Sunday, December 23, 2012

Help Is on the Way -- An Advent Sermon

Micah 5:2-5a

It’s been a little more than a week since news broke that more than two dozen children and adults were gunned down at a Connecticut school.  Many of us stopped to pray and possibly weep at this shocking news. In the past week or so we’ve engaged in many serious conversations about why and how this happened. The conversations will continue, because the problem of violence in our society remains unresolved. Although this is supposed to be a season of great joy, sadness continues to hover over our nation.  With Christmas just two days away, many wonder – where is God?

As we ask these questions, the prophet Micah declares that help is on the way.  Rising from the little town of Bethlehem will be a ruler, whose “origin is from old, from ancient days.”

The words “help is on the way” can be comforting and empowering. In the old western movies I grew up on, it always seemed like the cavalry, often led by John Wayne, showed up just in time to save the day.  There are all kinds of stories about heroes who arrive at just the right moment, often risking their own lives, to rescue people in danger.  That’s why we are so grateful for the First Responders in our communities.  We take comfort knowing that “help is on the way.”  Indeed, these very words, spoken by teachers, gave comfort to children, as they hid from the gunman until the police arrived.  

Micah speaks of one who will “stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord.”  His greatness will be known throughout the world, even as he brings peace to all.  Micah ministered during the eighth century BC, back when Israel and Judah lived in the shadow of the Assyrian super-power.  It was very tempting to give up hope and faith in YHWH.  Maybe the gods of Assyria were stronger.  Maybe they should take up with them and abandon YHWH.  Micah responds, telling the people to stay strong in their faith, because help is on the way.    

Although Christians down through ages have followed Matthew and read Jesus’s birth into the promise of Micah 5, we need to stop long enough to remember that Micah was speaking to his own time, when the people he ministered to lived in fear.  Before we begin to read Micah’s words through the lens of the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” perhaps we can let Micah’s words speak to our own time, even as they spoke to his.

There’s a spirit of fear that grips our land.  Instead of uniting us, it divides us.  People are afraid of violence and so they  arm themselves, install cameras and increase the locks on their doors.  Fearing economic collapse, people lash out at government, business, and the other – the immigrants and the strangers in our communities.  We pull inward and become cynical.

That’s the way of Assyria, but not the way of God, the one who in the words of the Psalmist is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear . . . “ (Psalm 46:1-2a).   The one who, according to Micah, is coming to our aid, will represent this God to us.

If we can let Micah’s words speak to his own time, so that they can speak to our time, then it is appropriate to follow Matthew and see the coming of Jesus into the world in the light of this passage.  In Matthew’s Gospel, when the magi come to Herod seeking directions to the birthplace of the king whose birth is foretold in the stars, Herod’s religious advisors point to Micah’s promise.  We’ll talk a bit more about this in a couple of weeks when we gather to celebrate Epiphany, but Matthew has given us permission to see Jesus as the one who will rule in Israel, who will stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, and whose greatness will be known to the ends of the earth.  Yes, this one about whom Luke says the angels sing, will be the one of peace.

As we ponder the words of Micah, on this fourth Sunday of Advent, what do we hear?  What message calls out to us? Who is this one whose origin is from old?

The word that comes from Micah is a strong one.  He tells the people that God isn’t happy with them.  God’s not pleased with their worship or the way the treat one another.  He pronounces words of doom and denounces the evil deeds of the people of Israel and Judah, and yet, Micah can also offer a word of hope to the people – if they’re willing to walk in the ways of God and not the ways of the Assyrians.

Mary captures quite well Micah’s message in her song of praise to God  (Luke 1:46-55 NRSV).

“My soul magnifies the Lord,  
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;  
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;  
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Mary is grateful to God for using one like her, a young woman who is by the world’s standards poor and powerless, and yet she becomes the instrument of God’s work of salvation.  

Sometimes we think that you have to be big and powerful to make a difference – it doesn’t matter if you’re a church or a nation, the bigger the better. But, Micah knows better and so does Mary.   And we know better as well.

Consider the work of the Metro Coalition of Congregations.  This organization isn’t big or powerful, but neither is the typical congregation that participates in the MCC. Like us, most are small and some are even struggling to survive. There’s no reason why any person or group should pay attention to us, and yet we’ve accomplished some important things.  We helped push MSHDA to find new and creative ways of making available millions of dollars to people facing foreclosure.  We helped secure the passage of a bill to create a  Regional Transit Authority in Southeast Michigan.  And earlier this week the MCC joined other faith groups in Lansing, where we encouraged the governor to veto a bill that would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons into places like churches and schools.  Now the Governor may have vetoed that bill whether we were there or not, but those of us involved believe that the news we were coming to pray outside the Governor’s office helped convince him to issue the veto.

There is one coming who will reveal to us the mission and purpose of God, and the one born in the little town of Bethlehem echoes the message of Micah, that God is looking for people who will do what is good, and that is “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 CEB). 
It is our confession as Christians that the one who arises out of the little town of Bethlehem -- Christ the Lord – he is the embodiment of this promise.  Yes, we look for help to where  “once in royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed, where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed: Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little child.”   He is the one who will be our help in times of trouble.  In the spirit of that confession, let us walk humbly with our God, in love and in peace.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
4th Sunday of Advent
December 23, 2012  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rejoice in the Lord, Always -- An Advent Sermon

Philippians 4:4-7

I was looking forward to preaching this sermon.  Not only has it been a couple of weeks since last I got the opportunity, but joy a great theme to preach on this close to Christmas.  The service itself is designed to highlight this theme.  We’ve already lit the candle of joy, and all our hymns speak of joy as well.   But, the joy of this Advent and Christmas season has been interrupted by the horrific tragedy that hit our nation on Friday.  I think that most of us are still reeling from the shock of learning that a young man entered an elementary school and killed twenty-six people, twenty of whom were small children, before turning his gun on himself.  We can’t hear a word from God this morning without acknowledging the grief and anger that wraps our nation.   

We began worship this morning listening to the voices of our children singing the Friendly Beast song.  They blessed us not only with their songs, but more importantly with their presence.  And yet, even as we celebrate their lives our hearts break for the families in Newtown, Connecticut who will spend the holidays grieving the loss of their children.   We grieve with them, as the President reminded us on Friday as he fought back tears, because  “these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children.” 

    We come this day to worship with hearts broken and minds full of questions.  We want to know why this happened.  But we also want to know how we can prevent events like this from happening again.  Of course, acts of violence, with and without guns, occur every day, and too often the victims are children. 

The prevention question might be even more difficult to answer than the why question, because these kinds of questions often have political implications, making them more difficult to handle.  Debates are already starting about gun laws, mental health issues, and whether we have allowed a culture of violence to take root in our nation.  I think that all of these questions need to be addressed.  None of these conversations are going to be easy.  I know that we are not – as a congregation – of one mind on the issue of gun control.   Then there’s the mental health issue.  Because our society stigmatizes people with mental illness or mental health issues such as depression, many hide their illnesses or forgo treatment.  As for the culture of violence – why do we enjoy violent movies and video games?  Is it merely a release from feelings of aggression or does stir it up?  So, can we have calm and gentle conversations about issues that really matter to our society?    

The Metro Coalition of Congregations, in which we’re a participant, is taking up these kinds of issues.  For instance, the Health Care task force is looking at mental health issues, while the gun violence task force has been talking to people both inside and outside of law enforcement to get a handle on ways of addressing gun violence in our society, including raising questions about the recent gun legislation passed by the legislature and now on the governor’s desk.  

There’s another question on the hearts of many people and that is – where was God?  There are no easy answers to this question, but I do believe that God walks with those who grieve and will walk with us as we seek answers to these difficult questions as well as solutions to the problems that afflict our lives and the lives of those in our communities. 

So, with heaviness of heart pressing down on us this day, we hear Paul’s command:  “Rejoice in the Lord – Always!  Again, I say rejoice” This command may sound flippant and unrealistic at a moment like this, but if not now, when?   

Maybe the reason why we struggle with this command is that it sounds a lot Bobby McFerrin singing: “Don’t Worry, Be happy.”  That sounds too much like living with your head in the clouds and seems to ignore the enormity of the problems that  press in on us, whether it’s a fiscal cliff or struggles with illness, injury, or the loss of a job.  When we read a passage like this, we want to ask – How do you find joy in the midst of all of life’s concerns?  

Perhaps we can find the answer in the message of Advent. This message is one of anticipation and expectation.  Advent points us toward the coming reign of God. Although, it’s difficult to find joy when we get stuck living in the past or when present realities weigh us down, Advent challenges us to lift up our eyes and behold the work of God in our midst.  As our opening hymn declares:  

Christians all, your Lord is coming, drawing near in holy birth.  Ring the bells and sound the trumpets. Let your music fill the earth.
Rejoice because hope abounds, even in the midst of moments like this because we can live with God’s vision as our own guiding vision.   
But, according to Paul, not only should we rejoice in the Lord, but we’re supposed to let go of our worries and our anxiety.  Now, if you’re like me, anxiety is part of life.  We all worry about things – big and small.  When we live this way, however, it’s difficult to find joy in life.  But Paul offers us a way forward.  He says: instead of worrying pray.  Bring your requests to God with thanksgiving.  Yes, lay your burdens down before the Lord, and come find your rest in Jesus.  

St. Augustine put it well – “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”  Augustine, like Paul, knew that freedom from worry and anxiety requires us to lay down our heavy burdens and take on the yoke of Christ, which Jesus says is easy and light.  It’s this yoke that binds us together with God (Mt. 11:28-30), and as we’re yoked together in Christ, we discover the value of community.  Too often anxiety and fear take hold when we think we’re alone, but when we’re in community we find strength to move forward in life.

Paul’s words seem to echo those of the prophet Zephaniah.  This prophet, about whom we know little, speaks to people living in exile.  They’ve suffered greatly living in a foreign land, knowing that their Temple had been destroyed.  It seemed as if they’d lost everything. Hope had long since disappeared, and yet just when everything seemed hopeless, the prophet offers this word: 
“Rejoice, Daughter Zion!  Shout Israel!  Rejoice and exult with all your heart Daughter Zion.  The Lord has removed your judgment; he has turned away your enemy.  The Lord, the King of Israel, is in your midst; you will no longer fear evil” (Zephaniah 3:14-15).    
Advent calls out to us, inviting us to rejoice because Emmanuel is near at hand.  We have hope because God is in our midst. 

Paul’s words might seem naive, but he knew what it was like to suffer.  After all, he wrote these words from a jail cell, and he wrote to a community in conflict.  They were anxious about their own future, but Paul directs them to God, telling them that their hope lay in their relationship with God. 

If they could take hold of this joy that is found through prayer, then they could live together with gentleness.  Or as Martin Luther put it:  they should be “lenient” with each other.  When we live with fear and anxiety, we find it difficult to be gentle.  Anxiety and stress cause us to become cranky with each other and then we snap at each other.  That’s what was happening in Philippi, but Paul knew a better way, and he offers us that same better way.      

Pray, Paul says, and lay your burdens down before the Lord, so that  “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NRSV)  This peace isn’t the kind of peace that the world gives us.  It’s not an absence of conflict or problems.  Karl Barth writes that “the peace of God is the order and security of the kingdom of Christ among those who are his.”    It’s a sense of calmness in the midst of the storm.

Yes, the future may be uncertain.  The conversations we need to have as a congregation, as a community, as a nation, and even as a world might be difficult.  Indeed, they may even seem frightening.  When we think of the events of this Friday, we may feel as if all is lost.  It’s understandable to feel this way, but it needn’t define the way we live our lives.  We can go forward into the future, by taking hold of this promise, that God will bring peace to our hearts and minds, and with this peace comes joy – always and forever.    

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What Kind of King are You? -- A Sermon

John 18:33-37

The election season is over, so isn’t it time to get on with life. After all there’s work to be done.  Remember there’s that fiscal cliff to resolve, immigration reform to tackle, and then there’s the ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  Besides all of this there are roads and bridges that need to be built or repaired.  The laundry list is long and getting longer.  And that’s just the stuff on our government’s plate.  As for us, the Christmas shopping season is racing into top gear!  

Although we all seem to enjoy complaining about politics and politicians, isn’t it human nature to complain about the people in power.  At least in this country, if you don’t like ‘em, you can toss ‘em out.  Though with gerrymandering that’s sort of difficult! 

But, what if we lived instead under the rule of divinely sanctioned hereditary monarchs.  Wouldn’t that be better?  Although there are those who raise the cry Vox populi, vox Dei.  That’s Latin for “The Voice of the people is the Voice of God.”  The 8th century English clergyman Alcuin, writing to Charlemagne, begged to differ.  He wrote to the Emperor:
And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.
He may be right!  
Since today is Christ the King Sunday, which brings to a close the liturgical or church year, we get to ask the question – what does the kingdom of God look like?  If Jesus is king, then what kind of king is he?  Is he any different from other rulers, whether hereditary monarchs, military dictators, or elected presidents?  

A week from now we will begin a new cycle, and we’ll hear a word of warning – be prepared, be awake, the king is coming!  But what should we look for in this coming king?   In the 18th chapter of John, Jesus stands before Pilate.  As governor, Pilate represents the power of Rome, and in this version of the gospel story, the religious leaders hand over Jesus so that he could be tried for treason.  After all, why would Pilate ask: “Are you the king of the Jews?” 

When we read the Gospel of John we need to keep in mind the animosity that was brewing between an emergent Christianity and the Jewish community out of which it had emerged.  It’s a form of animosity we need to be aware of and steer clear of.

As you hear Pilate’s question to Jesus, does it resonate with you?  Does it matter who Jesus is?  What he’s up to?  If you consider yourself to be a follower of this person who stands before Pilate, accused of treason, what does this mean for you?  

Although the Romans permitted certain royal families across the empire to retain their titles, these kings and queens always understood who was in charge. They kept their thrones only as long as Caesar permitted, but Jesus never went to Rome to ask for permission to take his throne.  So Pilate wants to know – if you say you’re a king, what kind of king are you?  

When you sang our opening hymn this morning which proclaims Christ to be king, what kind of king did you imagine him to be?  Think about these words:  
“Rejoice, the Lord is King!  The risen Christ adore!  Rejoice, give thanks, and sing, and triumph evermore: lift up your heart, lift up your voice!  Rejoice, again I say rejoice!”   
Or what is the message of another powerful hymn, which we’ll be singing in a moment:  
“Jesus shall reign where’re the sun does its successive journeys run; 

his love shall spread from shore to shore till moons wax and wane no more.”  
Yes, what kind of King is Jesus? 

Jesus responds to Pilate’s question with these words:  “My kingdom is not of this world.”  Oh, I get it, he’s a heavenly king, a religious figure, no need to worry about his interfering with human affairs.  Jesus isn’t interested in politics, just saving souls for the hereafter.  Isn’t that the way this statement is often interpreted? 

But is that what Jesus meant?  When we hear Jesus speak of the kingdom of God, and he talks a lot about the kingdom or realm of God, what does he have in mind?  When Jesus told the gathered throng sitting on the hillside to “seek first the kingdom,” what did he mean?  (Mt. 6:33).  Or, when we recite that prayer Jesus taught the disciples, a prayer we pray each Sunday, what do these words mean: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Is this just a heavenly prayer?   No, we pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.”  

So is Jesus’ kingdom just a heavenly realm, or does it have meaning for the here and now?  

If we read that statement from John 18 from the Common English Bible we might get a better sense of what Jesus meant for us to hear.  It reads: “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world.  If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish Leaders.  My kingdom isn’t from here.”  It’s not that Jesus doesn’t reign on earth, it just means that the nature of his reign is different.  

Jesus tends to turn things upside down.  He says things like the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”   He says, bring me the children, because the kingdom belongs to them (Mk. 10:13-16).  And when James and John ask Jesus to get the best  seats in the heavenly throne room, which by the way makes the other disciples mad that they didn’t get there first, Jesus responds by telling them that “among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mk 10:41-44).   

Jesus answers Pilate by telling him that his kingdom has a different origin from that of Caesar.  Caesar may think he’s the Son of God, but Jesus is the true heavenly king, who reigns on earth as in heaven, and his vision of the kingdom is very different.  His kingdom will be inaugurated not with armies, but through the agency of the cross. 

Jesus’ vision of power is different from that envisioned by Caesar, Charlemagne, or even the President of the United States, though people like Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero understood.  

When Jesus stood there in the presence of Caesar’s representative, he embodied the kingdom of God.  He didn’t do so as the representative of a merely spiritual kingdom, but as the representative of a quite earthly kingdom, just one that took on a very different form.  Theologian Jurgen Moltmann says that this kingdom is as “earthly as Jesus himself was.”  And not only that, when we look at the world through the cross of Jesus, “the kingdom of God is ineradicably implanted on this earth.  With the resurrection of the crucified Christ the rebirth of the whole tormented creation begins.  So ‘remain true to the earth’!  For the earth is worth it.”1  Jesus reigns over this earth, which God loves fully and completely.  And therefore, as representatives of this realm of God, we’re entrusted with the care of the earth and all its inhabitants.  

Yes, what kind of king is this whose “love shall spread from shore to shore till moons wax and wane no more?”  

Perhaps the answer can be found in the words of Barbara Lundblad, a Professor at Union Theological Seminary:
Jesus is a king who never rose so high that he couldn’t see those who were down low. Even today, we see Jesus in tent cities where people live together after losing their homes to foreclosure. We see Jesus in public housing where people are still waiting for the power to come on after the storm. We see Jesus in shelters where women have sought refuge from abusers.  

If we would see Jesus, we will look in places kings seldom go.2
Yes, if we wish to see the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega, we’ll have to go where kings seldom go, but where Jesus is now present on earth as in heaven.   
1. Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, (Fortress Press, 1994), p. 20.  
2. Barbara Lundblad, “A Different King of King.” –
Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Christ the King Sunday
November 25, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Holding Fast to God's Faithfulness -- A Stewardship Sermon

Hebrews 10:19-25

Some families have a little Thanksgiving ritual when they get together.  Everyone goes around the table and shares something for which they’re thankful. Now, this can be a rather uncomfortable ritual for some, since they’re not really sure how to answer the question.  Unfortunately, you usually can’t pass, so you have to make something up.  Since it looks like the Lions won’t be going to the Super Bowl this year, you might say –  “I’m thankful that the Lions will get a good draft pick.”  That would be a safer answer than saying that I’m thankful that a certain team that can’t be named won the World Series. 

If we were to extend this ritual to this morning’s worship service, and went around the room, asking each of us to stand up and give an answer to the question of what we’re thank for, what would you say?  Don’t worry, we don’t have time to go around the room, so you’re safe.  But, what would you say?   

This year’s stewardship theme –  “Abundant Joy, Overflowing Generosity” – suggests that there is reason to give thanks.  If we live with an abundance of joy that flows from the heart of God, then it makes sense that we would have reason to give thanks.  And of course, what better way to show thanks than to let our generosity overflow onto others.  

Last Sunday we considered the story of the widow who gave her last two copper coins to the Temple.  According to Jesus, her small gift was greater in value than the great sums given by the wealthy, because her gift was costly, while theirs wasn’t.  From Mark’s description, it appears that the wealthy put on a show, but their gifts didn’t represent their heart’s desire.

When we began this stewardship season on the last Sunday of October, we read Paul’s word to the Corinthian church, where he told them about the generosity of the Macedonian churches.  The hearts of these communities of believers overflowed with an abundance of joy, in spite of their poverty.  Pointing out how generous the Macedonians had been, he challenges the Corinthians to excel in their own generosity (2 Cor. 8:1-8).  

Our text for this morning speaks of Christ’s great sacrifice, which the author of Hebrews says, takes away our sins.  This text also appears in the readings for Good Friday, because it speaks to Christ’s death on a cross.  This death is seen in Scripture as the greatest of all gifts, because it changes our relationship with God and with neighbors.  Through this act of love on the part of Jesus, we are made holy so that we might enter the holy of holies with boldness and confidence.  Through his death, Jesus has opened up for us a “new and living way” so that we can draw near to God with a sense of certainty.

Now, if you’re like me, and you’re uncomfortable with absolute certainty, this statement can be a problem.  After all, no one likes a know-it-all who isn’t willing to listen to anyone else – you know a Cliff Claven who has all the answers. 

  But here’s the key statement in this passage – in verse 23 we hear these words:
Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable. (Vs. 23).
This is the word that rings out this Sunday before Thanksgiving as we consider the things for which we’re thankful.  If nothing else, we have hope because God is reliable.  God fulfills God’s promises.  

And it’s this confidence, this confession of our hope, that enables us to give our lives to the service of God.  We talk a lot in church about the ways in which we can give of ourselves.  It might involve visiting the home bound, cleaning the church building, raking leaves, changing light bulbs, or advocating for the rights of those facing foreclosure.  We can give of ourselves to God by dedicating our days to God’s service in prayer, by coming to worship and joining together with our brothers and sisters in praise of God, by sharing our spiritual gifts with one another so that the fullness of God’s ministry can be experienced in the church, and yes, by sharing our gifts of money through our tithes and offerings. 

In each of these expressions of giving we declare our faith in God.  With these gifts we declare that we believe that God is faithful.  

Do you remember the story that Eugene James shared with us four weeks ago about the church in the Congo.  Remember how they gathered up an offering of $800 to give to Eugene to take back to the States.  You might say – well, don’t they need the money?  Well yes, they need the money, but they offered this gift as an act of trust that God is true to God’s promises.  They made this offering because they believe that even in the midst of their own poverty, God is reliable. 

So here’s the question:  Do you believe that God is reliable?  Are you willing to entrust your future to the care of God?   

And are you willing to go further and provoke each other to love and good works.  I love this word provoke.  The Common English Bible uses the word motivate, and that’s also a good word, but it’s not nearly as good as provoke.  That’s because the word provoke usually has a negative connotation, but not this time. 

In the movie The Magic of Belle Isle, which stars Morgan Freeman as a rather unsuccessful author turned drunk, Freeman’s character has his life turned around when a young eleven year-old girl provokes him to rekindle his imagination and begin to write once again. He’d let his gift atrophy after the death of his wife, but this young girl who wanted to learn from him how to tell stories, opened up us heart to a new source of abundant joy, and in the end his heart overflows with a generous spirit.  

Is your heart overflowing with abundant joy and a spirit of generosity?  Are you ready to go forward in life, with a confession of faith in God that’s unwavering because you have found God to be reliable?  If so, how will you demonstrate this bold confession of faith?  Are you willing to give of yourself to God through the church, including giving financially through the church?  

This morning we’re going to bring in the harvest of pledges.  Most of us received a packet of information that included an estimate of giving card.  We’d like to invite you to share this commitment, this statement of faith, by placing that card into the basket during the time of stewardship.  We do this, not because we have dues to be paid, but because we believe that God is faithful, and these gifts are the way in which we hold fast to God’s faithfulness.  

Maybe you’re ready to go even further and increase your pledge for the coming year, testing the waters, so to speak, letting God’s abundance overflow with generosity.  As a family, we have tried to increase our pledge each year as a sign of our own attempt to be more trusting of God’s faithfulness.   

And if you’ve never given on a regular basis, perhaps this is the time to start letting God’s abundance overflow with generosity in response to God’s faithfulness.   

As we offer our words of Thanksgiving, let’s stand on the promises of God.  And just like that old gospel song puts it, perhaps we can sing heartily: 

Standing on the promises of Christ my king,
through eternal ages let our praises ring;
  glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
standing on the promises of God.
Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my savior; 
standing, standing, I’m standing on the promises of God.”  

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Thanksgiving Sunday
November 18, 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Who Is the Biggest Giver? A Sermon

Mark 12:38-44

I know that you’re all glad that the election season is over.  Whether your candidates won or lost, if you’re like me, you’re enjoying watching TV a whole lot more than a week ago.  None of those annoying political ads are blaring at you. Your email inbox has gotten a bit lighter as well. But, here’s a bit of warning – once you give to a candidate or a party, you’re marked for life, and you can expect to get many emails asking for money.  All of this constant fund-raising can be a bit annoying, but it’s part of the game.  And, while, politicians will tell you that they welcome contributions of every size, they would rather you give the maximum amount than the minimum.  Not only that, but if you have a Super-PAC, there is no maximum, so give as much and as often as you can.  Since we were inundated with TV ads from Super-PACS, you know that a lot of really big givers gave a lot of money to these efforts to influence our votes.   So, to many people the question of “Who is the Biggest Giver?” has a lot of meaning.

Well, enough about politics!  I just wanted to get that off my chest!

These kinds of conversations about money don’t just occur in political circles.  They happen all the time in our churches.  We know that the institution we call the church requires cash, lots of cash, to keep going.  And just like the political arena, money can have its privileges in the church.  I know this never happens here, but in some congregations the biggest giver expects to exert considerable influence over the church’s life. People sometimes give gifts to the church with strings attached.  So does the church accept the gift, especially if the strings undermine the mission of the church?

We’ve heard Mark tell about Jesus’ visit to the Temple, where he watches the people bring their offerings into the Temple treasury.  As I listen to this story, I imagine Jesus sitting on a bench, like the ones you and I sit on at the mall, which in many ways is the Temple of modern life, to do people watching.  Don’t you enjoy watching shoppers struggle down the lane, burdened down by multiples of large sacks full of “bargains.”  And since the Christmas rush starts earlier each year, I expect you’re already seeing this happen.  But why?  What’s the point?

In this case, Jesus appears to have found a seat directly across the street from the Temple.  He watches as wealthy patrons throw large sums of money into the pot.  Since Mark just finished describing the experts in religious law who liked to parade around in their long robes – sort of like my pulpit robe – and sit at the head table at the synagogue or in the market, and since Jesus suggests that these folks also cheated widows out of their homes, while saying long prayers, you get the sense that these wealthy patrons are throwing in their grand sums with great fanfare.  Perhaps  Don Pardo or Ed McMahon is there announcing the names and numbers as they go by.

Then Jesus notices someone else in the crowd.  It’s a widow who is so poor that she has only two copper coins left to her name. Perhaps she’s one of the widows that the legal scholars had cheated out of her home.  Although she was down to her last few coins, she throws everything she has into the collection box. While many people would frown on this act of generosity, Jesus commends her faithfulness.  As he points her out to his disciples, he tells them that while the rich gave great sums, it really was not that much.  It was just loose change.  They’d never miss a dime of the money that they contributed.  But as for this woman, she gave out of her poverty.  Maybe she did this because she figured that one more meal would just prolong her misery.  Or, maybe she offered this sacrificial gift as an act of worship.    

What I’m about to say, I say with a bit of caution, since my own livelihood depends on your gifts.  But, in what way do you see your gifts being an act of worship and not just a duty?  Do you see your offering as a sign of your allegiance to God’s reign?

This is an important question, especially as churches begin looking into alternative methods of giving, such as instructing your bank to send a check to the church.  I realize too that many churches have moved away from taking offerings during the service, because non-church goers think that all that churches want is people’s money.  Since Cheryl is the one who puts in our family’s offering into the plate, I rarely have anything to add.  To help solve this dilemma, we’re going to place cards in the pew racks that will allow you to participate in this act of worship, even if you’ve already given in another form.

There are practical reasons for taking up the offering, but perhaps  William Stringfellow was correct when he wrote that our giving has "little to do with supporting the church.”  Although this sounds rather odd, since we all know that our offerings help pay the church’s bills, here’s Stringfellow’s point: He says that the "the church's mission does not represent another charity to be subsidized as a necessity or convenient benevolence, or as a moral obligation."   Therefore, the offering is "integral to the sacramental existence of the church, a way of representing the oblation of the totality of life to God."*  Remember that man who sadly walked away when Jesus asked him to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor?  Why did he do this?  According to the biblical accounts, it was because his treasure owned him.  Is this true of you and me?  I think it’s a lot truer than I’m willing to acknowledge.

What Stringfellow is trying to say is that our monetary gifts are a confession of faith.  In giving our money we confess the words that appear on that money: “In God we Trust.”  Not the money, not the nation that prints the money, not even that gold sitting in Fort Knox – it’s God, that’s who we’re entrusting our lives to.  Isn’t this why Jesus contrasts the gifts of those who simply gave out of their spare change with the widow who gave sacrificially?  Remember that Jesus also said that where we put our treasure, there will we find our hearts.  

   Now, we don’t know what happens to this widow?  Maybe she died the next day of starvation.  Or maybe someone stepped in to provide her with a hand up.  I don’t know – Mark doesn’t say.

What we do know is this, as James put it:  "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (Jms.1:27).

We know how easy it is for people to fall through the cracks.  Unfortunately we rarely miss them, which is why they fall through the cracks. Now, back then the only available social safety net for a widow was a male head of the household.  That’s why Naomi sent Ruth to find Boaz.   If Ruth didn't find a husband, she and Naomi would starve.  This widow, and the widow from Zarepath, whose story we find in 1 Kings 17, both faced this reality.  Neither of them seem to have any family available to help them survive in this new world.  While it seemed presumptuous of Elijah to ask this widow to give him her bread, she gave the bread as an act of faith in the God of a foreign people, and according to the biblical story, God provided for her needs even though she wasn’t a worshiper of Yahweh.

Next Sunday we’ll be bringing our estimate of giving cards to the church. We’ll be offering our pledges of support to the ministry of the church.  As you do this ask yourself – how does this pledge reflect my faith in God?

Although I can't promise you that God will multiply your gifts a hundredfold – that would be presumptuous of me --surely gifts given with heartfelt gratitude and a bit of sacrifice will be blessed.  Not because of the amount, but because of the heart of worship and trust.

*William Stringfellow, quoted in Pulpit Resource, 28 (October, November, December 2000): 30.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
November 11, 2012

Sunday, November 04, 2012

On the Road Together -- A Sermon

Ruth 1:1-18

I thought about singing Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” but thought better of it.  But I could have used that song title as the title for this sermon.  It is, after all, a sermon about spiritual journeys in the company of others.

Our text this morning reminds us that migration is a common theme in the biblical story.  Beginning with Adam and Eve’s departure from Eden and on through Abraham and Sarah’s journey from Ur to Canaan, Jacob’s various journeys, including a final one that took him and his sons to Egypt, and then the return of Jacob’s descendants to the Promised Land with Moses.  Jesus himself was an itinerant preacher, who traveled in the company of his disciples, and of course, Paul is known for his missionary journeys. 

These journeys, like most journeys, have some purpose to them. It might be famine or it might be war.  It could be that God has sent a person on a journey to bring a message of good news.

People came to the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries from around the world looking for economic opportunity that they couldn’t find back home. Others came because of political oppression.

Naomi and Elimilech, residents of Bethlehem moved to Moab, the land of their ancient enemies, to escape famine in Israel.  This was during the time of the Judges.  In time, as the story goes on, Naomi’s husband dies, leaving her alone with two sons, who then marry Moabite women.  Their decision to marry “foreign women,” suggests that they had decided to settle down in Moab. What had been their refuge would become their home.  But that’s not how the story ends.  After a few years, the sons die, and Naomi and her two daughters-in-law are left alone.  Back then there were no pensions or Social Security.  If you had family who was willing to take you in, then maybe you had a chance.  If not, life was difficult.  Naomi couldn’t expect help from the families of her daughters-in-law.  They may have been cut off from their families because they married outside the tribe.  

And so Naomi decided to return home to Bethlehem.  Maybe she could find help among her family members.  Besides, she’d heard the news that God was providing food for the people.  The famine that had led her and her family to migrate to Moab was now over. But what about these two women?  She couldn’t expect her family to welcome them with open arms.  After all – they were foreigners, strangers.  No, it was best if Orpah and Ruth returned to their families.  Hopefully they could be reconciled and even find husbands to provide for them.  Naomi was past the age when she could raise up sons to provide for her daughters-in-law.  And besides, the death of her sons essentially severed the family relationship.  You know how that is – if you’re the in-law your relationship with your spouse’s family is only as strong as the friendship that emerges over time.

As you know, there’s an election on Tuesday, and that event has caught our attention – for good or for bad.  I’m a political junkie, but I’ll be glad when the TV ads, robocalls, and mailings have ceased.  But, the election isn’t the only event to have caught our attention.  We’re living just a few days after Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast.  Although we got a bit of the wind and rain, it was nothing like what the people of New Jersey and New York experienced.   As I think about the storm and its aftermath, I began to wonder what the story of Naomi and Ruth had to say to us.  What message might it have for us?  Could there be a message of hope that is found in the strength of relationships forged during difficult times?

When Naomi decided to return home, she encouraged Orpah and Ruth to return to their homes, but neither of them was ready to leave Naomi’s side. They received this news with great distress and sadness.  Naomi finally convinced Orpah to return to her family, and from that point she disappears from the story.   Now Orpah sometimes gets bad press for her decision, but it really was the wise decision.  Her future was brighter, and perhaps Naomi’s was brighter, if she returned home.  After all, continuing the journey with Naomi meant moving to a foreign land, with different customs and religions.  

Ruth, however, is stubborn.  She refuses to heed Naomi’s instructions, and apparently doesn’t seem to care about her future prospects.  In the end, she wears Naomi down, and Naomi accepts her companionship on the way to Bethlehem.   

Despite being an outsider in Israel, Ruth pledges her undying loyalty and service to a woman who could give her nothing, a woman in need of her own redemption.  In her response to Naomi’s requests she declares: “where you go, I will go” and “your God will be my God.”   In fact, I intend to be buried, where you are buried.  With this, Naomi and Ruth begin a journey of faith together, a journey that started with little promise, and yet it’s a journey that leads to the redemption of Naomi, Ruth, Israel, and in the end, all of us.  You see, Ruth is the ancestor of David, and according to the genealogy of Matthew, she is the ancestor of Jesus.  In fact, she’s only one of four women to appear in that genealogy.   

Ruth’s decision is essentially a conversion.  In following Naomi, she trades the gods of her people for Naomi’s God – Yahweh.  This decision may have been more difficult than we can imagine. You see, in that day, religion wasn’t just a choice, it was part of one’s identity.  Besides, when Ruth looked at Naomi’s situation, it sure didn’t seem like Naomi’s God had taken good care of her.  Still, she made the commitment of faith and entrusted her life and her future to Naomi’s God.    

This conversion leads to a covenant relationship – with God, with the people of Israel, and with Naomi herself.  Ruth says to Naomi,   “Where you go, I’ll go.  Your people will be my people.  Your God will be my God.”   But why does she make this covenant? As I said earlier, the family relationship had essentially been dissolved with the death of Naomi’s sons.  They didn’t have any responsibility for each other, and yet Ruth makes this covenant with Naomi and therefore with Naomi’s God and with her people.  In fact, Ruth even swears that if she broke the covenant then the LORD had permission to strike her down.  That’s quite bold – to say that only death and burial could break this bond.  That’s a powerful kind of friendship, which few of us are able to forge.    

This kind of covenant commitment, however, is the foundation of Christian community.  In the relationship between Ruth and Naomi, we see that the Christian journey of faith isn’t an individualistic trek.  Instead it’s one we take in the company of others in the power and presence of God’s Spirit.  Ruth seems to have understood this truth better than Naomi, but in the end Naomi came to see that their futures were connected.  No matter what might come their way, they were in it together.  As Paul says of the Body of Christ, when one suffers, we all suffer, and when one rejoices, we all rejoice.   

The church is more than a religious organization.  In fact, it’s more than a family.  It is rather a community of people sharing a journey together with Jesus who is our founder, our guide, our benefactor, and our friend.

Taking the journey of faith by ourselves – as lonely nomads – might seem quicker and even easier, but Ruth understood that the easy way isn’t always the best way.  True blessing comes as we forge powerful relationships that stand the test of time and the many challenges that life presents.  

In the end, both Ruth and Naomi find God’s blessings in each other’s company.  Ruth gained a husband, Boaz, a child, and a destiny, while Naomi found her own salvation in the company of her friend.   

With Ruth I invite you to make your covenant with God and with God’s people.  No matter where we go, no matter what happens to us, in Jesus we’re joined together in covenant relationship.  The Spirit of God links us together with bonds that exceed family, tribe, and nation.  With Ruth as our guide, we hear the call to join together in serving one another.  As Jesus himself said, the reign of God is based on two commandments: Love of God and love of neighbor.  

So, as we sing our hymn of invitation, “I Am Thine O Lord,” may we say to each other:  Where you go, I will go.  Your God will be my God!

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
All Saints Sunday and 22nd Sunday after Pentecost
November 4, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Abundant Joy and Overflowing Generosity -- Sermon

2 Corinthians 8:1-12
How do you see the world?  Is the glass half empty or is it half full?  Is the economy getting better or is it getting worse?  Is your consumer’s confidence quotient going up or going down?  Is there an abundance or scarcity?

Jesus was confronted with a large crowd of people.  They were hungry and there weren’t any McDonalds or Krogers nearby.  Jesus’ disciples got worried and told Jesus to send everyone away, before their hunger got the better of them.  But Jesus decided to have his disciples feed the crowd.  So he asked them – what foodstuffs do you have? They  responded – well there seem to be a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.  Jesus said – that’ll do, and everyone went home satisfied with their meal!  As they Scripture says – With God all things are possible.

  The Macedonian churches were experiencing poverty and distress, but they also were experiencing “abundant joy.”  And as a result, they overflowed with a “wealth of generosity.”  When Paul took up a collection for the Christians in Palestine, they voluntarily and generously gave out of this abundance.  Paul then turns to the Corinthians, and asks – will you excel in your generosity?

One of this congregation’s core values, which we discerned nearly four years ago, states that we shall be a “spiritually joyful” missional community.  To put it in the words of an old gospel song:

It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Full of glory, full of glory,
It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Oh, the half has never yet been told.

This song has Pentecostal roots, and so do I.  The Pentecostal message is this – God has poured out the Holy Spirit on the church, along with an abundance of gifts – including power, joy, and love. It is out of this abundance of Pentecostal power, joy, and love, that comes to us as the Spirit moves in our midst, that we can reach out and touch the world with healing grace.  It is this same Spirit who produces within us a spirit of generosity.  

The Macedonians gave generously according to their means and even beyond their means, because they had an abundance of joy.  Paul encourages the same Spirit to be present among the Corinthians so that they too might give generously out of this joyful abundance that comes from the Spirit of God.   And as a model of generosity, Paul points their attention to Jesus, who though he was rich, became poor, so that in his poverty – that is, his willingness to become like us -- we might become rich.  Not rich in material things, but rich in joy.

So, “if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has – not according to what one does not have” (v. 12).  The gift isn’t judged quantitatively.  It’s judged according to the way it expresses our relationship with the living God.

As you may know by now, we’re heading into a season of stewardship.  For the next four weeks bulletin inserts, sermons, and testimonies by the elders, will speak of how we can find our joy in the act of giving.

Some wonder why we give tithes and offerings to and through the church?  Is it just about sustaining the institution?  Or, is it an expression of our gratitude toward God.  Although the treasurer will take any gift, joy only comes from giving out of an attitude of joy and trust in God.  

So, keeping with our theme, over the next four weeks you’ll hear about the ways in which we can give generously out of the abundance of God’s giftedness.  
  • We give our days to God in prayer, for each day offers an opportunity to celebrate God’s presence.
  • We give the Sabbath by devoting ourselves to worshiping God, offering up words of praise and thanksgiving.
  • We give our Spiritual Gifts to and through the church.  We don’t keep them hidden in a basket, but instead set them free, so that God can use them for the glory of God’s realm. 
  • We give our money, not only because it pays the bills – including my salary and that of the rest of the staff, upkeep of the building, and to support ministry inside and outside the walls of the church – but because it expresses our trust in God’s abundant provisions. 
When it comes to the gift of money – each of us has to decide what is right and what is appropriate.  Our giving is intended to express our joy and our gratitude, and so it shouldn’t simply be the dollars that are left over when everything else is taken care of.  Our giving is intended to be a spiritual discipline and an act of worship.  It can take a variety of forms – including our regular pledged and unpledged giving, through special offerings, and even through the legacy gifts of estates and trusts.  Darwin Collins, who is here today,  can talk to you about how to make such gifts to the congregation and to the Region, so that your contribution to the ministry of this church can continue uninterrupted even after death.

We support a wide variety of ministries, both in the local community and beyond, through our giving.  We’ll be highlighting some of these at the East District Assembly in two weeks, but this morning, the Rev. Eugene James, our Regional Minister, would like to share a few words about his recent trip to the Congo, where we have a strong Disciple ministry partner, and he’ll share a word about how they view giving, which parallels the vision of the Macedonian Christians.  So, let’s attend to the message of our Regional Minister.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
October 28, 2012 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Standing Before the Living Word -- A Sermon

Hebrews 4:12-16

We all have a few skeletons in your closet. There are things, secret things,  that we’d rather others not know about.   And, some things are best left unsaid.  

Of course, it’s getting more difficult to keep secrets.  After all, as politicians are discovering, you never know who is recording your words and movements. But sometimes we, ourselves, put out in public things that come back to haunt us. You have to be really careful about what you post on Facebook and Twitter. You may think it’s just your “friends,” who see that picture or that comment, but there’s a whole lot of other people who just might see it as well.  So, as a rule of thumb, if you don’t want the world knowing your business, then don’t make it public record on social media.  You might also remember these three letters:  TMI or Too Much Information!

Because I blog and am on Facebook, Linked-In, and Twitter, I’ve left a bit of a trail.  I’ve tried not to share anything too salacious, but if you have access to the internet you probably can figure out who my favorite teams are, what kind of music I listen to, the books and online newspaper articles I read, and yes, you probably can figure out my politics. But then I can do the same for you!  So, be careful out there!   Early in life our parents teach us to mind our p’s and q’s, because someone may be watching.  Then, in order to cement that lesson, our parents tell us that we should watch out because Santa is always watching.  Yes, Santa keeps his list of who is naughty and who is nice, and on Christmas Eve Santa  checks and rechecks his list to see who gets a delivery.  Of course, Santa isn’t the only one who is watching.  Don’t forget that God can see you too! 

Yes, early in life we learn that someone is always watching, and so when we think about doing something we shouldn’t, unless we’re sociopaths, we stop to think about the consequences.  You may do the deed anyway, but don’t you look around to see who’s watching first?  You know, when you sneak that cookie late at night. If no one is looking then is it wrong?  Or, you push up your speed a little past the  speed limit, if the police aren’t watching, is it okay?  I mean, if no one is hurt, is it really so wrong?  Well, I’ll leave that to your conscience to decide.

But, even if no one is watching, someone is watching.  I know we sometimes think that God is too busy with the big things to pay attention to our little things, but is that true?  Our consciences usually say no!  

As you listened to the reading of scripture this morning, did you hear two different but related messages?  One message suggests that we stand before the Living Word of God, a Word that is active and sharper than a two-edged sword.  Although the rendering of this passage on the bulletin cover suggests that the Bible is the Word that convicts us of sin, the more likely interpretation is that Jesus is the Living Word before whom we all stand.  And as John declares in his Gospel, this Word became flesh and took up residence among us.   

It’s as the Living Word of God that Jesus judges our thoughts,  our intentions, and our actions.  He is the judge who sees deep within us, his gaze penetrating to the deepest parts of our lives, separating soul and spirit, joint and marrow. Yes, we stand before this Living Word “naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer.”  

As I contemplated what it would be like to stand before someone naked and exposed, I thought of an image from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five, which I might add, one of our members lent me and told me to read. In the novel, Billy Pilgrim, an optometrist and former prisoner of war is transported to an alien world, where he is put into what is essentially a zoo.  There are windows all around his “cage” so that the aliens can observe how he lives, just like we do when we watch chimps at a zoo living behind a wall of glass.  And in this case Billy is naked and exposed – both literally and figuratively.  There’s no place to hide, no privacy.  As you might expect, it’s not easy living naked and exposed.

That is the story of our lives, according to Hebrews.  We stand before God, naked and exposed.  Every thought, every motive – for good or evil – has been made known.  Yes, someone is watching!  And, knowing this, while it makes us feel self-conscious, also stirs within us a desire to do the right thing!  

But that’s only part of the story.  Don’t give up, the preacher declares,  instead hold fast to your confession of faith, because Jesus isn’t only judge, he’s also the  High Priest who intercedes on our behalf.  As our high priest, he sympathizes, he understands, our weakness.  Like us, he’s been  tempted in all things, yet without sin.  Jesus tasted real life and understands our realities.  He faced temptation, but he stood firm in his confession of trust in God.  

Yes, he was tempted like us in all things.  He was, as John declared, the Word made flesh.  Whatever temptation is common to us all, he faced.  That was, I think the point of that very controversial film of several years back – The Last Temptation of Christ.  There are a number of reasons why it was controversial, but I think the most controversial point was that Jesus actually faced real temptations.  Not just the three in the wilderness, but daily temptations. And these temptations weren’t necessarily evil, they just were the kinds of things that get in the way of living in God’s kingdom.  

As for the last temptation –  I think we can all identify with it.  At the end of the movie, Jesus is on the cross and he begins to dream about living a normal life with a wife and kids. There’s nothing evil in this temptation, except that it suggests walking away from his calling.  The movie leaves us with a question – did Jesus climb down from the cross, return to Galilee, get married, and have kids, or was it simply a dream – a temptation experienced, but finally rejected?   

According to Hebrews 4, Jesus, the Living Word of God, stays the course, and finishes the job. He doesn’t give up the calling, but he does understand why we make the choices we make.  

He is the one who sees and judges our every move, but he’s also the one who  has been tempted, and therefore sympathizes with our choices.  Knowing this, Hebrews invites us to “draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help.” (Vs. 16 CEB).  

This is the good news.  God knows our every deed.  We can run, but we can’t hide.  Still, there is a word of grace.  God’s favor allows us to come before God with confidence, knowing that we will find mercy and grace.  Now, we shouldn’t take this reality  for granted.  It’s not a “get out of jail free card.”  Thinking that way cheapens God’s grace.  But the offer is real and it transforms our lives, so that we can live lives of power, of grace, and of love.

Knowing that we stand before the one whose penetrating gaze is sharper than a two-edged sword, we recognize the times and places where we fall short in our walk with God.  But, we also know that God’s grace is sufficient.  

Knowing how grievous were her sins, at least in her own mind, St. Theresa of Ávila writes of her conversion:  
His compassion, I think, worked in me abundantly, and in truth He showed me great mercy in allowing me to be with Him and bringing me into His presence, which I knew I should not have entered had He not so disposed it.*
And this is God’s invitation to us – to stand before the throne of the Living Word of God with confidence in Gods grace.  As we consider this invitation, hear this prayer I learned growing up in the Episcopal Church.  Although this translation by Thomas Cranmer dates to 1549, it goes back much further in time.  
Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen. 
*In Finding God: A Treasury of Conversion Stories, Edited by John M. Mulder, (Eerdmans, 2012), p. 45.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
20th Sunday after Pentecost
October 12, 2012