3 weeks to go and today is my second special sermon in preparation for our anniversary celebration. You know, anniversaries are special. We celebrate anniversaries of births, of adoptions, of the founding of our nation, of our church, and of our marriages. Reminds me of a husband and wife who were getting ready to celebrate their 25th anniversary. The couple discussed buying a new vehicle to celebrate. He wanted a new truck. She wanted a fast sports car. The discussion was getting very heated when finally the wife stated, "Look, I want something that goes from 0 to 180 in four seconds or less, and that’s all there is to it!
When the big day came, the wife went out to the garage, but there was no new car. Angry, she went back into the house looking for her husband, but he was not at home. Frustrated and upset, she went into the bathroom to get dressed, and there was her gift, wrapped in a big red ribbon. And it was something that would go from 0 to 180 in four seconds or less - a brand new scale.
Now you may have recognized this story, I have used in a sermon before. In fact, the theme for today is old introduction stories. And it is based off our reading in Galatians. The line Paul wrote triggered what I call my favorite sermon illustration.
We can be a farmer without overalls, but we can't be a Christian without clothing ourselves with Jesus Christ. And Paul makes clear that there are no distinctions in his kingdom, no dress code, only Jesus. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The message of salvation is a message of inclusion.
But in the Old Testament lesson, we read of great exclusion. The prophet was working hard for God purposes and that led to his life being threatened; which led to a depressed prophet. “Elijah asked that he might die: 'It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life.'” Brings to mind another introduction I used. My Mother-in-Law was over and the discussion turned serious. When the subject of death and dying came up I suggested we should talk about the hereafter. She readily agreed. “I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I go into a room to get something then stand in the doorway and say to myself, 'Now what am I hereafter?'
Another one: A man went off on a business trip down South and his wife would join him a few days later. The next day he emailed his wife to let her know everything was set. Only trouble was, the email address he used was off one letter. His wife didn't get the email but another woman did. Now her husband had recently passed away and when she read the email, she fainted dead away. Here's what the Email said, “To my dear wife, I've reached my destination in good order. All arrangements have been made for you to join me tomorrow. Your loving husband. PS, it sure is hot down here!”
Back to Elijah. He tells us why he was bitter and distressed, “the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." We talked about covenants in confirmation on Thursday. A covenant is not the same as a contract. A contract can be broken by either party and the contract is no longer valid. But in a covenant, the parties agree to fulfill the agreement no matter what. The example I gave was if I contracted with Frankie to mow my lawn for 20 dollars and he did it and I didn't pay him, the contract would be broken and he'd no longer be obligated to mow. But if it was a covenant, he would mow if I didn't pay him or I would pay him if he didn't mow. The people of Israel broke the covenant God had made, the covenant where God said if you obey me I will bless you in many ways. The people broke the covenant but God never does. In fact, he made the covenant even more user friendly. God's ultimate fulfillment came in a new covenant. Jesus Christ initiated the new covenant, he fulfilled all the demands of the law and thus we are saved by his grace.
I once made a covenant with then 5 year old Conor. A few years ago I hired Richard and Heidi's little boy to help move some stuff around in the yard. We worked for a little while and we went in and were eating a snack. He told me this was his first job. And I thought he'd be excited when I told him I was going to pay him $5.00. But when he heard that, he responded, “I was planning on $15.00.” I said, “I'm sorry, Conor, I'm not going to pay you $15.00.” He sighed and said, “Okay, I'll take $10.” (I did pay him 7)
Elijah was not happy with the return he was getting being the prophet of the Lord. But he did obey the Lord's command to be witness to the Lord passing by the mountain. The Lord was not in the earthquake or the fire or the strong wind. The Lord was in the “still, small voice” in some translations, in others the Lord was in “sheer silence.” Often in life we find that God is found in the quiet things, the regular, everyday events in life. We can miss the big picture if we don't see God in all things. It reminds of another memorable introduction, not mine but Pastor Mark's. He told of a Monty Python story. The King of Swamp Castle stands before the window showing his son his kingdom. He tells Prince Herbert, “One day, lad, all this will be yours.” The Prince replied, “What, the curtains?” The prince missed the vision of the kingdom he was to receive. We are to keep the vision of Jesus with us at all times. God's presence may be shown in momentous events... fire and earthquake. But God may also show up in the ordinary, everyday things... the curtains. Or presents. Another one, Tina and I were in St. Cloud some years ago. She asked, “Dad, don't you think presents are the best things about Christmas?” She no more than said it and she realized it didn't sound quite right so she quickly added, “Oh yeah, Jesus is important too... but I really like presents.” We don't want to miss the message, Jesus is important!
Ezekiel heard the Lord, he was discouraged and depressed, but obeyed the call of the Lord in the midst of his doubts and fears. The call was clear, go, return and continue doing the Lord's work. Ezekiel obeyed and went and anointed a new King as commanded. God's work was done by this prophet.
There is still God's work to be done in the day to day life of the church. Most of it is not nearly as momentous as what Ezekiel or Paul were called to do. For instance, the building and grounds committee's work is seldom glamorous. One of their jobs a while back was to replace the paper towel dispensers in the men's room downstairs. Don MacKay directed the installation of hot air blowers. If you don't recall that it is because they didn't last long. We had to remove it because someone kept posting this sign on it, “Push button to hear sample of Pastor Gordy's sermon.” It just didn't seem respectful so Don had it removed. Speaking of Don, I got a call just last week. Here's how it went. “Is this the pastor of the First Presbyterian church? I am. This is the IRS. Is Don MacKay a member there?” Yes he is. Did he recently make a $5000 donation? He will!”
You all know I like to make my jokes personal, and unfortunately for her, Julie is often the butt of my jokes. But some time ago, in the interest of treating her with the respect a husband should, I mentioned how beautiful she looked when she wasn't wearing her glasses. She replied, “You don't look so bad when I'm not wearing my glasses off either.”
My title for today's sermon is baptized and clothed in Christ. That comes from the letter to the Galatians that Ruth read for us. I began there and we have been on some detours. But I'm back and this idea came up in our bible study last week; when God looks at us, it is not our sin or our failures that are seen, it is our righteousness. And not really our righteousness but the righteousness that covers all our shortcomings; the righteousness of Christ is what God sees. Because we are clothed in Christ. This is a gift, but it is also a responsibility. We are Christ's ambassadors to this world and we need to be hearing and learning God's word for our lives.
Speaking of hearing and learning, my final old introduction comes from an interchange between Julie and me, if she'd come up and help me with this.
Julie: Dear, the plumber didn't come to fix the leak behind the water heater today.
Gordy: Uh huh.
Julie: The pipe burst and flooded the basement.
Gordy: Quiet, its third down and goal to go.
J: Some of the wiring got wet and almost electrocuted fluffy.
G: All right, touchdown!
J: The vet says she'll be better in a week.
G. Can you get me a Mountain Dew?
J: The plumber told me he was glad the pipe broke, the repair bill will allow him to take a big vacation.
G: Aren't you listening to me? I need a Dew!
J: And Gordy, the plumber is taking me away, he and I are flying to Acapulco in the morning.
G: Can't you stop all that yakking and get me my Dew? The trouble around here is no one ever listens to me!
Ezekiel listened to the voice of the Lord. Paul listened to God's call on his life. The Lord is calling each of us, are you listening? We are called to love God, to love our neighbor, to celebrate the good news of salvation, to sing praises to the Lord, to share joy with each other, to be kind, loving, forgiving and to share the grace we've been shown. That is the legacy we are celebrating next month. God is faithful, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, hear and rejoice in the good news-- you are chosen, you are loved, you are God's child and you are dressed in the righteousness of Jesus. Amen.
Hymn: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind 345 PH