FIRST LESSON: Luke 11:1-13
SECOND LESSON Genesis 18:20-32
SERMON: “Prayer Persistence
Last month for our Saturday night at the movies, some of us gathered to watch Sister Act. For those of you who have not seen the movie, it is the story of a casino singer who is an eye witness to a murder and is then hidden in an inner-city convent, as a nun – Sister Mary Clarence – to keep her safe until the trial. The only people who know that is why she is there are the police and the Mother Superior, who introduces her to the other nuns in the convent at lunch.
An overly cheerful Sister welcomes the new “nun,” saying, “On behalf of all the Sisters here at St. Katherine’s, I’d like to offer a great big “Hi there” and hello to Sister Mary Clarence. Hi. And as part of the welcome I thought that maybe ... our new sister could offer today’s blessing.”
Knowing pretty much nothing about how to pray, especially in public, but unwilling to blow her cover, Sister Mary Clarence, played by Whoopi Goldberg, responds, “That is very thoughtful of you, Mary Patrick. But I really ... Oh. Yeah. Yeah. I can ... I can do that. Uh. Sure. Oh. Fudge. Uh. Bless us, O Lord for these Thy gifts which we’re about to receive. And, Yea. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of no food, I will fear no hunger. We want you to give us this day our daily bread ... and to the republic for which it stands, and by the power invested in me, I pronounce us ready to eat. Amen.
(Others): Amen. Amen. Amen
Many of us feel similarly unprepared to offer public prayer, or even how to pray our own personal prayers. Apparently one of Jesus’ disciples felt the need to ask for instruction. The first thing I noticed when I re-read this passage is that Jesus doesn’t hesitate a moment, doesn’t belittle the disciple for asking for help with something we may think is quite basic. That is so like Jesus, just to meet the person where he is.
He gives the disciple, and us, a fairly simple pattern for prayer:
The approach: Father, remember that God loves you as a devoted parent. For twenty-first century Christians, the initial address of “Father” is not startling. But for first century Jews, the mandate to pray to God first and foremost as “Father” was astonishing. For Israel, God was Creator, Deliverer, Judge, Redeemer — but only very rarely referred to as “Father.”
The next portion of the prayer Jesus offers is “your kingdom come.” – Reveal who you are. Set the world right. This is the essence of Jesus’ own teaching, the forward looking thrust of Jesus’ divinely-entrusted mission. The prayer for God’s kingdom to be established is a now and future imperative Jesus continually preached to his followers. Jesus’ presence made the kingdom present. But Jesus’ followers needed to pray for the continual unveiling of that kingdom.
Keep us alive with three square meals. Meet our basic physical needs – elicits a memory of the Hebrew people, wandering in the wilderness receiving manna and quail each day enough sufficient for the day, not to be saved up or hoarded, for we are meant to have an on-going, daily relationship with God, our Creator, Redeemer,
Sustainer and Father.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Help us to live as forgiven and forgiving people
Luke’s text diverges from Matthew’s “Lord’s Prayer” in its length and in its vocabulary in vs. 4. Matthew’s text equated “debts” with “indebtedness” (Matthew 6:12). Luke’s text conjoins universal human sinfulness with the forgiveness of day-to-day indebtedness — e.g. small-time sins. Disciples are to pray for the forgiveness of their “sins,” but that prayer should be based upon a prior act of forgiveness by disciples of all those who might have become “indebted” to them.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” Protect us from all that would separate us from you. “Do not lead us into the time of trial” is an addendum message to a God who is “Father,” provider, forgiver.
Jesus’ prayer ends with a surprising and remarkable “cherry-on-top.” Instead of “fish” and “eggs” and “daily bread” what Jesus promises is that those who pray to God the Father as his disciples will receive nothing less than the “Holy Spirit.” To be a disciple is to be one who prays continually to God “Our Father.” To be a disciple is to be offered the gift of the “holy Spirit,” the personal presence of the Father.
Finally Jesus encourages us to be persistent in our prayers, trusting that
God will answer. As he so often does, Jesus teaches them by story giving them the image of someone who has closed up the house and retired for the night, but who will get up when a friend comes asking for bread, not because it is his friend, but because the friend is so persistent. Consider for a moment the persistence of Abraham in pleading the case of whatever righteous person might be found in Sodom. It’s startling that the record says, “but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. The Message says he stood in God’s path, blocking his way.” Really? Who can block God from moving? Then comes the challenge, “Would you destroy the whole city, even if there were 50 righteous people there?” God acknowledges he would not destroy everything if there were 50 righteous people living there. Did Abraham know something he wasn’t saying because the then bargains for 45, then for 40, then for 30, then for 20 and finally for 10. God listens and responds with grace each time.
Why is it that God’s word encourages us repeatedly to be persistent in prayer? Numbers 23:19 tells us “God is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” I Samuel affirms “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind, for he is not a human being that he should change his mind.” If God does not change his mind, then why should we be persistent in prayer?
Let me tell you a story.
A man was sleeping one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light, and God appeared. The Lord told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. So, this the man did, day after day.
For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all of his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and
worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.
He began to think to himself: “You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t moved.” He started to believe that the task was impossible and that he was a failure. These thoughts discouraged and disheartened him.
Then he thought, “Hey, why kill myself over this? I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort; and that will be good enough.” So that’s what the weary man planned to do, but first he decided to make it a Matter of Prayer and to take his troubled thoughts to the Lord.
“Lord,” he prayed, “I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”
The Lord answered: “Wait a minute! When I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all of your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. And now you come to me with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed.
Really? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back lean and tan; your hands are callused from constant pressure, your legs have become massive and hard. You have grown much, and your abilities now far surpass that which you used to have. It is true you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to have faith, to trust in my wisdom. That you have done. Now, my friend, I will move the rock.”
- When everything seems to go wrong ... just P.U.S.H.!
- When the job gets you down ... just P.U.S.H.!
- When people don’t react the way you think they should ... just P.U.S.H!
- When your money is “gone” and the bills are due ... just P.U.S.H.!
- When people just don’t understand you .... just ... P.U.S.H!
P=Pray ... U=Until ... S=Something ... H=Happens. PUSH.
FIRST LESSON: Colossians 1:15-28
SECOND LESSON Matthew 3:1-12
SERMON: “Dangerous Waters”
We got to talking the other night in session about trusting the power of God and seeking God’s power through prayer. Somehow that led us into a discussion of the prayers of confession and whether we actually mean them, or just mouth the words and expect little difference in ourselves or any real response from God. Of course not every word or thought of every prayer of confession applies to every person in worship. That’s why we have that short silence for you as individuals to offer up to God your own personal confession. Then as I began preparing for today’s message, in a service centered around the baptism of Konrad I finally caught a connection, I hadn’t seen before. Perhaps you have realized it all along, but I hadn’t.
We are called to confession of sin, much as John the Baptist called people to come for a baptism of repentance. We in the Reformed tradition only baptize once. We recognize the baptisms of persons in other traditions because we understand that it is God who is active in the Sacrament. The logic being that to baptize someone a second time would be saying that somehow God didn’t get it right the first time, and as good Reformed theologians we hang our theology on the sovereignty of God, and there is no way we would say God didn’t get something right.
When we respond to the call to confession of sin, offer a heart-felt prayer (either corporate or personal) and receive assurance of God’s mercy and grace, perhaps without realizing it, we are remembering our baptism, the washing away of our sin and the comforting declaration that we are guiltless before God.
Jesus began his ministry by being baptized. At this point in Jewish history, water baptism served one of three purposes. First was the baptism of repentance that John the Baptist was preaching. But of course Jesus didn’t need to repent because he was without sin.
The second kind of baptism was for people who desired to convert to Judaism. If you were a Gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism, they baptized you in water. That’s one of those trick questions I use in confirmation classes – when were the first baptisms done? Not with John the Baptists, not in the early church – way back in Hebrew history, it was an entrance to the community.
Roy Lloyd, a Lutheran minister, once interviewed Mother Teresa. One of the questions he asked her was, “What’s the biggest problem in the world today?” And she answered, without hesitation, “The biggest problem in the world today is that we draw the circle of our family too small. We need to draw it larger every day.”
With all that is evil and wrong in this world today it would be easy to answer that question in a hundred different ways. That’s what makes Mother Teresa’s response so jolting. She was saying that the problem is not so much with the world as it is with us. We need to see more people as our neighbor than we are currently doing.
I see Jesus doing this in his baptism. In submitting to baptism, Jesus identified himself with us. By his baptism he included us in his righteousness. He identified himself with humanity, with our need to be cleansed, and our need to be made pure. If you have been baptized you have been drawn, by Jesus’ baptism, into the circle of God’s family. After Konrad is baptized this morning his name will be entered in the rolls and registers of North Kent Presbyterian Church in the section “baptized children.” But Konrad will be baptized this morning not just into the NKPC family – as wonderful as that is – but into the whole Christian family.
But Jesus had no need to be baptized into Judaism. He’d been born a Jew. He did not need to be baptized for forgiveness of sin, because he was without sin. So, for what other reason would a person be baptized in water back then? Well, the only other people who experienced baptism - in the Jewish faith in that day were priests. The Law dictated that especially the High Priest was to “washed with water.” And the Temple had pools set aside for just that purpose. In Leviticus 8:6 we’re told that - by the instruction of God -- “Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water.” Then, later, during that ceremony Moses “poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him.” Leviticus 8:12 For many of us this finally answers the question as to why Jesus submitted to baptism by John – it marked the beginning of his ministry and acknowledged his role as priest.
So, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan — that once mighty river — the river that Joshua and the Israelites miraculously crossed with God’s help, the river that shielded David and Elijah from their enemies. Sadly that river is now little more than a stinking, bacteria-infested, polluted little creek. At the site where many believe that Jesus was baptized, down near the Dead Sea, Christian pilgrims still plunge themselves into the brown water repeatedly, in spite of the fact that it’s so filled with bacteria and raw sewage that the Israeli government has banned people from entering the water. (They still can enter from the Jordanian side, although the Jordanian government strongly advises against it.)
Environmentalist Gidon Bromberg of Friends of the Earth Middle East explains the danger of just stepping into the dirty water, let alone dunking in it repeatedly. “If you drink the water, you’re likely to get diarrhea or stomach problems, and if you have a cut, you will probably get a rash,” he says. And that’s if you’re lucky. It could be a lot worse.
A few miles north of the dam and 65 miles north of the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism, the river is still very narrow but somewhat cleaner near where the shrinking Sea of Galilee spills into the Jordan. Here, in this scenic spot, the Israeli government has set up an official site for people who want to get baptized or remember their baptism in the Jordan. There you can rent a baptismal robe and change in a locker room before stepping down into the green water to be baptized while your tour group looks on and the fish nibble at your toes. For many pilgrims coming from around the world, it’s a memorable experience.
Perhaps the risk taken by those who are willing, even anxious, to step into the dirty waters of the Jordan shouldn’t be too easily set aside, for baptism is also a call and claim upon our lives for mission and ministry.
M. R. DeHaan, one of the editors of the devotional Our Daily Bread, put it this way:
“In the early days of the church. . . , baptism was a declaration that the believer was definitely identifying himself with that group of people who were called Christians and were despised and hated. To be a Christian meant something. To identify yourself with those who were called Christians meant persecution, maybe death; it meant being ostracized from your family, shunned by friends. And the one act which was the final declaration of this identification was baptism. As long as a man gathered with Christians, he was tolerated, but when once he submitted to baptism, he declared to all the world, I BELONG TO THEIS DESPISED GROUP, and immediately he was persecuted, hated, and despised. In baptism, therefore, the believer entered into the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ. A person might be a believer and keep it strictly a secret and thus avoid unpleasantness and suffering, but once he submitted to public baptism he had burned his bridges behind him. . .”
In no way do we anticipate that Konrad will be persecuted, hated or ostracized for being a baptized Christian. But he is by his baptism called to a life of Christian service.
There’s a story told of a husband and wife both of who were doctors - one a doctor of theology and the other a doctor of medicine. When their doorbell was rung and the maid answered, the inquirer would often ask for “the doctor”. The maid’s interesting reply was always: “Do you want the one who preaches or the one who practices?” We know the theory of Christian living but what we must do is to practice it, even when that means getting into some muddy, dirty, even dangerous waters.
Today in the baptism of this precious child, let us all remember our baptism, resting in the assurance that our sins are forgiven, finding joy in being a part of the Christian family, and responding to the call to Christian service.
FIRST LESSON: Psalm 25:1-10
SECOND LESSON Philippians 4:1-9
SERMON: “You Can’t Afford the Luxury . . . ”
Do you remember Greg Louganis , Olympic diving champion? I don’t remember which Olympics it was, but I do remember that one time in competition, on one dive he hit his head on the diving board. Later someone asked him if he wanted to see the film of that dive. Louganis’ response was ‘no way!’ He never wanted the image of hitting his head on the board planted in his brain. He knew the power of what we envision in our minds.
I think most of you, though probably not all of you, know that the cancer I had in 2010 was not the first time I dealt with that nasty disease. The first time was 43 years ago – 1970. I was just a little past my 21st birthday when I was diagnosed with ovarian carcinoma. I was blessedly unaware of how dangerous that was. I was young enough that I had almost zero experience with cancer in family or friends. I was young enough that it never entered my mind that a 21 year-old could die from it. I assumed pretty much from the get-go that I would recover from the surgery and radiation, and that for the most part it was just an annoying blip on the radar of my life.
I had had zero symptoms; the tumor was found on an annual physical. If you don’t hear anything else I say this morning, please hear this – if you have been avoiding going for one of those annual physicals, if you have been convincing yourself that you don’t need it – please do it anyway. It could save your life.
The doctors were all very positive – radiation therapy was to be done simply as a prophylactic measure. Nothing to worry about. I would be just fine. And I bought it, hook, line and sinker. Eight years later, when I was well past the 5-year “cure” mark, my family shared with me that the real prognosis given to them, but not to me, was that I had about a 50% chance of surviving 5 years. I used to believe that a patient has the right to know anything and everything about their illness. When I heard what my actual prognosis was I changed my mind about that, because I sailed through those years without much fear, but instead with an optimistic outlook. If nothing else, I avoided a lot of the panic most cancer patients have every time some tiny ominous thing show up.
But there is something else that I didn’t really learn about until after round 2. Twenty-three years after round 1, an unrelated episode in this collection of diseases made an appearance with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This time I was plenty sick. I won’t bother you with the details, except to tell you that this time the offending tumor was hiding in such a way that it was all but undetectable by standard tests. It took three months and nuclear medicine to find it. Had I had this one first, I would not have survived, because back in 1970 – they didn’t even have CT scans, much less nuclear medicine.
Having something like this once and being clear for 23 years, I had a sense that all was right and good. Having it a second time opened me to think about what I needed to do and to avoid in order not to have it happen again. That’s when I came across a book by Peter McWilliams entitled, You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought; subtitled “A book for people with any life-threatening illness – including life.
The author says it isn’t just a book for people who have life-threatening illness like cancer and heart disease, it is a book for people who have an even more primary illness of our time: negative thinking. One woman, who always tended to look on the dark side, after doing months of therapy with McWilliams, commented to the author one day that she was getting “way behind on her worrying.” McWilliams says his is a book about how to get way behind on worrying.
Someone once said that worrying is form of atheism. Another pointed out that worrying is paying interest on a debt you may not owe. The point of the book is: Be easier on yourself
Spend more time thinking about the positive – accentuate the positive.
Spend less time thinking about the negative. Eliminate the negative.
Enjoy each moment: Latch on to the affirmative.
Simple, but far from easy.
And of course positive thinking is not a substitute for appropriate medical care. But thoughts are incredibly powerful.
One of the best things Zig Ziglar ever said in his comments on positive thinking is that positive thinking can’t make you able to do anything. Sixty years old at the time of the recording I was listening to he said positive thinking couldn’t make him able either to play football in the NFL or to do surgery on your brain. But we can all succeed more with positive thinking than with negative thinking.
Consider the power of thought. Think about a lemon, imagine cutting it in half. See yourself removing the seeds with the point of a knife. Smell the lemon. Take a bite and chew it. Most people’s salivary glands will respond just to such thoughts of a lemon.
Think about fingernails on a blackboard – enough to make many of us cringe.
Here’s the thing: Negative thoughts produce negative results. Fear, anger, resentment actually cause our bodies to respond with chemical changes as a part of the fight or flight response. A build-up of these toxins contributes to disease.
The Apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi to stand firm in the faith. (Using The Message translation) Paul urged Euodia and Syntyche to “iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.”
That wasn’t just good advice for Euodia and Syntyche. That’s good advice for all of us. In our personal lives, in our social lives, in our family lives and in our church life – iron out the differences and get rid of the toxins produced by anger and resentment.
“Don’t be anxious about anything,” says Paul. In other words, “don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.” (The Message)
“Rejoice in the Lord” – accentuate the positive.
“Do not be anxious about anything” – eliminate the negative.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” -- Enjoy each moment; latch on to the affirmative.
Way too many of us in this congregation have done, and some are still doing, battle with cancer. Others have dealt with heart problems, diabetes, addictions, depression, grief and other life-threatening dis-eases. Others of us are care-givers to loved ones struggling with such things. None of us can really afford the luxury of negative thoughts. The prescription may be simple, but it is not easy. Accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative,
latch on to the affirmative.
One more thing: This prescription is not just for us as individuals; it is for us as a church, as a part of the Body of Christ. Some fear that in these times with complications of dwindling church membership and participation, with cultural changes that challenge Christian faith and practice, that the Church (big “C”) and our own church (little “c”) may not survive. As a church, we cannot afford the luxury of negative thinking.
If you envision this church closing its doors in two, five or ten years – you can make it so. If you eliminate negative thinking, if you accentuate the positive, with God’s help this church will celebrate its 75th and 100th and 200th birthdays.
Eight years after my cancer, part I, I learned the power of belief that I would not just survive, but be well. With cancer part II, I was just 44 years old, and since all my parents and grandparents lived at least into their 80’s, I didn’t entertain the possibility of dying from that one. I remember my oncologist coming into the ICU after my surgery. I heard him say, “Very curable. Very curable.” That was all I needed to believe that I would be okay.
With round 3, I came to a place of peace with God and understanding that “if we live, we live for the Lord, and we die we die for the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)
Now truly, growing up on the south side of Chicago, watching the White Sox play ball, I came to the conviction that even if your team can’t seem to ever win the pennant, “three strikes and you’re out” is the operative rule in baseball and in life. So now that I have beaten cancer three times, I am wholly in agreement with my oncologist that “a fourth time is not acceptable.”
At the same time it seems more than prudent to me, for my own well being, and for that of this church, to take Peter McWilliams’ prescription to heart – accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and latch on to the affirmative. It’s not easy. But it is a worthy goal that the peace of God will be with us.
FIRST LESSON: 2 Kings 5:1-14
SECOND LESSON Ephesians 6:10-20
SERMON: “Christian Nutrition Facts”
There was a little boy who consistently fell out of bed at least once every night. No matter what his parents did, the boy could not sleep without rolling out of bed. One night, when an uncle came to visit, in the middle of the night, the usual thump and cry was heard. In the morning, the boy’s uncle teased him and asked him why he fell out so often. The little boy thought for a moment and then said, “I don’t know, Uncle, unless it is
that I stay too close to the place where I get in.”
Do some Christians do the same thing – stay too close to the place where we came in?
Most Christians have come to a place where they believe in all sincerity that we are sinners and that Jesus Christ took our punishment on the cross so that we might receive God’s forgiveness and be assured of eternal life. Many of us seem to remain right there, neither exercising our faith, nor doing much to encourage its growth. Oh, we may take our faith for a short walk now and then, especially in times of trouble, but how many of us have a regular physical exercise routine, with a limited, or non-existent spiritual exercise practice?
Remember learning about the four food groups? about our body’s minimum daily requirements? Nearly every package that contains any kind of ingestible substance posts on the side or back of the package the nutrition facts. They tell us how many calories per serving, how many fat grams and carbs, how much sodium is in this, whether or not the food includes any vitamins or minerals, and for each thing listed the percentage of our minimum daily requirement provided. If you’re nutrition conscious, you check those labels, and make sure you are getting at least the minimum daily requirement.
Today’s reading from the letter to the Christians in Ephesus gives us some things we might consider as minimum daily requirements for our spirituality.
The first – “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Pastor Steven Furtick writes, “One of the greatest critiques of the American Church today is it’s malnourished.
Some would even say it’s our most pressing problem. When most people voice this complaint, the focus is on the worship experience.
From people who leave these churches, you hear, “I wasn’t getting fed.”
Or, “I just want some deeper teaching. . . . Yes, American Christians are malnourished. . .Most American Christians aren’t malnourished because of what they’re getting fed on Sunday. They’re malnourished because they don’t feed themselves Monday through Saturday.”
Imagine you’ve been here on, say, Kick-Off Sunday and enjoyed one of the best pot-luck lunches after worship. You filled your plate, went back for seconds, and then hit the dessert table – a taste, oh let’s be honest, a slice of pie, a piece of cake and to top it off one of the most delicious brownie’s you’ve ever had. Is there anyone who would not eat again until the next Sunday’s coffee hour? Your body needs nourishment every day. So does your soul.
How do we do that? We start with regular worship and communal rituals. Consider the Sacrament we share today. I encourage you to meditate on the Lord’s Supper, not as a funeral or memorial to Jesus, not as an expression of personal worthiness (perhaps defined as I have nothing against my neighbor, nor does my neighbor have anything against me). Think of it today as spiritual nourishment for the community of faith. Jesus said, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Some of us would never participate in communion if we had to feel that we were “good enough” first.
What if it is necessary first to participate in the meal, so that then you will grow in the faith that God loves you so much that he sent his only Son, that having faith in him you will not perish but have everlasting life.
We need communal ritual, worship. Christians grow best like grapes – in clusters. What if each one who chooses not to participate lessens the experience for others? Don’t ask yourself “Do I need worship or the sacraments?” Ask instead “Do worship and the sacraments need me? Does
the community need me?”
Some things we eat to nourish our bodies, we only need once in a while, or a few times per week. Other things need to be ingested every day. Prayer is something we need every single day, not just as a shopping list to request things from God, but a two-way conversation in which we find some quiet time to listen for what God is saying to us. Let me tell you about a woman who found herself seated next to a long-winded, boring dinner companion. Each time she tried to say something, she could manage only a slight sound before the man broke in and continued to make it a one-sided conversation. Finally, the woman’s husband, seated across the table, leaned over and whispered to her, “What is that strange sound you’ve been making?” She answered, “It’s a word – trying to get in edgewise.” Can God get a word in edgewise when you pray?
Next on the nutrition list is mission. No matter how ‘busy’ our lives become, our spiritual energy and health will suffer if it is hoarded, and not shared in service. This is the priesthood of all believers: being ministers of the gospel to others. Jesus sent his disciples out with the commission to “go and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” You don’t have to knock on your neighbors’ doors and ask them threatening questions like “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” and then spout everything you know about theology and the Bible. All you have to do is be a friend, send them a card, bring them some chicken soup and muffins when they are sick, invite them to come and see for themselves.
Another nutritional need for Christians is a daily dose of the Word of God. In the English translation, today’s passage from Ephesians begins, “Be strong in the Lord.” It carries with it an active sense, implying a “shape up” or “get strong” admonition. The Greek, however is definitely in the passive form, carrying the sense of “be strengthened.” Strength is something that comes as a gift from God. We can give thanks that our spiritual strength is not dependent on our own abilities, our own insights, our own wisdom. Christians have a record of God’s continuing activity in the world.
George Barna wrote The State of the Church having conducted a survey of self-identified Christians and here’s what he found about their knowledge of the Bible. These are Christians.
• 48% could not name the four Gospels. ( I am less concerned about whether you can name them than I am about whether you know the message they contain.
• 52% cannot identify more than two or three of Jesus’ disciples. Some of us aren’t great at memorizing a list of 12 names. Do you know what Andrew did? why the choice of Matthew was outrageous? why Jesus told Peter to feed His lambs?)
• 60% of American Christians can’t name even five of the 10 Commandments. (Can you?)
• 61% of American Christians think the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.
• 71% of American Christians think “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse. (It’s not.)
Barna said, "Americans revere the Bible, but by and large they don’t know what it says. And because they don’t know it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates."
Think back to the lady who could hardly get a word in edgewise. You can let God take part in a two-way conversation by reading and meditating on God’s word.
I know you care about the nutritional requirements for your physical body. How about your spiritual health?
Are you a full participant in worship and sacraments with the community of faith? Does it matter to you that anyone missing lessens the experience for the rest of the body?
Do you talk with God through prayer every day? Is it a one-way or a two-way conversation?
Do you let the evidence of your faith flow out through mission to those you encounter?
Do you get a daily dose of God’s word to strengthen you?