Monday, October 15, 2018

Camels and Needles

Readings: Psalm 22:1-15, Deuteronomy 28:1-9, Hebrews 7:23-28 Mark 10:17-30
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, MD, October 14 2018

Mark 10, verse 25;
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God"

Alice the Camel had a hump. At least one hump. As you know (of course) that's what made her different from a horse. Humps could get in the way. Particularly if you filled your hump with provisions that you were saving for a rain-less day. You never knew when you were going to have to go trundling through the desert wastelands. "I shall be prepared" she said. A hump was also handy for hanging things on. It was surprising just how much stuff the back of a camel could store. "I never go nowhere without me hump" she had a habit of saying.

Humps also slow you down a bit. Alice never jumped out of bed with anything on her face other than a "Hummppff". It's not so easy to embrace the morning with a smile when you can hardly get to your feet. She didn't usually like going places at all. If you asked her to come to your place and spend some time with you she had a habit of being so busy keeping her hump and the things she packed around it in order that she would refuse.

Mind you, having a hump had it's h'advantages. Self-sufficiency brought with it independence. When everyone else had to go to the store every day to stock up, she only had to make a trip to the nearest oasis once a month. Nibble on a few palm leaves, nice tasty fig here and there, and you didn't have to bother with no one and no one had to bother with you.

One day, Alice the camel had to go to the city. It was a real busy day and most of the Gateways in the city wall were blocked with traffic. On the way in to Jerusalem she met a horse, a donkey and a dog who were heading in a different direction. She thought "I think I'll follow those fellows".

They led her to a gate in the walls that was known as the "Needle Gate", on account of it being rather slim and low. "Woof" the dog went through. "Hee-Haw" the donkey went through. "Clippity Clop" and Mr. Ed was through to the other side.

Now it was her turn. She put her head through, but then all the stuff she had stuffed on her back became stuck. So they had to shove her back. "Lighten the load" said Mr. Ed. So she shed some stuff and tried again. "Hee-Haw' said the donkey (Which she understood as meaning take some more things off your back). So she shed more stuff and tried to stuff herself through the gap. Nothing doing. "Woof" said the dog (As dogs have a habit of doing) and she dropped everything she was carrying and tried to sqeeeee - eee - zzze through the gap. But .. no. Her hump couldn't handle it.

"Humppff" she said. "How am I going to do this?" The dog, the donkey and the horse suggested that if they tied a rope around her neck, maybe they could pull her through. So they tied, they pulled, they tugged with all their strength. "Your strannngggling me' she spluttered. The rope snapped followed by a "Woof," "Hee-Haw" and an "Ouch" as the animals catapulted backwards onto the floor.

"We'll have to push her from behind' suggested Mr. Ed. So they all stood at her rear and pushed and shoved with their shoulders and their backs and their legs and their arms. Alice squeee- ee- ee- ezed slowly through the gap. The dog, the donkey and the horse pushed and pushed and pushed. Alice squee-ee-ee-zed and squee-ee-zed until suddenly, with an almighty PLOP, she shot through the Needle Gate and they all landed on the other side of the wall in a heap.

By laying aside all her possessions and with a little help from some passing friends she had managed to squeeze on through to the other side.

After they had picked themselves up off the floor and dusted themselves down, a man who had been watching from a distance approached them. "Now" he said, "That was quite impressive." He reached into his pocket. He pulled out a shiny, tiny, needle which sparkled in the sunlight. "For a real challenge" he said, holding up the needle in the air, you try and squeeze yourselves through that little hole, the eye, that we put the thread through."

The dog, the donkey, the horse and Alice the camel all laughed and laughed and laughed They were all in agreement. "Woof, Hee-Haw, Don't be stupid, That's impossible" they said!

Meanwhile, in another place, at another time and this time not in fantasy but in reality, Jesus told His disciples, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."

He had spoken those words because a very rich young man had come running up to Him and said, "Good Teacher, I have kept the commandments all my life, What must I do to gain eternal life?"

Jesus had looked him in the eye and said, "Why do you call me good? No-ones good except God." Then he had told the young man, "There's one thing you need to do to find salvation. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor." Because the young man was loaded he had walked away like a sad puppy with his tail between his legs.

After seeing what had happened the disciples were thrown into confusion. They had always had the impression that if you kept the commandments and God blessed you with health, wealth and prosperity then you were heaven bound with no questions asked. They themselves had left everything, family, friends and possessions. Surely that was worth a bit in the eyes of the Almighty? They were therefore astonished at His answer to the rich man and even more astonished when He told them, "Children, How hard it is for anyone to enter the Kingdom of God!"

They were worried. "Well look if that man who kept the commandments can't be saved, if we who have left everything to follow you can't be saved, what's the deal here?"
And Jesus replied, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." He implies that by the grace of God, camels can fit through the eyes of needles, and people can find salvation.

When Alice the camel shed her possessions she was acting a little like the rich young ruler. She needed to squee-ee-zze through the gate. How could she? Well by a process of reorganization, follow a few simple rules, then no problem, she'd be through. Likewise, the young ruler believed that if he could make himself good enough by observing the commandments of God, then that's all there was to it. Eternal life was in the bag.

Problem was he had a hump. Every commandment he kept, everything he was doing for his salvation was only for the benefit of one person in the world. Himself. He was the center of his own tiny universe and needed to be reminded that God's Salvation wasn't about him, it was something larger and grander than his cosy life. There were people out there who needed practical help. He had the means of supplying it. If he started to do that, then he would be starting to understand what the Kingdom was all about. So Jesus tells him, "Sell everything you have and give to the poor."

The disciples were more in the position of Alice the Camel who needed her friends help to squeeze them through the gate but then found themselves with the impossible task of now squeezing through the eye of a real needle. Peter complains to Jesus, "We have left everything to follow you." Through the things that He is saying Jesus is challenging the disciples to think. "Now, why did you leave everything to follow me? What is your motive? If you are only doing it to gain your own salvation then you are wasting your time."

They had gone further than the rich man. They had made it through one narrow gate and on the other side were with a company of friends. But now it was time for the real challenge of discipleship. A real needle. Could they leave everything, including their personal desires for comfort, for self advancement, their dreams for the future and hopes of how things might turn out when Jesus was crowned Messiah, could they leave all that behind?

They needed to. Because Jesus was not going to turn out to be the sort of Messiah they were expecting. His was not going to be a victory won by zapping the enemy with lightning bolts from beyond. His victory was to be won through loving the unlovely, through bringing dignity to those others looked down upon, through undeserved suffering, a death on a cross and a resurrection from an empty tomb.

What was impossible for man, God was working in their midst. He, Jesus Christ, was the bearer of salvation, the way, the truth and the life. Only through total reliance on Him, would they ever experience the salvation of the Kingdom.

The game play hasn't changed. There is still not a thing we can do to earn our salvation, other than throw our lives upon the grace and mercy of God. Being good at keeping the commandments won't do it, because none of us is that good. Leaving it all behind won't do it because none of us ever leaves everything behind.

We need to come to Jesus and ask "What must I do to gain eternal life?"

We may have to give up a lot. Our dreams. Our pride. Our self-sufficiency. In fact any activity that takes us away from the obligation and privilege of worshiping and serving God in the company of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

To truly be a disciple we have to literally surrender to Christ in our hearts all that we are and all that we own We need to say to Jesus, "This is everything I am and everything I have, my time, my talents, my relationships, my stuff, and it's all Yours to do with as You please."

If we can do that then like the disciples we will be rewarded by so much more. Jesus tells Peter; "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age -- houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields... with persecutions -- and in the age to come eternal life."

Strawberries and Cream, Love and Marriage, Horse and Carriage, they go together. Camels and Needles. They don't fit together. Go ask Alice. You just can't get a camel through the eye of a needle.

And we never truly will discover the Kingdom until we are prepared to offer up everything for it's sake. In the kingdom of God it is through abandonment that we find all things, it is when we are prepared to let go that we let God; it is when we give ourselves to others that we find our true selves.

Of course it is a daunting challenge. The noblest things in life have always been worth living and dieing for. May God help us to live as Kingdom people, not as camels who are trying to sqee-eee-eeze through the eyes of needles.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Who's In Charge?

Readings: Psalm 124 , Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22, James 5:13-20 , Mark 9:38-50
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, September 30 2018

Church communities are fascinating institutions. Particularly Presbyterian ones. Our structure includes a lot of checks and balances. We have processes we follow through and sometimes we find it hard to make decisions. I sometimes find myself saying, “Well, I'd like to help with that, I think it is a great idea, but we'd have to run it past, the such and such team, and it will need to be approved by Session.

Sometimes people presume that because you are the pastor, that you have total control over every single thing that happens in the church. That has never been the Presbyterian way! We strive for democracy and community and hesitate to give any one person (or even any group of people) total authority in deciding what the mission of our church should be. We believe that discerning the way the Holy Spirit is leading us should be a group effort. We try and allow God to be in charge of what we do in Jesus name.

That kind of questioning “Who’s in charge when it comes to what goes on in Jesus name?” is the same kind of questioning that our bible reading from Mark places before us. Here’s the situation. The disciples have their heads full of questions. Questions about what sort of Messiah Jesus would turn out to be. Questions about what true greatness looked like.

John’s got all these question marks swirling around in his head, so he goes off for a walk on his own, to try and get focused. He turns a corner and encounters a group of people doing an exorcism for some poor tormented soul. John’s thinking, “I know about this stuff. Seen Jesus do it a few times.” He’s ready to offer his expert advice.

As he approaches he hears them praying. They are praying, “Help this person, In Jesus name… help him…Lord, in the name of Jesus.” And the person is responding. They are looking calmer. Something good is happening here!

This makes Johns’ blood boil. Who do these people think they are? He didn’t recognize any of them and they didn’t seem to realize just how important he was! “I’m a disciple of Jesus don’t you know!” So John gives them a mouthful of bad advice and then heads off to find Jesus. Jesus would put them right. How dare they!

The reply John receives from Jesus totally confounds him. "Do not forbid them; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.”

Do you see what’s going on here? It’s a control issue. John thinks he should be in control. He’s not, so he calls on Jesus to control the situation. Jesus, in effect tells him that there was nothing to control… because God was already in control of the whole situation. In fact Jesus sees possibilities where John could only problems! Jesus suggests that wherever loving service is being expressed then people are opening up for themselves a real possibility of encountering God’s love.

This wasn’t something to get mad about but something to be glad about. “John, don’t you get it?” “He that is not against us is for us.” Anything other than outright opposition to the Kingdom was something that favored the growth of the Kingdom.

Such did nothing for John’s personal rewards account or enhance his reputation as being the greatest disciple whoever walked on the planet, but “John, do you see… it’s not about you…”, it’s not even about Jesus… it’s about God’s will being done, about God’s love not just being spoken about but acted upon. “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.

Who’s in charge? You know that very statement is all about issues of control. That’s what this passage is about. And you know what? I don't mind being in control when things go well. I don't mind taking the credit when something good happens. When I meet other pastors and they say, “How are things going?” I can say, “Pretty well actually, I” (meaning probably some of you) “just finished this project or took this action.” If I needed a resume, then I would welcome things that would look good on my resume.

I’d meet Saint Peter at the gates of glory and he’d smile and say “C’mon on in Saint Adrian of Mount Hebron, here are the keys to your mansion... We are so pleased and privileged to have you grace heaven with your presence.”

You see I think that’s what John was expecting from Jesus. That as he had rebuked those ignorant disciples for using Jesus name, Jesus was going to slap him on the back and say, “Good job. You can sit with me at supper tonight. I’ll reserve a special table just for us!”

Instead Jesus turns the whole thing around and calls us to examine our own personal control issues. First off he chastises John for the potential damage he had done to those who were taking their first steps in discovering the power of His name. To discourage those who were just starting out on the road of discipleship was a terrible thing. Verse 42: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

It’s a harsh picture, but a necessary one. It is important that we realize how damaging our proud and unfaithful actions can be to those who are just starting out to find faith. I’ve heard too many stories of folk who started to go to churches and then, when they tried to suggest something or sought to understand something, some “know it all” church member cut them down and belittled them so completely that they never came through the door again.

We can be so proud. So insensitive. So judgmental. So controlling of others and not in control of ourselves. Jesus then turns the spotlight on our darkness with a glaring intensity. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,”

When people look at this verse they invariably pick on the wrong things. Cutting off hands and feet, gouging out eyes, what kind of talk is that? We need to come at it from a different angle. It’s a verse about sin and the avenues through which sin comes into our lives. Remember what has just happened? John is standing there before Jesus feeling as tiny as an ant at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He thought he was doing right and he was shown to have been doing everything wrong because of his misplaced pride.

Here’s Jesus saying, “John, if you want to control something, then work on controlling yourself.” Sin, in these verses, is attached to hands, feet and eyes. Hands, feet and eyes have to do with what we touch, where we travel and what we see.

Remember as a kid going shopping and your mum or dad would say, “You can look but don’t touch.” “But mum I want too”… crash… “I thought I told you!” Remember somebody said “Listen, you don’t want to go there. If you do there will be trouble!” and you went there and you got into trouble! You know how temptation gets at us. We look. We desire. We want it. We can’t live without it. Next minute we’re in deeper than we can handle.

Another way of phrasing “Cut it Off” is to say “Cut it Out.” It is as though we are complaining to God that we have a problem with this or that sin and God tells us loud and clear “So don’t touch it, so don’t go there, so don’t look at that! So don't do that! Cut it out!” Cut it out. Change the way you are doing things and you won’t be in the situation that causes you to fall. Refocus. Redirect your path. Get some hands on experience of something that causes you to be a positive influence rather than something that causes you to sin.

Better that than to be thrown into hell “Where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Did you notice the worm in that verse? Or rather to whom the worm belongs? Listen again, verse 47, ‘their worm does not die’. Whose worm? The person who insists on carrying with their destructive habits and fails to deal with the sin that’s eating them alive.

Sin is like a tape worm. It clings inside us. The more we feed it the more it grows. It ruins our appetite. It saps our vitality. It takes away our taste. It makes us sick and unable to function in the way we were created to. Tape worms are personal. They don’t eat some body else. If you want to get rid of them, you take care of it. You get it removed and you are careful to watch what you consume.

Jesus concludes His talk with a word of encouragement. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." In the context of His conversation with John He is saying, “John you messed up, learn from your mistake. You are like salt in the world. You are, by your actions bringing my Kingdom to others. Don’t lose that. Let me burn away what’s bad, and let’s all move on… together… in peace… being who we are meant to be.

Who's in charge? Our Presbyterian system, with it's checks and balances, seeks to ensure that God is in charge, seeks to allow God's Spirit to works through us as a community. We try to recognize that everybody have something to offer and even if things are not being done in precisely the way we have always done them, if the name of Jesus is being honored, then we are on the right track!

Our calling as individuals, as the Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, as part of the a worldwide community of Presbyterian Churches (and churches of all denominations) is to lay our lives before Jesus Christ as a response to the tremendous love He has shown by laying down His life on the Cross, to seek daily to live as disciples of the Kingdom and seek to be a means of resurrection life to others, all in Jesus name.

To God's name be all the glory. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Who Is The Greatest?

Readings: Psalm 1, Proverbs 1:20-33, James 3:1-12, Mark 9;30-37
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, September 23 2018

Who were your heroes when you were growing up? Whose pictures would you have put up in your room? (If you had a room in which you were allowed to put pictures up in)? And what kind of role models were they? When I was in my early teens I started off with a few sporting pictures, mostly race car drivers, but later on they gave way to rock stars and momento's of things I'd done or places I'd been.

When I think back, some of the people whose pictures I had on my wall didn't make for good heroes. I used to have a picture of Jimi Hendrix, the guitarist. As a rock guitarist he was a genius, but when it came to mastering life he was a dismal failure. Whilst proclaiming a message of love, peace and freedom through his music, in his personal life he couldn't hold down a relationship, he could be hurtful and ego-centric and far from being free he was addicted to a drug habit that eventually cost him his life.

What kind of role model is that? What sort of hero? I guess there must be something in me, that made heroes out of racing drivers and rock stars; something in me (and maybe in you) that admires people who flaunt convention, flirt with death and live "Life on the Edge."

One day Jesus was talking with the disciples about what sort of a Messiah He would turn out to be, and far from getting the point, they wandered off on their own and started having a discussion about, "Who is the greatest?” This was not the sort of conversation they wanted Jesus in on because when He asked them, "What are you lot arguing about?" they lapsed into an embarrassing silence.

It was all part of the learning process. Jesus couldn't really start explaining God's way of doing things until they had worked through for themselves some of the ideas about what made a person great and what made people, including themselves, important. In the pecking order of life, who were the great ones, who were the important ones?

It's a stupid argument to become involved in.

  • Farmers could claim to be the greatest, because they produce the food and drink that everyone, from the pet hamster to the President consumes.
  • A teacher could say, no I'm the most important. Under my influence the minds and lives of the future are shaped.
  • A doctor could say, I'm the greatest because I keep you alive, I fix you when you are broken, I have the knowledge to make things right.
  • A funeral director may say, it's O.K. for you lot to brag about what you do in life, I'm the only one who can deal with you when life runs out. No-one else will take that upon themselves.
  • And so it goes.

Jesus refuses to be dragged into the argument. He calls them over and says something along the lines of, "Come here, sit down, we need to talk this one through. So you want to be the first do you? You want to be the hero, you want be the big guy? Then stop worrying about where you come in the scheme of things and start concentrating on how you can be of service to somebody else! Drop all this stuff about your rights and your needs and start worrying about how someone else's rights can be fulfilled and how someone else's needs can be met."

Then, somewhere around, there's a little kid playing, maybe making a bit of noise in the way that so infuriates us important adults when we are trying to concentrate. I know. I've done it.

I've sat in a service and there's been a kid in front or behind making a commotion. You do imagine what is going through peoples minds. Is the preacher up there thinking, "I've got a right to be heard. I worked hard on this message!" Are the the choir members thinking, "We don't want that racket ruining the anthem we've been rehearsing all week"

Are those sitting around the child thinking, "I came here to listen to a sermon, not some noisy kid." And are the parents thinking "This is our church. We've got a right to be here, hey... when we had our child baptized... you guys promised to help us bring this child up in the faith and right now we are having serious problems!"

It could be my friend was right. Whenever he hears of a family with a new arrival he likes to tell them... "Now you are in for trouble. Don't you realize that children are your parent's way of getting there own back?"

Being part of any kind of family is a high calling. Being part of the Christian Family is a real challenge. We all feel like we have our rights and our needs and when those rights and needs don't seem to be met we start thinking like the disciples, "Hold on a minute, who is important around here, whose needs take priority?”

On the basis of this passage of Scripture, the Kingdom way is about putting others needs before personal rights. And for each group of us in the congregation, Little ones, Youth, Older adults, Parents and Singles, all of us need to think not only about what has this church got for me, but how can I help the others of my family, who are maybe at a different stage of life or experience be a part of the family. To paraphrase a famous quotation, "Ask not what your church family can do for you, Ask what you can do for your church family".

To bring that point home to the disciples, Jesus invited the noisy kid over to where He sat with His disciples. He put His arms round the child and said something along the lines of, "You know something, If you can recognize the rights of a little child like this, if you can welcome and receive what he can teach you, then you'll be doing the will of God, then you'll be coming near to greatness, then you'll be a hero. Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives me; and whoever receives Me does not just receive me, but Him who sent me."

At the time Jesus was speaking children had no rights, no privileges, no legal status, no voice whatsoever. They were non people. They didn't matter. They didn't count. We have lost the element of surprise that this incident must have had on it's first hearers. Our social conventions are so radically different to those of antiquity. Sometimes we look upon childhood with a romantic view, as a period of simplicity and innocence. In those times no such notion existed. A child, particularly a female child, just didn't count for much, simply wasn't important.

That child stands for all people who are not held in high regard, all those without a place, all those without a voice. Those who others label and call names to make themselves feel superior. Those who are seen as useless or no-hopers or just "Different.” We often pay lip service to the view that the "First shall be last" so long as we are not challenged to the test of accepting someone whom we consider a real "Outsider."

The theologian Karl Barth describes the radical acceptance of others as the basis of Christian Ethics. "To think of every human being, even the oddest, most villainous or miserable as one to whom Jesus Christ is brother and God is Father; and we have to deal with them on this assumption."

All of this brings us full circle to where we started, thinking about heroes and who is important and what it takes to be great. I very much doubt that anybody here will be running home to change the pictures on their walls or that any of us will go out and try and find a few pictures of Karl Barth, the disciples, or Jesus Himself in an effort to give ourselves good role models to follow.

Because, after all, greatness is about a lot more than image. It's not about looking good or even about winning the admiration of others. From the Kingdom perspective, a view which has the habit of turning everything upside down, greatness is measured by how great you make others feel. Importance is about what importance you give to others lives, particularly those whom the world denies any real significance.

A dieing man once said to Mother Teresa, "All my life I have lived like an animal. Now you are letting me die like a King".

You want to be great? You want to be important? Then forget about being great and being important and get on with the business of sharing the love that God has given you with a needy world. There's a hymn that speaks of Jesus in this way:-

"Thou who wast rich, beyond all measure,
All for our sake, becamest poor"

That is greatness. One who would rather die on a cross for our sake than see us divorced from God's love. One who prayed, for others, "Lord, not my will, but thine be done."

Serving ourselves only leads to a never ending desire for more of what we don't have. Christ challenges us to serve one another, to say "Yes" to God and in doing so discover an otherwise unattainable peace, a peace born out of having the humility to count others as more important than ourselves.

May God help us to govern our lives by Kingdom values
and see each other from a Jesus perspective.
That's what is important.
That is true greatness.
And to God's name be all glory.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

*HymnWho is Greatest in the Kingdom?
NETTLETON D (#355 "Hear The Good News of Salvation")
Text © 2018 by Carol Winfrey Gillette. Used with permission.

"Who is greatest in the kingdom? Who among us is the best?"
The disciples were debating: "In God's reign, who will be blest?"
Jesus, had those twelve forgotten? Faithful living has a cost —
And to journey where You'd lead them, they would journey to the cross.

"Who is greatest in the kingdom?" The disciples heard Your call:
"If you want to be the first one, you must be the last of all."
Do not think that high position is a thing that you deserve!
"If you want to be the first, then, be the first to humbly serve."

"Who is greatest in the kingdom? Who will take the throne and reign?"
Christ, You put a child among them, and You told them once again:
"If you give a child a welcome, then you also welcome me."
Faithful service, not ambition, builds up God's community.

Monday, September 17, 2018

What Sort Of Messiah?"

Readings: Psalm 125, James 2:1-17, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Mark 8:27-38
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, September 16 2018
One day Jesus and the disciples are walking down the road. He asks them "Who do the people say I am?" The disciples gave Him some of the answers that were floating around. "Some say you are John the Baptist. Others say you are Elijah or one of the prophets come back to life."

Jesus then makes the question real up close and personal. "
What about you? Who do you say that I am?" There was probably a moment of silence as they waited for each other to speak. It is Peter - the bold one - who eventually responds, "You are the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God."

Jesus replies "
Well done, you are absolutely right (and the way Matthew's gospel tells it He adds that this was something God had revealed to Peter.) But then comes an intriguing sting in the tale. Jesus says: "You’re right. But don't you dare tell anyone!" Why?

Why did He tell them not to tell anyone? You would think He would be saying "Spread the word, the Messiah has come." Instead Jesus tells them, "Shush... keep it to your self." It’s something the scholars call the "Messianic Secret."
Here’s one of the reasons. Although the disciples had started to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, they didn't really know what a Messiah was. “The Messiah is coming! The Messiah is coming! The Messiah is coming! Hold on. What’s a Messiah?”

Now according to the Jewish Rabbi's of the time this was how the Messiah thing would work out. The world would get worse and worse, spiraling down into a moral and spiritual vacuum. When things could get no worse God would send Elijah to prepare the way of the Messiah.
Then when God's Messiah arrived, he would be a great warrior king, with political clout and military might, who would physically crush his foes. He would unite the people in a great Armageddon battle against whoever oppressed God's people. Finally he would take his throne in Jerusalem and rule Israel in peace and prosperity. It would be just like the "Good old days" when David was king, but better.

You can't blame the disciples for wanting that kind of Messiah. The Romans had occupied the country. Pagan ideas and culture were corrupting the people. Even the high priest was little more than a puppet in the control of a pagan power. The time was ripe for a heroic warrior Messiah to come and conquer the Romans, and take his place on the throne of David.

But that was not the sort of Messiah that Jesus came to be. If people, especially the people closest to Him, thought He was that sort of Messiah it could be a disaster. Tell them that the Holy Conqueror prophesied from ancient times had come and they might go form an army and try to draft him as Supreme Commander. Hundreds or thousands could die and Jesus true mission would never be revealed.

So Jesus explains to His disciples God's plan for the Messiah. "
The Messiah must go through great suffering. Even the elders and religious authorities will reject Him. He will be killed and in three days rise again."
This was, of course, a contradiction to everything the disciples expected. God's anointed king suffering and dieing? No way Hosea! That was blasphemy. To suggest that God would allow pagan Gentiles to torture, mistreat, and even kill God’s all powerful Messiah was just wrong. It would be like Superman being taken down without the aid of Kryptonite!
So Peter rebuked Jesus. He doesn’t suggest that Jesus was mistaken, Peter rebukes Jesus. Anyone growing up in a traditional Jewish society would be horrified to observe Peter taking such a tone with his teacher. Disciples just didn’t go around rebuking their teachers!
And how does Jesus react? Strongly! He calls Peter a mouthpiece of Satan. He wants Peter to know that, yes, He was the messiah, and good on you Peter for recognizing that, but Jesus wasn’t going to be the sort of Messiah that Peter had been expecting.
The true Messiah’s mission involved suffering and death and resurrection. Peter was making a devilish suggestion in telling Jesus that He had no need to go to the cross. No Cross… no redemption, no forgiveness, no death to be conquered, no resurrection necessary.

Maybe Peters problem was that he defined victory in human terms not in God's terms. Jesus then gives them God's definition of victory. "
If any want to be my followers let them take up their cross and follow me." Take up a cross? Only thieves and criminals took up a cross. The Bible says, "Cursed is the one who hangs on a tree." What could Jesus mean?

He continues, "
For those who seek to save their life will lose it, yet those who lose their life for me and the Gospel will save it." This contradicted logic. If you want to save your life you should fight and even kill to preserve it. But here Jesus says the way to life is through death. "For what do you gain if you gain the whole world and lose your life?" This was turning everything upside down. It would take the disciples a long time to come to terms with this.
The same applies to us. We are no more enlightened then they were. True life, says Jesus, isn't found in human achievement or personal gain. Neither is it found in political or military power. It is found instead in spiritual power, in relationships with each other and with God, in worship and in service and abandonment to the will of God.

Friends, why do we bother coming to church? I would suggest that one of the reasons we involve our lives in the church, is because we are people who really want to live and really want the best out of life for ourselves and for our families and friends.
It could even be that, like Peter, we have recognized that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of living God, but maybe we're not exactly sure what that means or how we should go about telling others. And though we believe that Jesus can give us eternal life, not just life in heaven after death, but abundant life in the here and now… these words, about the cost of following Him, seem difficult and troublesome.

Jesus says, "
If you want to follow me you must take up a cross. Because if you try to hold on to life you will lose it, but if you surrender your life for me and the Gospel you will have true life. After all what good is it to gain the whole world and never really live."

In a "Pain killer culture", trying to understand where suffering fits in with God’s will is a tough cookie. Jesus challenges us to turn our thinking upside down. Through His miracles and works of healing, through His compassion for the crowds and for individuals it is clear that God takes no delight in human suffering.

Mother Teresa, that great missionary to the poor in India, used to instruct her novices, "To truly love, is to fight against evil. You cannot fight without receiving blows. You can not help the suffering without suffering yourself."
In our materialistic, pain fearing world, people love to hear the voice of the miraculous Jesus. Witness the success of those who preach a gospel of instant prosperity or ceaseless blessing. People are not so sure they want to hear the word of the Cross. What sort of Messiah would call us to such a thing?The idea is no less shocking now as it was then.

But … listen… just as God’s Messiah wasn’t the sort of Messiah that people expected… maybe abundant life is not about all the things people often think it is. Maybe "the good life" is not being materially well off or even comfortable. Maybe abundant living does not depend on being in good health or even on good terms with everyone.
So let us, we who confess Him as Lord in the early years of the twenty first century, ask ourselves, "What sort of Messiah?" The sort that tells us that anything goes and we are not to worry about our sins, or our neighbors, or about injustice or poverty, but simply accept blessing after blessing from His hand? One who says, "Don't worry, be happy... live for ever and ever in a pain free, trouble free world?"

Or are we to hear the voice of one who explained His mission to His disciples in terms that involved undeserved suffering, a cross, a resurrection and a promise of the empowering presence of His Holy Spirit to all who would come after Him. Who spoke of
picking up on the pain, the shame and the rejection of others and placing it on our shoulders to help them carry it up a hill towards forgiveness.

One who saw prayer as an opening up of our selves to God's will, rather than as an exercise to persuade God to do things our way. One who spoke of putting our self interest aside, dieing to ourselves and being prepared to live and die for one another. Do we want to hear the radical voice of a revolutionary Jesus or do we want a “Panacea Messiah” to solve all the world’s problems and tell us we don't have to get our hands dirty, because it will be all right in the end?

I read the gospels and I am challenged to believe that God's desire for this world is that it be a place of miracles and blessing and healing and hope. But I am also challenged to see that love is not simply an emotion. It is a weapon to destroy all that cheapens and lessens and takes away life.
To enter the fight means not sitting back and letting God take care of everything, but actively wielding the weapon of love, which may mean putting ourselves in situations that can only be traveled through with faith and whose only hope is in the ability of God to turn hopeless situations, like Crosses, into places that sing with the joy of resurrection emptied tombs.
"What sort of Messiah?"
There is only one and His name is Jesus.
All others are simply pretenders and charlatans.
And the way to life is found in His call to service.
"If any want to become my followers,
Let them deny themselves
And take up their cross
And follow me".

May God help us, by God’s Holy Spirit,
to be true disciples.
In Jesus name.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Touched By God

Readings: Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9, James 1:17-27, Isaiah 35:4-7, Mark 7:31-37
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, September 9 2018

“Touched by God.” What does it mean to be “Touched by God”? Is it a moment of inspiration? Is it when a particular need is met? Is it a lifelong journey? Well.... yes... all of the above and a whole lot more. More importantly, what does it take for our lives to feel the influence and touch of God upon them?

Our gospel reading from Mark this morning gave us the story of a man suffering from a hearing defect that also gave him an inability to speak. Then his life is touched by Jesus and he is made whole. At the start the man is in a pitiful state. He comes to Jesus, not of his own volition but is brought by his friends. They ask that Jesus lays His hands on the man. They seem convinced that to do so will result in some sort of blessing upon his life.

Here's one of the first things we need if we desire God to impact or lives. We need to trust that God has the ability to handle our situation

We run into problems in our Christian life because we see the intervention of God as a last resort, rather than our first port of call. We try everything else and then we pray about things. Prayer should come first, because prayer is the listening side of our relationship with God.

What was this man's problem? He couldn't hear; he was unable to listen. Because he couldn't hear anything, he couldn't say anything. His speech was impaired. Unless we can nurture our faith through personal private prayer we become not "speech impaired" but "faith impaired."

In our prayers we are not always sure what to ask for. Right at the start of this account is a picture of how we can pray. Sometimes we don't have the assurance of faith to ask for direct healing or for a miracle. But we can always ask God to lay hold of the situations that troubles us. We can do that in the simple faith that God knows how to handle things.

When I watch a professional football game on the Television, I'm always impressed by the distance a professional can throw the ball. I'm even more impressed by the guy who manages to catch it at the other end. I've always been a useless catcher. If they gave "A" Grades for fumbling, I could win a scholarship with my skills. I can get hit by the ball on the nose, on the knee, I can flay my arms about and run in the general direction, do everything but catch the thing!

On the other hand, God is a great catcher. It doesn't matter how hard you throw your prayers, how off course they are, how out of position you are, when God hears your prayers, God doesn't fumble or stumble, but lays hands on the situation that is troubling you. "Ask" says the scripture, "You will receive."

Field your problems in God's direction and you'll see some results. It may not be the result you expected, or even exactly what you asked for, but God won't let you down.The men who brought their friend to experience the touch of Jesus knew they could trust Him. That's why they came to Him.

But Jesus didn't do anything right away other than withdraw far from the madding crowds and go off to some private place. You see that too is something important for our lives. A second thing this passage teaches us about seeking a touch of God, is that we have to make space in our lives to spend personal time with God.

This man didn't find his healing among the crowds or in the business of life. He had to withdraw and be alone with the Lord. He had a particular set of problems that needed to be dealt with in a specific way. It was important for Jesus to spend time alone with Him so that He could deal with him His way. There is an importance to being alone, having a quiet place, and a quiet time with Jesus. We are all unique creations of God. God does not deal with us all in exactly the same way.

Sometimes we try and solve our problems in another persons way. We read a book about how “so and so” dealt with such or such a thing and think, "Yes, that's what I need to do, that's how I should be handling things." Oftentimes it's not. Because we are unique individuals and our situations aren't those of someone else.

The insights of other people may be some help. I don't deny for one minute that we all have a great deal to learn from each other. But there are those times when we just need to get on our own with God and get our life sorted out. Maybe you recall that Old Testament story about Jacob wrestling with an angel.

Jacob is an inheritor of God's promises. He had a life that was on track, going places. But then he tries to cross a river and there is a man, described as an angel, who won't let him pass. He gets into a wrestling match with the angel. Somewhere in the middle of it, he realizes, that he is actually wrestling with God. His life had the ability to take on new possibilities and greater significance. But he's got to deal with his past and his problems before God can make that happen.

Until he had a very personal struggle with God, though he trusted in God, his faith was not his own. Yes, he knew of his father Isaac's faith. He had most definitely heard the stories of his grandfather Abraham's faith. But, he was only living his faith vicariously through their faith; it had not been solidified in his life. It is only after this struggle that we read of God in Scripture being identified as the God of Abraham, Isaac AND Jacob.

It is the same for us. Our parents faith, our families faith, our friends faith, even our churches faith, won't take us where God wants us to go. We have to make it our own. And that can be a struggle. It may leave us walking in a different way. And it takes place through personal time, one on one, with God.

If we desire lives that know God's touch, we need to trust that God has the ability to carry us through. We need to take the time for personal encounter with God. Thirdly, we need to be open to whatever God wants to do in and through our lives.

When Jesus prays for this man he uses the words "Be opened"; in Aramaic; "Ephphatha" in Greek "Dianoigo" (pronounced: Dee-an-oy'-go). He doesn't say "Speak up" or "Be made whole" but "Be Opened," a phrase that could be used in a variety of situations. An old Scots translation translates this verse as "Be thou unbarred," using the imagery of a prison cell whose iron rods are removed to set the prisoner free. It could also mean to open your mind or to open your soul.

It sounds like one of those trendy expressions you hear on TV, "Free your mind." Jesus said it first. 'Ephphatha," "Be Opened.” But not open to anything, open to His touch, open to His love.

The way the man is healed is, well, different. Jesus puts his finger in the mans ear, then spits on his hand and touches the mans tongue with it. Saliva was regarded in days gone by as having some medicinal qualities. Still is. Have you ever noticed the way an animal will lick a wound or even a mom will spit on a handkerchief and wipe a child's face with it?

There was nothing magical about Jesus saliva anymore than there is about mum saliva. But it meant something to the man who was being healed (just as it means something to a child) and through what was a very common action the man was touched by the love of God. We need to be open for God to act and move in whatever way God chooses!

In verse 34, before He heals the man, we read that Jesus sighed. Time after time He was confronted by people who had closed minds, who couldn't seem to see or hear or grasp the wonderful significance of who He was and how much and how deeply they were loved by His Father God.

Jesus sighed. In that sigh is contained the sigh of all people who feel "Ugh, it's just getting too much for me!" Good news. God knows how you feel. Jesus can help. Just open up and see what happens.

Such help is not anything we deserve. God comes to us in spite of who we are, not because of it. So often we are blind to the things that really matter in life, so useless in speaking out, so in need of a touch of God. Kind of like the man in our bible reading.

So remember what happened to Him. God met him right at his point of need. Why should He deal with us any differently if we come to God in humility and in faith? We have nothing to offer God but our broken lives .God will take what ever we can give. All God asks is that we get around to giving it.

I began this message by asking “What does it take for our lives to feel the influence and touch of God upon them?” This encounter Jesus has, with a man who needed healing, offers some great insights.
  • We need to trust that God has the ability to handle our situation
  • We have to make space in our lives to spend personal time with God.
  • We need to be open to whatever God wants to do in and through our lives.
May we each, in our own unique way and within our own specific situations, be able to say that our lives have been touched by God. And, blessed as we are, may we, like the friends of the deaf and mute man, who bought him to Jesus, seek to be a people who bring a touch of God's love to others. To God be the Glory. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Heart Of Righteousness

Sermon Series: MARK MY WORDS
 Readings: Psalm 45:1-9, Deuteronomy 4 :1-9, James 1:17-27,Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, September 2 2018

What does it mean to be a righteous person? Is it just a matter of sticking to the rules? Is it about obeying the Ten Commandments? Is it giving away everything we have to the poor? Is it about not doing things like cheating or drinking or smoking or cussing or fighting?

And if we do stick to the rules, obey all the commandments, give everything we have away to charity, never cheat on anything (no - not even a speed limit), never drink a drop of alcohol or inhale any cigarette smoke (either passively or impassively), never let one unpleasant word fall from our lips and never lift a hand in anger (no, not even in self defense), will that make us righteous?

We may outwardly appear to be a pillar of religious virtue, but does that mean we are necessarily a righteous person? The answer that Jesus gives may surprise us. You can keep every law, written or unwritten, that you know, but at the end of the day remain a cold, hard, empty, shell of a person who knows little of God and still less of love.

Who is it in the scriptures that Jesus constantly criticizes? Is it the publicans and sinners? Is it the leper or the tax collector? Is it the woman caught in adultery or that officer in the Roman army that were oppressing the Jewish people? Those are people He befriends. He saves His harsh words for the religious folk, the Pharisees, Sadducee's and their like.

Ironically, these were the people who desperately wanted to be righteous. Every action they took symbolized that desire. But somewhere along the way a detour got them off a track that led to righteousness and onto a track that led to legalism. So what is righteousness?

Righteousness is first of all a spiritual principle.

At the start of the Jewish religion, the law meant the Ten Commandments and the teachings of the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. The Pentateuch carries much detail about daily living. Its laws are laws of community designed to help, not to hinder people, in living a decent life. It also seeks to remind the Hebrews that they are to be a people ‘set apart’ to do the will of God, be a witness to the nations of what a nation that honored God could be like.

Around about four or five centuries before Jesus was born there were in Israel a group of scholars who had a real passion for definition. Every law had to be defined, amplified and expanded into thousands on miniscule little rules, regulations and laws governing every possible aspect and action of life. What became known as the “oral law” or “the tradition of the elders” became a standard for measuring righteousness. They were eventually written down in a book called the Mishnah.

Some of the rules concerned exactly how hands should be washed in order that they are ceremonially clean. This was more than just hygiene for hygiene’s sake! To fail to wash your hands after the manner of the law didn’t mean you were dirty in a health sense, but you were unclean in the sight of God.

When the Pharisees observe Jesus and the disciples, sitting down to a meal, and not observing all these minute details, they ask, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" They ask, not because of any concern for health, but in order to prove that the disciples, and ultimately Jesus Himself, were religious frauds. If they couldn’t be trusted in the little things, then how could they be believed when it came to life’s deeper questions!

The reply that Jesus gives is both harsh and sarcastic. He says to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.'

We shouldn’t minimize the insult contained in these words. He is telling them that they are vain, dishonorable, hypocrites, out of touch with God and blinded by man made traditions. Harsh words to people who thought they were seeking to live God’s way!

Their attention to detail meant they overlooked two primary laws. They were to love God with all that they were, and love their neighbors as much as they loved themselves. Although they didn’t realize it, the principle that was really motivating their lives was not “God’ or even their “Neighbor”, but was ‘Self, Self, Self.” Their own salvation was their primary concern. To be seen as a separate breed from the common folk was their aim.

They were overlooking the primary spiritual principle of all... love. When legalism takes hold, love is the first casualty. When Christianity starts to become a matter of unwritten laws it stops looking out to those in need and starts looking in on itself in judgment. Spirituality becomes measured, not by it’s capacity to reach out to those who need a touch of God, but by how well the lives of adherents live up to the particular unwritten codes of the community. And if you don’t measure up, you are no longer welcome.

Righteousness is a spiritual principle that has to do with the capacity of Jesus to love others through our lives. You may remember the list of virtues that Paul described to the Corinthian church. He speaks of being able to speak in tongues and prophesy and of having the ability to understand the great mysteries of God. He claims the faith to be able to move mountains, and that he could indeed give away everything he had to the poor. Why, he would even face martyrdom to defend his religious principles. But he concludes, at the end of the day, if any of it has been done with out love, then it has been a waste of effort and completely out of touch with the will of God.

Righteousness is first of all a spiritual principle – the principle of love.

Righteousness is secondly a spiritual quality.

In our text, this encounter Jesus has with the Pharisees becomes a teaching moment for the crowds who look on. He uses the simple fact that external things, such as food that’s unclean, hands that are unwashed, and dirty kitchen utensils, cannot defile the inner spirit, but it is the heart – the willful and soulful center of a person - that determines a person’s righteousness. It was not outward deeds that made a person holy, but inward spirituality.

Often during evangelistic campaigns an invitation is given for folk to receive Christ in their hearts as Lord and Savior. Such a dogmatic statement is criticized in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society. We are accused of narrow mindedness and of causing offense to other religions, because they also claim to lead a way into God’s presence.

My argument with such criticism is that other religions do not claim to offer the living presence of God as a power within a person’s heart, something to be received and embraced. Other religions deny that Jesus rose from death and paint Him as just another martyred prophet. Other religions tell us that the resources we need are locked inside ourselves and we can be our own saviors. Jesus tells us He came to be our Savior and that through Him we can have intimate fellowship with God and that the presence of His Holy Spirit within us can energize lives.

I cannot help but declare Jesus Christ as unique when that is exactly what the gospel message declares is the Good News. It would be as though I were a car salesman and I had a brand new car for sale, the most reliable, wonderful, luxurious car ever created, and rather than extolling it’s merits I start saying, “Of course, it’s not really that special, I mean any old vehicle can get you around town, there’s nothing unique about this one! Make do with what you’ve got, you don’t need the best’.

There is no other religion that makes the claims that Christianity makes. There is no other religious figure that has done what Jesus Christ has done. There is no other religious book that describes God in the way that the Bible does. It is unique. Pretending that it is not so, just in case somebody who believes something different may be offended, is not only illogical, but is also misrepresenting the claims that Christianity makes.

Only Christianity declares that righteousness is a spiritual quality that is produced in our lives through the action of the love of Jesus upon our hearts. Only Christianity suggests we need to seek for God to cleanse us and renew us and recreate us in our inner most places with Holy Spirit love. Only Christianity declares that the way to righteousness is cultivating a Christ-like life under the influence of His living presence. Righteousness is a spiritual quality, the quality of a life indwelt by the living presence of Christ’s Holy Spirit.

Righteousness is thirdly a spiritual lifestyle.

Lest it sounded earlier that I was suggesting that outward acts were unimportant and that if you had it together with God in your inner self then you should live as you please, on the contrary, if you are in a heart relationship with God, you start wanting to do the things that please God, not the things that please only your self. Nobody who desires a holy life seeks to express it by living an unholy lifestyle.

In verse 21 Jesus clearly says, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."

Jesus makes it clear where the battleground is! It’s inside us. As we allow His love to conquer our hearts, then from out of our lives good things will flow. Elsewhere Jesus teaches us, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, and then all these things shall be added unto you’.

Our passage today raised the question, “What does it mean to be a righteous person?” Clearly it is not simply an act of sticking to the rules.

Righteousness is first of all a spiritual principle. A commitment to love. To love God. To love our neighbor. To cherish the life that God has blessed us with.

Righteousness is secondly a spiritual quality, a quality that comes from the love of God, In Christ, dwelling in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Righteousness is thirdly a spiritual lifestyle. Whilst it is not our acts that dictate our righteousness before God, we should be suspicious of anybody who claims to be living Gods way, but from whose life there flows nothing good. The evidence of spiritual quality is that it produces a spiritual lifestyle.

Help us Lord to be the people you truly want us to be.
Help us Lord to grow in our relationship with You,
So that our love for others may deepen.
Help us Lord, not just to look on the outside,
But to be those who are being renewed by your Holy Spirit inside;
And all this to the glory of Our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Winner or Quitter?

Reading: Psalm 84, Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, August 26 2018

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

The Word of the Lord came to Noah. "Noah. Build a boat. There's going to be a flood. I'll send the animals you need to save. Here are the dimensions." So Noah sets about building his boat. Along comes Mrs. Noah. "What are you doing? We can't afford a boat. How's that going to put food on the table."

Along comes one of his sons. "Dad, this thing with the animals. You want us to go out and catch them? Take a reality check. You can't put mice with elephants and zebra with lions. They’ll go crazy!” Along comes a daughter -in-law. "We were hoping to build a little cottage, y'know. Couldn’t find enough wood, y'know. Now look at him making a stupid boat, wasting all that wood, y'know. It's not right.” People from the town came by and just said, "Idiot."

So Noah takes a step back from his work, hears what everybody's saying and thinks; "Now if God was going to flood the world, I'm sure he'd let somebody other than me in on the plans. I must be confused! Let's get working on that cottage, son.” A few days later a huge flood wiped out every living thing on the face of the earth.

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

"Abraham" says God, "You will be the Father of a great nation." "That's good!" says Abraham. And the years went by. And his wife had no child. And the years went by. And his wife suggested he should father a child through her slave girl. Which he did. But that wasn't right. And the years went by.

Then God said, "Now, Abram, your wife is to bear a child!" Sara laughed in disbelief. She was 89 years old. Abraham said, "I don't think so. I'm going to head off into the sunset with that slave girl."

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Joseph, (without his Technicolor dreamcoat), has been thrown into jail after spurning the unwelcome advances of the Pharoahs wife. In the jail cell are a butler and a baker who are being troubled by dreams. They want to know what they mean. For a moment Joseph imagines that he can understand.

But then he angrily says, "Dreams, Dreams. Don't talk to me about dreams. You think I'd be in this mess if it weren’t for stupidly trying to interpret dreams! That's what started all this trouble in the first place! I'm done with dreams." It wasn’t long after that Pharoah was done with Joseph.

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Moses in Eygpt. He knows he's got a mission. As the kids sing at retreats; "Phaorah, Pharoah, Oh baby let my people go." And Pharoah says “Yes” and then Pharoah says “No.” Plagues of blood and frogs and insects and cattle-disease and boils and hail and locusts and darkness. And Pharoah says “Yes” and then Pharoah says “No.” The last plague; an angel of death striking down the first-born sons.

Moses goes into conference with Pharoah. "Smearing lambs blood over the gateposts, angels of death. Y'know Pharoah, I've been very wrong. I think it is the people’s destiny to be your servants. Anyway, they'll do nothing but complain the whole time if I try to lead them to the Promised Land. Can I come back to the palace and be a prince now?"

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

General Joshua is leading a successful campaign in the desert lands. He seems unstoppable. Then there's Jericho. Jericho, with its huge walls and powerful army. "Hmm. What about this one, Lord?" He receives the battle plan. Put the priests at the front. March around the walls seven times and on the seventh day a blast on the trumpets will bring the walls tumbling down."

General Joshua calls a meeting of his chiefs of staff. "Gentlemen" he tells them, "You know me pretty well. You can trust me. But even generals sometimes make mistakes. I'm stepping down from command and taking a vacation for a while. Battle fatigue. I just seriously considered a hair- brained idea that involved priests marching around blowing trumpets. I hardly think that’s likely to work!”

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

There’s a battle going on. The Philistines have a champion. A giant called Goliath. Everybody is afraid of him. Everybody except that anointed shepherd boy David. ‘Let me fight the rascal’ he declares. Boldly he steps out into the field, carrying nothing but a slingshot. He bends down and chooses a wicked looking stone.

But then he looks up and realizes that this dude Goliath is really big. Not big, but gigantic big. He starts doubting whether a stone could really knock him down. ‘Lions and Tigers and Bears – oh my,” that was one thing, but giants! So he turns to the Israelite army and says one word. “RUN!” And that’s why he never became King.

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Ezekiel was a dreamer. Called of God to declare the Word of the Lord to God’s chosen people. One day, he was in the Spirit, and started to have this tremendous vision. It was all about speaking God’s word to some dry bones lying in a valley, and the bones all start clicking together and forming into skeletons. “The ankle bone connects to the shin bone, the shin bone connects to the knee bone, the knee bone connects to the thigh bone… oh hear the word of the Lord.”

And the bones take on flesh and become a great, conquering army. Ezekiel comes out of his dream and thinks, “If I tell people what I just saw, they’ll wonder what kind of spirit I’ve been influenced by. Anyway, they’ve never listened to me before. What’s the difference now?”

And so the Word of the Lord was never proclaimed to the people of Israel, and lacking in courage and insight, the nation ended its last days in captivity, never was a temple imagined, never was a Messiah anticipated, and Jerusalem was never built.

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Daniel enjoyed his quiet time. Except it wasn’t very quiet. He used to pray three times a day, out loud, with his head sticking out the window. Then one day the King of Babylon made a new law that every body should only pray to him. At first Daniel wasn’t moved. But then some officious fellows came and told him he had to change his ways or they would throw him to the lions.

Daniel reckoned that even God would have a hard time protecting him from ravenous lions, so he decided to do as they said. And nobody ever heard of Daniel again.

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Jesus is preaching in the synagogue. He’s talking about “Bread coming down from heaven” and “Eating his flesh and drinking his blood” and His disciples can’t get their heads around it. It’s too hard to understand. And we read in John 6:66 “Because of this many of His disciples turned back and no longer went about with Him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?"” One of them, Simon Peter, a man who had more than his fair share of triumphs and failures, but knew a winner when he met one, said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” But he could have said:-

You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.

Jesus praying in Gethsemane. “Lord, if it be thy will, let this cup of suffering pass by me.” Had there been no cross, for us there would be no salvation. Had there been no resurrection, for us there would be no victory.

Because He was not a quitter, we can be a winner.

Ever seen the movie “Cool Runnings?” It’s all about the Jamaican Bobsled Team. The very idea seems a joke. Sunny Jamaica in the Winter Olympics? But away they go. Against the odds they do really well. On their final run though, a disaster happens. They lose control on the very last turn and the sled turns upside down and grinds to a halt. “You dead man?” says one. “I’m dead man.” They climb out of the sled and to the applause and admiration of the crowd and their fellow competitors; carry it on their shoulders over the finishing line.

There’s more than one way to be a winner.

You’ll go to school and there will be a Math problem or an English assignment or a test and you’ll say, “I can never get the hang of this.” You’ll be playing on a team or involved in some task and fell as though it’s pointless, that there’s no hope.

You’ll never be a winner if you’re going to be a quitter.

That situation in work, that persistent habit that’s dogged you all your life, that dream you felt God had put in your heart but you never acted upon it, that situation that seemed to gigantic for your limited resources to deal with, that mountain you keep telling yourself you could climb, that relationship you’ve almost given up hope on, those times that you get to a dead end hear the word of the Lord;

“You'll never be a winner if you're going to be a quitter.”

Noah built his boat and now there’s a rainbow in the sky. Abraham became the Father of a great nation. Joseph became a prince in Eygpt. Moses led the people out of slavery to the Promised Land. Joshua conquered that land. David defeated that giant. Ezekiel’s vision empowered the nation. Daniel tamed lions and became adviser to a King.

Those disciples that didn’t turn back when the going became difficult, witnessed the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, saw miracles performed through the labors of their hands and built a church that today spans the whole world.

Neighbor. Hey Neighbor.
I don’t know exactly what you’re going through,
I don’t know exactly what you’re going to do,
But you’ll never be a winner,
If you’re going to be a quitter,
Though you are weak, the grace of God is strong
And the powerful love of Jesus, can move your life along.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.