Love is Always Made Flesh

Matthew 2:1-12

                Some of you may be members of Christmas Clubs around town, I never have had enough money after Christmas to join one myself, but maybe you do.  There is another club around town, however, that has some appeal to me.  They call it the TGCIO club:  The “Thank Goodness Christmas Is Over Club”.  I have an idea that’s the way a lot of mothers felt last Tuesday when the children finally went back to school.  And for a lot of the rest of us, Christmas is so bogged down in the hustle and hurry that it becomes that great season to be gotten through with.

                So, I hesitated to mention to you today that Christmas was really over just yesterday, Epiphany Day.  You know the carol about the twelve days of Christmas, well, yesterday was the twelfth day.  Epiphany celebrates a part of the Christmas story, as a matter of fact, the story of the coming of the wise men.  And in fact, there is some reason to believe that not only did the wise men not come when the shepherds did (the story in Luke’s gospel).  But they came as much as a year maybe two years after the birth of Jesus.  The evidence, you will remember that when Herod sent out his soldiers over Judea to put to death the children, it was all the boy children under two years of age.

                The truth is, however, in spite of all our joy at being through with Christmas, Christmas, in a Christian sense, is never over.  It celebrates God with us, the incarnation that is always taking place.

                Maybe you have driven down Central Expressway in Dallas, and noticed down along about Fitzhugh the big Gothic style church building that fronts over McKinney Avenue.  It is an Episcopal Church and the name of it is the Church of the Incarnation.    I like that.  It strikes me that every Church ought to be a Church of the Incarnation.  It ought to be a Church that reminds the world over and over about Christmas, about the Incarnation.  Oh, I don’t mean that it preserves the memory of the Incarnation like some museum that preserves the memory of Abraham Lincoln by having a few of his relics around.  No, I mean that it ought to be a Church where the Incarnation is always happening, where the people and the buildings and the whole style of life is like a store window that lets all the world look in and see the style of life called the incarnation. 

                Now what does that mean?  I think it would mean that every Church ought to be the people who go around not simply saying “God is with us,” but the people whose life, both gathered in its buildings and scattered in its community is propelled by the Holy Spirit.  Unless we are the Spirit people, sensitive to the leading of the Spirit, we will not be the Church of the Incarnation, and Christmas becomes a day to be gotten through.

                Such things do not happen by accident.  They happen only when people decide to do the hard headed job of learning how to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  They happen only when people decide to let the love of Christ shine through their style of life, that’s what it means to be the Church of the Incarnation.  If I were to find a word to describe this style it is Love.  Love is not a sentiment, not a matter of how I feel about someone.  Love is a concrete concern, always; it has flesh and blood upon it.  That’s what it means to be the Church of the Incarnation.  Whenever that happens, their style of life will shine like a star over Bethlehem.

                All of which brings us back to the story of the wise men.  I want us to think for a few minutes this morning about that possibility, being the Church of the Incarnation, and what it might mean,

                First of all, consider the wise men.  Whatever else is being said here, sand surely there is more than meets the eye in Matthew’s telling of the story:

1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,  2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.  5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,  6And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.  7Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.  8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.  9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  11And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.  12And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

At least Matthew is telling us that these were men who were of of the stars, if nothing else, who discerned that here, was something worth their gold and frankincense and myrrh.  I believe that if we take the incarnation seriously, then we mean to say that life is to be understood not in terms of the relationships of blood and muscle and bone, or even consciousness, but life is to be understood as a fellowship of people who car.  And if that is what life is really about, then Jesus was right, a man will trade all that he has for it.

                But more than that, the wise men had not come to trade gold for anything.  They had come, so they said to Herod, to worship the king of the Jews.  If a man were convinced that here was such a body of people who cared, who really cared, he would surely be willing to invest his life, to bet his life, to throw in his lot with them.  But the church has too often had the image of the people who don’t care, or who at best only pretend to care.  I want to tell you what Mrs. Crenshaw at the Garland Welfare Association told me back before Christmas.  She said that every year Churches called up and wanted a family to take some Christmas baskets to, but, she said, there is not a Church in Garland that will take a Negro family.  I said to her on your behalf, there is one, St. Paul’s.  You can’t pretend to care.

                I believe that’s all the public relations and advertising a church would need, if it were the Church of the Incarnation, that it would be the incarnate love of God.  No one would have to say, in us Christ is present.  It would simply be that in our style of life, when we are gathered together under this roof, and in our style of life, when we are scattered (and we are the Church there too) we would be showing forth, God is with his world.  No public relations techniques, no amount of advertising will ever substitute for the really thing.  Advertising and public relations gimmicks can make the church more attractive, as a circus side show is attractive, but they cannot make it worth a life.  If many wise and good men are staying away from the Church in this time, and many are, it is because the Church does not really shine with the incarnate love and concern of Christ.  It is not the Church of the Incarnation.

                But wait, before you say that sounds like a good idea, lets consider the rest of the story.  Remember Herod?  Herod came to Bethlehem after the wise men were gone, for the story says that they had been warned in a dream to go back another way.  He told them that he wanted to come and worship too, but he didn’t.  When he finally came, he came not in the presence of his own person, but in the presence of his soldiers.  He came to destroy love made flesh.   He came to slaughter the innocent children under two years old.

                Yes, that is the way it is.  That’s the way it is because love made flesh just can’t leave things alone.  It keeps being concerned about war and poverty and race, things that appear to have nothing to do with religion, and someone is going to keep saying you aren’t just concerned, you are meddling in politics.  But concern cannot end at the front door of this building or at Avenue D, or at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, or at the edge of American foreign policy.  It is a style of life that embraces the whole world.

                That’s the way it is because love made flesh always wants to change things, to lift up the fallen and set the prisoners free, and make the lame walk and give power to the powerless, and hope to the hopeless.  So there will always be those who would rather keep things as they are, who don’t want to believe that the truth about life is caring, who don’t like the idea of love made flesh in concrete acts of people who care.  So Herod stands as a kind of warning, that all the world doesn’t come flocking to the door of the stable to worship, so come with hate in their hearts.  He ought to stand as a warning to any Church that even considers becoming the Church of the Incarnation.

                So Christmas is not over, not even after epiphany, it is never over, for the incarnation is always happening, love insists on being made into concrete fleshy acts of men.  I believe that St. Paul’s Methodist Church is called to be the Church of the Incarnation, not in name, but in style of life.   Like a store window, that’s what our style of life ought to be like, like a store window where the world can look in, and see the life of this people gathered together and they will say, there is what life is all about, there is the fellowship of people who really care.  So that the world can look into our scattered life; when we are on the job, and at home in the neighborhood, so that they can look in the way we vote and the way we talk in casual conversation, and even the way we think, and they will say, there is what life is all about, there is the fellowship of people who really care.  Such a style of life would shine like the star over Bethlehem, and the wise men would come.

This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Garland, Texas on January 7, 1968.  This was prior to the 1968 merger that created the United Methodist Church.  St. Paul’s was located on Jupiter Road just north of Walnut.  The church merged with another United Methodist Church in the 1990’s to form Cornerstone United Methodist Church.   Bill Crouch served as the pastor of St. Paul’s from 1967 to 1972.  He was also the district superintendent when Cornerstone UMC was formed.

Posted in Epiphany Sermons | Leave a comment

A New Name for a New Year

Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3, Ephesians 1:3-6,15-16, John 1:1-18

                When Shakespeare has Juliet ask “What’s in a name?” he does not mean to convince us that names are unimportant, for it was their names that came most between the two lovers.  He meant to say that their true names were not Montague and Capulet, but loving and beloved.  There is something about Romeo and Juliet that transcends these family names and expresses their true name.

                It is an idea that has been around for a long time, this idea that name and character are caught up together, and people sometimes change their names because they want to say something about themselves.   There was a man whose name was Ulianov, born in Russia in the later part of the 19th century, but when he became a revolutionary he took a new name.  He called himself Lenin, man of iron. And still another, a colleague of this Lenin whose name was Dzugashvili, when he joined the revolution he called himself Stalin, man of steel.  What’s in a name, apparently there is a great deal in a name.

                The Bible recognizes the same.  In the Bible when a man or woman is encountered by the grace of God, he or she receives a new name, a God given name a true name.  So Jacob was called Jacob, the cheater, because he was a cheater, he cheated his father, he cheated his brother Esau.  But one night Jacob came to the river Jabok and he sent his family on ahead across the ford of the river, but Jacob remained behind.  While he waited there in the darkness God came and wrestled with Jacob and in the morning he had a new name, he was called Israel, the one who has wrestled with God.  It was a new name and a new covenant.

                And when Jesus called a man named Simon to be one of his disciples he said to him, you shall be called no more Simon, but Peter, the rock.  And when a man named Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus he became Paul, the apostle.  And when the prophet Isaiah saw this dispirited, bedraggled, ragged group of refugees returning to Jerusalem he said, God will give them a new garment, like a bride adored for her husband, and God will give them a new name.  It was a new name and a new covenant.

                I want to talk with you about a new name for a new year, but I want to talk with you first about the covenant.  The other day I came across an article in one of the news magazines about a new book written by Elizabeth Loftus and entitled “Eyewitness Testimony.”  It is a book on memory, and the point of it is that most of us believe that we can remember things with a great deal of accurate detail, but we are wrong.  Just to prove it, she offers a drawing of a penny, a common Lincoln head penny; except that she offers fifteen different possibilities of the way the penny looks.  Does Lincoln face right or to the left?  Where are the words “In God We Trust”? What about the word Liberty, and the date?  She says, of course, that the point is that memory is not determined much by facts.  It is influenced by something else.  We fit facts into the whole of our experience and we rearrange the facts to fit our experience as often as we rearrange our experience to fit the facts.  We do not live by facts; we live by the wholeness we give to those facts.  We live by meaning.

                In the Bible is the word that describes that relationship called meaning.  God has made a covenant with his people, I will be your God and you will be my people.  He makes it again and again.  It is that covenant that explains all the facts there are.  And you and I know that.  A church is a covenant, a family is a covenant, a marriage is a covenant.  And churches and families and marriages survive not because of any collection of facts, but because of the covenant.  And whenever the covenant is renewed it means a new name.

                And so in the New Covenant, God himself takes a new name.  He is called Emmanuel, God with us, or he is called Jesus, because he saves his people from their sins or as in our Gospel lesson this morning he is called The Word.  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  You know, perhaps, that the Greek here says that in the beginning was the Logos.  It was a word from Greek philosophy that meant something like the organizing principle of all things. And John meant to say that this organizing principle became flesh in Jesus.  He meant to say that Jesus is the one who makes sense out of all of life.  He meant to say that the meaning of life is never discovered, no matter how many facts you assemble.  It is always received.  The meaning of life is given in the covenant with God and whenever that covenant is renewed it means a new name.

                So what’s in a name?  I have often wondered if the name of a church ought to somehow express its character.  I have known churches just starting out that selected their name carefully for that very reason.  I have wondered, then, if St. Paul is a letter writing church, if St. Andrew is a church of dedicated and quiet servants of the Lord, if Trinity church shows forth the true nature of God and so on.  And I wonder what it means that a church is called First?  Does it mean only that a church is first in point of time?  Could it mean that it might be first in an Old Testament sense, as in “first fruits” or “firstlings of the flock”?

                You can see what I am coming to.  I want to suggest to you this morning that if we live up to our covenant name we will offer God the best we have, the best music, the best prayers, the best service.  I have come to believe that a good word that helps me understand John Wesley’s doctrine of Christ perfection is the word “excellence”, for excellence, like Christian perfection, is not a state of being it is something that happens, and it seems most often like a gift when we least expect it, when you are doing your job, when you don’t even deserve it, excellence happens.  Excellence is a covenant, you offering the best you have and God making it happen.

                So, what’s in a name?  I really am not suggesting that we change the name of this church, take a new name in a new year, but I am suggesting a new name for a new covenant in a new year, a name that means first, as in first fruits, a name that means excellence.  In a few minutes we will receive the elements of this Holy Communion.  It is a renewal of the covenant.  Then at the close of this service we will use this covenant prayer, printed in the order of service.  Read that prayer, examine it carefully, take it home with you.  Make your own covenant with God, but let the name of this people be excellence.

This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch at First United Methodist Church in Denton on January 5, 1981.

Posted in Sermons for a New Year | Leave a comment

Where is the Miracle?

Isaiah 42:1-7, Acts 10:34-38, Mark 1:4-11

This morning I want to start at the end of the service and work forward from there.  We are going to close the service this morning with the Wesleyan covenant prayer.  It is printed at the bottom of the page on your Worship folder insert.  It is, of course, part of the traditional service by which Wesley encouraged his people to renew their covenant with God annually.  You will notice if you turn that insert over that the back side of the covenant prayer is blank.  That is so that as part of this worship service this morning you can write your own covenant with God.  You can then tear it off, put it in your billfold or purse and carry it with you for this year, covenant on one side, covenant prayer on the other.

Now, as I understand it a covenant is different from a New Year’s resolution.  A New Year’s resolution is an individual resolve that depends on you alone.  A covenant is an agreement between you and God, and in it both you and God make certain promises.  “I will be your God and you will be my people,” was the substance of the covenant between God and Israel.  You will have time to think about your covenant during the time for the distribution of the elements. (Communion) One other suggestion, don’t make some sort of covenant that you are going to feel guilty about.  Don’t write that you are going to break some bad habit or stop doing something.  In fact, my suggestion is that your covenant be something that you are going to do rather than something you are going to stop doing.  As you consider your covenant, then, I want to make one point about Jesus and tell you a story.

The point about Jesus is this:  The meaning of his life can be understood to be that God has experienced our experience so that we might experience God. This morning we read from the Mark story the baptism of Jesus told in its simplest form.

Mark 1:4-11

4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of  repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”                                                                                                                                                                       

 9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

It is said that when he came up out of the water he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descending upon him and a voice from heaven said to him, “Thou art my beloved son, with thee I am well pleased.”   That announcement seems to be a paraphrase of the words that we also read from Isaiah “Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chose in whom my soul delights.”

Isaiah 42:1-7

1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,    and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,   or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.  In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

5 This is what God the LORD says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people,and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

The 42nd chapter of is the first part of the book of Isaiah that we call the “Servant of God passages”.  There is reason to believe from this story and from other parts of the New Testament as well, that Jesus took the cue for his ministry from these chapters of Isaiah and understood his messiahship to be a servant messiahship.  Now it is commonplace with us to think of Jesus as a suffering Messiah.  It was not commonplace in his time.  But there seems reason to believe that Jesus took the cue for his ministry from these suffering servant of God passages.

What do I mean suffering? I mean something more than just pain.  The word in the New Testament means, among other things, to experience something.  So that it means that in Jesus, God not only suffers for us, he enters into and experiences our experience.  As we were talking about all this in the Bible study the other night someone said, “Suffering means not knowing all the answers.”  Isn’t that what it means! Parents know about the problems their children are having.  They want to help.  They want to heal all the hurts, but when you are a parent you don’t have all the answers, and that’s suffering isn’t it?  Or have you had a close friend whose husband or wife has died, or who has experienced some other kind of equally devastating loss, and you want to say something or you want to do something, but there is nothing to be said and all you can do is stand with your friend, not knowing all the answers.  That’s suffering.

So that in Jesus, God was born as we are born.  He experienced our experience.  On the cross he knew our helplessness and our powerlessness.  In the cross he came as one who did not know all the answers.  There is reason to believe that’s the meaning of the incarnation.  He entered into our experience, so that we might enter into his.

Now, that’s the point about Jesus I want to make, and that brings me to my story.  On the third Sunday in Advent we had our neighborhood caroling program.   It was our second year to do it.  We met here at the church and divided into four groups of 25 or 30 people and went door to door in the streets that are our neighborhood right here on the south across Sycamore.  Now, you don’t really know what a neighborhood is like by driving through it, but walking is another matter.  I can never walk those streets without asking myself, “How can we be a neighbor, what does it mean,” the church I mean.  Wherever we went from house to house we invited people to come back with us for punch and cookies in Flinn Hall and to sing Christmas carols.  As last year, the children were the only ones that accepted our invitation.  About a dozen of them came back with various groups.  Three came with the group I was in.  When we walked our three back home I decided to invite them to Sunday School, here, if they were not already attending somewhere else, knowing that they would probably not come.   On the following Tuesday, I found this note on my desk, “Would like to talk to you today if possible.  A miracle has happened.”  It was a note from one of our members who had been in the caroling group that I had been in.  As it turned out, another one of our members had stopped by that same house the week before, by accident, if you will, talked to the mother who expressed interest in the children coming to Sunday School.   The miracle was that these two people had found each other and shared their stories, quite by accident, and it looked as if we had a way to be a neighbor.  So we visited the family again, two or three times, trying to urge the children to come to Sunday School.  One of our members stationed herself in the hall to meet them.  But they did not come.  I was personally disappointed.  I came back to my office the next week and found that note.  I asked myself, “Where is the miracle?”  It was surely in that brief moment when it looked as if we had an opportunity to be a neighbor.  But that is not enough.  The real miracle is the incarnation.  If we find some way to enter into the experience of these neighbors of ours, if we stand with them, not above them, if we know that we do not have all the answers, that our money and power are not the answer.  If we humble ourselves and take on the form of a neighbor as Jesus did, then the miracle will have happened.

I wanted to use this story as a parable this morning.  My covenant today is to stand with these people.  You decide what your covenant is.  My conclusion is that when we stand with someone, enter into their experience, do not know all the answers with them, then we have entered into God’s experience with him.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in this poem written from the darkness of his prison.

Men go to God when they are sore bestead,    

Pray to him for succor, for his peace, for bread,       

For mercy for them sick, sinning or dead:       

All men do so, Christian and unbelieving.

 

Men go to God when he is sore bestead,  

Find him poor and scorned, without shelter or bread,      

Whelmed under weight of the wicked, the weak, the dead:     

Christians stand by God in his hour of grieving.

The Covenant Prayer of John Wesley

I am no longer my own, but thine.   

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.    

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.      

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,  

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.        

Let me be full, let me be empty.         

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.       

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.     

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,   

thou art mine, and I am thine.     

So be it.      

And the covenant which I have made on earth,      

let it be ratified in heaven.   

Amen.

 This sermon was preached at First United Methodist Church in Denton on January 7,1979.

Posted in Sermons for a New Year | Leave a comment

The Gift of Simple Things

Isaiah 42:1-9, John 1:1-14

            In my mind, and in the mind of many Christians through the ages, there is no more profound part of the New Testament than these words that we read from John’s gospel this morning, this prologue to the gospel, as it is often called.  

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it. 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

It says so many things, in a way it explains so many things, yet it does not explain them at all.  It is like a great work of art hanging on the wall there in the museum, for all to see, and every time you pass by, every time you gaze upon its colors and its form you see something that you never saw before.  It offers so many images that give us insight to the Christian faith, to who God is and to who we are.  For example, there is the image of the Logos.  “In the beginning there was the Word”, we read, but in the Greek it says in the beginning was the Logos.  The logos was for the Greeks the organizing principle of all things, it was that principle, that force, whatever you wish to call it, that held things together, so to speak, and kept them from falling into chaos.  And the Gospel seems to say that there was this principle that made sense out of all things, the perfect idea in the mind of God about what ought to be.  It was that idea that brought the world into being in the beginning.  And that idea became flesh, that idea took on human reality, that idea took on reality for us in Jesus.  And though John does not mention the birth of Jesus, that’s what he is talking about.

            Of the prologue of John uses the idea of the word of God, a very good and ancient Hebrew notion.  Words in the Hebrew language are never mere words.  All words are constructed from verbs, so all words are active things.  They have movement and substance.  The same three letters are used in the Hebrew language for Word and for Thing, so that a word is a thing.  So that John is telling us that the thing of God, the Word of God became flesh, took on the corporeal reality of Jesus.  And though John does not mention Christmas, that’s what he is talking about. 

Or the prologue uses the idea of light, light that shines in the darkness.  We know from modern physics that light is something and darkness is nothing, but there always seems to be a struggle between light and darkness as if darkness were trying to shut off the light.  Human beings are creatures of the light, as Harold Perry reminded some of us the other day.  We come out of the forest when it gets dark and huddle around the light.  Light is something that we do not need to gaze upon it.  It is something we walk by so that we will not stumble.  And in Jesus that light became flesh so that darkness could never overcome it and so that we might walk in the light. 

Today is Christmas Day.  It is a day when you have left your family celebrations to come here to worship.  Wow… we can celebrate Christmas day here at the church by examining the meaning of Christmas, trying to see if we can grasp the meaning of Christmas.  But my guess is that on this day, of all days, you are not here for that kind of intellectual exercise.  Besides, grasping the meaning will never remove the mystery of it.  No one ever really explains Christmas.  We are living in a post enlightenment age, when we are more willing than we have been in a long time for there to be complexities of causes and effects for which we cannot completely contain or control.  We are finding that our own inner selves are not to be explained so much as they are to be enjoyed.  We are coming again to appreciate our own feelings and emotions, not to be ashamed of them, to be able to enjoy the delight and mystery of them, and perhaps even a little magic.

So that I want to suggest to you this morning that we celebrate Christmas by allowing the light to shine in our hearts, and maybe in our eyes, that we allow the Word to sing in our ears and the idea to organize our lives.  The Christmas story is our story, not just a once upon a time story.  It is not our story because we possess it, but because it possesses us.  It is explained and understood in our lives, as we walk in the light and have confidence and hope alive in us. 

I am a story person.  That is not an apology so much as an explanation.  The New Testament is a story, a story that burrows its way into our lives and makes us come to life.   Stories have a way of doing that.  So this morning, I want to tell you a Christmas story about a Christmas gift.  I tell it not to be cute, but as a commentary on the text today which comes from the Gospel of John, “The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Like John, it deals in images, like how you become real.

 There is a story called The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real.

There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid.  He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white,  he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with satin,  On Christmas morning,  when he sat wedged in the stop of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.

There were other things in the stocking, nuts and oranges and a toy engine, and chocolate almonds and a clockwork mouse, but the Rabbit was quite the best of all.  For at least two hours the Boy loved him, and then Aunts and Uncles came to dinner, and there was a great rustling of tissue paper and unwrapping of parcels, and in the excitement of looking at all the new presents the Velveteen Rabbit was forgotten.

For a long time he lived in a toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him.   He was naturally shy, and being made only of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him.  The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon everyone else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real.  The model boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms.  The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn’t know that real rabbits existed;  he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles,  Even Timothy, the Jointed wooden Lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had a broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with the Government.  Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others.  He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces.  He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else.  For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.   

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room.  “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.  “You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit.  And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.  But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me real,” he said.  “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again.  It last for always.”

The Rabbit signed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called real happened to him.  He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad.  He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

There was a person called the Nana who ruled the nursery.  Sometimes she took no notice of the playthings lying about, and sometimes, for no reason whatever, she went swooping about like a great wind and hustled them away in the cupboards.  She called this “tidying up,” and the playthings all hated it, especially the tin ones.  The Rabbit didn’t mind it so much, for wherever he was thrown he can down soft.

One evening, when the Boy was going to bed, he couldn’t find the china dog that always slept with him,  Nana was in a hurry, and it was too much trouble to hunt for the china dog at bedtime, so she simply looked about her, and seeing the toy cupboard door stood open, she made a swoop.

“Here,” she said, “take your old bunny! He’ll do to sleep with you!” And she dragged the Rabbit out by the ear, and put him into the Boy’s arms.

That night, and for many nights after, the Velveteen Rabbit slept in the Boy’s bed.  At first he found it uncomfortable, for the Boy hugged him very tight, and sometimes he rolled over on him, and sometimes he pushed him so far under the pillow that the Rabbit could scarcely breathe. And he missed, too, those long moonlight hours in the nursery, when all the house was silent, and his talks with the Skin Horse.  But very soon he grew to like it, for the Boy used to talk to him, and made nice tunnels for him under the bedclothes that he said were like the burrows the real rabbits live in.  And they had splendid games together, in whispers, when Nana had gone away to her supper and left the nightlight burning on the mantelpiece.  And when the Boy dropped off to sleep, the Rabbit would snuggle down close under his warm chin and dream, with the Boy’s hands clasped close round him all night long.

And so time went on, and the little Rabbit was very happy – so happy that he never noticed how his beautiful velveteen fur was getting shabbier and shabbier, and his tail coming unsown, and all the pink rubbed off his nose where the Boy had kissed him.

Spring came, and they had long days in the garden, for wherever the Boy went the Rabbit went too.  He had rides in the wheelbarrow, and picnics on the grace, and lovely fairy huts built for him under the raspberry canes behind the flower border.  And once, when the Boy was called away suddenly to go out for tea, the Rabbit was left out on the lawn until long after dusk, and Nana had to come and look for him with the candle because the Boy couldn’t go to sleep unless he was there.  He was wet through with the dew and quite earthy from diving into the burrows the Boy had made for him in the flower bed, and Nana grumbled as she rubbed him off with a corner of her apron.  

“You must have you old Bunny!”  She said.  “Fancy all that fuss for a toy!”

The Boy sat up in bed and stretched out his hands.

“Give me my Bunny!” he said.  “You mustn’t say that.  He isn’t a toy.  He’s REAL!”

When the little Rabbit heard that he was happy, for he knew that what the Skin Horse had said was true at last.  The nursery magic had happened to him, and he was a toy no longer.  He was Real.  The Boy himself had said it.

That night he was almost too happy to sleep, and so much love stirred in his little sawdust heart that it almost burst.  And into his boot-button eyes, that had long ago lost their polish, there came a look of wisdom and beauty, so that even Nana noticed it the next morning when she picked him up, and said, “I declare if that old Bunny hasn’t got quite a knowing expression!”

Now stories that must be explained are not good stories.  But there are all kinds of lessons in this one. 

“Does real mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  

“Does becoming real hurt?” “Sometimes”, said the Skin Horse for he was always truthful.                                                                                                                              

“Becoming real doesn’t happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges or have to be carefully handled.”

And how about the fact that “generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.”  Remind you of anybody you know?

            But I suppose that the lesson for me is in the words of John.  In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and loved us until we became real.

This sermon was preached on December 25, 1977 at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas.  (As a personal side note from Tim Crouch, this was the first time that Christmas had fallen on a Sunday since 1966.  In 1966, Bill Crouch was an associate pastor at University Park Methodist Church in University Park, Texas.  The senior pastor was W.E. Trice, who during the Sundays of Advent emphasized in worship that Christmas on a Sunday was very special and that it wouldn’t happen again for eleven years.  And for that reason everyone would want to be in worship Christmas Sunday 1966.   As an 8 year old in 1966 it has always stuck with me that a Christmas Sunday is a very special Christmas and as this sermon eleven years later reminds us there is a magic that makes it real.)

Posted in Christmas Sermons | 1 Comment

Remember the Waiting

Isaiah 63:16-64:8, I Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:33-37

At our dinner table the other night I took a poll.  I asked those people present whether it is best to know everything you are going to get for Christmas or is it best to be surprised?  I don’t believe that we arrived at a consensus, but I have an opinion.  My opinion is that most of us remember the waiting before Christmas when we were little children more than we remember the things we got for Christmas.  Don’t you remember the tingle, the waiting, not knowing what was coming, but that something surely was?  And then do you remember that Christmas when you knew what all the presents were, long before?  I do.  Maybe it comes to all of us around 11 or 12 years old.  That’s when it becomes a challenge.  You can snoop around when everybody but you is out of the house.  You can feel the shape of every package with your name on it, weigh it and smell it or shake it.  I don’t remember how old I was or what year it was, but one Christmas I knew everything I was going to get.  My uncle brought my present over one night and I put it under the tree, but I embarrassed myself and him too, I guess, when he left by thanking him for the book instead of the present. I knew everything I was going to get, most miserable Christmas ever, as I recall it now, and I promised myself I would never do it again.

It occurred to me that maybe Christmas is like the Cunard Lines.  The Cunard Lines, you remember, were the steamships, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary and the like.  They used to advertise that if you sailed one of their ships to Europe, getting there was half the fun.  Well, Advent is a little like that.  Sometimes we tell ourselves that as Christians that in a proper sense, Christmas ought to be celebrated after the event rather than before, but it is clear to all of us that the season of Advent is more like Christmas than is the Christmas season.  Or, my way of saying that is that our present is more like our future than it is like our past.

The text I want to call to your attention is this last line from the 13th chapter of Mark, “What I say to you I say to all, Watch!”  If I understand correctly, if I understand the meaning of these other two passages from Isaiah and from I Corinthians, these words from Jesus are not a threat, as they are sometimes understood to be, they are a promise, like Advent.  Now, what I have to say to you this morning may get a little complicated, but if you want to know what it is all about, it is about just one thing,  “our present is more like our future than it is like our past,” and that’s good news.  Let me say more about that.

First let me see if I can tell you what I mean by illustrating it.  The present of our world is more like its future than it is like its past.  That’s what Eric Toffler was telling us in Future Shock.  He was telling us that the amount of knowledge around the world is so much greater than it was say 200 years ago.  That accelerating growth of knowledge has accelerated the rate of change, so that change is the only constant factor left to us.  The future comes at us so fast it often seems to be a threat,  we can’t absorb change that rapidly, hence future shock.  And yet, for all of that, there is no question that the present world is much more like the future than it is like the past.

That’s true for Denton.  Six years ago when I began driving up Interstate 35 on my way to various churches in Denton County to be their District Superintendent, I came to the conclusion that there was a kind of line that marked the advance of the metropolitan area outward.  I saw it passing through the city of Lewisville.  It was identifiable partly by traffic patterns partly by traffic patterns of housing growth.  I was identified more by which way the people faced.  Did they face toward Denton and the County Seat or toward Dallas?  They were beginning in Lewisville to face more and more toward Dallas, while in Lake Dallas, for example they were still facing toward the county seat.  Now that imaginary line is moving through the town of Lake Dallas.  It is six miles down the road from the Denton city limits.  Now, the new shopping center means that Denton is moving out to meet it,  but it is certainly clear that we is this community are moving toward our future and that our present is more like our future than it is like our past.  We don’t know precisely what that future will be but that it will not be like our past.

Surely, the same thing can be said of this church, for if we serve the world we live in it cannot be otherwise, but it is also true of every one of us who is here this morning.  The seeds of the present are the harvest of the future, and those seeds are present and growing now.  So, Jesus promised his disciples the future.  He made it possible for them to hope.  His words are not a threat but a promise about the future for the sake of the present, “What I say to you, I say to all, Watch!”

Now that’s the first thing to say about advent.  The second is that watching is not passive but active.  This last part of the 13th chapter of Mark bears a certain likeness to the parable of the talents.  In that story, as in this one, the master of the household goes away on a journey and leaves his servants in charge.  They are not left to do nothing however, but something.  He has left them their work to do and they do it faithfully as part of the waiting and watching.  Which is another way of saying that the future is also a product of our action.  There is a moral dimension to watching.  If it is true, and I certainly believe that it is true, that the imaginary mind set called the metropolitan area is on its way here, we don’t have to wait until we are simply awash in it.  (I believe in the first place that such will not happen.  Denton already has its own identity with the seat of county government and the tow universities here.)  But even more than that, you and I ought to be aware that we must decide.  We have the authority to decide.  Jesus fully expected us to decide for love and justice and those things that bear witness to the rule of God in this world of his.  Waiting and Watching is not just the passive, it is the active.  We have our work to do.

One of the reasons that the future is often seen a threat is that it presents us with liberty (Now I am going to make a distinction between liberty and liberation if you will follow me for a minute.)  Toffler says that most of us experience at some time in our lives, maybe many times in our lives, what he calls over choice.  They have 38 flavors of ice cream t the ice cream parlor or there are 101 vocations that we can pursue to earn a living, or there are too many books to read or plays to watch.  And that is threatening.  It is so threatening that some people can’t stand it.  They are paralyzed by liberty.  One way to handle liberty is to abandon it, let someone else make the decisions.  I suppose that Jonestown will be a word that not only marks our human history but also our language.  It may be that we will all get caught up in trying to explain the unexplainable, but the cults are an answer to the tyranny of liberty.  The people who enter them become like little children, so those who had studied them say, abandoning decisions and responsibility for themselves.  It might be said that liberty is demonic.  When you have a decision to make, can’t it be an anxious time? Isn’t it an uncomfortable time? Even a terrible time?  I have come to the conclusion that one of the marks of the demonic is that it robs of of our freedom.    Liberty robs us of our freedom, cults rob people of their freedom and they are evil.  (Incidentally, I agree with those people who say you can’t pass a law against cults.  It is not the responsibility of the government to expose them for what they are, it is the responsibility of the Christian church)  As one writer said, this last week, true religion holds us in history , false religion wants to abandon history.  It is time for the church to start again to tell it like it is both for what we are for, true religion, and what we are against, false religion, no matter what form that false religion takes.

But the distinction that I would draw is between liberty and liberation.  Real freedom is not having possibilities out there to choose among.  Real freedom is choosing one.  At the moment we choose on we become liberated and truly free.  If you are anxious about the choices you have to make, isn’t it true that anxiety is relieved when you say yes to one and no to all the rest?  There are many people of marriage-able age and intention who believe real freedom is having five ardent suitors, but many of us would say, liberation, real freedom consists of choosing one, in decision, in commitment.  The present is more like the future than it is like the past, and we make the future as we decide, as we say yes, and therefore, no.  And Jesus said, “What I say to you, I say to all, Watch!”

But the third thing to say about this future that is coming is that not all decisions are equally valid.  Jesus did not say the master of this household went away and left them to just watch.  He left them to watch for his own return.  When he returns all waiting is relieved.  Hope consists in waiting for him.

Hear what I mean to say by that if you will. Because I believe that what compromises our freedom is demonic and therefore the enemy, I have wanted to say something about freedom and the future.  Freedom is very illusive.  It is not a state, it is a decision.  It consists in making decisions.  But the Bible insists in what sounds like a paradox that only true freedom is in slavery to Jesus Christ.  So some have said that one man’s cult is another man’s religion.  Wrong.  The Christian faith has always been that there is an infinite qualitative difference between slavery to some cult leader and slavery to Jesus Christ.  His is the only future that gives the present hope.  Every other future is hopeless.  And Jesus said, “What I say to you, I say to all, Watch!”

I have wanted us to remember the waiting this morning, for the waiting is waiting on hope.  There is something about waiting on Christmas, isn’t there, that has a kind of melancholy about it.  The best carols are always those sung in hooded tones, with a hint of a minor key about them.  For the birth of Jesus is a reminder that his birth is more like his life to come than anything else.  The words of the angel to Mary announcing his birth, “And a sword shall pierce your own heart.”  So that his birth is more like his life…and his life is more like his cross…and so waiting on Christmas is also waiting for the cross.  Whoever would choose among all the choices there are to serve Jesus and the kingdom, whoever would become free by becoming his slave, must know that sin is powerful, powerful enough to bring him to the cross, and whoever chooses his freedom should expect to follow him to the cross.      But if your present is more like our future than it is like the past, then the crucifixion is more like the resurrection that it is like anything else.  And we may hope even at the moment of of our greatest pain.  You see Advent, the waiting, is a hope, a promise, a guarantee.  And Jesus said, “What I say to you, I say to all, Watch!”

This sermon was preached on December 3, 1978 at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas

Posted in Advent Sermons, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Rumor of Angels

– Genesis 32:1-2, II Corinthians 5:16-6:2

Perhaps some of you saw the same two articles in the newspaper that I saw last weekend, on separate days.  The first was a report gathered from local book sellers, people who own places like Treasure City and such.  Someone asked them the question, “If books on the occult had picked up in sales?”  Their answer without hesitation was that everybody wanted to read about witchcraft , and Jeanne Dixon and astrology, these cultic religions, telling us what most of us already know that there is a sudden spurt of interest in that sort of thing.  The second article was written by Louis Cassels, the religion editor of UPI.  He said that it is a phenomenon especially among the young, this turning to the cultic.  But Cassels went further than that.  He said that the reason young people are looking to the strange forms of investigating the supernatural is that the Church has ceased to help them find it; the church has failed to reach out to say something to their deep spiritual longings.

Now, people are always criticizing the church, but I think he may have something there.  There has been a time in the last ten years or so when we who are the church have tended to confuse political activity with religious activity.  Now, you know that I am not against political activity; it is simply that I believe that we have tended sometimes to want to substitute political activitism for prayerful devotion.  So some people have gone other places, figuring there is more to be said about God than that.  Or we have tended to confuse church activity with spiritual activity, implying that if someone is active in the church he is a spiritual person.  He may not even have a nodding acquaintance with the God who makes us alive in the spirit, but he is active in the church.  And so people have gone to the cultic that at least promised them the supernatural.  Or we have tended to make the church a phony auto fit, saying one thing and doing another.  Speaking of love out of one side of our mouths, but mouthing hatreds out of the other side of our mouths, and so some people have just quit the whole thing, figuring that Christians are just a bunch of phonies anyway.

If I admit to these charges, I am not saying that I think the situation is hopeless.  In fact, I am saying that Cassels is not telling us something that we don’t already know.  In fact, Cassels is almost out of date.  What he tells us is wrong with the church has already begun to change.  We have recovered our understanding of the necessity to speak about Divine things.  We have found again our spiritual voice.

Right in the middle of the Jacob stories there is this report, that while Jacob was on his way with his wives and his children and all his household to a reunion with his brother Esau, he saw the angels of God and he said, behold the army of God, and he called the name of the place Mahasaim, after the army of God.  What I want to say to you is that in the middle of our journey toward whatever newness that God is calling us to, there is the rumor that the angels are back again.  God has always had his messengers, his angels, to carry his word of love abroad in this world.  I believe the rumor, because I believe that you are the messengers, these angels of God.

Don’t let that startle you, for God chooses his own messengers.  He has always done that, and he always will.  I would want to say to those who doubt about the Church, that God has never been without his army of messengers, and he never will be.  To be sure, there is a bad side of the story.  Maybe some of you saw in last Sunday’s paper the report of the panel held in Dallas, for a host of men and women, who have quit the professional Clergy.  They were giving their reasons why they were out now.  They said, what a lot of people, as we already noted have said, “that the church has been unable and unwilling to find those forms which deal with the ultimate concerns of people.”  There were other reasons, but that was the principal one.  They were saying, as much as anything else, that the church has arthritis, not able to move where it needs to move to carry the message of God.  These were men who had dropped out in the last five years.  This year, at Annual Conference that convenes tonight, it will be reported that 18 men are dropping out.  That’s a lot.

But that’s not the whole story.  As I read the story of what those people said, I was sorry that they didn’t have someone on the panel who said that he likes what he is doing.  For there are a lot of clergymen who like what they are doing, I do not hold myself up as an example, but I am one of them.   I had a most interesting thing happen to me a couple of months ago.  This friend of mine, who is dropping out this year by the way, invited me to lunch with him.  It seems he is going with a company that sells a service to people to help them with their personal growth.  He sees it as a continuing ministry, he believes that he will be doing with that company what he has been trying to do with the church, and he came to me with a proposal that I join his company, not full time, as he is, but part time.  He said that if I put in 8 to 10 hours per each week, I could make an additional $300 or $400 a month additional income.  Now, that kind of money is not to be pushed aside quickly, and so because I respected Vic I told him I would think about it.  When I called him a couple of weeks later to tell him no, I told him I very much appreciated his asking me to consider it, because it had given me the opportunity to ask myself, “Do you like what you are doing?”  I like what I am doing.  I cannot imagine myself outselling something to somebody when I knew that there is something in the church I ought to be doing.  I like it when people just drop by to share their joys, or their fears, their ambitions, the victories, their defeats, with me.  And a lot of other people like it too. In fact, someone said the other day that when they called these people for the panel, one is a very busy psychiatrist, one is a busy counselor,  each has his own work to do, but they all came, not one man invited said no, and they all came gladly.

But even if all were to fall away, even if next year fifty drop out, God has never been, and never will be without his people.  God is still about the business of sending messengers to and fro in this world of his.  Even if we lose our voice, another will take up the cry, “Behold the Lamb of God.”  So, you see, I am a believer in what God is doing, and I believe that we have already begun to find our own voice again.  I believe that the rumor that the angels are back.

I believe it first because God has always had his messengers and second because those messengers are taking the message of love and reconciliation to and fro in the world.  Reconciliation, Paul said that’s what the message of the angels of God is all about, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and giving to us, the messengers, the work of reconciliation.”  The kids are critical say the commentators on the contemporary scene because no one tells them about God.  We talk about love they say, but not about divine love.    We talk about power, but not about the power of the Holy Spirit.  And if they are right we ought to listen.  For Paul said we are called by God to be the brokers between men and God, the reconcilers, the middle men, mediating God to men,  telling them where he can be found.

But reconciliation comes in many forms.  Someone said the other day if it isn’t reconciliation, the church has no business doing it.  To put it another way, where there is a separation between God and men, there we who are his servants are called to go, to fill the breach, to offer ourselves for the sake of healing.  Wherever there is a separation between men and men, there we are called to go.  A friend of mine told me about a project he is engaged in the other day.  He said, we are trying to bring the bankers who may not know the needs of the poor and the poor people who don’t know how banks operate together so that the poor can borrow money to put indoor plumbing in their houses in the city of Austin.  Standing in between, that is reconciliation.  Another friend told me about a church that was under pressure from a Mexican-American youth organization to allow its facilities to be used by the group.  The problem was that the youth group wanted to dictate the terms of the use of the building.  When they reached the impasse the youth picketed the worship services at that Church.  The minister went out and invited them in, but they refused until the service had started and they wanted to be seated in a group in a crowded church.  What would you have done?  Called the police?  In that church they decided to fight dirty.  They adjourned their service next Sunday and held it on the sidewalk surrounding the picketers, surrounding them with the reconciling love of God.  That’s reconciliation, wherever there is separation, Christians are not called to take sides, but to stand in the middle, to reconcile.

They can say whatever they like, but I say to you that God has never been without his messengers in this world, and they are going about this world, even in our times, standing in between God and men, between men and men, mediating the message of God.  I believe the rumors that the angels are back.

I say it is happening finally because you are they, for you must be they.  You must be the angels, the messengers of God.  That’s what Paul said, “Giving to us the ministry of reconciliation.”  Now is the day of salvation.

You must be the people who throw themselves into the breach.  If the students say that they intend to turn to drugs or cults, and the two very often go together, you and I must say, “Let me tell you about the Holy God, the one who is really there, not the one who appears in drugged imaginations or magical fantasies.  You are God’s messengers.  If there is a separation between men and men, you and I must stand in the middle and say, be reconciled, in the name of the Holy God.  If the extremists of the right and the left are pushing people to one side or the other (and they are, all you have to do to know is to talk to them.  When I talk to a Bircher, he makes me ultra-liberal, unless I work hard to keep my balance.  When I talk to one of the new left, he makes me a conservative.)   But between the extremes, you and I must stand in the middle with the reconciling, loving message of God.  It is not that we shouldn’t have any opinions.  I have my opinions.  You have opinions; we act on them, as we ought to act.  But what nobody else is doing, God has sent his messengers to do reconciliation.  If it isn’t reconciliation the Church, and that is us, the messengers, the army of God’s angels, shouldn’t be doing it.

God has never been without his messengers in this world, and he never will be.  I believe that, but if you are not those messengers, if you are not the angels of God, I don’t know who will be.  I believe that the rumor that the angels are back and you are they.

I read what those clergymen said with interest, I read what Lewis Cassels said with interest.  I read what the students say with interest and concern, knowing on the one hand, that the Church has always had its critics, and its needs them.  We follow a perfect Lord imperfectly, and we need to be reminded of our sins and our short-comings frequently.  But I also thank God that’s not all of it.  This strange little story in the middle of the Jacob stories about Jacob’s encounter with the angels of God, says to me that God has never been without his messengers, carrying his word of love and reconciliation about the world and he never will be.  And in spite of what our critics say, I believe that you are those messengers.  I believe that you not only believe in reconciliation, but that you are doing it, in the name of God you are doing it.

When the critics say the church isn’t telling about God anymore, I want to say… “But there is a rumor that the angels of God are back”.  Keep up the good work.

This sermon was preached in late May or early June of 1970 at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Garland, Texas

Posted in A Rumor of Angels, Uncategorized | Leave a comment