“Don’t Grow Weary”

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Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

     “Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.  For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.  Brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right.”

 

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I met a man this week that happily uses the talents and gifts God has given him for the sake of Jesus Christ. His name is Randy Hofman, and he is a sand artist and evangelist in Ocean City, Md.

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He encouraged me to share his story and gave me permission to show pictures of his art, for this is truly his labor of love for the Lord. You may have seen pictures of his art and not known that it was his.

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Sometimes his art has been mistakenly credited to another Maryland artist. Pictures of Randy’s massive sand sculptures are posted all over the Internet and are often the subject of emails forwarded to friends.

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That’s how I first learned about Randy, who has done this for more than 3 decades. He works with simple tools– his hands, a plastic knife used for picking crabs, and a bottle of watered-down Elmer’s glue, which he sprays on the sculptures to help them survive wind and rain.

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If you want to see his 8 to 20 foot sculptures in person, you have to go to the Boardwalk at Ocean City and stop in front of the Plim Plaza Hotel.

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His favorite themes are Christ on the cross,

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The Last Supper,

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Jesus praying, and Noah’s ark.

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Randy, an ordained minister since 1985, gives away a small, 32-page Bible booklet to anyone who wants one; each summer, about 50,000 people take his booklet. Most recently, he has completed a child’s coloring book of his sand sculptures that are available at his Website: http://www.randyhofman.com/coloring-book/2015/7/23/wkucp4ttp6hdi6fxivzwhiay3s7il2

Randy depends on donations, along with earnings from his oil painting, for his living and mission expenses. Many people drop a nickel, quarter or dollar in a glass container in front of his artwork.

Some people leave notes, thanking him. Some stop to pray.

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When I heard Randy’s story, I thought what a great example of what the Apostle Paul is trying to teach all who wish to be faithful to labor for Christ’s sake. Most Christians just think of making disciples when Christ says, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.”

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But when we read today’s epistle, we begin to understand that all of our lives are a witness to the work of Jesus Christ. Our labor includes what we do 7 days a week using the gifts, talents and opportunities God gives us, some of which leads us to earn money for our families and to share with the community so that all have “bread” to eat. Yes, this passage in Second Thessalonians is about stewardship–our call to make the most of every day and all that God has given us to care for and build up the Church of Jesus Christ. We are called to love and to work every day, as if we are loving and working for Jesus. This is what Paul is talking about when he says in 2 Thess. 3:13, “Brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right.”

The problem in the church in Thessalonica is that some people believe that Jesus has already returned for His Church or is coming so quickly that there is no need to work. Those refusing to work are living off the generosity of others and causing strife. Paul warns the church, in verse 6, to keep away from the idle, but this word translated “idle” also has a sense of disorder or “disruptively idle”; the rebellion of some people threatens the peace and wellbeing of the entire community. They are, he says in verse 11, “mere busybodies, not doing any work!” Paul, who hates gossip for its destructive power in the church, thought he had taken care of the problem when he wrote his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, a cosmopolitan city at the intersection of two major Roman roads in what is today Greece.

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The majority of the population of ancient Thessalonica is Greek, but Jews have migrated there, too, along with God-fearing Gentiles. The majority of the Church at Thessalonica, however, is not Jewish or God-fearing Gentiles. They are pagans. Paul writes in 1 Thess. 1:9-10: “For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead.” In First Thessalonians, Paul writes more gently to the church of new believers that aren’t sure how they should live as Christians. Paul tells them of the importance of love and work! “Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters …. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you.” (1 Thess. 4:9-11)

Paul in 2 Thessalonians, as he often does, uses himself as an example. “We were not (disruptively) idle when we were with you,” he writes in verses 7-8, “we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.” It’s remarkable that when Paul claims to have been working “night and day,” he doesn’t distinguish between his work as an evangelist and his trade that allows him to make a living and support his community. In Acts 18:2-3, we learn that Paul is a tentmaker. While he is in Corinth, he meets a Jewish man named Aquila, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla. Paul went to visit them “and he stayed and worked with them because they were tentmakers by trade, just as he was.” I think Paul purposefully does not distinguish between his work as a church planter and his trade that allows him to make a living. He wants us to understand that everything he does–whether it be preaching, raising up leaders for churches or making tents — is an offering of himself for the Lord.

Paul says in Acts 20:33-35, while living and working in Ephesus, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Friends, the work we do to make a living and to help the needy of our community is both a gift and a calling from God. We are called to love. We are called to work–and when we love and work as an offering to the Lord, we are blessed. We won’t grow weary of doing what is right!

Our lives are holy and set apart for God, even as we labor in the world with our hands, like Paul the tentmaker and Randy Hofman the sand sculptor, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

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Randy has been playing or working at the beach since he was a small child growing up in the Washington, D.C. area and coming to Ocean City for family vacations. This was Ocean City, Md., in the 1950s.

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He was one of nine children. They all played in the sand like other kids — making roads, tunnels and sand castles.

Randy knew, when he was in second grade, that he wanted to be an artist. He didn’t imagine as a child, though, that he would be making sand sculptures. He attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, and studied advertising design and visual communications. He came to Ocean City in 1974 and created chalk murals on concrete next to the Boardwalk. Then he learned sand sculpture from another artist.

In the beginning, Randy could only make one sculpture a day–not because the tide carried it away but because he didn’t have water and had to dig down past the dry, hot surface sand for moist sand. He worked at night after the sun went down so his sculptures would retain moisture. Usually, by noon the next day, though, the sculpture had dried out and disintegrated. He had to start over. This part of the job is easier now because the owners of the Plim Plaza supply him with water and electricity.

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He presents up to 4 sculptures at a time now, and they are good for a week when he sprays them with the watered down, biodegradable glue.

Kids attending an outreach mission in Ocean City called SonSpot help Randy with his sand digging now. They come from six or seven Mid-Atlantic States. Helping Randy with the sand sculptures is part of their mission.

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The physical aspect of sculpting is his biggest challenge, says Randy, who is about 65 years old. He does grow weary, even in this work he does for love of the Lord. But he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. “It strains the back and gives me giant leg cramps,” he says, “so I take more breaks now. Lord willing, I’d like to continue for years to come.”

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Let us pray.

Lord God, we thank you for your gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, who gave his life so that we might be forgiven for all our sins–and have everlasting life with you! We thank you for your love for us; we ask that you stir us to love others, more and more, and to shine the light of Christ in all the dark places of this world. Thank you for Randy’s calling to minister through his sand sculpture and for our work, Lord, that we do for you each day–the work that supports our families and your church so that we may continue to proclaim your gospel with loving words and acts of kindness to people in need. Forgive us, Lord, for sometimes growing weary of the demands of work and being tempted to be idle, like the early Christians in Thessalonica. Keep us, Lord, from the temptation to gossip and disrupt the peace and unity of your Church. Keep us busy doing what is right and pleasing to you. Remind us that everything we do is FOR YOU. Guide and empower us to do your will. Renew us with your Spirit and the knowledge that Your Son, Jesus Christ, is coming soon to gather us to Himself. Amen.

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“Listen, love your enemies”

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Meditation on Luke 6:27-38

Nov. 6, 2016 (All Saint’s Day)

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

       ‘But I say to all who would listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 

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If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 

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Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;  give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

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Corrie ten Boom was the daughter of a watchmaker in Haarlem, Holland on Feb. 28, 1944 when the Gestapo raided her home. This is Corrie with her cats when she was young and what Haarlem looked like when she was growing up.

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Here is her home after it was restored as a museum after WWII.

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The Nazis arrested Corrie and 29 other family members and friends that day in 1944, some who had been attending a prayer meeting in her living room.

She and her family belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church. One of the essential tenets of their faith was the belief that all human beings were equal before God. Corrie and her family had many Jewish friends. Not long after the German invasion of the Netherlands, the ten Booms narrow, 3-story home became a place of refuge for Jewish people and members of the Dutch Resistance. The Ten Boom family and friends saved the lives of about 800 Jewish people and protected many Dutch underground workers by hiding them in a tiny, secret space behind a false wall in Corrie’s bedroom.

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     On this day when we honor and give thanks to God for all the saints, I remember Corrie, who I have admired since I read her 1971 book, The Hiding Place, when I was a child. Corrie would be shocked that anyone would call her a “saint” or “hero of the faith” as some have said. She credited her family that nurtured her faith and showed her how to love and be generous with all people, no matter race or religion, rich or poor. The Ten Booms, who had very little money, fostered 11 children, along with caring for 5 children of their own.

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When I first read The Hiding Place, I thought the title meant only the secret room. As an adult, I realized that Corrie’s Hiding Place is also the Lord! She tells of her father reading Scripture every morning to the family. One morning, when she was about 6, he put on his rimless spectacles and began to read a “long, long psalm”: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path… Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.” Corrie wondered what kind of hiding place her Father was talking about, and, in her happy, secure world, “What was there to hide from?”

After the family’s arrest in 1944, the Nazis released everyone but Corrie, her older sister, Betsie, and 84-year-old Casper. He died 10 days later. The sisters remained in prison until June 1944, when officials transferred them to an internment camp in the Netherlands; three months later, the Nazis deported Corrie and Betsie to the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany.

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In the terrible environment of a death camp, the light of Christ shone through them. They shared their faith with other prisoners, many of whom became Christians. They stayed together until Betsie died in December 1944, after telling Corrie there was much work to be done for the Lord. Corrie left the camp knowing that her life was a gift from God, and that she needed to share what she and Betsie learned: that “there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still” and “God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies.”  

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God’s love for us and our calling to love others is the message of the gospel reading in Luke. This passage is part of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain,” which has some of the same teachings as the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew. Just before our reading, Jesus shares a vision of the Kingdom, a society that we can hardly imagine; it is so unlike our world today. Jesus preaches to a “great crowd of disciples” and a “great multitude of people” who have come to “hear him” and “be healed of their diseases” (v. 18). He reveals God’s power and mercy when he heals them ALL (v. 19)!

Christ’s message is revolutionary. He tells them that poverty and persecution are signs of God’s blessing and favor! “Blessed are you who are poor,” he says in v. 20, “for yours is the kingdom of God.” They had been taught the opposite–that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing or reward for obedience, as in Deut. 28: “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading-bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out…”

After Jesus shares His vision, he shares the expectations for the “children of the Most high.” “But Listen,” he begins, meaning listen and obey, “Love your enemies.” This love is shown through actions and powered through prayer. “Do good to those who hate you,” he says, clarifying what he means by “enemies” as those who have a problem with you. In v. 35, Jesus repeats for emphasis, “But love your enemies, do good and lend, expecting nothing in return.” Also in v. 35, we hear echoes of Genesis 1–when God creates humans in His image. The command here is to be like God. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” And if you weren’t persuaded, yet, that our relationships with people affect our relationship with the Lord, you will be by v. 37. “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you…”

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     Friends, our relationships with people affect our relationship with the Lord! But to love our enemies isn’t easy for us; as it certainly wasn’t easy for the people hearing Christ’s message long ago. We answer Christ’s call to forgive and “do good,” depending on the Lord for help. We are powered by prayer. We can be inspired by other faithful Christians, who have endured great suffering yet pursue the divine vision for God’s children–to love, give, and forgive.

After Corrie ten Boom was released from the death camp, she began a worldwide ministry at the age of 53, testifying to God’s love and forgiveness, encouraging all she met with the message that Jesus is Victor. She emphasized the importance of prayer.

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But Corrie struggled with loving her enemies and forgiving them, too. In a Guideposts article in 1972, Corrie recalls meeting a former guard from the concentration camp when she was speaking at a Munich church in 1947. She saw him and “it all came back in a rush…” she writes. “…Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out. ‘A fine message, fraulein!’ he said. ‘How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’”

She remembered him. She remembered the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since her release that she had been face to face with one of her captors and her “blood seemed to freeze.” He told her that he had become a Christian since Ravensbruck. “I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein’–again the hand came out–‘will you forgive me?’”

“And I stood there,’ she writes, ‘I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? … I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. …And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion….it is an act of will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.

“‘Jesus, help me,’ I prayed silently….’ (Then) Woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And … an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

“….For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I have never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”

Here are some of my favorite Corrie quotes:

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“Is prayer your steering wheel or spare tire?”

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“It is not my ability but my response to God’s ability that counts.”

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“Don’t bother to give God instructions. Just report for duty.”

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“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

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“Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of it’s sorrow; it empties today of its strength.”

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“Joy runs deeper than despair.”

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“If you don’t like your lot in life, build a service station on it.”

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“When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Let us pray.

 

Lord God, thank you for your love and your forgiveness! Give us your vision for the Kingdom and help us to live as you call us to live. Thank you that we can seek your help to mend relationships broken by our own stubbornness, selfishness, carelessness or pride. Forgive us, Lord, for not treating others with the same love, mercy and grace that you show us. Forgive us for judging and holding grudges. Empower us to listen to your Word and do your will–to love our enemies and do good. Help us to inspire others with our faithfulness and to always seek you in prayer! In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.