Sermons

Sunday, March 15 – Letter from the Pastor

By March 15, 2020 March 17th, 2020 No Comments
Dear Church Family,                                                                          March 15, 2020
This morning, Carrie and I read scripture followed by a meditation and praying for our kids and you.  Today’s Lenten devotional reading happened to be on Zacchaeus.  I remember the song taught in Sunday School in the basement of the CMA church in Wyandotte, Michigan.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
A wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a Sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree.  And he said,
“Zacchaeus, you come down . . .
For I’m going to your house today.
For I’m going to your house today.
The Zacchaeus passage is found in Luke 19:1-10.  Here it is:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay at your house today.”  So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
There is something lacking from this story.  We don’t hear Jesus lecturing Zacchaeus about his pyramid schemes and mobster behavior.  We do hear the Religiously Serious express their distain for Jesus and Zacchaeus.  Why?  Because Jesus enjoys Zacchaeus’ company.  He places himself around a table.  He makes his gracious presence known to the tree-climber and something beautiful happens.  GRACE.  FORGIVENESS.  REPENTANCE.  Jesus was willing to dine with people BEFORE they responded to his love.  Or Thank God, He was willing to died for the WORLD before the world responded to his love.  He forgave the WORLD before being asked.  “Father, forgive them they don’t know what they are doing.”
That is beautiful.  I’m reading a book currently with the subtitle, How The Quest For Political Power Is Destroying The Church.  The word BEAUTIFUL is continually used to describe what is done in the name & spirit of Christ.
“The Kingdom of God is centered on being beautiful, as defined by Jesus Christ dying on a cross for those who crucified him.”
“The Kingdom of God, which always looks like Jesus, is not simply an improved version of the kingdom of the world, for a version of the kingdom of the world may be relatively good, but it cannot be beautiful.”
“Kingdom beauty always attracts good-hearted people.”
I think there is something beautiful about beauty.  The beautiful pulls at the heart calling us outside ourselves.  Bach’s music is the greatest apologetic for the existence and grace of God.  What is beyond, the very character of God, kisses us as beauty invades the darkness.  Jesus invaded the darkness of Zacchaeus’ heart and home.  He didn’t judge the tax collector.  He ate with him.  And  the beauty of His presence did its own work.
My friend Bob is a Duke Law graduate that writes about the markets, politics, current events and the Christian faith.  He sent out this morning a new letter that addressed the coronavirus, the markets, political fumblings, and math lessons.  He loves sacred music so it didn’t surprise me that these words were included in his letter.  Read them slowly, allowing the beauty to sink in . . . I know you have the time!
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!
All Thy works with joy surround Thee,
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
Center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee.
Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living,
Ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,
All who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.
Mortals, join the happy chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us,
Brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward
In the triumph song of life.
Now do yourself a favor and click on this link and watch, listen, and even find a Zacchaeus in this 5-minute video.  The video’s Zacchaeus will bring smiles!
Welcome back!  The 3rd line of this great hymn is, HEARTS UNFOLD LIKE FLOWERS BEFORE THEE.  When the beauty of Jesus invades, hearts begin to unfold.  It is what happened to your heart watching the YouTube link.  So my question is, how do we make our current coronavirus experience BEAUTIFUL?  This is not a time to hunker down in passivity and fear.  We need to be cautious and submissive.  But that does not mean we stop being a community of believers committed to one another & our community.  So here are some ideas to get the imagination warmed up.
Bake cookies, put a note with them, drop them at someone’s door, ring the bell & run to the car—practicing social distancing!
Buy some THINKING OF YOU cards.  Write a note of encouragement a day to someone.  Tell them how you are praying for them.
Send out emails with pictures of beauty, glorious music pieces or both.
Music example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnCHCqYRQFs
Art example      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8TnAxIJItA
Use the Church Directory as a prayer guide.
Call people to see what kind of help they need.  You may not be able to directly attend to the need, but others at Our Redeemer can.  Be the administrator behind helping others.
Follow health protocols to help flatten the virus’ curve so the vulnerable in our communities are less threatened.
Read a good book, write a review and share it with others.
COMMIT to staying connected as social distancing will be with us for a bit.
Those who craft (quilting, woodworking, etc.), use that gift/talent as a way to encourage.
Explore how Ephrata needs help during this time and see if it something in which you can participate.
Don’t go to the store without asking neighbors and friends if you can pick up something for them.
The video of Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee starts with one musician . . . then another . . . then another . . . then many . . . then voices.  With each additional person the beauty becomes more beautiful.  About half way through it I started to cry.  How do participate in Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee during this pandemic?  To this we are called.  Let’s take the steps to join the orchestra and touch human hearts with the beauty of the Gospel of Christ.
Peace of Christ
Mark

P.S.  Here is a lecture by Dana Gioia on BEAUTY.  I so appreciate Dana’s poetry.  He is the former director of the National Endowment Of The Arts under the Bush Administration and currently the Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at USC.  I have watched this video numerous times over the last five years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJHS4mPyHjU&t=42s

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