My Mother passed down some wonderful values to me, and also whatever musical talent I possess I owe to my Mom. Even though Dad was the preacher, it was Mom who spent most days and evenings reading from the Bible and praying with me. I owe her a debt of gratitude that I’ll never to be able to repay.
My Mom also passed on some other things. Specifically, she passed on some genetic predispositions that affect my health care and life challenges. Mom had uncontrolled high blood pressure. By the time she was in her fifties, she was on eight blood pressure medications, and still got poor control. Trips to Mayo Clinic, Vanderbilt, and other research centers resulted in nothing significantly changing for her. Somehow by the grace of God, Mom lived to be 81 years of age, and continued to be mobile and active in her later years. I inherited Mom’s blood pressure issues, but so far, three medications are controlling mine. I also inherited some bad genetics on teeth. By the time she was in her 30’s, Mom had lost all her lower teeth. With advances in dentistry, I have been able to keep a few of my lower teeth, but they are slowly going away. I’m still hurting from an extraction performed on Wednesday. At the end of the day, however, there’s a lot more reasons to thank Mom than to blame Mom.
As I waited my turn to have my tooth extracted, a man in the treatment room next door was screaming in pain as the dentist did his work. It caused me to pause and pray for him, and as I prayed for him, I was reminded of how Mom lost her teeth back in the days when the dentists simply didn’t have the anesthetics to work with that they have now. “Mom survived this under worse circumstances,” I thought. And so will I. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t yell and scream. Mom would not have approved!
Today’s scripture passage tells us that “We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” As we run our race, people in the stands are cheering for us. Those people could include parents, grandparents, dear friends, teachers, and mentors. People who have finished their race are watching you as you run your leg of the journey. They pray for you when you’re getting tired, and they cheer you on when you reach a significant milestone. If you listen closely, you just might hear them cheering you on. People whose names you may not know pray for you while you take your laps around life’s obstacle course.
We’ll talk about this in worship today. What we do here matters.
From My Perspective – July 14, 2019
My brother and I were walking down to the river on the 4th of July. The river runs through his back yard, and we were walking down the stairs towards the water when all of a sudden my brother froze in place, and said, “mmpdhfuveutu!” Now, those of you not related to me don’t know what that means, but when a Gilbert utters that word, make no mistake: there is a snake in the area.
My brother and I were taught by our mother to fear all snakes. Copperheads, rattlesnakes, cobras, garter snakes, and even plastic snakes each held the potential to bring a life-ending bite. “The only good snake,” according to my mother, “Is a dead snake!”
So there we stood. Should we run, should we try to kill the snake, or should we stand there and scream like little girls? We chose the latter option. Then, my brother had a thought. Jess, one of his sons-in-law, knows his snakes, and isn’t afraid of them. While big brother and I stood there frozen in place, Jess was summoned to meet us, in the presence of the copper-mouthed water rattling king cobra that now held our attention. Jess would know what to do.
Jess assured us that we had nothing to fear. (I hated to argue with him, but my mother would have argued with him if she had been there.) Jess identified the snake, told us it was a good one, docile, in fact. Then Jess removed one of his flip-flops, and guided the snake away from the path on which my brother and I had suddenly become cemented. He explained that this snake liked to kill the bad snakes, so you didn’t want to evict this one from the property. Since Jess had successfully dealt with the issue, my brother and I continued on to the river.
So Jess had some special knowledge about snakes that was very helpful in this situation. Jess also doesn’t claim Joyce Gilbert as his mother, so he didn’t panic like Joyce’s boys did. Sometimes, a little knowledge goes a long way.
In today’s scripture, Martha is looking for results, for jobs to get done, and tasks to be completed. Mary, on the other hand, is looking to learn something. While Jesus was around, Mary chose to sit at his feet and learn something. Jesus let the sisters know that learning something, in this situation, was worth more than doing something. Who am I to disagree with the Master?
So, welcome to worship. Let’s slow down. Let’s hear what Jesus is saying to us, in spite of all the other things that scream for our attention. Those things will still be there when our hour of worship is over. What we do here matters.
Every year it makes its trek from wherever it’s stored, and moves into my closet. It’s a blue sweater from thirty years ago that has rarely ever been worn. In the winter of 2018-2019, it was never worn at all. So, why does it take up space?
It’s simple, really. It is the warmest sweater I have ever owned. The label says it’s made of 100% boiled wool. I’m not sure what boiled wool is, but there are probably a lot of upset sheep!
So, it’s incredibly warm. And incredibly itchy. And indestructible. It hangs around, waiting for one of those Polar Vortex days where the temperature starts below zero and never rises above zero. When that day arrives, the sweater comes out of the closet and goes onto my body. Over the past few years, that sweater has been useful at times when I had to be outside, regardless of the weather. I wore it to a funeral once. No one noticed it under my topcoat, but it saved the day for me. My ears almost fell off from exposure, but what my sweater covered, it protected. I remember another time I wore that sweater. The battery on my car died. It was eighteen degrees below zero where we lived at the time. I stood out in the cold, protected by my sweater, and installed a new battery in my car.
It does what it does remarkably well. Still, you can imagine that it takes a certain kind of day for the sweater to display its real value. I’m guessing all our Polar Vortex days are over for this year, so my sweater is going back to storage. I’m hopeful that Spring has sprung!
My understanding of the church is that we all have our gifts and talents, and we all have responsibilities to keep the Body of Christ functioning as it should. From fixers to singers to teachers to encouragers, we’ve each been gifted to do something for the Body of Christ. I hope that each of us will do what we do well. Somebody needs just what you can do. Use those gifts and abilities, and in doing so, fulfill your purpose.
See you Sunday. I likely won’t be wearing a blue sweater, but in case of a cold snap, that may all change! What we do here matters.
I had been waiting for the letter for days. I checked the mail at home. I checked the mail at the Student Center. I was really anxious to hear. Had I won the scholarship competition or not? It was a contest between nine rising seniors. One of us was going to get a cash award equal to one year’s tuition. The rest would receive a rejection letter. Since I already had a full scholarship, this was literally going to be extra money in my hands. I thought the audition had gone really well, and I was feeling really good about my chances.
What I was not well prepared for was the fact that I only had a one in nine chance of winning the scholarship. One lucky person would take the prize, and eight other people, all chosen to audition because we were “deserving,” would receive rejection letters.
When the letter finally arrived, I tore into the envelope, quickly opened the letter, and read the one word I didn’t want to read: “Rejected.” It was just one word on a page, but it said everything that I needed to know. I would eventually read the whole letter. It congratulated me for being a finalist. It congratulated me for my good grades. It congratulated me because the music faculty had chosen me as a finalist. All those words. But it was the one word that I couldn’t get past: “Rejected.”
We’ve all had to deal with that in our lives. We didn’t get the job. We didn’t get the guy or the girl. We didn’t make the team. We didn’t get approved for the loan. We didn’t get voted into the fraternity or the sorority or the club. We didn’t make partner this time. We were denied tenure, again.
Our egos take a lot of hits in a lifetime, don’t they? How do we handle these rejections? Is there any word from the Lord? There most certainly is! I will be preaching from Luke’s Gospel today. The very people Jesus had come to die for were rejecting Him. How did He deal with the ultimate rejection? There’s a lot of biblical wisdom in what I have to share with you today.
Welcome to worship, my fellow rejects. What we do here matters.
“Confession is good for the soul.” While this saying is not in the Bible, a lot of folks think it is. But I’m confessing today, and hoping you won’t look on me too condemningly for sharing one of my bad habits with you.
So what is this big secret of mine? I like fast food. I often eat fast food for lunch when I go out by myself. There, I’m glad I got that out!
One of my favorite fast food places has had a deal for several years for its lunch-time patrons. The deal includes a small cheeseburger, a regular sized chili dog, an order of fries, a cookie, and a drink, all for $5. This is my go-to meal at this particular place.
Today, I walked in and ordered my favorite combo, and I noticed that the price was no longer $5. It has been raised to $6. Then, the lady at the counter asked me if I wanted chili on my hot dog. “Of course, I want chili on my hot dog,” I said. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“We have to charge extra for the chili and onions now, sir,” she said.
Turns out, my favorite fast food place has really angered me, now. An upcharge for chili and onions? Really?
I took my plain hot dog, sulked back to the booth, and made a note to myself never to eat at this place again.
I understand that it costs a lot more to run a business now than it did years ago. That’s why I didn’t balk at paying a dollar more for my combo meal. But then, they want to charge more for what used to be included? I may be a fast food junkie, but even us fast food junkies have our standards, and we know when they’re billing us for killing us!
Bottom line? It takes more money to do everything nowadays. I can remember my first allowance, when I received 10 cents per week. Back then, that dime actually bought something. Not now.
Do I have a point? Yes. As the guy who has to look after the day-to-day operation of the church, I have to pay attention to numbers and money. Not my favorite thing to do, but it comes with the job. Anyway, it takes a lot of money to keep the ministries of the church going. I am always humbled and grateful to see the sacrifices that people make for the Church and the cause of Christ. In spite of the fact that we are regularly challenged to give more, faithful people like you answer the call. I appreciate it. I appreciate you.
See you Sunday. I’ll be the guy not eating a chili dog! What we do here matters.
ANGELA: Dale, it’s time to begin decorating for Christmas.
DALE: Sorry, sweetie. It’s my busy time of the year at the Church. Can you just do it yourself?
ANGELA: Sure, precious. I’ll go out and cut down a tree, and haul it to the house, and stand it up all by myself! And I’ll buy all the gifts, and wrap them, and I’ll do extra baking and maybe invite the neighbors over for dinner, one family at a time.
DALE: That’s my girl!
ANGELA: You really don’t think that’s going to happen, do you? If I put up the tree, there will not be anything under the tree for you.
DALE: Yes, dear!
The action moves forward. The tree is now standing, though it might be a bit wobbly. Angela blames Dale, and Dale blames the tree, the stand, and the uneven floor. Angela insults Dale at this point, suggesting that he was the direct descendant of Neanderthals. Dale tells Angela that someone with roots in Alabama should never insult someone else’s family tree! The action now moves forward.
ANGELA: Sweetie, the tree is leaning to the left.
DALE: Honey, that tree is standing perfectly tall and straight. Your perception may be off a little.
Dale and Angela retire for the night. Around 3 AM, they are awakened by a crashing noise, coming from the living room. Dale suspects the house is settling. Angela suspects the tree has fallen. When they rise the next morning, it turns out that the tree has, indeed, fallen. This is not unusual. It happens most years. Dale takes the blame for not leveling up the tree, and he carefully levels it this time. Meanwhile, Angela is making certain that this fiasco is not going to repeat itself. She threatens Dale with a slow and painful divorce. At this point, they don’t talk with each other any more than necessary for the remainder of the day. Upon rising the next morning, they realize that the tree has not fallen, and that all the lights work, and the wreath is still in place, and the stockings are still hung by the chimney, with care.
ANGELA: See, I told you the tree was leaning! Why didn’t you just get it right the first time?
DALE: Can’t we just kiss and make up?
They do, and they live happily ever after.
Jesus is coming in three weeks. The house is ready. Are we?
See you Sunday. What we do here matters.
I absolutely love this time of year. I love the cooler temperatures, and the beautiful Fall colors. I love the fact that football is being played with fervor and passion by kids and adults. I love the foods that we eat in the Fall. I love to cook spicy dishes and eat anything that suggests that it’s Fall.
One thing that doesn’t get me excited about Fall is what happens every other year. I’m speaking of the election cycle, and all the nastiness associated with it. I had forgotten what it is like to live in a media market that crosses state lines. Here, we have to sit through radio and television ads that attack candidates both in Virginia and in Tennessee.
So, I’ve learned that both candidates for Senate in Tennessee are lying, good-for-nothin’s that should get off the stage. I’ve learned that candidates to represent us Virginians in the House of Representatives are crooks, thieves, and one even accuses the other of spreading cow manure.
Our President is traveling around the country calling everybody names, while our last President is traveling around the country pointing out that our present President might be dishonest. Fox News says CNN is biased. CNN says Fox News is not really news at all. MSNBC shares its insights with all three of its viewers, and the major networks have lost the respect of much of the country.
Don’t you miss the good old days when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil fought like cats and dogs and still respected each other? When Republicans and Democrats alike pushed Richard Nixon out the door, together? When Senators actually debated issues instead of grandstanding for the cameras? Our politics have just become too coarse.
Here’s my promise to you: I’ll keep my politics to myself, since I love both Democrats and Republicans. I’ll still respect you, even if we disagree politically. I’ll be an adult. The world needs some of those right now.
On November 7, we’ll awaken to a new day. The political ads will be finished. Everybody will pretend to kiss and make up. Then, I fear that nothing much will change. So, I think perhaps the song we sing might be a good prayer to offer:
Let there be peace on Earth,
And let it begin with me.
I’m Dale Gilbert, and I approved this message. What we do here matters.
The story I share with you today is purely fictional. The fact that it sounds a lot like a real incident should be ignored. The fact that it sounds like Dale and Angela Gilbert should also be ignored.
A husband and wife recently went to a gathering where parking was at a premium. While the husband was pulling into the parking lot, his wife’s phone rang. She answered it, and it was her sister calling her. Since the husband was thinking ahead about exiting the event, he chose to back the car into a parking space, so that when the event was over, he could pull forward and be a bit ahead in the line to get out. Since his wife was on the phone, she paid no attention to what her husband was doing. Now, I know this couple well, and I know that the husband rarely backs his car into a parking space, because that husband isn’t really good at backing his car into a parking space.
The phone conversation finally ended, and the couple went into the event and had a good time. On the way to the car, the husband had to remind the wife where their car was parked because she had been on the phone with her sister. The husband pointed to the car and told his wife to get in. The wife informed the husband that this was not his car. She reminded him that he never backs his car into a parking place, so this couldn’t possibly be his car. The husband told the wife, “It’s OK. We’ll just take this car.” The wife couldn’t believe that the husband was able to open someone else’s car. It was only after seeing inside the car that the wife realized that this was, in fact, her husband’s car. She asked, “Who backed this car into the parking space for you?” “I did,” replied the husband. “No, really, how did this care get backed into the space?” It took some convincing, but the husband finally convinced his wife that while she was concentrating on the phone call, he had backed the car into the space. The wife, who knows full well that her husband can’t back a car into a parking space, was both surprised and impressed.
What the wife didn’t realize was that the husband’s car is equipped with a back-up camera. She didn’t realize that with this extra help, her husband has become pretty good at backing into spaces.
We all need a little help sometimes, don’t we? And then there are times that we need more help than we think we can ever find. Today, we come to the Lord’s Table. More than once, I’ve found help there. May we find the help we need today.
See you at the Table. What we do here matters.
Can you quote the Virginia traffic law governing traffic signs and signals, and how they are to be obeyed? I know I can’t. Can you quote the law regarding lane changes on multi-lane highways? You can’t? Neither can I. For the most part, we can’t quote the traffic rules that governed our trips to church this morning. We had to learn the rules when we were teenagers so we could pass the driver’s test, and we’ve had to learn the rule changes as we’ve continued to drive, but most of us can’t quote the rules.
It’s because we don’t have to. While most of us can’t quote a single traffic law, we know right and wrong when we see it. That generally means when we see something that doesn’t look right or feel right, our guts tell us that something is wrong. It doesn’t take a law degree to know when traffic laws are being violated. We know it because it simply doesn’t look or feel right.
Today’s scripture teaches us that some things look right, and some things don’t. We know when good fruit is being produced. On the other hand, when our “religion” produces division and conflict, it doesn’t look right or feel right. James tells us that when we are following “the wisdom from above,” our actions are “pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” When we see that, we know the Spirit is at work within us.
We’ll talk about this in worship today. What we do here matters.
Back in February of this year, I did something that has been instrumental for me and my faith pilgrimage. Since I was a child, I have always read the Bible on a daily basis. When I was a kid, it was a big deal for me to read through the Bible, and then to announce that I had completed reading it. I must have read it through twenty times before I reached adulthood. I was privileged to have parents who encouraged that behavior, and I was certainly encouraged to read the Bible by my church.
The last few years have found me not reading as passionately as I did in my youth, and I wanted to get back into reading the Bible in a disciplined fashion. So in February, I ordered me a good reading Bible (large print!) and I set myself a new goal. During the 40 days of Lent, I promised God that I would make reading the scriptures a priority, and that I would do whatever was necessary to read the Bible through during the days of Lent. I even disclosed this to other folks, so that they would help keep me on track. With God’s help, and the gentle prodding of a few people, I finished reading the Bible from cover-to-cover in a little over a month.
I cannot explain what happens to me when I spend time in the scriptures, but something significant happens. That’s why I’m about to finish another journey through the scriptures. I’m reminded that God did what God does, and I am reminded that we flesh and blood human beings can be used by God to do things we can’t normally do.
Today’s story is about Esther. The story is full of twists and turns, but in the end, a young woman was able to save her people by risking her life for her fellow Jews. It’s a story that reads like a good novel, but it is a story of faith. When we see Esther’s faith, we are inspired to do and be our best. Her story is but one of many that we read in the Bible. I get excited all over again every time I read it.
I hope you’ll spend time in the scriptures. It really does change us for the better.
Welcome to worship. What we do here matters.