|| "Who do you say
that I am?" Jesus asked. Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus
answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are
Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra)
I will build my church..." Jesus then began to speak of
the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get
behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling
May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
"Godís best ad"
Message preached August 10, 2003
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Ephesians 4:25-5:2 and Psalm 34:8
Order of Worship
As he was treating my arm the other week, I spoke with my dermatologist. Unlike with a dentist, it was easier for this conversation to be a dialog (itís hard to talk with your mouth full of Novocain and a drill, you know). Anyway, we spoke of how I choose to see him. This was my first visit. Previously in my primary care physicianís office, I mentioned to the secretary how weíd appreciated this guy who had treated my son a while back. I couldnít recall his name, but I did somewhat remember where his office was. "Was it Dr. Sweren?" she asked. "Yeah, thatís it," I replied, and she arranged the referral. "Iíve heard of this man, that heís good," she said. When I told him all this, Dr. Sweren smiled. "I donít do much advertizing," he said. "My best ad is you."
Later on this morning, weíll head outside (if the weather cooperates) and dedicate something that advertizes who we are - our new church sign... You know, folks are attracted to a place in a variety of ways. Some let their fingers do the walking, employing the yellow pages or the Internet. Others see something as they drive by which grabs their attention. Remember Mickey Marsh? She drove by here every day to work seeing our old sign, thinking (as she shared later) "Iíd like to check those people out." Finally, she convinced her husband Bob to drop by on a Sunday morning. Even though he went to be with the Lord a year or so later, God was good in drawing them here for a while... And what about Laurie and Cacie Hart? On a drive through the countryside one day (if I have the story correct), they discovered there was a Church of the Brethren out here. Weíve been blessed with their presence ever since, along with more of the family. A simple sign pointed the way.
Carl Simmons prodded us in the area of advertizing. It was his vision that we needed to do much more when it came to telling people beyond our fellowship about who we are and whose we are. I must confess the wheels have not rolled too quickly on some of his ideas. Weíre still working on getting ads in the local papers, something he was nudging us to do a long time ago. Advertizing, letting our light shine so that others might see and be attracted to it, is important. This new church sign is one way of doing so. Perhaps when we see it, coming and going, we can remember our brother Carl, and allow ourselves to be prodded by him today - even though heís gone on to his eternal reward - to let our light shine.
This new sign does shine brightly at night. Our old sign was lit from the front. The letters of the board reflected the light shining upon them. In this new sign, the bright light comes from behind the letters. The light shines through them. As I think about our life in Christ, his light both shines upon us and shines through us. We reflect the light and we allow God to shine through us.
Of course, some of the letters on that sign outside, the ones we change on a somewhat regular basis, are black. This means, technically, that they actually neither reflect the light, nor allow light to pass through them. Itís the contrast between the black and the light which allows passers-by to read the words at night. When I think about my own life, itís not always everything I do right that makes a connection with someone searching for God. Often, when I allow my darker areas to be visible, the places where I struggle and stumble, someone else - who is struggling and stumbling himself - may catch a glimpse of the One who is behind me and in front of me, the One who forgives my sin and sins, the One who picks me up when I fall. I am far from perfect, thatís for sure. You?
Speaking of those changeable letters. Every Monday morning in our staff meeting, Janet gives me that look which says, "you know what we need to do." Gotta come up with something new to put on the sign. The simple fact is - if you donít change the words, many people driving by stop looking. Why bother, after all, you know what it says. It said the same thing last week, and the week before last. Ten years ago it said the same thing. Now, there is comfort in some things not changing. God is our alpha and omega - our beginning and end, from everlasting to everlasting. The truth of our salvation in Jesus Christ doesnít change. In many ways, our message doesnít change. But, how we say it does.
For my part, Iíd rather what we put on our sign not be "fluff." You know, junk lines that really donít shed much light on anything, truisms that really donít grab the mind or heart, cute sayings that are neither here nor there. Iíd like to give passers-by something to chew on as they travel, something to ponder, something to (perhaps) bother, to nudge, to prod (sort of like Carl did). I gotta tell you, though, coming up with such lines is not easy. The things I have in mind more often have a question mark at the end. Unfortunately, the set of letters that came with the sign has no punctuation marks. Oh well. Fortunately, some individuals in church have come up with some good ideas of things to place on this new sign. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts. Write them down and hand them in.
A sign - whether it be a finely crafted piece of equipment that sits out front of a church, or a life that is lived around people who are searching for something more - a sign is but a tease, if you will. Think about the miracles that Jesus did a long time ago. These were, in reality, but signs of the kingdom. They pointed beyond themselves. They teased people into turning toward God. The struggle of those days when Jesus walked as a flesh and blood man upon this earth was that people often paid more attention to the signs than to God. They wanted a "fluffy" kind of life, one that didnít require much of them. They wanted the form of faith without its substance. They wanted the things of God without having to turn toward God, which might require change on their part, living differently. Sounds familiar, doesnít it?
What did the apostle Paul say about being different? "Put away falsehood. Instead, speak the truth to your neighbors. Be angry but donít sin. Let your words build up rather than tear down, so that others might experience Godís grace through them. Deal with your bitterness instead of letting it consume you and others. Stop arguing. Stop saying bad things about others. Let kindness rule. Forgive, as you have been forgiven by God. The Lord has branded you with the Holy Spirit - you are a sign of Godís kingdom. Donít grieve this Spirit by pointing away from God with your words and actions" (Ephesians 4:25-32). In other words, Godís best ad is you.
Someone who comes to mind when I think of being an ad, a sign for God, is Verlin Tombaugh. He didnít mince words, speaking plainly and truthfully. What he said, though, built up. Do any remember when he would stand up during joys and concerns and encourage us to make room for the youth - to not force them into our mold but allow them to become what God intended them to be? When he sat, we knew weíd been told. And yet, the grace within his words made room for all of us to grow. He could get angry, like all of us, but anger and bitterness didnít rule his life. Verlin faced some difficult times, indeed. But these didnít rule him. God did. The mark of the Holy Spirit was unmistakable on him. Amen? He was one of Godís best ads. He still is, as we allow his influence upon us in the year since his death to keep us aimed toward God.
As I said earlier, a sign is but a tease. The intent of a sign is that people, instead of just passing by, might turn toward God. A sign can only point the way beyond itself. The desire is that, to use the words of the Psalmist, people might "taste and see that the LORD is good," that they might "take refuge in him" (Psalms 34:8) - that is, step toward God, follow his ways. To "taste" is not to do as one of my children does. When encountering a new food, this child may (and I do mean "may," for sometimes itís "may not") slightly lick this edible item. Thatís not "tasting and seeing." To "taste" is to bite off a big piece and chew ... and swallow.
The Lord is good. Amen? Even when you take into account all the difficulties that may come our way as we follow Jesus - the Lord is good. A prime example of this for me is Debbie Huber. I had the privilege of walking with her just a bit through the last few years of her earthly life (she died in 1995). Along the way, I learned from her a lot about courage and forbearance. If anyone had reason to curse God for all the curve balls life threw at her, she did. Battling Lupus, she was in the hospital more than she was out. You know what, though? In the hospital or out she was one of Godís best ads. Not that she didnít have her moments, mind you. She did. However, with her life, she pointed to God. She wasnít perfect. Neither are any of us. Itís just that behind the letters of her struggle was the light of Christ shining forth. Or, to say it in a different way, this light reflected off her such that others could see the Lord. In the years since she went to heaven, weíve been blessed with the presence of her husband Karl, and daughter Allison. Even if this father and daughter might disagree, they are also Godís best ads.
All of us are signs. With our lives, we point beyond ourselves. In following Jesus, we seek to "live in love, as Christ loved us," to do as he would do, remembering how he "gave himself up for us," as scripture says, "a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:1-2). We pray that our lives may be filled with this aroma, the fragrance of Christís love, that others might be drawn to God within and beyond us.
Boots Reichart was such a person. Living next to this meetinghouse all of her life, she has read most of the church signs weíve had out front over the years. Yet it was the fragrance of Christís love that attracted her as she battled Lou Gehrigís disease, in the form of persons from this church reaching out to her and her husband. "Fragrance" is an appropriate word to describe it, for she was a woman who loved flowers. As a church, weíve been blessed by being their neighbors over the years, having a beautiful garden right next door. May the fragrance of Christís love shared both ways over the fence continue to be a sign pointing toward God.
After our next song, weíll head outside to dedicate our new church sign. It is but an extension of the sign that we all are intended to be. Remember, you are Godís best ad. With your life, as you live it in Christ - imprinted with the Holy Spirit - you point beyond yourself. Light this light shine through you. Reflect this light around you, that others might "taste and see that the Lord is good."
The next song, entitled "Awake," is taken from Paulís letter to the Ephesians. Itís based upon some words he wrote just a few verses after the ones we read earlier. Many scholars believe that in this section Paul quoted an early Christian hymn - verse 14. It makes sense, then, that we use a song to share the message of his words, the refrain to which is that fourteenth verse. Shall we sing it together?
|online resources for this scripture text||
For commentaries consulted, see Ephesians.
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)
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