June 26, 2016: "What Lies Ahead"

Text: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20;        13th Sunday in Ordinary Time             Sandy Nuernberg

Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62                           6th Sunday after Pentecost                  Pastor

Title: “What Lies Ahead!”                                          Active Life Sunday!

First Presbyterian Church                                        Sunday, June 26th, 2016                       Pardeeville, WI

 

Please pray with me, as we are what you have made us, O Lord, created in Christ Jesus for good works, we ask that your Spirit grow in us as we find meaning in your words to us. Help us to become prepared to proclaim your mighty acts, calling us from darkness into sharing with others your marvelous light.  AMEN.

 

“For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment,

‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

                                                                                       Galatians 5:14

            I am sure you have, as many of us have had mentors, friends, a family member we call ‘angels’ who watch over us in ways we never can imagine. Trust me, we are so glad to have them in our lifetime; I have been lucky enough to have had more than one! I knew a dear friend, mentor, pastor, a colleague who has had an impact on my life. He was a PC(USA) pastor in church ministry for over forty years, interim-president of a Presbyterian seminary, and upon retirement had a mind to areas such as pastoral care, spiritual formation, and teaching student pastors interested in positions in church ministry ( He was on the CPM-Committee on Preparation for Ministry, in our JK Presbytery, 2001-2006).

 

            One time when I was preparing for a neutral-pulpit sermon for the search committee in my first church after seminary, he asked me to meet him at church to hear it and critique what I had written for the service in Lodi, WI, not far from here (2006). We had met regularly for me to learn from him about ‘understanding’ small church ministry. He had a vast knowledge and experience in his first church in Albany, NY, to working for the PC(USA), to the halls of seminary in south Chicago at McCormick Theological Seminary (MTS). I observed all along that in his relationships with others, he had given me all the love that God had given him—he told me that in word and deed!

 

            You see, my dear friend, Rev. Dan Little, certainly helped shape my life in ministry; he was, in my mind, clearly led by and guided by the Spirit in all he was and did in life. He walked a narrow path between his faith and love for others, indeed. Dan was genuine, loving, patient and caring, listening, but most of all he was wise, yes, in his intentions about leading those in becoming a pastor. His son is a pastor; his life’s journey included being constantly near his wife’s side in her debilitating memory loss over time and her eventual death. He cared for, responded, yet long-distance out east many years, to his schizophrenic brother until his death.

 

            I was touched deeply by the love that surrounded my friend, Dan, when he was having brain surgery at UW hospital; the emails and correspondence through the hospital’s ‘U-mail’ sending regards and prayers that exceeded 3,500 hits at one time. They were from friends, family, leaders in our denomination around the world, all wishing him well. Through a short-time remission, more set-backs led to his losing his battle with brain cancer, my mentor, Dan, died in the fall of 2009.

 

            I share this intimate story of courage, love and risk-taking of my friend because I believe there is such a narrow path in walking our faith-journey and working in love along the ways of life. We ‘are’ what we are set out to be and do. Hans Christian Andersen once wrote, “Every man’s (person’s) life is a fairytale written by God’s fingers.” We are called to joy and sorrow in life and death, and we’ve all done it in our own personal way in practicing our faith. Paul tells us in the text today in no uncertain terms about loving God and neighbor. He describes a ‘freedom’ we have where Christ sets us free, yet where we must be confident, courageous in standing tall, firm in asking ourselves what we are being ‘freed-up’ to be and do!

 

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom

as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”

                                                                                                                        Galatians 5:13

            Actually, Paul makes it sound rather simple, but I think we hear more than a couple things in just loving our neighbor as ourselves. He defines freedom, gives the list of desires, the works we might choose for the ‘flesh,’ meaning our own self-human-centeredness. Then Paul gives another contrasting list of the fruits of the Spirit not subject to the law—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and faithfulness, self-control. Anybody reading Paul’s words would describe these intangible fruits as a ‘no-brainer,’ right? Yet, in our lifetime, life-long works of trying in loving our neighbor, we are guilty—we just can’t do it!

 

            I’d like to take my own private poll—how many of us here and now love ourselves…come on, admit it! Let’s face it; don’t we ‘brow-beat’ and chastise and get upset with ourselves to the point that it doesn’t even seem possible or enjoyable to try to love others? We can’t seem to love ourselves enough to love others. There was a breakfast cereal ad on television some time ago (Cheerios) that has a big HEART on the front of the box: the slogan goes, ‘love your heart so you can do what you love.’ I like to remember this when I’m on my own back1

 

            What I hear Paul telling us, what Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem toward his death is a kind of ‘walking-tall’ on a narrow path of freedom in living by the Spirit and in being guided by the Spirit. ‘Sets his face’ for Jesus is what lies ahead for him; in moving with intentional purpose, with courage, strength, determination and boldness, yet with humility, not self-centeredness of the ‘flesh.’ In our walking by the Spirit of joy, peace, and gentleness, we capture what God’s love brings to us for others. There is no alternative; Paul asks the Galatians to do the same. The active part of the works of the Holy Spirit in us is that we are in transformed to new-life as members in church, our community, in life. As Christians we can’t, won’t, and need not take time for bitterness, its negativity, quarrels, dissension, or getting back at someone in the ‘flesh’—it’s not in us if we live freely in Christ.

 

            The charm, beauty of Paul’s good news for us, I think, is in living by the Spirit,  being guided by the Spirit. There is no cost on our part---perhaps our time, energy, and strength of purpose. Yet, perhaps there is a cost to us in what lies ahead; our health, our wealth, and our being wise in making choices that bring us strength, confidence, peace and love to ourselves. In our loving our neighbor, really loving and becoming slaves to one another, it sure beats biting and devouring (Ch.5: v. 15, CEB) one another, doesn’t it?

                                                            Thanks be to God.                             AMEN.

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