August 19, 2018 Sermon
August 19, 2018 Sermon
For context and a deeper understanding of the following homily, I would encourage you to read Psalm 104:18, Luke 15:1-7 and Matthew 25:31-34, 41. I gave this homily at Westminster Canterbury of the Blue Ridge on Wednesday, April 11, 2018.
Last week, while taking some time off after Easter, I ran across a true life and death story, a story about two goats who got stuck in a tight spot underneath the Pennsylvania Turn Pike. Apparently, these two goats, one brown and one white, wandered away from their owner’s field, mounted a steel beam that was only 8 inches wide and walked two hundred feet to a place where they could not back up or retrace their steps. One goat, the goat in front, was able to turn around, but the other could not or would not—so there they stood for 18 hours facing each other, 100 ft. above the ground until the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation came to rescue them.
One of the goat rescuers commented later, “It was my first goat extraction.”
How did they save these high flying goats? How did they rescue two goats perilously balancing themselves for such an extended period of time? The DOT brought a crane to the location and when the crane’s bucket got close enough, one of the workers reached out to grab the goat who refused to turn around. The other goat, they coaxed into walking the 100 ft. down the narrow rail to safety. By the way, there was no charge for rescuing the owner’s goats. On this day, the DOT was a good neighbor. And, alas, I’m not sure what the bill would have been for saving foolish and brave animals who have nothing better to do than to wander under the Pennsylvania Turn Pike. It’s nice to know that some things in life, some acts of kindness, are still free.
The reason I found this story amazing is that goats usually do not receive such good press. Indeed, in scripture, goats are usually described as blood sacrifices and offerings in the temple or as creatures who carry some kind of blame for the rest of us. That’s where we get the term, “scapegoat.” (see Lev. 16:10) And then, of course, in reading Mathew 25, which animals are separated from the sheep, stand on the left side of God, and get cast into the unending fires? Goats. On the other hand, sheep are always favored by God (and Jesus). Sheep are good and worthy of finding. Jesus never said a word about going out of our way to search for a lost goat or celebrating or throwing a party when we find one. Still, I believe, had he read this newsworthy story, a story about the two goats under the Pennsylvania Turn Pike, Jesus might have changed his mind. Because if such a heroic effort can be made in saving two goats from their misadventures, imagine what God can do for us when we go astray or when we refuse to turn around on an 8 inch beam or when we get stuck and there is no one else to blame but ourselves.
For me, The Parable of the Two Goats Stuck Under a Bridge is about an extraordinary kind of grace and acceptance and forgiveness. It’s about God’s divine mercy for sheep—meek, mild and soft—and for goats—stubborn, misunderstood, and apt to get themselves in a jam.
A renown rabbi once said, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid.” That may be true. But the good news for us, as believers, is that while the world may be a narrow bridge, the choice to cross that bridge is still ours. And if we find the bridge is too narrow or dangerous or we wish we had taken another route, God will not let us fall. God reaches out to grab us and set us on firm ground so we can wander off, only to find another 8 inch wide beam to balance upon. This is good news for people who make mistakes, who find themselves at dead ends, for people like you and me, for sheep, and for goats. Come. Let us celebrate that we once were lost but now are found. Amen.
Just wrote my children’s sermon for this Sunday and thought I would share. A good reminder for reluctant adults as well. Blessings, Ken
One day, in the fifth grade, someone asked me to sing for a special event, and I said, “Yes.” And though I was scared, I ended up singing in front of my whole school-classmates, teachers, parents, everybody. I sang “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” It was nerve racking, but it never would have happened had I not said, “Yes.”
At a time when I was learning to swim, I was wading in the shallow end of the pool when my older brother, Dan, invited me to swim with him out into the deep water. He promised he would swim beside me the whole length of the pool, out into the dark green water where I had never ventured before. And I remember as I swam, I kept looking over to see if my brother was still beside me and there he was. It’s a good memory. But it never would have happened if I hadn’t put my trust in him, if I didn’t take a chance or a leap of faith, if I didn’t say “Yes.”
When was 14 years old, I remember my neighbor inviting me to his youth group at church. And I said, “Yes.” I didn’t know it then, but by saying “Yes,” my whole life was about to change. I became a member of that church. That church sponsored me to go to seminary. And eventually, I became a pastor. They asked me to lead and I said, “Yes.” They asked me to attend a class or a bible study or a retreat or even join a committee and I said “Yes.” They asked me a lot of questions and as long as kept saying “Yes,” I kept growing and deepening in my faith.
Saying “Yes” is good thing. We may not know where our “Yes” will lead us or how our “Yes” may change our life’s direction.
Someone may ask us to lead or follow or try something new; they may ask us to stand or sit or sing or pray out loud. So tell me: “Why is our first impulse to say “No?” Because in my experience, saying “Yes,” opens new doors, offers us perspective, and expands our perception of reality.
Tiny Fey, comedian, once said, “Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” So true, right?
One day, I remember lying in bed thinking about God. I thought about everything my Sunday School teachers taught me. I thought about Jesus. I thought about nature and about my youth group. I thought how happy I felt when I realized how much God loved me. And in that moment, I said “Yes.” Yes to God! And this “Yes” changed my life.
So, this week if someone asks you to do something, instead of complaining or whining about it or saying “no” because you’re feeling tired and hungry, or overwhelmed, instead, surprise yourself!
Faced with growing uncertainties and a restlessness about the future, this sermon series explores scripture passages which focus on uncertain outcomes and unexplored territory. Do you feel anxious about the future? Do you sense the social and political ground shifting beneath your feet? When we seem to be feeling our way day by day, attempting to put our trust in God, how does our faith comfort or encourage us? For several Sundays, we will glean from the Old and New Testaments how God’s people have always sought divine guidance when moving into uncharted waters.
Mar 5 1st Sunday of Lent, Exodus 14:10-31 (The Perils of Crossing the Red Sea) Ken preaching
Mar 12 2nd Sunday of Lent, Isaiah 43:1-7 (When you pass through the waters. . . ) Ken preaching
Mar 19 3rd Sunday of Lent, Matthew 6:25-34 (Do Not Worry? Or maybe we should.) Tracy preaching
Mar 26 4th Sunday of Lent, Deut. 30:15-20 (I have set before you life and death. . . choose life) Special Music Sunday!
April 2 5th Sunday of Lent, Isaiah 10:1-4; Luke 19:41-48 (Jesus cleanses the temple and Isaiah calls rulers and leaders to account for their actions) Communion; Ken preaching.
On November 20th, in light of Ken being installed as the new pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Dick Redding gave the following charge to the congregation.
On behalf of the pastoral nominating committee and the congregation, thanks be to God for Ken answering our call to be our senior pastor. So, what is our responsibility, as a congregation in this partnership with our new pastor? It is a partnership, right? Together, we can be a very powerful force for Christ, as we discern what the Holy Spirit has in mind for Westminster Presbyterian Church today and beyond.
The Book of Order describes Christ’s ministry and this relationship in the following way: pastors and people share in the ministry/mission of the church together complementing/completing one another under the one and same mandate of Christ. Ministry is not just for ministers.
First, a few dos and don’ts for us the congregation. Ken is a faithful Shepherd to this flock, but it is a large flock, with a lot of personalities. Do be patient with him and don’t be offended if he doesn’t return a phone call or email right away. Trust me and remember, that he cares deeply for each of us. Do be direct and clear in your communication with others and particularly when there are differences, speak your truth, leading with love. Do be mindful of Ken’s priorities beyond this congregation. His first allegiance is to God. His second allegiance is to Heather and his family in Oregon. Do respect the time that he sets aside for family. Remember, Ken’s day off is Monday. Do honor his time to recharge and be with family. Refrain from reaching out to Ken on Mondays.
Do allow Ken the flexibility to take us out of our comfort zone. That may create the best place for a growth opportunity in stretching our faith. Do be open to change.
I challenge myself, and all of you to willfully and joyfully share your gifts with this church and community in our ministry together. Do revisit your calling as disciples. Take a step towards serving others in the name of Christ, not only in this place on Sunday, but out in the world during the week as well. Do listen for the Holy Spirit to move you into action.
Several years ago, I was the overnight congregation representative for PACEM. One of our guests that evening, a fellow the men referred to as Doc, had a medical emergency. The rescue squad was called, but they were unsuccessful in reviving him. A few days later, the pastor called me to be sure I was OK. I said yes, “I’m fine, but it would have been nice if a minister had come over that night to pray with the men.” In looking back, I realized I had missed an opportunity to do more to serve and comfort that evening. I should’ve been the one empowered to lead the men in prayer. Ministry is not just for ministers. Why not me Lord?
To illustrate my point further, I know many of you have seen Ken juggle. For those of you who haven’t, trust me, he’s a really good juggler. Imagine that each ball that he juggles with represent one of his spiritual gifts of ministry. So, close your eyes for a minute, as we explore this thought. Now, let’s imagine that the back of the sanctuary is glassed in and completely transparent. Next envision Ken juggling away here behind the pulpit. Imagine people walking or driving down Rugby Road by the glassed in sanctuary. A passerby might peek in and say “man that guys a good juggler, but he seems all alone in what he is doing among that big crowd, and they don’t seem to be reacting to it, maybe it’s not that big of a deal.” Now think about your God given gifts being represented by a ball in your hand. Imagine that you start flipping your sphere in the air, along with the rest of the congregation. Those walking by take another look, and Ken is juggling away, joined by you folks in the pews, tossing your balls in the air as well. It’s a sea of motion and energy as the balls go round and round. Now the people on the street exclaim, “wow, that looks amazing, let’s go in there and see what this is all about!
So, do take the ball, your gifts, out of your pocket, and share it with the world joyfully and toss it together with Ken. The Spirit is there to encourage us. With all our oars in the water at once, we can be a powerful force for Christ. And let’s be sure we keep our ball out of our pockets and visible when we leave here today.
Come ye faithful people, come. Do pray for Ken and our other pastors, Lynne and Tracy. Do pray for this new partnership of ministry with Ken and go forth with confidence that the Holy Spirit is guiding us in our ministry together in a way that is pleasing to God.
“So faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.”
−1 Corinthians 13:13
Sustained by grace, we are called to serve Christ, share God’s love, and work for justice in a complex world.
Westminster follows the Presbyterian Book of Confession and is a confessional church. You can view/read the Book of Confession at the PC(USA) website by clicking on the following link: http://www.pcusa.org/book-confessions.