher. One year he asked if he could go with the youth on their mission trip with Habitat for Humanity. He told me, “I have skills and tools that can help. Though I don’t believe, I won’t upset the kids’ faith. I’ll go in another room when you have Bible study and worship.” Which he did not one year but three or four years in a row. A while after I had left that church, I saw that he had been baptized and joined the church. He told his wife that what brought him to faith in Jesus was listening to youth Bible study and worship from the other room. He said, “Jesus was so real and so important to them, I just had to follow him too.” A few years later he was ordained as a deacon and continues to follow Jesus.
He is one part of Jesus’ plentiful harvest in which Jesus had sent me. Jesus also wants to send you to your special place in his harvest where he himself intends to go.