We Wish to See Jesus

 

Meditation on John 12:20-33

March 18, 2018

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

    20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival (of the Passover) were some Greeks.  21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them,  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  25Those who love their life lose it, and  those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.  27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.  28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven,  “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said,“An angel has spoken to him.”30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.  31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 

***

Our cat, Melvyn, as many of you know his story, was a stray that showed up at my church in rural Minnesota one day.  When I petted him, the orange and white tabby followed me home. He was hungry and dirty. I fed him on the back steps. Then he cried at the back door all night, in the rain. In the morning, I opened the door and the wet cat came in. I fed him again and he decided to stay with us, even though my husband didn’t like cats, and worried that he might be plotting to kill us.

 

Five years and 1,200 miles later, Melvyn is still with us. He follows Jim and me all around the house. Wherever we go.  I think Melvyn is still grateful that we let him come and live with us, after living outside in Minnesota for who knows how long. I am pretty sure he never thinks about his old life anymore.  And he’s not the same scraggly, wild cat he used to be. Our love and care of him has transformed him.  

Our cat’s devotion to those who love, nourish and rescue him from harm makes me think of the devotion God deserves from us because of his love, forgiveness and astonishing gift of new, abundant and everlasting life.

***

Slide32

Our gospel reading begins with the arrival of some “Greeks,” who don’t directly approach Jesus. They go to one of his disciples, Philip of Bethsaida in Galilee.  One reason why the Greeks don’t go to Jesus may be that they are Gentiles and may fear rejection. Gentiles and Jews in ancient times do not associate with each other. They are uncircumcised, unclean. They don’t follow the food laws. They don’t speak Hebrew or live according to the Torah. They eat meat sacrificed to idols. They may worship other gods. But they may be God-fearers, Gentiles who worship the God of Abraham,  if they are in Jerusalem at the time of the great pilgrimage festival of Passover.

Slide33

Why choose Philip? Possibly because his name is Greek, named for the father of Alexander the Great.  And he speaks Greek, coming from a predominantly Greek-speaking area. But also because he is willing to speak to the strangers; he is an enthusiastic follower of Jesus who is not timid about reaching out to others.

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He is a fisherman when Jesus calls him in John 1:43–the third disciple to respond to Christ’s invitation, “Follow me.”

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Philip immediately obeys, then tells his friend, Nathanael, in John 1:45, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And although Nathanael makes a rude remark about Nazareth, Philip invites his friend to,  “Come and see.”

Slide35

Philip doesn’t go straight to Jesus with the Greeks’ request. He consults with Andrew, who has also introduced someone to Jesus. Andrew, in 1:40-42, after answering the call, tells his brother, Simon, “We have found the Messiah.” And he brings him to Jesus,  who looks at Simon and gives him a new name–“Cephas”–Peter. It isn’t clear why Philip goes first to Andrew for advice. He may be worried about the threats to Jesus’ life after he raises Lazarus from the dead; but those are coming from within the Jewish community, not from the Gentiles. Another reason for his hesitation may be that the disciples might not understand, yet, that the Messiah has come to save the world– and not just the Jewish people.

When Philip and Andrew finally go to him, Jesus doesn’t say if he will speak to the Gentiles, only that their coming signals the arrival of his “hour.”  The cross and his glorification loom ahead. But we can assume that he does welcome the Greeks because he says that when he will be “lifted up,” he will “draw all people” to himself. With the parable of a seed that dies but bears much fruit, he speaks of his death so that others might live, but also so that his disciples would be willing to give up their lives for His sake.

The most moving part of this passage is when we encounter the humanity of Christ. With the cross drawing near, Jesus says,  “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say,  ‘Father, save me from this hour?’” This is an echo of his prayers in Mark 14:35-36 and Matthew 26:39 that “if possible the hour might pass from him.”  36 “Abba, Father,” he says in Mark, “everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.” But Jesus will always respond in perfect obedience to God. “Yet not what I want, but what you want,” he says in Mark, Matthew and Luke 22:42.  “Father,” he says in John 14:28, “Glorify your name.”

Christ promises his everlasting presence to all who follow him, saying in John 12:26,  26Whoever serves me, must follow me,  and where I am, there will my servant be also.” This passage will come to mind later, in John 14, with another promise of his everlasting presence with his followers. After Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, breaks bread and shares the cup, and gives them a new commandment–to love one another, he comforts his fearful friends.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says.  “Believe in God, believe also in me.” He will prepare a place for each one of them in His Father’s house. And he will come again to take them to himself. “So that where I am,”  he says, “there you may be also.”

***

Friends, the Greeks’ wish to see Jesus and Philip and Andrew’s reluctance to bring them to him stirs me to ask if we might be    hesitant to share Jesus with people who are different from us  –in language, culture, nationality or religion? How comfortable are we speaking with those of other faiths or those with no faith at all? We know what Jesus would say about our reluctance. For he was lifted up to draw all people to himself.

Let us recommit ourselves to following the Lord ever so closely and gratefully, being open to sharing Christ with everyone. Let us reveal God’s love through encouraging words and acts of kindness and generosity.  We can trust him to transform our hearts, remove fear or prejudice from us so we may reach out to others, like Philip and Andrew, extending invitations to friends, siblings and strangers to, “Come and see.”

Slide54

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your transforming love for us and for your everlasting presence with us. We praise and thank you that you desire to draw all people to yourself. Guide us in your will; use us for your loving work. Remove all fear from us, Lord, for people who might be different than us. May we be perfectly obedient to you, following Christ’s example. Thank you for the ministries you have blessed us with at MIPC and for all the children and youth who participate in them. Bless them and their families, Lord! Empower us by your Spirit to reach out to our neighbors near and far, to be bold and invite friends, siblings and strangers to “come and see.” In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

If God So Loved the World…

 

Meditation on John 3:14-21

March 11, 2018

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

     And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,  so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Those who believe in him are not condemned;  but those who do not believe are condemned already,  because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement,  that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light,  so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’ 

***

 

 The Rev. Jack “John” Borgal looks up reluctantly from his work–stacking and labeling boxes in a warehouse in a town on the Maryland/Pennsylvania border.  He smiles tentatively and invites me in with a gesture. He stutters and his hands flutter. He looks with wonder at the rows and rows of boxes of winter clothes–about 1,200 of them, ready for shipping to the Ukraine. It is as if he were seeing the project of his passion to help the poor in tangible ways through my eyes, the eyes of a stranger, a reporter from the York Daily Record.

And he is amazed at what God has done.

Slide18

 

Every day, John stops at the post office to pick up boxes of clothing on his way to the warehouse. UPS delivers still more boxes to the warehouse in the afternoon. Volunteers from a church in Indiana would arrive in a few days to load the boxes onto a freight container. Then the donations would begin their month-long journey across the ocean to Kiev, where missionaries would distribute the items to people in need.

From 1992 to 2005, when I covered John’s story for the paper, the ministry had shipped more than 22,000 Dole banana boxes filed with clothing, shoes, and personal care items to 22 countries.  The warehouse in rural Fawn Grove, now called the Fawn Grove Compassion Center, is the only one of its kind in the Church of the Nazarene.

The ministry started with one empty banana box in John’s church.  Inspired by his passion to serve and give, donations of clothing, shoes and personal care items poured in. At first, boxes were stored inside the church–in the basement, hallways and even the pastor’s garage. The ministry grew and the church added storage trailers to the parking lot. The first container of clothing was ready to be shipped in 1992 to Mozambique,  a country embroiled in civil war and ravaged by drought and famine. But there was one small detail John had overlooked–the $8,000 shipping cost. He despaired briefly, but didn’t give up.

He asked the churches that sent in a box of clothing to send $8 for shipping. And they did. John taped all 1,200 boxes in the first shipment by himself.

John, appointed to the unpaid position of Compassion Ministries Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic District of the Church of the Nazarene in 1991, learned that people in churches who couldn’t afford to go on mission trips and didn’t have much money to give still wanted to help people living in poverty.

  “They wanted to do more than pray,” John said. So he began to send monthly letters to the 90 plus Nazarene churches in the district asking for donations and teams of volunteers to help with the sorting, packing and loading of banana boxes.

The ministry in Fawn Grove continued to grow until, in 2000, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries hired him full time. A year later, the Fawn Grove church  took a leap of faith and borrowed $60,000 to pay for a 45 by 105 foot warehouse to store donations until they could be shipped.

The ministry branched out to include crisis care kits after the Kosovo conflict in 2000  and to countries recovering from natural disasters. In 2004, they started shipping packages of school supplies for children whose families could not afford them. Twenty containers holding 1,230 banana boxes each shipped in 2004 for missionaries to distribute in Poland, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Liberia and other places; 5,000 banana boxes were shipped to tsunami victims in Southeast Asia , Romania  and the Ukraine. A shipment of lightweight clothing and seven small refrigerators for vaccines traveled to HIV positive orphans and their caregivers in Zambia.

People in the Fawn Grove church contacted me at the newspaper when John received a $10,000 Passion Award from the Servant Christian Community Foundation, based in Kansas City. Their letter included one detail that made his ministry even more amazing to me. His ministry came together not long after he was diagnosed with a mental illness, bipolar disorder, which led him to give up serving as full time pastor and administrator of their Christian school.

It was John’s concern for the poor of God’s world that brought him wholeness and peace as he sought to serve the Lord with what he could do, without mourning what he could no longer do.

The organization that awarded him $10,000 for his ministry called him,  “Banana Box Man.”

Slide45

 

***

John made the connection between God’s love for the world in John 3:16-17, and what God requires of us who have been saved from our sins.

The context of John 3 is that a Pharisee named Nicodemus,  a respected teacher and leader of the Jewish people, has come to Jesus at night with burning questions. He begins, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” His use of “we” hints that he is not the only secret believer in Christ.

Why at night? Some say it was because Jewish teachers studied at night, especially those who worked during the day. More likely, he comes at night to avoid being seen. As we read in John 12:42 and 43,  “Nevertheless many, even the authorities, believed in him.  But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it,  for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue…”   Coming to Jesus at night is also symbolic of him leaving the darkness of ignorance and sin and moving to the dawn of understanding in the light of Christ. Jesus, in John 12:46, speaks in terms of light and darkness again, saying,  “I have come as light into the world so that everyone  who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.”

Jesus foreshadows his death on a cross when he says that the Son of Man will be “lifted up.”  He compares his work for salvation to Moses’ in v. 14, who lifts up the serpent in the wilderness so that Israel,  who sinned against God and are dying after being bitten by snakes, would be saved.

All who believe in him, Christ says, and only those who believe in Him– will have “eternal life.”

Then Jesus talks about works and how they reveal who are believers. He isn’t saying that our works save us. He is simply saying that if we are his disciples, then we will do good deeds that will be “clearly seen” and be a witness to our faith. Others will see our deeds have been “done in God.” But some love the darkness and hate the light.  They don’t want their evil deeds exposed.

At the end of this passage, we are left wondering what Jesus thinks of Nicodemus. If he is a model for discipleship, his is very different than the model of discipleship of the Samaritan Woman with whom Jesus speaks at a well in John 4.  Though she won’t understand, at first, she will be moved during the conversation to believe in Christ and tell the world about him. Many come to the faith because of her. Is Jesus scolding Nicodemus in this conversation or encouraging him on his journey of faith? For one day in the future, Nicodemus and others will come out of the darkness to “do what is true” in the light. Nicodemus will reveal his heart for Christ  when he comes with Joseph of Arimethea to the cross in John 19:39. Together, they remove Christ’s body, then carry, anoint and bury him in an empty tomb.

We are left wondering, in this passage in John 3, about this God who sent the Son into the world, not to condemn it, but so “the world might be saved through him.” Has he left the door open a crack to the possibility that every human being might be saved?

We ask ourselves if what we do reveals the light of Christ within us. And does God desire to use us more to bring about his plan for the world’s salvation?

***

John Borgal thought his ministry years were over. He felt useless, worthless when he was diagnosed with a mental illness. But God had given him the gift of faith and a passion to help people around the world, people that God so loves.

John knew that God loved him and had a plan for him, just as we can be certain that God loves us and has a plan for us, too.

     If we believe in the God who so loves the world, the God who desires no one to perish, but all to have eternal life, then we, also, must love and serve the needy of our community and world.

“For we are God’s handiwork,” Paul says in Ephesians 2:10,  “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

The blessings of service and giving are that we will find, as John Borgal did, our own healing and wholeness.

I leave you, once more, with a challenge. What new compassionate ministry can you and I do, starting small, and asking the Lord to grow it?  What will reveal the light of Christ to those who walk in darkness?

John’s ministry started with one empty banana box–sturdy, stackable, and free from local grocery stores.  His ministry grew by steps and leaps of faith and support from his church and denomination. One banana box at a time.

It has been nearly 13 years since I met with John. I looked for him on the Web yesterday. And I found him on a 2017 Facebook post for the Fawn Grove Compassion Center.

They call him, “Banana Box Man.”

Slide20

 

Let us pray.

 

Heavenly Father, we thank you for your great love for the world that led you to send your Only Son to save us from our sins. Thank you for your desire for no one to perish, but for everyone to have everlasting life with you. Help us, Lord, that we may always walk in your light and be a witness to your mercy and grace and not be tempted to slip away to the darkness and hide our sins from you. Give us energy, compassion and creativity to help people struggling in poverty. Guide us in your will. Grant us faith and a willingness to make sacrifices for our neighbors, to give from the heart and from our abundance, Lord, because we have more than we think we do. Stir us to begin small and partner with other groups, perhaps, as John Borgal did, to serve and care for needy people in the world that you so love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

Love Me and Keep My Commandments

 

Meditation on Exodus 20:1-17

March 4, 2018

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

Slide38

    20 Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;  you shall have no other gods before[a] me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,  but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.   You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.  Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.  12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.  13 You shall not murder.[c  14 You shall not commit adultery.  15 You shall not steal.  16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

*** 

The Preschool hosted a rummage sale Friday and Saturday.  They offered all sorts of things at bargain prices–glasses and wood or ceramic kitty cats; a clock that played Mozart or Vivaldi on the hour. Lamps and tables. Clothes and shoes. Toys and golf clubs and golf carts. An ice cream maker–barely used– or a waffle iron, still in its box. It was, as they say, “Everything but the kitchen sink,” only they had a kitchen sink, too, thanks to the Ritters!  So far, the sale has raised more than $400 for this important ministry to young families in our community.

Slide26

I went on Friday and marveled at the “treasures” that people choose to keep or give away. I dropped off my donations, and brought home a few more, much to my husband’s amusement. I bought a beautiful oriental carpet and a ceramic water pitcher with purple iris  that reminds me of my yard in York, PA, years ago and all the perennials, bulbs and iris that bloomed every spring.

The items are even more special to me because they belonged to friends.  I will always think of them affectionately when I see the carpet and water pitcher in my home.

I will keep them close to my heart.

***

The people of God spend 11 months at the foot of Mount Sinai  waiting for Moses to bring God’s Word to them. They arrive in the wilderness of Sinai on the “third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt.” Time is marked by how long it has been since their release from captivity, just as the Lord identifies himself in our passage today by recalling what he has done for them thus far, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of  Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Slide45

     This is a God who hears the cries of his people and mercifully responds. In the chapter before this one, God compares himself to an eagle in his rescue of his people. He says, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” The image of God as an eagle carrying His people is later picked up by the prophet Isaiah in 40:31– “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles…” Now, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, God is drawing his people closer to himself, asking them to listen to his voice and keep his covenant so they may have the promise of being his “treasured possession.”

    What we call The Ten “Commandments” are literally in Hebrew, “10 Words”– ha-d’varîm. The word for “keep” appears in both the Deut. 5 and Exodus 20 accounts of the giving of the Ten Commandments. This keepshamar in Hebrew– means “to  hold onto, care for, watch, guard and protect,” such as when God places a human being in His Garden in Genesis and tells him to  “till it and keep it.” Shamar appears again when Cain kills Abel. God asks Cain where Abel is. Cain answers, “I don’t know.  Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Slide53

When the Lord calls us to love him and keep his commands or words he doesn’t mean follow them halfheartedly, as we might follow laws made by human beings. These “words” are a covenant between God and his people; this is the way of life God desires for the health and wellbeing of the community. These 10 words, Jesus says in Matthew 22:34-40, are summed up in one word –LOVE.  Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The first commands reveal our relationship with the Lord–that he alone is the one we worship and love, most of all. Nothing in this world should ever take his place. The Sabbath figures prominently in this list, taking up what editors have divided into 3 verses. Not only are we to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, we are told how we may not spend this day; we may not work! This places our relationship with the Lord above what we do for a living; for it is the Lord who has created all things. Everything we have has come to us from His grace. What’s more, we observe the Sabbath because God showed us the way; he rested on and “blessed” the seventh day.

The commands that follow the Sabbath reflect our relationships with others. First, our parents–honor them, with the promise of long life.  Then, our neighbors. The command not to murder means much more than that; we must do everything we can to guard and preserve our neighbor’s life.  For yes, Cain, we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers!  The command against adultery means we should love our spouses and hold sacred the covenant of marriage.  The command against “false witness”– means that we should be honest and kind in our communications with others,  only using our words for good. The warning against wrongful use of God’s name doesn’t just mean we shouldn’t swear; it means we should always have the right attitude toward God and speak of him with reverence, gratitude and humility.

It’s interesting that stealing and coveting are two separate commandments. They seem to me to stem from the same sin of greed. Jesus warns his followers to be on guard against greed in Luke 12:15. “Take care,” he says, “For one’s life does not consist of the abundance of possessions.” The one who steals acts on the sins of greed and coveting. It is also interesting that coveting is the last command on the list–a prominent position– and that there is so much detail about what not to covet– not your neighbor’s house, wife, male or female slave, ox, donkey, or ANYTHING that belongs to your neighbor. Wouldn’t it have been enough to say not “anything that belongs to your neighbor”? Coveting must be a big problem for the ancient people of God, as is idolatry, also in a prominent position at the top.  

      God’s people still struggle to live in obedience to His commands. Let us remember that keeping them is a matter of the heart. If we love him, we show our love by our obedience, as Jesus says in John 14:15.

There are blessings for those who keep His commandments. We have the promise of God’s love to the “thousandth generation.”  And there are other blessings, says Psalm 119, when we “delight” in God’s law and “rejoice in following his statutes as one rejoices in great riches.” We are strengthened and sustained. We receive wisdom and understanding, for God’s word is “a lamp unto our feet, a light unto our path.” We are kept from sinning when we “hide” God’s words in our heart and meditate on them. “How can a young person stay on the path of purity?” the psalmist asks. “By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.”

***

I left the rummage sale Friday encouraged to see our congregation’s support of our preschool ministry. Thank you, friends, for your kindness and generosity! It’s not too late for folks to find a “treasure,” as Pat Smith says, to take home. The sale continues today in the fellowship hall after worship. The Ritters’ sink is still available!

Maybe you will find something that has special meaning to you. I hope that what you choose and keep close to your heart will remind you of this message about keeping God’s commands.

Let us delight in his teachings, his Words. Let us rejoice in them, hiding them in our hearts, as the psalmist did, so that we might not sin. When we obey the Lord, we show our love for Him.  He has always been faithful to us, hearing our cries, answering our prayers with mercy and grace. He has sent His Son to rescue us and reconcile us with Him. He will love us always– to the “thousandth generation!”  And when we are weary, he will lift us up on wings like eagles.  And we will soar with Him.

Let us pray.

Holy One, we confess that we are often disobedient. We don’t feel like loving all our neighbors all the time. We often struggle with discontentment, coveting what others have, wanting more. Forgive us, Lord. Thank you for your love and mercy and for using ordinary people to do your work. Thank you for the power and guidance of your Spirit and the generosity of volunteers and staff who give of themselves and their resources so that your kingdom may grow. Thank you for the children you have brought to our preschool. Please, Lord, we would welcome even more for our preschool and church! Thank you for the Scouts and the Academy with whom we share our facilities and campus. May we be a blessing to one another and dwell together in peace and unity.  In Christ we pray. Amen.