A pastor friend, when discussing worship experiences based on forgiving others, said he once gave everyone in the congregation a tongue depressor and instructed them to write the name of someone they needed to forgive on it. He then invited those who were ready to let that debt go to snap the tongue depressors on the count of three. The sound, he said, of all those cracking depressors was a powerful experience knowing that people were attempting to let go of sins against them.
In Psalm 103, the psalmist tells himself (his soul) to bless God. After he does so a second time he begins to give reasons why his soul should bless God. The very first reason? Because God forgives.
"Love your neighbor as yourself" is easy to preach. It's a thread that holds the entire Bible together. You can read versions of it throughout, including these direct references: Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, Romans 13:19, James 2:8. Other religions have a similar teaching. It is a timeless message about how we're to treat others and it's returned to time and again because takes practice.
Love is a word we throw around a lot. Sometimes I’m critical of society’s use of it (we “love” everything from pizza to our parents), but an outsider might question the church’s use, too. We say things like, “Love God and love neighbor” and “Owe no one anything, except to love one another” and that all the commandments can be summarized, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does love mean in these central Christian principles and how are we living it?
I read Paul's instructions in Romans 12:9-21 and think, "Yes, let's do that; let's be that" and then I start moving about in the world or in my house or even across the room and it feels like I can't do that. I can't be that. (And, that other person in the room isn't doing that or being that, either.)
On Saturday our family spent a little time with the Cattenheads. The children watched a television show where a sociologist put on a compassion experiment. The set it up so that a man (an actor) bumps into the subject heading into testing room and is very rude to him or her. When the subject looks through the two-way glass the person who mistreated him or her is sitting there waiting for the subject to select the hotness level of the salsa the actor will have to eat.
There is a significant connection between ignorance and fear. We fear what we do not know.
I’ve been honored to be with a few people who knew their last days in this life were upon them. They may have had some regrets, many had sadness about leaving those they love, but their fear was not knowing what was to come. It wasn’t that they suddenly lost faith in God or thought they were facing a bad eternity, but it was the unknown - how would it feel in those final moments, what would the moment of death be like, what comes next?
I had no idea when I quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.'s dreams yesterday that more people had been injured and one person killed the day before for marching in favor of equality. I said in the sermon, "Some people...dream of a world that is more like what it is meant to be, a world where 'The sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.' They dream of a day when 'Children...will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.'
Yesterday's sermon concluded with this thought: Two things always remain: the scars of what we've been through and the God who has been through all of it with us.
Too often we want to disguise our scars, either because of how others might react or to limit our exposure to our own scars. But, they're there. We know they're there. And, those from whom we would hide our scars have theirs, too. We should know that.
Recently we've heard a lot about seeds from Jesus. First it was the parable about the prodigal sower who tossed seeds in all directions, some landing in places that would likely yield good results and others in places where it would be difficult to sustain growth. Yesterday we heard about mustard seeds that grow from tiny seeds to strong and big bushes.
When was the last time you quoted this verse: With open mouth I pant, because I long for your commandments (Psalm 119:131)?
We pant for many things, where do God's commandments fall on the list?
A little more about parables. The word comes from the Greek compound word "parabole'." Para means "alongside" and bole' means "to throw." A parable, then, throws something alongside something else, as in yesterday's parable where the Kingdom of Heaven was compared to (thrown alongside) someone sowing good seed.