A Pity Party for one, please!

This is the transcript of a sermon I preached at the Methodist Campground in Des Plaines, IL on Aug. 12, 2017 based on Matthew 14:22-33, 1 Kings 19:9-18.

Aftpityparty_02er a rough day I would often come home and say, “A pity party for one, please!”

You know, a lot can happen at a pity party. Like I can eat or drink whatever I want. I can be silent or listen to music. I can set the place settings however I want. We all have pity parties. Elijah was having a pity party in today’s Old Testament passage and for a split second Peter was having a pity party too. In both passages, Elijah and Peter witnessed God’s power. Let’s look at Elijah.

“There he went into a cave and spent the night,” verse 9. Sounds like he found a location. The cave Elijah ended up at was not a random location, it was the very place where Moses encountered God, where Moses received the 10 Commandments. This isn’t any ordinary mountain or pity party location it is believed “The mountain is Ho-reb (v. 8)—probably synonymous with Mt. Sinai… (Exodus 19ff.) ­­— and the place where the Lord protected Moses by covering him with his hand while the Lord’s glory passed by (Exodus 33:22).” https://www.sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/1-kings-191-21 Sometimes our pity party leads us to some place comforting and familiar.

In verse 10, we have the reason for his pity party, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

This might be a good reason for a pity party. He has been on fire for the Lord. God showed up when he battles the Baal priests in the previous chapters. But still no one is listening….those Israelites will not turn from their wicked ways. He had expectation and things didn’t turn out the way he thought they should. We’ve all been there; when everything seems to be going wrong in our lives and we feel alone in our misery.

But what led him here? What leads us to reserve our pity party?

Pity party reservations just don’t happen overnight. If we go back a bit in this chapter we see that Elijah was being pursued by Jezebel because he killed all of her priests. He is being chased. But the cave isn’t his first stop. His previous stop was under a bush. Where the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and fed him. Where Elijah slept. Then he got up and headed to Mt. Horeb. Interestingly Mt. Sinai is only a 7 to 8 day walk from the bush where he was sleeping but the bible says that it took him forty days and forty nights. I wonder if Elijah realized that he did not get hungry during this journey. Did he realize that the food the Angel provided sustained him for 40 days? The bible doesn’t say why he takes the long way. But I can imagine Elijah wandering around the desert; kicking a rock, thinking about all the things that went wrong and all the things that God had done to show Himself to be the one true God and the Israelites still didn’t get it. He risked his life and killed the priests, now he was on the run and is all alone.

When making the reservation for your pity party think about what has lead you there:

In Elijah’s case he was overwhelmed. He was paralyzed by defeat and fear. He felt that the Israelites were ungrateful. He felt alone. https://bible.org/seriespage/15-crisis-elijah-1-kings-194-14.

The most interesting part of this passage is that God does not allow Elijah to stay in the safety of his pity party. God forced him to move on and not as a command but as a still small whisper reminding him he still had work to do. Imagine the sound of the wind, the sound of the rocks falling all around from the earthquake and the sound and smell of the fire. Yet Elijah only hears God in a whisper.

Can you hear God’s whisper among all of the noise around you? The demands of your life? Caring for your ailing parents, the campground flooding issues, the political climate in our state and our country? Can you hear God above the talking heads on TV? What is God whispering to you?

“What are you doing here?” God asks in a whisper for a third time. Elijah gives the same response. “The Israelites aren’t listening and I am alone in this fight.” God does not go into small talk with Elijah. He doesn’t try to explain anything. He does not rebuke him. He simply gave him instructions. What is God instructing you to do?

In the midst of our pity party we lose focus. Just like Elijah, we cannot hear or see that God is calling us. I’ve had my share of pity parties. Sometimes I know exactly what has led me there, I know the route and the scenery and the rock I kicked along the way. The first 3 years of my walk with Christ, I experienced significant loss. In 2000, just weeks after my adult baptism, my Aunt, my mom’s oldest sister was killed in a car accident. She was only 55 years old. I asked God, “Why?” The tragedy of 9/11 in 2001like so many of us, rocked my world and caused me to ask, “Where are you, God?” In 2002, my cousin, age of 32, died of a drug over dose, my grandfather passed away and a dear friend died suddenly at the age of 28 all within a month. So much senseless death. So many unanswered questions. My heart and my faith were shattered. I would go from being angry with God; to feeling guilty for being angry and my lack of faith.

I applied to Moody Bible Institute in the fall of 2002 and in August 2003. I went there with all the shards of my heart and faith; I wanted God to show me who he was and what a better place than Bible college…”Bible” after all was their middle name. I wanted to believe that he was real even if he didn’t answer my questions or my prayers for healing and protection or spare me and my family from these tragedies and pain. The Moody campus became my cave.

I was in over my head in so many ways, I was 11 years older than my classmates, I did not grow up in a Christian home; therefore many of the theological terms were foreign to me although many of my classmates were very familiar with many of the terms. I commuted an hour each way; every day. I listened for the voice of God in my bible classes, my theology classes….I learned so much but it was a lot of noise. My soul was still restless and I wasn’t focused.

Until I entered into my second semester of my freshman year. I had to take an English 102 course. In that class we read “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis. The book is Lewis’ private journal entries during the time after his wife died. Lewis was angry with God. He wrote that Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ … Of course it’s easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent— non-existent. But then why does He seem so present when, to put it quite frankly, we don’t ask for Him?” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis, p. 6-7). I imagine that was what Elijah was thinking while in the cave. Why wasn’t God dealing with those Israelites? Why was God bothering him in the cave? I was thinking that in my cave, I was in danger of believing such dreadful things about God.

But God did not leave Elijah in the cave. He did not leave C.S. Lewis in the cave. He didn’t leave me in the cave. And he will not leave you in your cave. But we have to listen in the mist of the wind, earthquake and fire; we have to listen for the small whisper with our spirits. C.S. Lewis concluded that his wife knew him in his most rotten places; she knew him in his pity party and loved him anyway and the same was true of God, despite the ugliness of the world. Lewis said, “So can you. Rebuke, explain, mock, forgive. For this is one of the miracles of love; it gives—to both, but perhaps especially to the woman—a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted. To see, in some measure, like God. His love and His knowledge are not distinct from one another, nor from Him. We could almost say He sees because He loves, and therefore loves although He sees,” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis, p. 72).

Things will go wrong. We will have pity parties. God doesn’t always speak to us in a windstorm, in an earthquake or a fire. Sometimes He speaks to us, like he spoke Elijah in a whisper. God saw Elijah at his pity party and met him there in that cave. God saw me in my pity party; He met me in my English 102 class. God sees you. His love does not stop no matter how many rocks we kick along the way. His love comforts us in the still small whispers in our souls.

Expecting the Unexpected

Wesley Tabernacle at the Methodist Campground in Des Plaines, IL

This post is the transcript from a sermon I preached at the Historic Methodist Campground on July 21, 2013.

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

We’ve all been where Martha has been. Worrying about the details. Wanting everything to be perfect and get finished on time or have results in our favorite. We run around preparing, cleaning, getting things done and we notice the “Marys” in our way. Sitting around soaking up the sun, the view, the music. We want to scream, “hey, get to work!” Or “I need some help over here!” On the other hand, we’ve all been where Mary has been. Something catches our attention; we stop in our tracks and forget everything that is happening around us, and get lost in the moment. I am famous for that! I can be in the middle of a sentence and something will catch my attention and I will leave the person I’m talking to very confused.

These 5 verses have caused some debate throughout the centuries, mostly about the roles of women. I can see that but I also see something more. Mary and Martha represent discipleship.  The two women represent a balanced Christian life.  Today, I’d like to focus on Martha. In my research I found that she really gets a bad rap, for being so busy and not stopping to sit at Jesus’ feet, like her sister Mary.  Although, Jesus tells Martha not to worry he doesn’t tell her to stop working but to remember the one thing is needful, Him.

Let’s look at the setting of the scene. Bethany is 2 miles from Jerusalem. Some scholars refer to Bethany as Jesus’ Judan home. There are several events in Jesus’ ministry that occur in Bethany. It was where the feast at Simon’s house occurred in Matt. 26, Mark 14 and Luke 7. It was where he raised Lazarus (John 11). It was where the ascension took place (Luke 24:50-51).

Mary and Martha were friends of Jesus. It could be assumed that Jesus stopped here frequently. “It seems likely to me these were two women who were famous among early Christians, perhaps as missionaries, but certainly as leaders,” says Mary Rose D’Angelo, associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. In Luke 10:38, Jesus and his disciples “came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” The language suggests that Martha owned the house—not unlikely as women did own property in ancient times. D’Angelo takes the interpretation a step further: “Early Christians didn’t have churches; most seem to have gathered in private houses, and perhaps Martha was the host of a house church”( http://www.usnews.com/news/religion/articles/2008/01/25/mary-and-martha-are-biblical-favorites-but-who-were-they-?page=2). A woman in leadership in the early church? For the 1st century readers/hearers, this is unexpected.

Martha was a woman of great faith. We see this in John 11. When Lazarus, her brother, dies, she ran out to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died BUT I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Martha knew that Jesus was capable of delivering the unexpected. Martha is bold. She is confident. She can say exactly what is on her mind to Jesus. She knows exactly who she is dealing with, in John 11:27 she says, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God…”  Unexpected, maybe?

Martha believed that Jesus could’ve done something about Lazarus, even after being dead for 4 days. In the gospel of Luke, I wonder what she expected Jesus to do about her sister? His response is unexpected. He turns it around on her. He reminds her of one thing is needful, Him.

We are called to be in relationship with Jesus. And in that relationship, we see ourselves unexpectedly transformed. When I gave my life to Christ, I knew things were going to be different but I had not expected the complete transformation of my life. I no longer thought the same, I saw the world in a new light and even I felt like I breathed differently. My conversion experience was very powerful. Being raised as a Roman catholic, attending catholic school, I always knew about Jesus but I had no idea who he really was and what His love for me really was all about.

One of the treasures of my life was a few months after I committed my life to Christ, I witnessed my husband committed his life. And I got to watch his life change. He was already a wonderful patient man; he was a provider, he loved me and our children unconditionally but when he welcomed Jesus into his heart he was even more patient, he loved to serve others more; setting a wonderful example for me and our children.

But there was always a touchy subject, his father. When I met Luis, more than 20 years ago, he was like many people I grew up with, he lived in a single parent home. Since it was so common, I didn’t bother to ask about where his dad was until we started our life together. I encouraged him to reconnect with his dad. He was not interested. As the years went by, I learned that his dad was not a very good father and an even worse husband. He was an alcoholic who was physically abusive to Luis’s mom and often gambled the family’s money away.

As Luis began his faith journey, the relationship of his father remained a touchy subject. I would ask him occasionally if he was ready to visit his dad. The answer was always “not yet”.
In July 2009, through Facebook, we reconnected with Luis’ cousin, Lisa, on his father side. They talked for hours that first night. He learned that his dad was doing well. He was shocked to learn that Lisa’s father lost his battle with cancer and passed away in the fall of 2008.  Lisa was planning a visit to Chicago the following week; to visit some of the places she had memories with her father. During Lisa’s visit, she encouraged Luis to visit Puerto Rico and see his dad.

A few months after Lisa’s visit, we went to Puerto Rico. Unexpectedly, it was a life changing trip for me. I knew I would fall in love with the island and my husband’s family. But I didn’t expect to I fall deeper in love with my husband. After more than 25 years of being estranged from his father. Knowing all that I knew about his father, I watched my husband treat his dad with love, honor and respect. Not once, did he mention the past abuse. He never threw anything in his face. He walked into his father’s life like a son. I admired my husband even more. I couldn’t believe that I had married someone who could be so forgiving and loving, when I struggle to forgive people for even less transgressions.

Luis cultivated his relationship with his dad and new found family members. Calling his grandma once a week and checking up on his dad. It was a treat to watch him, build relationships with his family. On May 30, 2010, Luis received a call that his dad was killed by a hit and run driver. Talk about the unexpected! During our mourning, there were times we questioned God and became angry. But we felt the love of Jesus through our friends and church. We were constantly reminded, Jesus was the one thing is needful.

It’s not clear what the chronological order of Lazarus’ death and this visit to Bethany. But it seems that Lazarus’ death happened after this visit. And that Martha took Jesus’ advice and focused on the one thing needful, Him. This experience in her house shaped her for her ministry and most importantly shaped her view and relationship with Jesus.

How has your experience with Christ shape your life? When has Jesus showed up in your life in an unexpected way? It is very easy to get caught up in the busyness of our lives and worry over every little thing. But we must remember what Jesus said to Martha, One thing is needful. The author and perfector of our faith. So how do we become like Martha and Mary and balance our work with our faith? How do we become closer to God? Like any relationship, we work at it. We devote some quiet time, read the bible and pray. If you are thinking what I’m thinking, “yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that for years.” Well, it’s time to be creative! Find a new devotional, read a new translation of the bible, find a new place for quiet time. My prayer is that on our journey with Jesus we find the balance represented by Mary and Martha. Amen.

Legacy

this is the transcript of a sermon I preached in August 2012. 

I love history! I can watch the history channel for hours! When I was in high school, history was my best subject, that and art. When I was a full time student at the Moody Bible Institute, my children were 10 and 7 years old. I needed to finish school as quick as possible, before they became teenagers, so I took some summer courses. Of course, I took Christian and Western Culture, I loved it! It was a semester worth of work crammed into an intense 3 weeks of church history but I thrived in it and I was sad when it was over.

As we read, Paul recognized the legacy that Timothy came from. He says “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” (verse 5). He knew that his legacy went back to his grandmother and mother and that his faith was sincere and without hypocrisy. Not only the legacy from his grandmother and mother but the legacy that Paul has imparted in Timothy in the ministry. They have history together. We can read about Paul’s relationship to Timothy in many places in the New Testament. In 1 Cor. 4:17 Paul writes, “For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus…” Paul trusted Timothy to share the Gospel message just as if it were Paul himself.

“Paul, imprisoned in Rome as a result of persecution under Nero, realized, when he wrote this letter, that his death was near. Alone and cold in his dungeon, the veteran missionary wrote to his young son in the faith this intensely personal letter” (Ryrie Study Bible, Intro to 2 Timothy). Paul’s relationship with Timothy was important to him. Unlike the other Pauline Epistles, that were written to churches, the two letters to Timothy and Titus are considered personal often referred to as the pastoral letters.

Paul wants to remind Timothy to rekindle the gift of God that is within him. The word “rekindle” or in some translations “kindle afresh” (NASB) or “fan the flame” (NIV) means to stir up, strength, inflame one’s mind. Paul is not suggesting that Timothy’s fire is going out but rather a friendly reminder to keep it going. “The image is of a campfire that is kept going for days on end and requires to be fanned into a fresh flame each morning” (New Interpreters, 833).

But before Paul gives Timothy this reminder, he mentions Timothy’s grandmother, Lois and his mother, Eunice. This is not the first time Timothy’s heritage is mentioned in the Bible. In Acts 16:1 Luke writes, “Paul* went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek.” Timothy is like a son to Paul. In the book of Acts we can read about how he took Timothy under his wing and showed him the ropes in ministry. Paul remembers their work together and he longs to see him to experience joy, “this is the only mention of joy in the pastoral letters” (New Interpreters, 833). Paul knows that part of his legacy in the ministry is with Timothy.

We all have a legacy to pass on, even organizations. But how does the Methodist campground preserve its legacy? I understand you had VBS here a few weeks ago for the children. I have taught VBS, it is a lot of work. The preparation, the activities, the clean-up. You need a vacation from the vacation bible school! But impact on the lives of the children that attended cannot be measured.

As I read your vision statement I was impressed at your vision to preserve the legacy of the Methodist Campground. “We will stay this loving community; By caring for our body (historic buildings) by creating educational programs (to develop our minds) and to have Christian programs in order to hear God’s words and have the Holy Spirit move us.” But in order for the legacy of this community to continue it first must be personal.

Billy Graham said…“Our days are numbered. One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day. The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.”

In 2000, I was working for a small charismatic church on the northwest side of Chicago. I was the church secretary to a young pastor and his wife, they were not even 30 years old yet. They were new to the pastorate. She was just as active in the ministry as he was. They were partners in every sense. I got to known them quite well and enjoyed working for them. Elis was vibrant. She was sassy and classy all at the same time. She was an advocate of education. One day she came into the office and said, “Stephanie, we are blessed to have you work for us, but you need to think about going back to school. God has something bigger for you.” She planted a seed in my life.

In September 2002, Elis died suddenly. I was heartbroken. The church was heartbroken. I knew that my life would never be the same. I knew that I needed to do something to honor her legacy. So I applied to Bible college. When I was accepted, I was shocked. I could not believe that I was actually going to college. It was a difficult time. It had been 11 years since I graduated from high school, so much had changed. My children were in grammar school, money was tight because I could only work part-time. Sometimes when I thought I couldn’t continue another semester, I would think about Elis and her legacy in my life. Even as I stand here today, I think about how her life touched mine and how I continue to try to honor her legacy.

Like Paul, we all have a legacy to pass on to the Timothys in our lives. Or we were once a Timothy to someone else. Who are the Timothys in your lives? Who do you need to encourage to rekindle their flame? How do we share our legacy?

Paul answers that in verse 7, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

As believers we have the power to “pass the breaking point and not break” (Barclay, 162). “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Our strength or ability comes from Him. Even if it seems that our interaction with others seems casual or unimportant, we must be confident in our role in someone’s life because the Holy Spirit lives within us. We should always strive to be the representation of Christ.

As believers, we have Christ’s love to share with other. “And of love, which enables us to hear, believe, hope, and endure all things; and is the incentive to all obedience.” One of my favorite passages is 1 Cor. 13, Love bears all things. We all have a different way of doing things but if love is the motivation, we can truly represent Christ to others and ultimately live up to the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

As believers, we have the self-discipline. Or in the King James Version it is “sound mind”. This “divinely given control of self which makes people great rulers of others because they are first of all servants of Christ and in complete control of themselves” (Barclay, 162). Self-discipline here is not like self-control but rather setting a good example so that others will follow you.

Paul left a tremendous legacy in Timothy’s life and he was confident that Timothy would continue it. What will your legacy be to those lives you’ve touched? What will be the legacy of the Methodist Campground? If we know the power we have in Christ’s love, we can accomplish anything and leave a legacy for generations to come.