I have a good friend who has announced that she is only watching Netflix movies until November 9th – she will no longer watch regular TV for the time being because she simply can’t stand hearing one more political smear commercial. I think most of us are with her in spirit. We were warned that this would be one of the nastiest, most negative political seasons in living memory – and they weren’t kidding! Many pundits have said that we are now as divided as before the Civil War – a warning that ought to get our attention.
There are all kinds of reasons why a person will vote for one candidate or the other. Christians of good faith and conscience do not agree on politics, sometimes simply because they see the world from such very different vantage points and personal experiences. Christians must take care to not let politicians divide us with anger and fear. Every election season, I recall the advice of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, back in 1774:
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy:
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And,
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.
Good advice even if it is 242 years old!
The fact is that after the election, things will not return to “normal.” In many ways, no matter who wins one office or another, nearly half our friends and relatives will be angry and disappointed and hostile. That’s the moment when our work as followers of Christ kicks in to high gear – to reach out in a spirit of reconciliation, to show that our spirits were not “sharpened against those that voted on the other side,” and focus with relentless energy on sharing the love of Christ.
There are many in our world that will stop at nothing to divide the followers of Christ, to set us against one another instead of working together to build the kingdom. Moravians have a great calling to model loving Christian community in a world that doesn’t see anything remotely like it! I pray that we will work towards that creative, healing goal with the same energy that the world puts into division and destruction!
- Pastor John
Where is Your Treasure?” is a sermon on Luke 12:32-48 preached by the Rev. John P. Jackman on Sunday, August 7, 2016 – Trinity Moravian Church
Last week, we thought about what happens when some terrible tragedy or unexpected news or massive change slices though our lives – and changes everything. Changes all our plans. Last week we heard Jesus’ parable about the wealthy man who had a bumper crop. He thought he would pull down his crowded, too-small barns, build newer, bigger ones to hold all the bounty. But he did not know that he was to be called home that very night. All of that work, all of the possessions, the wealth, the riches, all that stuff would be someone else’s.
And that’s really the reality of life – and in fact, this week we understand a little bit more, Jesus continues this lesson, and in fact, He tells us to be ready, to be prepared, but most of all to be paying attention! Something most of us don’t do well with.
We have some wonderful children here, and I’m happy to say, some more coming along soon! When you’re a young parent, all the old folks tell you to “pay attention.” When our kids were born, everyone told us that – “It goes so fast –as soon as you blink an eye, they’ll be in college!” And like all young parents, we thought, “What a dumb thing to say!” Time sure didn’t seem to “fly by” when there were the long nights when the baby wouldn’t sleep and when changing the six thousandth diaper of the week. It seems to drag out forever – it doesn’t seem to pass very fast. But before long, you’re joining the people saying “pay attention, because it goes by so fast!”
When our Abby was little, we always talked about keeping a diary of the things that she said. Because she uses words in a very creative way – we called them “Abbyisms.” She still does this. We never got around to keeping a diary, but we wish we did, because now, twenty-two years later, it’s hard to recall some of the amazing and funny things she said, things that at the time caused us to roar with laughter.
One of the great wise men of our times, Dr. Seuss writes,
How did it get so late so soon,
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?
You know at some point, we can all relate to that. Life is really too short to waste. But we live in a world that encourages us to waste it. Not to pay attention to the things that are truly valuable. Life is really too short to waste on computer solitaire or pointless game shows. It’s too short to waste eating bad microwave pizza that tastes horrid but only takes seconds to heat, too short to read bad novels and watch bad movies (except of course the ones that are SO bad they become entertaining!). Life is far too short to have the most perfect lawn on the block or the cleanest gutters. Is that really the most important thing in our lives?
One of the things that Western Christians, especially American Christians, could learn from Eastern religions – I ought to piggyback on that here that we shcould learn this from most of the great Christian contemplative mystics as well – is to BE IN THE MOMENT, to pay attention to what is happening right now. In our culture, too many of us get caught up in planning what we will be doing next week, worrying about something we cannot now change three weeks in the past. And we live life completely distracted, not paying attention. And we let those wonderful moments that God has given us flit by without noticing. We don’t take the time to write those wonderful things in a journal so that we can recall it later.
We don’t take the time to pay attention. That’s what Jesus is saying to us – PAY ATTENTION. That has to do with the conversion of our minds from one that is obsessed with “I want, I want, I want,” and “I regret, I regret, I regret” to one that is calm and assured of grace, and able to focus on what God is giving us right this moment.
What could we accomplish if we were truly assured of grace, confident of grace, resting in the grace of God? Instead of wallowing in guilt or trying to prove ourselves or earn grace, we could be spending our energies on loving others! Has anyone ever really tried it?
The great reformer Martin Luther wrote that each Christian had to go through three conversions. First is the conversion of the HEART, to feel closer to God; the second is the conversion of the MIND, so that your thoughts reflect God’s love; and the third is the conversion of the PURSE. What Jesus is talking about this morning is paying attention, and placing our treasure in the right place. Not misplacing our hearts and our treasure at the same time. The conversion of the purse is about that moment when we begin to use our gifts and resources in the way that God would use them, rather than ion the way that some advertiser wants you to use them – to misuse them. We’ve got a lot of distractions this way in our society, our society is really built on tempting us to misuse our resources. Pushing things that we don’t need, distracting us with entertainment that we don’t need, and really isn’t good for us.
There was an article was written a while ago about the health effects of our passive lethargic video game culture, and the title of that was Entertained to Death – came out of a study that indicated that the next generation will be the first that will have a shorter life span than their parents, because of our many misdirected habits.
We have to pay attention to life. Of course, when we do that, we find there are gems in the moments of every day, moments to savor and remember and value – moments which very often we miss completely, whizzing on by in our distractions.
There was another article published a few years ago that intrigued me. It pulled together several studies about happiness, and found that (contrary to what we’ve thought), money CAN buy happiness – just not the way we usually try to do it. What they found was that people who take their treasure, and use it to create experiences rather than buying things with the money, were happier overall, had stronger relationships with family and friends. To buy experiences with money instead of things!
In rereading that article, I started to look around the house and think about the stuff we have. We’ve got a lot of stuff, we need to get rid of a lot of it. Maybe you’re in the same boat. But as I looked around the house, I noticed that a great many of the things we’ve kept have stories attached to them. Don’t you find that some trivial souvenir from a trip with your children is far more meaningful – because of the memories – than some very valuable or exquisite thing that you bought.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that often the world has things really backward. The things they tell you to do are NOT the things that will really build your life – both in relationship with others and in relation to God. One of the things that has fascinated me over the years is to watch people going on mission work crews. From a worldly point of view, this makes no sense at all. A hard-working person takes a week of their valuable vacation, pays their own way to go — not to a resort — but to the smelly back end of some third world country, to work their rears off, sweat, and sleep in a the most uncomfortable bed they ever experienced. But in helping others, there is great reward. Over the years of organizing work crews, I hardly ever had a person come back who didn’t sign up to go on another – and often many more. And nearly all of them told me that they got more out of the experience than the people they were supposedly helping.
That’s sure not what cruise companies want to sell you! That’s not what the world sells.
Paying attention – being in the moment – putting your treasure and your time where your heart is can change your life.
I like what Dr. Brett Younger, pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, NY has to say, I’m paraphrasing a little here:
- Life is short, so live every day as if it were your last, because some day you’ll be right.
- Life is short, so wake up, stay alert, be prepared, light the lamps, get ready. Listen for the knock, answer the call, serve where you’re sent.
- Life is short, so do what you love to do and give it your best. Whether it’s business or teaching or medicine, or the arts, give it you all.
- Life is short, so recognize that today is the only day you have, eat dessert first!
- Life is short, so listen to the people you love, tell them how much they mean to you, visit someone else’s mother in the nursing home.
- Life is short, so forgive. Look past the faults of others just like you hope they will do for you.
- Life is short, so be courageous, take a chance, live so that when your life flashes before your eyes, you’ll have plenty to watch – and not a lot to regret.
- Life is short, so celebrate God’s eternity, make time for the things that matter, don’t leave yourself regretting things you didn’t do.
- Life is short, so be an evangelist, tell a friend how God’s love has changed your life, be a person who talks about Jesus.
Buy Experiences, Not Things
What a wonderful summer! August was a month of bubbling activity on our block and among the churches of the Salem Creek RCC! We started the month with our group of churches holding a joint Vacation Bible School, which was hosted by Trinity and Home Churches. Volunteers from Home, Messiah, St Philips, and Trinity helped make activities for all ages come to life as we studied the Bible as a library of books — and we were proud to have the Trinity youth volunteer to sing the 66 books without missing one! The strangest feature of the VBS was a mysterious “Bible Clown” who showed up briefly at the start of each program. Little Ann Workman found him quite terrifying. Several children noticed that they never saw Bible Clown and Pastor John in the same room at the same time – hmmmm!
Many of our members contributed school supplies to assemble the backpacks that were given away at the Anthony’s Plot block party, which had the theme “All Things Good in Our Neighborhood!” That block party was a smashing success, with almost 450 attending. Many Trinity members were present as volunteers, making the day happen smoothly.
The next day, August 17, the Salem Creek RCC sponsored a Children’s Festival at Bethabara Church, a celebration of the “children’s renewal” of 1727. Families from many outlying churches drove in to spend the afternoon at Bethabara park, enjoying games and crafts, and finally a wonderful children’s lovefeast in the sanctuary of Bethabara Church. Many Trinity youth were involved in serving the lovefeast, and the Trinity Puppeteers helped to present the story of the day, under the leadership of Jeannie & Tripp May! One of the puppets looked suspiciously like it might have had Carter Gentle’s hand guiding it. Pastor John, Doug Rights, Bishop Sam Gray, and Thomas Baucom led the singing during the lovefeast with guitars and Bishop Sam’s unique “wheelie keyboard!”
On August 18, the wonderful Trinity Zimmer-Lewtak pipe organ was featured in the “Sounds of Summer” organ series. We had over 160 people attend on a rainy Monday night to hear the concert — a great turnout!
The month closed with a special Vacation Bible School at St. Philips Church, specially designed to coincide with the week that the school lunch program is on hiatus. Volunteers from of group of churches came together to have a wonderful program for school-age children in the Bon Air and surrounding neighborhoods. Many folks contributed food, and in addition to joyous activities, the children had a hot lunch every day – which many of them would not have had without our work!
My heartfelt thanks to all the people who put in many hours of volunteer work to make these events happen! You’ve touched many heart with grace, children with fun and Bible stories, and fed some very hungry tummies! This was the busiest August I remember for many years, and it was fantastic!
- Pastor John
Today is August 13, a date that has no special meaning for most people, but has unique importance for Moravians. This is the anniversary of the renewal of the Moravian Church in Herrnhut, Germany in 1727. The church, founded in 1457, had been nearly destroyed by the Thirty Years’ War, and the church was outlawed in Bohemia and Moravia. A small remnant – what Moravian Bishop John Amos Comenius earlier called a “hidden seed” – migrated to the land of a Lutheran noble, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. Zinzendorf, a unique spiritual genius, permitted the “Herrnhuters” remarkable religious liberty for the day, but with the unfortunate (and perhaps predictable) result that religious excess and controversy exploded in the village.
The Count resigned his court position in Dresden to become a noble pastor to the troubled group, visiting and calling the people together for prayerful study of the Scriptures. During this period, the residents became convicted that their behavior toward one another had been inexcusable – that the Savior called His followers to exhibit love toward one another, to be “one” in His name. Out of this grew the remarkable document known in German as the “Bruderlisch Vertrag,” the Brotherly Agreement, now known as the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living. Rather than a doctrinal statement, the Moravians signed a code of Christian behavior. This was signed on May 12, 1727 by all the residents of Herrnhut. A few months later, at a special service of Holy Communion held on Wednesday, August 13, they experienced a powerful sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit – and those who had been divided felt truly one in Christ. This reestablished the ancient call of the Unity – to live out the Great Commandment and the Beatitudes in community in a way that bore witness to the world of the love of God. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35, NIV. This is a call that the Unity has sought to live out for over 557 years, since our founding in 1457.
In a recent online discussion about this, I made the (almost correct) statement that the Moravian Church is the only mainline denomination to have never experienced a schism or split. I was properly corrected by someone who recalled that in the very early days, a group did split off over the issue of whether or not Brethren should swear oaths. That group reunited with the Utraquists, a group that eventually died out. But since that time, for over five centuries, we have worked to preserve Christian unity as a primary virtue and testimony to a religious world that is most often divided and bickering. That testimony is respected out of all proportion to our tiny size by larger denominations, who often seek to learn from us how to achieve what we do. Moravians have been pioneers in the ecumenical movement, calling denominations together in the name of Christ – and as a result, we have twice had Morvian clergy elected to head the World Council of Churches, and twice to head the National Council of Churches in Christ – despite the fact that we are one of the smallest member denominations.
So today we are faced with a decision: once again, as has happened in each generation, or probably each decade, we face a divisive issue that threatens to tear our unity apart. We have people who believe that their issue is one that is so important, they must leave the Unity if a vote does not go their way. Some of them want to form an “independent” Moravian Church, something which is really an oxymoron, since it overlooks the central tenet of being a part of the Unity – that is, to be part of the Unity!
So once again, our unity is challenged – as it has been so many times before. The Unity is a relationship – much like a marriage – which must be nurtured and maintained. Just as in a Christian marriage two people commit to relationship with one another – each also in relationship with the Savior – so too we commit to a relationship with one another, each also in relationship with the Savior. As in a marriage, we must overlook each other’s shortcoming and bear one another’s burdens, so it is in the Unity. We live together as sisters and brothers in Christ, not always agreeing in detail, but always agreeing in love – and seeking to follow the Savior together.
We have a choice today – as the Herrnhutters had a choice 287 years ago, and as the founders of the Unity had a choice 270 years before that. As indeed we have had again, again, and again: do we continue to bear witness that we are disciples, known by our love for one another? Or shall our differences consume us so that we break this astounding witness? We have a choice today, just as we will have a choice tomorrow: a choice to continue this witness of unity, or to destroy it and prove to the world that even the Moravians cannot live together in love. Which shall it be?
It’s 2 am, no sound except the quiet snores of nearly fifty people who have spent the entire day on the streets and have nowhere else to lay their heads. But outside, it’s 25 degrees and the “official” homeless shelters in our city are full. So here, in the gym of First Baptist Church, we’ve distributed mattresses and blankets and pillows for a night of rest in safety and warmth.
I’m spoiled, I don’t sleep easily in strange places, I like my warm cushy bed and my down pillow. So I’m up writing and thinking and praying. These folks have little choice where they sleep, they are so tired that a thin mattress on a gym floor is something to be grateful for. Before going to bed, many of them gathered in a prayer circle to share their thanks to God.
How many of the rest of us went to bed in our comfortable homes in warmth without a thought or nod of gratitude to the Maker? How many of us went to bed complaining that there was nothing worth watching on our 500 channel cable TV, grousing that Leno was a rerun?
The people of God work together to meet the need. We need two volunteers every night. We need volunteers to donate food, donate toiletry kits. The wonderful middle school group in our church is putting together toiletry kits. The senior highs have donated food bags. There’s something anyone can do.
Jesus said, when you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me.
Can you help? SIGN UP.
A few weeks ago, we viewed a brief video as part of a sermon called “The Science of Happiness.” If you missed it, you can view the video HERE. It showed in practical examples how those who expressed gratitude to others had measurable improvements in their mood and feelings. The mental “attitude of gratitude” is something that affects those around us – and affects us internally. It’s not just a psychological fact, it is a spiritual reality.
Scripture is clear on calling us to express our gratitude to God, and to those around us who have positively impacted our lives. Practicing acts of thanksgiving changes our outlook, makes us more hopeful and optimistic, and gives us the spiritual endurance to get over the inevitable potholes and speed bumps of life. Of course, the reverse is also true: those who constantly complain, who focus on the rottenness of life and other people, will feel more depressed and have less ability to weather life’s storms.
Some people dismiss this as a “Pollyanna” attitude. But over my years as a pastor, I’ve seen time and time again people who discovered the gift of gratitude, began to apply it, and had their lives affected for the better. Every day we have choices; we can choose to be grateful and focus on our blessings, or be resentful and ruminate on the rottenness of life.
The fact that the medical impact of thankfulness can be corroborated scientifically is fascinating. The scientists have all kinds of explanations for what happens: our endorphin levels rise, stress hormones subside, and so on. But I have a more fundamental explanation: this is how God made us! He intends us to be grateful, to express our gratitude, and to life psalms and songs of thanksgiving to Him! When we do that, we are “in tune” with our Creator, consonant with His will, resonating with His purpose. We feel better because we are better!
This month, as we gather together with neighbors and friends at our neighborhood Thanksgiving Eve Lovefeast, I hope you will take the opportunity to reach out and express your gratitude to someone else – and especially to our Savior!
- Pastor John
November is a month bracketed by All Saints Day (November 1) and Thanksgiving (November 22) and ends with our move into the season of Advent. Just like the changing weather, November is truly a change of seasons in the Church!
All Saints’ Day began back in the Middle Ages when the Roman Catholic church began to run out of calendar days for Feasts in honor of lesser saints. While it began as a sort of catch-all festival to acknowledge lots of lesser saints who didn’t have their own feast day, in the Protestant church it became a chance to celebrate and reflect on all the unacknowledged saints who have passed the faith on to us and now are in the more immediate presence of the Savior. Many of these are folks who would never have been recognized as “official” saints, but they are the true working Christians who have lived out the message, passed on the love, shared a cup of water with the thirsty and bread with the hungry. On the first Sunday in November, we’ll come together and remember those saints who have touched our lives.
On November 11, we will celebrate Holy Communion in remembrance of the 1741 announcement that Jesus Christ had been elected as Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. While the election happened in September of that year, the celebration was delayed to make sure that all the mission outposts in far-flung parts of the world could receive the word and celebrate on the same day. This very peculiar Moravian tradition is a powerful symbol that we follow Christ and Christ alone.
The modern celebration of Thanksgiving has moved around a bit from time to time, but has generally been the fourth Thursday in November. Once again this year, we will join with other neighborhood churches in a Community Thanksgiving Eve Lovefeast on Wednesday night, and take a special offering that will be used to benefit the needy in our area. This is a wonderful service to invite friends, neighbors, and family to – a time of thanks and praise to our creator God!
- Pastor John