Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spotting the Counterfeits

2 Timothy 3:1-17
Ordinary 29
October 17, 2010
William G. Carter

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

In one of her books, Kathleen Norris recounts the tale of an old-timer in her South Dakota town, a man named Arlo. Arlo sat down with her at a steak house one Saturday night, and out of the blue he began talking about his grandfather. Granddad was a deeply religious man, or as Arlo put it, "a damn good Presbyterian." He went to church. He prayed regularly. More to the point, when Arlo got married, his grandfather gave him a Bible. It looked like an expensive gift, bound in white leather, with the young couple's names embossed in gold letters on the cover.

"I left it in its box and it ended up in our bedroom closet," Arlo said, "but for months, every time we saw granddad he would ask me how I liked that Bible. My wife sent a thank you note, and we thanked him in person, but somehow he couldn't let it lie. For years, every time we saw him, he always asked how we liked that Bible. I always thanked him, again and again, and he would ask me about it the next time I saw him."

"One day," he said, "I discovered the joke was on me. I finally took the Bible out of that closet and I found that granddad had placed a twenty-dollar bill at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, and at the beginning of every other book, over thirteen hundred dollars in all. And he knew I'd never find it."

It's a funny story, and it says two things which are important as I start this sermon. First, the Bible is a special book, full of all kinds of hidden treasures. And second, the Bible seems so special that we are inclined to keep it in a closet a lot longer than we should.

The text for today is a text about texts. It's one of the few passages where the Bible talks about itself. That, in itself, is instructive. Usually the Bible is too busy pointing to God, or speaking about God, or revealing what is doing for the world in Jesus Christ. It doesn't talk about itself. Not much, at least.

The psalm for today is one exception. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible -- 176 verses -- and it is a sustained meditation upon the benefits of reading the Bible. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."

At the other extreme, another place where the Bible talks itself is the last chapter of the second letter of Peter. The writer refers to the letters of Paul, which were circulating around the church at that time. "There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lost your own stability. But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:15-18)

What is striking in our text for today is that this is the only place where the Bible refers to itself as inspired. According to this writer, "All scripture is inspired by God."

Now, for a lot of people, "inspiration" is a spooky word. Since this is the only place where that word is used in referring to the Bible, it's not clear what that means.

A few hundred years ago, with the rise of the scientific method, a number of inspiration theories began to emerge. Someone said, "Obviously God whispered the divine message into the ear of the writers, and they wrote what they were told." Someone else said, "The Holy Spirit came, and overwhelmed people, and their hands began to move mysteriously, and they began to write the words the Spirit wanted them to write." I don't know what you think about it, but such ideas sound a bit far-fetched for me. That doesn't explain why the gospel of Mark has three different endings, or why part of the eighth chapter of John (7:53-8:11) is missing from the oldest manuscripts.

The Bible has a history. It was written over thousands of years by a lot of different people in different circumstances. That's where God was -- not whispering, or moving people's arms -- but by putting the writers in the right place, at the right time, so they could tell what they had seen and heard. And the more we know about the Bible and its history, the better we can appreciate the subtle ways God has worked through the writers of Scripture.

There's a hymn by the contemporary writer Brian Wren which points to the ways in which the Bible came to be written (PH 330):

Deep in the shadows of the past, far out from settled lands,
Some nomads traveled with their God across the desert sands.
The dawn of hope for humankind was glimpsed by them alone:
A promise calling them ahead, a future yet unknown.

While others bowed to changeless gods they met a mystery:
God with an uncompleted name, "I am what I will be";
And by their tents, around their fires, in story, song, and law
They praised, remembered, handed on a past that promised more.

From Abraham to Nazareth the promise changed and grew,
while some, remembering the past, recorded what they knew,
and some, in letters or laments, in prophecy and praise,
Recovered, held, and re-expressed new hope for changing days.

For all the writings that survived, for leaders long ago,
who sifted, chose, and then preserved the Bible that we know,
Give thanks, and find its promise yet: our comfort, strength, and call,
The working model for our faith, alive with hope for all.
("Deep in the Shadows of the Past" (c) Brian Wren)

The Greek word for "inspiration" seems to have been coined for the occasion. The word is theopneustos. Theos means "God," pneustos means "breath." So the term is "God-breathed." From God's respiration came the Bible's inspiration. This was a way of announcing the Bible's authority and importance.

But ever since, people have gotten nervous about burning the Bible in the same way they are nervous about burning a flag. There was a church that was cleaning its closets. Someone found a pile of tattered Bibles. Some of the covers were missing, the pages were worn. So she threw them into a dumpster in back of the church. A Sunday School teacher was shocked. She climbed into the dumpster and tossed them out, all the time mumbling, "This is a disrespectful way to treat God's word." Then she tucked the worn-out Bibles in a closet where they could collect mildew and mold.

Like I said a few minutes ago, the Bible seems so special that we are inclined to keep it in a closet a lot longer than we should. The problem is, it doesn't do any good that way. You can point to a Bible on the shelf and say, "Behold the Word of God," but so what? I think the one thing the church must press itself to do is to take the Bible out the museum and put it in our heads, our hearts, and our souls. Inspired? Yes. But it also ought to be helpful.

It matters where we get our input. A preacher friend once preached a stewardship sermon that I thought was pretty good. Before your eyes glaze over at the mention of a stewardship sermon, I need to say he was speaking about the stewardship of our spirits, about taking care of our interior life. He notes,

"There are so many things which tempt us, with which we can fill our hearts and minds. There is music which denigrates people and extols destructive power, and music which celebrates life in its wondrous facets. We can focus on what's wrong about life and blame God, or we can consider what is right and give God glory. We can enjoy the exposes of human weakness and evil or we can marvel at human achievement and generosity in spite of weakness . . . The decision to set our minds on higher things is an act of will. It is a decision we make every day, consciously and unconsciously. It is a way of thinking and living. As we choose to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the healing and redemption in Christ will break in upon us, and our lives will reflect it. Whatever we choose to think on makes all the difference." (quoted in Speaking of Stewardship)

That seems to be the essence of what this text has to say. God has breathed out a Bible. It's chock-full of stories, wise sayings, songs, and prayers. In giving this gift, God has given us something to think about, to reflect upon, to turn toward. Without it, it would feel like being stranded in an elevator for sixteen hours, and there's nobody interesting to talk to, and no word from beyond your own circumstances. Sooner or later, you would start bending in on yourself. But when you hear somebody announce from beyond the door, "I'm coming to help you," it makes all the difference in the world.

The fact is, there's a lot at stake. That's what prompted a church leader to write this letter to a young pastor. He knew what we could become if we simply went with the flow, took life as it comes, and coasted in the currents of the world. Did you hear how our scripture text began?

"People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power." (2 Timothy 3:2-5)

It matters where we get our input. And it matters that we have a church to help us work it through. "As for you," says the writer, "continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have know the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." Do you hear the presence of the church? Teaching, learning, believing, instructing. This is no private enterprise, but the building up of the whole body of Christ.

Maybe you heard about the man who turned to the Bible for guidance. He decided to pray, flip open his Bible, and put his finger down. Wherever he put his finger, that was God's word to him. So he prayed, flipped it open, and put his finger on Matthew 27:5. "And Judas went and hanged himself."

That didn't sound very inviting, so he did it again. He prayed a brief prayer, opened up the Bible, and touched down on Luke 10:37. "Go and do likewise."

Now he was starting to worry, so he decided to try one more time. He prayed. He flipped open the Good Book. He put his finger on John 13:27, where it is written, "Do quickly what you are going to do."

In that scenario, we expect the Spirit to make all the connections. It borders on the sin of tempting God; that is, demanding God to give us just what we need, at the moment when we need it.

What we have is the Bible. What we've been given is the Bible. And the Bible teaches us that the first commandment is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, your strength."

Let me speak a pastoral word here: if you are not involved in some systematic study of scripture, your soul may be in a lot of trouble. If you come to church for a few tidbits or trivia, you're missing the great riches of our faith. If the only place you get your news is from the Wall Street Journal or MSNBC, then reality is filtered through somebody else's lenses . . . and you may not be getting the full picture of a God who loves you so much that he did not spare his own son.

The Bible is inspired; but it matters more if it's useful. And the only way to understand its usefulness is to pick it up and read it.

Peter Gomes, the Harvard University preacher, tells about the time when an anonymous benefactor offered to donate as many Bibles as were needed to fill the pews at Harvard's Memorial Church. The donor didn't specify any particular translation, so Gomes suggested the Revised Standard Version. Before the order was placed to the publisher, however, he decided to run the idea by colleagues on the staff and faculty. They were suspicious. "What is the benefactor up to?" someone asked. Another said, "If you put Bibles in the pew racks, you are only inviting people to steal them." Somebody else warned, "People will think this is a fundamentalist church if they see Bibles lying around. You might have an image problem."

Gomes realized his colleagues meant well, but he went ahead and accepted the gift. Bibles were placed in the pews of Harvard's Memorial Church, and fortunately, he says, quite a few have disappeared over the years.

You know, the highest compliment you could ever give me is if you met me at the back door and said, "I've decided to take the Bible home with me." That would be great; provided, of course, that you don't keep the book in the closet.

(c) William G. Carter
All rights reserved

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Enduring Everything

2 Timothy 2:8-19
Ordinary 28
October 10, 2010
William G. Carter

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him ... But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his.”

There was a picture in one of those real estate booklets that you can pick up at the supermarket. It was a beautiful home, like so many of the homes in this area. It had a generous amount of space, two fireplaces, and plenty of amenities. Given the zip code, it seemed competitively priced. But it was the realtor’s description that caught my eye: “Retreat here every evening,” it said, “in a stress-free, no hassle neighborhood.”

I had to look twice to see the address, only to confirm that no street was actually listed. I couldn’t imagine a stress-free, no-hassle neighborhood. In fact, I can’t imagine a stress-free, no-hassle home. Something is always perking in the place where I live, and I imagine that is probably the case for a good number of all of you. Yet that was somebody was trying to sell – a quiet retreat from the annoyances of everyday life, a peaceful spot where there was never any noise, never any troubles, never any hassles or stress. If somebody knows of such a place, perhaps they can share the address with the rest of us.

One thing we can say for sure: the realtor, the salesman, was not the apostle Paul. In the letter before us, Paul says he is in prison again. “I suffer hardship,” he says. “I am chained like a criminal.” It seemed like he was always running afoul of somebody or something. The New Testament accounts differ on the details, but all of them agree that Paul spent a lot of time behind bars. When he wasn’t in jail, he was often on the run. His life was met with one trouble after another.

Yet he made time to tell people that Jesus had come, to start congregations, to study and read and write letters. He preached constantly, taught the scriptures, raised money, stayed on his toes. As a direct consequence of what God commanded him to do, Paul was repeatedly getting into difficulty. He never had the luxury of a stress-free, no-hassle life. He rarely knew the blessing of a quiet retreat. Yet he kept going. He says in the text, “I am enduring everything.” How can we explain somebody like that?

Sometimes in his letters, he gets very specific. Like in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Here’s my list of woe,” he writes. “Afflictions, hardships, calamities, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger, and at least five different beatings.” It’s like he is singing the old spiritual, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” I wonder if, in fact, Paul invented that old spiritual.

It’s enough to make a sane person say, “Paul, take it easy. Catch your breath. Take a vacation. There’s no reason to put yourself into the ground.” Certainly we go through tough patches – all of us do. But for the apostle Paul, it never seemed to let up.

I wonder if he was one of those people who always need to have some kind of crisis going on. Maybe you know the type. Some of them are adrenaline junkies. Some of them are so accustomed to crisis that if they don't have a current emergency, they don't know what to do. They might even stir something up in order to feel alive. I think of my friend Lindsey in New Jersey. Something was always going on. Cash was always running low. Her mother gave her grief. The landlord was a pain in the neck. Her boss gave her trouble.

One day she applied for a new job with more benefits, better hours, and a higher salary. To her complete surprise, she got the job. Her first response was, "I don't know what to do. I'm expecting the other shoe to drop." Well, the shoe never dropped. She started to worry it would. She gave herself an ulcer waiting for problems that never actually came. In time, she made a ruckus at work. They let her go and she said, “See? I told you it wasn’t going to work out.”

All through Paul’s letters, he talks about his troubles. And then, there’s Luke, the main historian of the New Testament. In book of Acts, Luke tells a lot of Paul’s troubles too. The stress-free, no-hassle American church doesn’t know what to do with this old jailbird. He’s not very successful. He doesn’t have a television ministry. He doesn’t have a sanctuary with 25,000 people in the pews. At best, he has a couple of shirts with wide stripes and a number of wounds.

It’s enough to wonder how a guy like that can endure. How does he keep going? How does he stay at it? How does he keep his hope going?

Maybe it’s a personality trait. There are some people who are weathered. They have been staying at it for so long, that’s all they know how to do. I was talking to my grandmother yesterday morning. She was asking about last Sunday’s party here at our church. She said, “I’m amazed those people have put up with you for so long.” I said, “Grandma, suffering produces character.”

“Besides,” I said, “you are 96 years old. You have been putting up with me a lot longer than they have.” She said, “Yes, I have; I guess I’m stubborn.” She paused and then she said, “It’s a family trait.” Indeed it is.

Sometimes you stay at it because that is what you have to do. If money is tight, you don’t spend it. If love is painful, you don’t waste it. If illness threatens, you fight it. Sheer stubbornness gets a lot of people through a lot of things. It’s one of those endearing traits I’ve learned to love in the natives of northeastern Pennsylvania. Many of the transplants come in late and leave early. But the people who have lived in this region all their lives have learned to endure. The soil is rocky. The sunlight is limited. The winters are long. But by gum, they are going to hang in there. (That’s one of the reasons I married a woman from Shickshinny.)

For some people, endurance is a matter of habit. It’s what they know. If the New Testament tells us half of what the apostle Paul had to endure, it is obvious that he had accumulated experience in simply getting through things.

He had plenty of opportunity to rate the beds in the various prisons where he stayed. He had one-star accommodations most of the time. The beds were hard in Philippi, but an earthquake came at an opportune time. In Caesarea, a governor wanted Paul to give him a bribe, but the centurion was kind-hearted. In Ephesus, there was a riot that almost got him killed, but he befriended a runaway slave and led him to confess Christ. In one troubled situation after another, he simply stayed at it. And he wanted Timothy to stay at it, too.

The brief letter we hear today gives us some insight into the troubles in Timothy’s church. There were some mouthy people who loved to dispute anything that Timothy said. They were “wrangling over words,” bickering over opinions, letting the sulphuric acid of their criticism eat away at one another’s love. Paul says a little later in the text, “Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”

In Timothy’s church, the primary way that people hurt one another was through their words. They said nasty things. They told lies. They made up heresies. And they gossiped. Paul said, “Timothy, avoid all of that! All that chatter is like gangrene, eating away at the Body of Christ. It will kill all of you, so cut it out!”

Paul even names two of the resident wise guys, Hymenaeus and Philetus. There they are, now permanently named in scripture as two of the fellows who lied about Jesus. I wonder how their great-grandchildren felt about that, to open their Bibles someday and see their forebears’ names permanently inscribed. But Paul had to take a stand, and he tells us why: “they are upsetting the faith of some people.”

You know, that’s why Paul was willing to put up with all of the nonsense. That’s what he wants to impart to young Timothy – that you “do your best to present yourself to God,” for God’s approval alone, and you work hard, no matter what comes, so that people might claim the gift of “salvation that is in Christ Jesus.” If it kills you, well, remember that it killed Jesus. This prompts Paul to remember what the church has said from the beginning: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; and if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

Every day, there is so much that all of us have to endure. Some people among us today are carrying burdens that are really, really heavy. Some need support, others are still figuring out what they need. Some of them are just plain durable pack mules – load it on, and they will keep carrying it. Others simply want their privacy and their dignity to stay intact; they will not be helped by corrosive gossip behind their backs.

Whatever our need, today we take our inspiration from the apostle Paul. “I endure everything,” he confesses. “I endure everything for the sake of God’s chosen ones, so that they might know the glory of God shines in our crucified Savior.” In a single one-liner, Paul synthesizes all that can be said of God’s covenantal faith: “The Lord knows those who are his.” That is why we endure: so that the glory of a faithful God can shine its saving light on everything and everybody who belongs to God.

That reminds me of a wonderful lyric by Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in. (“Anthem”)

There's a minister I know by the name of Tom. He served a church near Utica, NY, and got along with everybody, everybody except for a man named Howard. If Tom met Howard at the door and said, "Good morning,” Howard would say, "What's so good about it?" If Tom said, “Nice day,” Howard replied, “That’s what you think.” If Tom suggested something new, Howard would say, "We've never done it that way before," and the leaders would vote it down. Tom felt opposed at every point, bothered at every opportunity, annoyed by one petty complaint after another.

Tom had a terrible time with the man. His only relief came by taking his friends out to lunch, and telling them how badly Howard behaved. "Wow!" they said to him. "You're really strong to put up with him." It made Tom feel better. He wore his bruised pride like a badge.

One weekend Howard went into the hospital for surgery. Tom wanted to see him, but he didn't want to have to endure all the trouble of seeing him. He flipped a coin, called out "heads." It came up tails, so he pulled on his coat and went to see Howard. This day, however, the old cuss seemed rather pleasant. His speech was gentle and affectionate. He smiled at his visitor. Tom thought: "Wow! This guy must be really sick!"

At the end of that brief visit, Tom said, "Howard, let's pray." Howard nodded. It sounded like a good idea. Tom took Howard's hand, closed his eyes, and paused for a second. Later he confessed that he wanted to pray, "Lord, if this is how Howard acts when he is sick, don’t let him get better.” But the only words that formed on his lips were, "Lord, make Howard well."

Even then, just then, just as Tom started to say it, Howard spoke up. "Lord," he said, "Tom is trying to be a good Christian. He has a lot of work to do, and he has a long way to go..." (Tom groaned and thought, “Here it comes. He never gives me a break.”

But listen to what Howard prayed, “Lord, Tom is trying to be a good Christian. He has a lot of work to do, and he has a long way to go. But Lord, you keep working with both of us. Amen." Did you hear that? He prayed, “Lord, you keep working with both of us."

That's what we want, isn't it? We want God to keep working with all of us, among us, with us, in spite of us, within us, beyond us. The Lord knows those who are his, and the circle is probably bigger than we think.

(c) William G. Carter
All rights reserved

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Guarding Good Treasure

A sermon on the 25th anniversary of Bill Carter's ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Ordinary 27 / World Communion Sunday
October 3, 2010
William G. Carter

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

“Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.” Good advice to all of us, especially when it has to do with faith. It’s clear from the context that faith is the “good treasure.” And for the leaders of the early church who sent around this letter, faith signifies two things.

First, faith is a matter of the head: it is a body of knowledge, a list of the truths that Christian people have witnessed. Jesus has appeared to the world, born in human likeness. Through his death, he abolished death. Through his resurrection, he opened the door to ongoing life with God. We can live in eternal life with an eternal God, now and continuing. These are key points in the creed, and Christian people put such things into their heads.

And faith is also a matter of the heart. We trust in the God that we know something about. The Gospel can impart a lot of information, all the benefit of a trusting heart. Faith gives us an informed trust in the God we learn about from Jesus. We trust in resurrection because Jesus has been raised. We trust that we have a purpose, because we see the purpose that God has for the world in Christ Jesus.

That’s what the Savior is called in Second Timothy: “Christ Jesus.” Five times in this passage, he is “Christ Jesus,” or “Messiah Jesus.” Before he appeared, people could believe in God. They knew Somebody was out there, somewhere, but in a world of earthquakes, hurricanes, and cancer cells, they weren’t sure what kind of God existed. They could claim to be “spiritual, but not religious.” They knew the world seemed infused with some kind of Holy Power without being specific. They could sniff trace amounts of God in the atmosphere. But now, Christ Jesus has come. See him forgive sins, speak truth, and feed the hungry, and we see what God wants to get done. Crucify Christ Jesus for doing the right things, and God brings him back alive.

That is our Christian faith. It takes a while to learn, live it, and let sink into our bones. It offers, in the opening words of this letter, “the offer of life.” This is an ongoing offer, from one generation to the next. Christ Jesus is the hope of the world. He has been so, and will ever be the hope of the world. That is why the church teaches. That is why Christian Education is so important, because we teach Christian faith from one generation to another.

But it is a risky enterprise, and doesn’t always happen as thoroughly as we would like. Kendra Creasy Dean, an education professor at Princeton Seminary, recently oversaw a religious survey of 3,300 teenagers. The results upset her stomach. 75% of the kids said they were Christian, but less than half of them thought that was important. Most couldn’t talk coherently about what they believed.

Many of the kids surveyed said that all God wanted from them was “to feel good and to do good.” Kenda Dean calls it “moralistic therapeutic deism.” It’s a self-serving, self-centered, overly simplistic counterfeit to Christianity. It’s a religion of “Me-first,” a worship of what feels good. It has with little to do with the real Christ Jesus who offers himself for the saving of the whole world. Dr. Dean says it’s no wonder that kids drop out of many churches. To draw on the title of her recent book, they are “Almost Christian.”

The hardest question she asks is this: “So where do you think today’s teenagers are picking up this kind of watered-down, low-cal Christianity?” They are picking it up from watered-down churches and low-cal parents.

What impresses me most about this opening text from Second Timothy is that it speaks of Christian faith as if something is at stake. An older Christian writes to a younger Christian and says, “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you heard from me.” Don’t dilute it. Don’t settle for something less. Tell the whole truth about Christ Jesus. People need to know everything about him, so they can know in their hearts how he is saving their lives. Something really important is at stake.

The faith must be shared from one generation to the next. Faith is always one generation away from extinction. Paul knows this, and he celebrates how this has been working out in young Timothy. “I have seen your faith,” he says, “because it lived first in your grandmother Lois, and then it lived in your mother Eunice. Now, I am certain it lives in you.”

I remember that World Communion Sunday morning twenty-five years ago, October 6. I kneeled on the floor of my home congregation in Owego, New York, and the elders and pastors of the faith put their hands on my shoulders and ordained me as a minister. They were praying that the same faith that they lived and taught would flourish in me. Margaret Carter and Isabella Stewart were there, my two grandmothers, one of the few times I can remember them in the same room at the same time – the moment was that important, and they were there.

Elizabeth Ann and Glenn Carter, my two parents, were there – it was the congregation where each served multiple terms as an elder, where I took communion for the first time, where we were taken to Sunday School every week, where I was confirmed as a member, where my youth group counted me a regular member, where I was previously ordained as a teenage deacon; and to get right to it, the church where I learned the Good News about Christ Jesus and first believed it.

I don’t remember many of the details about that day. I don’t remember who else was there. I don’t remember what hymns we sang or where anybody sat. But I do remember the clear impression that something really important was going on. Ever since, I have tried my best to keep living out that prayer-filled moment as best I can. The Christian faith of my grandparents and parents, the saving trust that Christ Jesus is redeeming God’s world, was commissioning me to share that faith with my own generation and all the generations that come after me.

The living memory of that moment leads me to say simply this: what we are doing in this house of God matters. It matters that we pray and sing, that we give and serve. It matters that we break the bread and lift the cup, and declare that Christ Jesus is the Savior of the whole world. This matters more than anything else in life and death. And this is exactly why all of us are here this morning.

“God has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.” Believe it in your head, trust it in your heart.

(c) William G. Carter
All rights reserved