As most of you already know, both my wife and I are pastors.
We have been since before our children were born.
After our kids were born, it was a great thing,
because our kids have been consistently loved
by at least two churches full of wonderful people their entire lives.
It is a sad reality, however,
that the vast majority of children who have one or more parents
that are members of the clergy
rarely remain active in a church once
they are allowed to make the choice for themselves.
Some of it has to do with a lifetime of unrealistic expectations
sometimes folks expect pastors’ kids
to be more perfect than everybody else’s kids,
and frankly, that’s a lot to live up to.
But it’s not just the churches’ fault.
Mommy and Daddy Pastor play a role as well.
Sometimes those parent pastors get so caught up in their calling,
so caught up in proclaiming the good news,
so caught up in offering love and grace to their church members
and all the strangers who pass their way
that the same love and grace are rarely ever seen
at the dinner table or dance recital, at baseball games or at bedtime.
Bri and I certainly aren’t perfect,
but as parents, we work very hard
to try to make sure that our kids will never have to say,
“You were always there for everybody else;
why weren’t you there for me?”
Before we became parents we made a decision.
We decided that the church would be a fun and enjoyable place
for our children. Running, and noise, and
controlled chaos were ok with us and would have to be ok
with our churches.
Dance recitals and play-off games trump council meetings,
and at the end of the day, no matter how much work is left
on our plates we need to remember to go home,
to love our kids, and to share their lives.
Our calling as pastors starts in the exact same place
as everyone else’s calling as followers of Christ.
It starts at home.
Home. It sounds so easy and yet home is the absolute,
hardest place to begin.
I don’t know about you, but my family, the people I am closest to,
are the ones who know how to push my buttons the hardest
and get under my skin the deepest.
Imagine what this situation must have been like
for Peter in our reading this morning.
Apparently he lived not only with his wife and possibly children
but his brother and, of all things, his mother-in-law.
Think about what that must have been like:
the nagging and the nit-picking and the criticism.
Perhaps there were mornings that Peter overheard
his mother-in-law say to his wife,
“I don’t know how you can handle the smell of fish
on this husband of yours.
You know you could have married that
handsome blacksmith right?”
To be certain, there must have been a lot of days
when the house felt too small,
when no one could take a step
without stepping on each others’ toes.
Regardless, Peter seems to love his mother-in-law,
and when she falls ill, he brings into his home
the only person he knows who can help her to be healed.
And what’s amazing about this story
isn’t just that Peter tries to help his mother-in-law
and what’s amazing isn’t just that Jesus heals her…
but what’s remarkable is what happens next.
This woman comes into contact with Jesus;
he touches her and she gets up and starts to serve;
she gets up and starts seeing to the needs of others.
She doesn’t waste a moment of her new found health and vitality.
She, essentially, pays forward the gift she had been given.
She was blessed, and then she became an instrument of blessing.
That one encounter with Jesus, that one touch,
brought blessing to Peter’s household, and then it spread.
The good news about Jesus spread into the neighborhood,
and people were blessed.
It found its way to the country side,
and people were blessed.
It found its way around the world,
bringing blessing with it all the while.
For many of us the idea of showing love to our neighbors
is a lot easier when we are talking about a neighbor
who lives half a world away.
It is easier just to send money than to spend time.
It is easier to make a donation to someone on another continent
then it is for us to walk across the street.
And hear me when I say this:
sending money to help those in need in other countries
is a good thing! But it is not the only thing.
We are called to share God’s love with all creation.
That includes our brothers and sisters all around the world…
but our world starts here, in our homes,
in our neighborhoods, in our towns and our villages.
Jesus makes it clear, home is where we have to start.
Loving our neighbors starts with our actual neighbors,
with the people who are close enough to see our warts,
close enough for us to see their scars.
Loving one another starts right here,
with our families, our friends, and our neighbors.
These are to be the primary recipients
of Christ’s love pouring through us.
So what are we waiting for?
What is holding you back?
I have been in ministry all of my adult life,
and I have heard a myriad of excuses for why people aren’t serving.
I’m too old. I’m too young. I’ve put my time in already.
I once knew a man, who we will call Burt.
Burt worked most of his life a lineman for the phone company,
climbing up phone poles and hanging telephone line
that kind of stuff.
Burt went to church and taught
Sunday School in his younger years.
When I met Burt, I was 22 years old;
Burt was in his late 70’s or early 80’s.
I did not meet Burt in church. I met Burt on a basketball court.
When Burt saw that a bunch of the
neighborhood kids were getting into mischief,
he set out to do something about it.
But he did not call the police or patrol the neighborhood.
Instead Burt went to the neighborhood school
and secured both permission and a key to their gymnasium.
He opened up the gym every Wednesday evening so the kids
had a warm and safe place to go and play some basketball.
But Burt didn’t just sit and watch.
He laced up his sneakers and played with them as best he could.
That is where I met Burt
he was nearly 60 years older than me,
and Burt could trounce me on the court.
At the close of every basketball night,
Burt asked the kids to sit on the bleachers.
He bent down to his gym bag and
pulled out his old battered pocket bible
and shared a short scripture passage
with the kids and young adults in attendance.
He didn’t have a theological degree;
he wasn’t a trained preacher
but he spoke from the heart.
Everyone was quiet and respectful.
Everyone listened as Burt talked
about the love of Christ and the difference
Jesus had made in his life.
Burt kept playing basketball with those kids for years and years.
He kept playing right up until the week before he died,
and not once did he regret making the effort to bless those kids
and along the way, he blessed me, too.
That basketball game is still happening.
In fact, it is now played two nights a week instead of one.
The kids who are coming in now
never had the opportunity to know Burt in this life,
but the love of Christ, poured out through Burt,
is still touching their lives.
And those running the program now
are not shy to talk about Burt and his love for Christ
and for the neighborhood kids.
Burt wasn’t a pastor or a missionary;
he was a man who saw a need,
and who decided to do something about it.
He invested his time and his energy in the kids around him;
he started right there, in his own neighborhood
and through those who found in him a good friend
and a great role model,
the love of Christ has spread and spread.
We are not all called to start playing basketball with youth.
But if we have breath, folks, we have a purpose and a calling. Age means nothing to the God we serve.
That old man did more good for youth in that community
than many of the youth pastors who were a quarter of his age,
my self included, because Burt met people on their terms,
where they were at, and took their needs seriously,
and loved them sincerely.
Friends, I love you all very much.
And I know that change and new endeavors in faith are scary.
But I also know that life has a reason and a purpose,
and if you are breathing,
then your purpose has not yet concluded.
We have some awesome kids growing up in our church,
and do you know what?
They need you to teach them something about the love of God.
They need good people just like you,
taking the time to tell them about Jesus
in Sunday school or in the Nursery;
they need good people just like you to listen
as they share with you what’s important in their lives
and to share with them what’s important in yours.
Friends there are young adults here who need you to speak up
and share your wisdom as we explore faith together
in our small groups.
And young adults, and slightly less young adults,
you are not off the hook either. Your faith is important to you.
I know that because, at the very least, you are here.
But I want to encourage you to look at the priorities in your life.
What things are taking up time that you might better apply
to the deepening of your faith
and the enriching of the faith of others?
If you take half a minute to ask some of our older members
about the importance of faith in their lives,
they would tell you that as you get older,
as time keeps moving, faith becomes so much more important.
Time with family and friends,
time spent serving others,
becomes so much more important than the things
that occupy your time now.
When I was younger, before marriage, and kids, and real life
nothing was more important to me than being in a band
and writing music.
Even after marriage I wanted to play in a Christian band
and tour the world.
But what is important now,
what life and time, and tragedy have taught me
is that my family, my faith,
the people around me that I can invest in
and help to experience God in a deeper and more profound way,
all of that, is far more important than playing
in an awesome band.
If you are alive and Jesus has touched your life,
then get up and serve. I really don’t care what it is,
but find a way to be the instrument of Christ’s blessing
like Peter’s mother-in-law, and like Burt.
It starts at home. It starts here. And then it spreads.
It grows. It impacts and touches thousands.
But it cannot do that, if it doesn’t start here.
If you need an idea come see me. We can talk about it.
We can find a ministry for you to be a part of that is in line
with your gifts and abilities.
But don’t pretend that because you are too old or too young
or too whatever, that it’s ok to sit back and let others do the work.
John Wesley, one of the Father’s of Methodism used to say:
“Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.”
And if you know anything about our beloved John Wesley
you know those were more than words to him.
They were a prescription for a life well lived,
a life that honored God and displayed the love of Jesus Christ
for all to see.
So may you feel the healing touch of Jesus this day,
May you rise up and transform that blessing into blessing for others,
may you find ministry to be passionate about,
and may you discover that the resurrection power of Christ is yours
today, right now, and for the rest of your life. Amen? Amen.