Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sermon: "Outlandish Grace"

Matthew 20:1-16

This may be one of the toughest passages in all the scriptures for us to get our heads around as residents of the 21st century. It’s just so contrary to the way we understand what is fair – what is involved in treating people equally.

We understand why the man who left church one Sunday after hearing a sermon on this parable by Jesus said to his minister: “You know, preacher, there are parts of the Bible that are difficult to abide, and other parts that aren’t. The story you preached on today is one that I find totally offensive! It’s just not fair to pay everyone the same wage when some have worked hard and some have hardly worked. Jesus was just wrong about that. I think you should have preached on something less offensive.” (1) The minister reported that he preached on the Prodigal Son the following week.

It’s important that we don’t discount this parable because of the way it clashes with the way we normally think about such things. Remember: the purpose of a parable is to compare something we know something about with something we’re not as familiar with to help the unfamiliar become known or understood. We know what it means to get paid for working in a field. We are not quite as sure about what followers of Jesus Christ will receive as a result of believing and working on behalf of the kingdom of God.

The intent of today’s parable is not to revise the economic system of America. It’s not a mini-course in labor management. Its intent is not to influence what fair labor laws should be or to bust unions. It’s simply an illustration about how God works when it comes to giving kingdom-living status to us. So, let’s look again at this challenging parable.

The people listening to Jesus that day understood the scene he was describing. They knew about landowners, vineyards, harvesting, and day-laborers. They knew how important it was for grape growers to hire grape pickers. They knew that when the grapes were ready they had to be picked promptly because the weather could change quickly and the crop would be ruined. It made sense to them that the grape growers would get more and more anxious as the day wore on and the picking wasn’t finished. It made sense to them that the owner would hire more workers even one hour before quitting time because of how desperate he was to get as much of the crop off as possible.

When Jesus talked about the landowner going out early in the morning to hire people to work in the vineyard, the crowd could picture a marketplace with people standing around waiting for the invitation to go to work. They knew the people Jesus described in his parable were people in need of work – people who really wanted to work.

Those listening that day knew the desperateness of the temp-service-like pool of people who were seeking to be chosen to go to work. They knew that their standing in line for work meant they were living very close to the starvation line. The disciples and the others listening to Jesus could picture the scene – how the mood of the crowd changed from quiet and reserved to excited and expectant when they saw the grape grower arrive and heard him announce: “The grapes are ripe! There’s plenty of work for everyone who wants to work! Let’s go!” Jesus’ audience would have had no problem picturing the scene of the unemployed rushing to the grape grower to hear his pay offer and they could visualize the first shift enthusiastically hustling into the vineyard and the same being true for each of the groups hired later who didn’t get hired by anyone else during the day.

Yes, the crowd listening to Jesus that day probably were nodding their heads to acknowledge that they understood the scene Jesus described. That is, until payroll time rolled around. Confusion had to be the look on their faces and questioning glances toward one another had to accompany the ending of the telling of this parable by Jesus. “Last ones hired being paid first? Everyone receiving the same pay? What in the world was Jesus talking about? That wasn’t the way things normally went down on the farm.”

I think there are at least two messages Jesus wanted to convey when he shared this parable. One of them, and it is the primary one, is that God is a God of grace. Some people believe that God’s love and forgiveness are things we have to earn. They believe it’s all about saying the right prayers – giving a certain amount – performing an adequate number of good deeds. Some people believe there’s no room for talk about God’s love and grace – that the primary message should be to “scare ‘em out of hell.” It’s important for them to be able to determine who is in and who is out based upon a bunch of rules and regulations.

Very simply put: this parable challenges all such thinking – radically alters such concepts about how God works. It portrays for us – describes for us – a God of limitless grace. God’s grace is awesome, incomprehensible, extravagant, amazing, accepting, outlandish. Jesus told this story because he wants all to know that there is not a one of us who are beyond the grace of God. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, what we think about ourselves, what others think about us, or what others tell us we should think about ourselves, God loves us, cares about us, offers us grace.

I think the parable offers us a second related message though, and that is that we need to be careful how we think about where we are on this faith journey. We need to guard against thinking we deserve more – deserve special treatment, special places of honor - because we’ve been at this Christianity thing longer than others or because we’ve done more or given more. Length of time we’ve been a believer does not earn for us special grace – special places in the Kingdom of God.

Matthew created the backdrop for the parable Jesus shared by telling about three things that happened in Jesus’ life just prior to him resorting to this story. The implication being that this parable was necessary because of these things.

First, some people brought some children to him for him to lay his hands on them and to pray for them. The disciples tried to put a stop to it. Jesus rejected the attitude of his disciples. He said instead, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” And then he blessed them and they went away.

I think it’s important to note that Matthew didn’t report that the children were in need of some special dispensation by Jesus because of something they had done wrong or some decision they made. They were blessed by Jesus simply because they were children and because of Jesus’ understanding of God’s grace it was his to impart.

The second story Matthew used to set-up this parable had a rich young man approach Jesus inquiring about obtaining eternal life. He sought information about what “good thing” he needed to do. Jesus told him to obey the commandments. The young man asked him to be more specific. Jesus was, and the young man said he kept all of those.

And then, sensing that he still wasn’t in, the young man pressed Jesus: “What else, Jesus? What else do I need to do?” And Jesus told him that if he wanted to be perfect that he should go and sell all he had and give the money to the poor and then come and follow him. The wealthy young man sadly turned away, implying that giving up his riches was too big a price tag. Then Jesus commented about the difficulty the rich have entering the kingdom of heaven.

His statement astonished the disciples. It caused them to ask: “Well, who then can be saved?” And Jesus, knowing they didn’t quite catch the connection between the scene with the children and this encounter with the rich man answered, “With this man it’s impossible, but with God all things are possible.” “Salvation is not something we can earn or buy – it’s not something obtained by our own action or efforts.” “Only God provides salvation – and it is only through God’s grace that it is provided.”

The final scene Matthew uses to prepare us to hear the parable by Jesus has Peter expressing the concern Jesus’ response created in the disciples. “Jesus, we have left everything for you! What then will there be for us?” “Jesus, if these insignificant little children can obtain your blessing and this rich guy can’t obtain it with all he has to offer, where does what we have done and who we are fit? What do we earn for having given up so much?”

Ready? Jesus responded with: “Peter, you are going to receive salvation, eternal life, a place in the kingdom of heaven, but, it’s not because of what you’ve given up. It’s because of God’s grace. Oh, and Peter, everyone else throughout history who desires it will receive the same thing you do no matter when they come on board and no matter how much they get done for the kingdom, nor how many they bring to me.”

Again, a second message from this story from Jesus’ lips is that we need to be careful on this journey of faith.
We need to guard against envy – against believing that we deserve something more than others simply because we have been a member of the church longer, been a Christian longer, read our bibles more often, invited more people to church, guided more people as they’ve sought to become followers of Jesus Christ.

The painful reality is that despite Jesus’ cautionary words, there’ve been numerous people through the years who have misunderstood what Jesus said. All of us probably know a horror story or two of times people have become overzealous about roles or positions they’ve held in the church. Some have felt they have earned the right to speak on behalf of the whole church because of how much they’ve given or because of their family ties or because of the length of time they’ve been a member. They think they can dictate policy and they are very reluctant to even listen to new ideas from newer members. The point Jesus is making is that we should be on the lookout for such temptations in ourselves.

I’d like to close with a story by John Sumwalt in which he retells this infamous parable utilizing a setting that we’re all familiar with in the life of the church. The setting has to do with a circumstance that developed in a particular choir. Happily, the story doesn’t reflect any experience in any choir I've been associated with during my career, but it does help us visualize, maybe even recall, how it happens in groups in the life of the church.  

Sumwalt writes: “Boyd Dillard joined the choir on his 75th birthday, a week after he became a member of the church. He had been an active barbershopper for years and he belonged to the local chorus guild, but this was his first experience in a church choir. His rich baritone voice was a welcome addition, and he readily joined in the merriment and camaraderie enjoyed by the men in the back row bass section.

“Ann Hershner joined the choir in late October, shortly before the start of Christmas cantata rehearsals. She had just moved to town from out of state to take a position in the music department at the local college. Several choir members commented on her beautiful alto voice at the end of her first practice, and they told her how glad they were to have her in their group.

“The very next week, the choir director handed out the music for the Christmas cantata. It was an old, familiar work, much loved by everyone. The director then announced who would be singing the solos and their special parts. Boyd and Ann were to sing a duet which everyone recognized to be the key musical climax in the cantata. Both Ann and Boyd seemed pleased to be chosen for these important parts, but no one else was smiling. ‘It’s not fair!’ someone was heard to mutter down at the end of the alto section. ‘She just joined the choir. Why should she get to sing the best part?’

“There was also some grumbling among the men in the parking lot later, after Boyd had gone home. ‘It’s not right,’ one of the tenors said. ‘Some of us have been singing in the church choir for years and years. I think we should be shown some consideration.’

“The following week, as the choir director was about to begin rehearsal, Harold Redburg asked if he might be permitted to lead the choir in a brief devotion before they started to sing. Harold was the choir’s senior member. Only a few months earlier they had celebrated his 50th anniversary with the chancel choir. The director nodded his assent, and everyone waited expectantly to hear what it was that Harold had to share.

“Harold opened his Bible to the 20th chapter of Matthew and he began to read verses 1-16: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard . . .” (2)

Some have labeled this parable one of “. . . the greatest and most glorious of them all.” It’s indeed a marvelous one for it at one and the same time offers us a word of hope and a word of caution – a word of encouragement and a word of warning. Through this parable we sense God’s outlandish grace working in our lives and we hear the invitation for us to do the same as we encounter others.

Grace, friends, God’s grace – is awesome – is outlandish – is amazing – is God’s way of dealing with us. Let us resolve anew to accept its renewing power in our lives – to believe that God really loves us and forgives us no matter from what our circumstances. And, let us also resolve to do all we can to live a life of grace-giving so that others will come to know God’s saving grace as well. Let’s get to cheering for the good fortune of one another, rather than jeering the unworthiness we believe we see in others while marveling at our own good fortune in spite of our unworthiness.

Let us pray:  “Lord, we have nothing, we are nothing, we can do nothing – except by your grace. Take us, Lord, as we are. Accept us, even in our weaknesses. Forgive us for our failings. Above all, help us to accept the amazing truth that you love others as much as you love us.  The forgiveness and grace you extend to us, is also offered to our sisters and brothers.

“Lord, help us to celebrate your extravagant grace and not to resent when it is the extravagant grace offered to all. In the name of the one who revealed unto us your graciousness, even Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen."

1.Johnny Dean, “Exasperating Grace” (
2.John Sumwalt, “Preaching to the Choir.”  
((There are probably a few more references I used than the ones I noted.))

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"A Summer/Fall Afternoon"

"A Summer/Fall Afternoon"

I'm sitting in my power wheelchair on the deck of our handicapped accessible home enjoying the sounds of activity in the area behind our house. I mean, there are two guys putting the finishing touches on a new french drain to correct a water issue in our yard (if you think I knew what I just referenced before Dorothy conversed with the multiple men who journeyed through our yard on several occasions the last couple of weeks, you don't know me very well!).

The lawns on each side of us are these beautiful seas of green grass - plush and well-maintained. The home to our west is being mowed as I sit here reflecting on the difference between theirs and ours. Ours looks like we have a contract to raise crabgrass and dandelions. Hence the explanation for our decision to have an irrigation system installed to give our lawn a little assistance. Yes, that is also taking place right now as I sit on my deck and observe this variety of welcome activity. What a magnificent and interesting machine it is that allows them to make what used to be a backbreaking time-consuming task. Oh, the engineering and creative minds that invent such wonderfully useful pieces of equipment to ease manual labor.

Finally, on the other side of the pond behind our house a tree service is busy cutting down some dead and diseased trees adding to the cacophony of sounds, the music of work being accomplished, noise. Not necessarily directly related to the dredging of the pond planned for the coming days, but necessary nonetheless. While we enjoy and appreciate the view from our back deck, there's no question the pond has some issues. Apparently the pond is only about 4" deep and should be much deeper. We're hoping it successfully removes the green slime-like algae covering the majority of it.

Well, this is probably the length of my posts from now on unless I'm reworking a sermon. Hands just not functioning as needed and still learning the eyegaze.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Chocolate Lovers Beware!"

Dear "Giving Wings to Thoughts," Bill's Backers, and Facebook friends and family,

A few months before "The Ice Bucket Challenge" miraculously appeared on the scene and blitzed its way across the nation, a college friend and football teammate, John Smith, contacted us with an idea to help the Walk to Defeat ALS effort. He's a fundraising rep for Sarris Candies out of southwestern Pennsylvania. He offered a direct website ordering fundraiser with no 3rd party handling of product. Then, he sent us some samples! This is good candy! We'll have some at the Columbus Walk, Sunday, September 21 at a new location: COLUMBUS COMMONS!

Here are the steps to order:

1. Go to
2. There will be a tab that says "Start Shopping", and you can click on the products you'd like to shop for, i.e. pretzels, boxed chocolates, etc.
3. Once you click on it, a gray box will come up that asks you to enter your group ID number.
4. Our group ID# is: 10-2582.
5. From there, you can place orders and pay online. You can even select a later shipping date. If, for example, you want to order holiday chocolates ahead of time. We're thinking about Halloween and Christmas and their special candies for those holidays.
6. Once you go through the check out process, 25% of your purchase will go to the ALS Association Central & Southern Ohio Chapter.

We currently have the campaign running until Dec. 15, which we might expand if things go well - sort of like the Honeybaked Ham Holiday fundraiser.

Bill & Dorothy Croy

Friday, September 5, 2014

SERMON: "Pillows of Discipleship"

"Pillows of Discipleship"
Genesis 28:10-19a

If we know anything at all about Jacob it is that he had a dream one night that included a ladder. One cannot have
grown up in the church and attended church camp and not have sung "Jacob's Ladder" thousands of times!

The truth of the matter is, there’s not much in the song about this story of the dream of Jacob portrayed in Genesis.
The ladder referenced in the song and our scriptures actually had no resemblance to what we normally think of when
we think of a ladder today. It wasn’t a step-ladder with rungs on it. Almost all the commentaries agree that it was
probably something more like a ramp or an escalator or a set of stairs like one would see in front of a monument or a
government building.

Perhaps the place where this beautiful and wonderful and meaningful old African-American spiritual is most at odds
with the actual Genesis story is in its reference to us climbing “higher and higher.” Because, you see, the real message
of the story is about God’s coming “lower and lower” or “closer and closer” to old Jacob and thus symbolically
toward us. The Old Testament story of Jacob and his dream doesn’t have anything to do with a good or holy person
getting better and better and thus climbing, figuratively, “higher and higher” and thus approaching God through their
merits. No, it’s really about a rather bad person, a fugitive, (Jacob) not deserving in any way to be approached by
God, being approached by God. (1)

The truth of the matter is that if ever there was a man who didn’t deserve to be paid attention to by God, it was Jacob.
He was a liar and a cheat, a jerk. Let me remind you of a few things about ol’ Jacob and why he was out in that
desolate place using a stone for a pillow in the first place.

Jacob’s misbehavin’ started the day he was born to Isaac and Rebekah. In fact, he was named Jacob because of the
way he came out of the womb. He was a twin - the second born of twins. And, as his older brother, Esau, was coming
out, Jacob grasped Esau’s heel as if trying to pull him back so that he could be the first one born. The name Jacob
comes from the Hebrew word that means “a heel” or “the one who takes by the heel.” From the day he was born, it
was obvious that Jacob's goal was to get ahead any way he could. Jacob would take advantage of any weakness he
saw in another - even if the other was his very own brother - even if it was his very own father!

Perhaps the worst things Jacob ever did, at least the ones the writers of Genesis felt compelled to record, were the
ones when he deceived his dad and took advantage of his brother. Esau was an outdoorsman, a hunter. Jacob was a
man more comfortable with hanging around the house.

These differences in personality created an obvious sibling rivalry. It probably didn’t help matters that the parents
tried to live their lives through the boys with each favoring one or the other - Isaac favoring Esau because he often
brought him wild game which he had a real taste for and Rebekah favoring Jacob because of his helpfulness around
the house.

The day Jacob took advantage of Esau was after Esau returned from some time out in the wilderness apparently either
too tired even to prepare the game he had bagged or with nothing to show for his several days of work. Jacob was
cooking some stew and Esau was starved. Esau begged for some of the stew. Jacob saw a chance to take advantage
of his brother. He refused to share his food unless Esau sold him his birthright. Esau’s birthright was that all the land
that was his fathers would become his upon his father’s death since he was the firstborn.

Well, it didn’t take Esau long to figure out that he was going to die if he didn’t get something to eat and that the
birthright of a dead man was worthless. And so he agreed to Jacob's offer and received the promised food.

The second episode, the one that resulted in Jacob’s fleeing, happened several years later. Isaac was getting up there
in years, blind, and concerned about how long he was going to make it. He sent Esau out to kill some of that wild
game he had a real taste for and promised to bless him before he died if he did.

Well, enter the one who only had eyes for Jacob, his mother Rebekah. She was listening and she concocted a plot that
would allow Jacob to receive the blessing Isaac had promised Esau. Now, I don’t even want to try and understand
these two sorry parents who favored one child over another - it’s simply beyond my comprehension. Rebekah’s plan
was to have Jacob go get two of the young goats from their own flock. She would prepare them and Jacob would wear
some of Esau’s best clothes and cover his hands and neck with the skins of the goats so that he would feel hairy like
his brother, Esau. Although Jacob was fearful that he’d be caught and get cursed instead of blessed and although Isaac
noticed the discrepancy between the hairy skin and the voice, the plot worked and Jacob received the blessing.

When Esau found out, he was livid. He’d taken all he could from this jerk of a brother and so he let it be known that
as soon as his dad died, it would be lights out for his brother. Once again, ol’ mom stuck her nose into the situation.
She got wind of the threat and convinced Jacob that it would be best for him if he left and went to live with her
brother, Laban. She convinced her husband, Isaac, it was a good idea also by lamenting about how bad she would feel
if Jacob married a woman from the people of that area instead of one of her own people. Isaac bought her argument
and sent Jacob on his way with his blessing.

It was while Jacob was on his way to Uncle Laban’s that the scene described in today’s passage happened. Jacob
stopped for the night at a certain place - at this time not yet a significant place, just the place he happened to be when
the sun went down - he stopped for the night at a certain place and in his hurry to get away from his angry brother he
apparently forgot a pillow and had to use a stone for one.

I find Jacob’s use of a stone for a pillow both intriguing and a bit humorous. Whenever I read this story I am reminded
of the times on retreats and Circuit Rider bus trips (a mobile retreat on a converted bus) when I forgot my pillow and
had to use my gym bag for one - a gym bag full of shoes and a hair dryer and numerous other not so soft things.

But, my real intrigue with the rock is the way its role changed in the story from a rock on the ground, to a rock under
a head, to a pillar to mark a sacred place. And I think the reason it plays all these different roles in the story is
theologically significant. My sense is that the stone referred to represented more than the simple physical stone on
which Jacob laid his head that night. My sense is that the stone was both a literal rock and a symbol of all the evil
Jacob had ever done. When Jacob went to sleep that night he not only had a rock under his head, which probably
caused him some physical discomfort, but he also had a lot of things running through his head about why he was out
on the road in the first place. Those thoughts had to have been the source of great psychological discomfort. The two
together would certainly explain a restless, dream-ridden, nightmarish night.

We’ve all experienced such nights in our lives - nights when our actions or words or thoughts have their way with our
ability to sleep - nights when we just can’t seem to shut out those things we’ve done wrong - nights when sleeping is
difficult because of everything we’re thinking about. There are simply some things that practically scream out to us in
the middle of the night, “Get down on your knees and confess what you’ve done and ask for God’s forgiveness.”

I think those were the kinds of thoughts that ran through Jacob’s mind that night when he dreamed about an escalator
and the movement of angels up and down it and God talking to him. The lonely and weary and rotten Jacob became
aware of God’s nearness in a place he did not expect and as a result he marked the “certain place” thus claiming it to
be a holy place, a place where he encountered God, by making a pillar of the rock that had been a pillow under his
head the hours before.

What I believe happened to Jacob that night was that he became aware in a new way that despite the mess he was in
because of the wrongs he had done - the sin in his life - God cared about him and had a plan for the rest of his life.
And as a result of his sensing the nearness of God with the aid of the stone become pillow, he used several such
pillows to make a pillar to mark the place.

Now, there are several things in this story that provide us some helps as we experience our journeys of faith. The first
one is that God is present all the time, everywhere, and in everyone and we can become aware of God’s presence in
the most unexpected ways, places and people. God can be known in the midst of joyous occasions and in the midst of
very depressing events in our lives and in the midst of the day-to-day routine of living. God-events happen when we
least expect them and sometimes through those we least expect. (2)

I had an experience in my own life once that reminded me of this truth. We were new owners of a cottage and a used
pontoon boat that came with the cottage purchase. It was the 4th of July weekend and several people who have places
on Indian Lake had encouraged us to take in the fireworks on our pontoon boat. They also offered us words of caution
about the condition some of the drivers of the other boats might be in and suggested that we might want to try and
stay on the edge of it all our first time. (Apparently drinking and driving isn't just a problem on our roadways.) Well,
we did as they suggested: we anchored our boat about 15 minutes before the firework display began in an area where
there were very few other boats. Then I turned off the boat’s motor. Part of our conversation while we waited for the
show centered around our concern about alcohol consuming boaters and the scary time after the fireworks and how
we would have to make a quick get-a-way to avoid them.

Well, to make a long story short (and to lessen how terrible I am portrayed), when the fireworks ended I couldn’t get
the motor to start! It quickly became apparent that our battery was dead. My wife made one of those suggestions
wives just shouldn’t make to their husbands when things appear beyond their ability to deal with: “Bill, why don’t
you ask one of those boaters going by us to help us.” I knew I should but I just couldn’t bring myself to - male pride,
you know. (I probably should mention here that I had chosen to leave the boat radio on during thee fireworks against
the preference of my wife!)

Finally, after a dozen or so had passed us by with several commenting on how difficult it was to see us because of
how dim our lights were, it became obvious I was going to have to admit my human frailty and ask for help or there
was going to be no help left. At about the same moment, a boatload of people went by and one of them shouted back
to us, “Need some help?” And I, cringing with every male hormone in my body screaming for me not to, said, “Yes.
Our battery is dead.” And they maneuvered their way over to us.

To say everyone on our pontoon boat was relieved would be an understatement. Our rescuers first offered to tow us
back to our cottage. And then one of the passengers remembered they had jumper cables. It seemed like it took
forever for them to get in the correct position so that the two batteries were near enough to one another for the jumper
cables to be used.

Now, although the rest of the passengers on our pontoon boat apparently weren’t aware of it at the time, there was a
reason they took their time moving - one of their female passengers, apparently unable to hold it any longer and too
drunk to care, was relieving herself  a few short feet away from where my head hung over my boat so that I could
have a good grip on theirs. Yes, they had definitely been partying the night away out there on the lake!

It was while this was going on that one of those God-moments hit me: I was being helped by someone I was hoping to
avoid. I, the self-righteous one, was being helped by someone I was judging. To be sure: this is not a condoning of
drinking and driving, either on a boat or in a car, but it is a reminder that God does indeed show up often in the places
and the people we least expect. (Now, it probably will influence a few more giggles if I mention that I first used the
illustration the same summer it happened with  my insurance agent who also served the church as a trustee at the
time, and he wasted no time sending me a boating manual!)

Another group of related things I think it's helpful to note in this passage is that God cares about us no matter what
kind of people we’ve been or are - that God has a plan for our lives - that God reaches out to us because God is a God
of grace - that God can take the rocks of our lives and make use of them for good - and that as a result those mistakes
of our lives, those sins, those evil thoughts and deeds become markers of the occasions when we encounter God. The
rocks in our lives that disturb our sleep and disrupt our lives can become pillows of discipleship if we let God come to
us and heal us of the guilt those rocks produce in us. God can change us and make us new. The rocks in our lives can
become pillars marking those places where God has touched us.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God wants to, is ready to, do great things in us - through us - with our lives - if we but
let God. You are invited today to hear the good news in a new way - in a personal way - that God cares about you - no
matter what the sins are now that are eating at your soul and controlling you with guilt. God loves you and forgives
you and can help you make something of your life. You are invited to face the rocks in your life today and to believe
the good news that God has a plan for you despite what has been controlling your life in the past.    

Won’t you consider letting God heal you, forgive you, today? Let God change the rocks in your life into
pillows of discipleship.

1 Justin W. Tull, “Stairways of Heaven,” Wrestlings, Wonders and Wanderers! (Lima: CSS Publishing Company, 1992).
2 Robert Cueni, “Empowered By a Vision,” Tenders of the Sacred Fire, (Lima: CSS Publishing Company, 1995).

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"My Dilemma: A Personality Trait Issue"

"My Dilemma: A Personality Trait"

As I've been watching the Ice Bucket Challenge phenomena the last few days, a certain personality trait has resurfaced and created a dilemma in my life. Every couple of hours I've reposted my grandson's Ice Bucket effort and challenged a new group of friends and family. The more people I name the more concerned I become about leaving someone out - overlooking, forgetting someone and thus hurting their feelings.

Yes, I know it's a good personality trait to not overlook people, be concerned that everyone is included. Over the years I've also learned that sometimes traits can be both good and bad. That is, sometimes a strength can also create difficult times for us. The Gallup folks have done a really excellent job of helping us examine this duality in our lives with the research that resulted in the StrengthFinders survey and books. Definitely highly recommend their work if you want to understand yourself.

So, rather than continue stewing and posting I'm just going to make this blog post inviting all my friends and family to consider taking the Ice Bucket Challenge! No one needs to feel neglected or not needed or unimportant to me. This effort is huge and I know you all want to be a part of it!
Give where you want but especially consider those ALS organizations that know what is going on with research and where the funds will be best used. We give to the Central & Southern Ohio ALS Chapter which sends a portion of our gift to national where there is a knowledgeable research staff. If you're unsure but want to help, feel free to support a team member of Bill's Backers at the Walk to Defeat ALS - Columbus. If you go to the site, you can also join our team and walk with us on Sunday, September 21 at the Columbus Commons.

Go to If you simply wish to join our team and make a donation, proceed to the Register drop down box and join the Bill's Backers team as a walker or virtual walker and make a donation as a team member or to any of the team members already registered.


Friday, August 1, 2014

SERMONS: "Meals By Jesus"

"Meals By Jesus​"
Matthew 14:13-21

The writer of the Gospel according to Matthew introduced this amazing meal scene, the feeding of the 5,000 plus, with these words: “When Jesus heard what had happened he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” It’s obvious the writer believed that Jesus going off to be by himself was a direct result of what he had just heard. What he had just heard was that his cousin, John - John the Baptist, had been murdered by King Herod - brutally murdered - beheaded.

What happened was, King Herod fell in love with his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. Herod convinced her to divorce his brother and marry him - which she did. John the Baptist continually let Herod know he believed what he had done was wrong, that he should admit it, repent of his actions, and take steps to correct it.

Herod really didn’t seem all that bothered by John’s constant public condemnation of his lifestyle. But, Herodias, now that was another matter. She was a little more thin-skinned - definitely bothered. So much so, she demanded that her partner in crime, King Herod, silence John by putting him in prison and killing him. Herod drew the line at imprisonment. He said there was no way he was going to end John’s life over such a thing - too much potential for bad publicity. He knew that the people considered John a prophet and might react if he had him killed.

Enter Herodias’ daughter, Salome. Herod threw a birthday party for himself. For after dinner entertainment, he had his stepdaughter perform one of those exotic dances for which she was so well known. Herod was so thrilled by how well everything went at his party, especially the dancing of his stepdaughter, that he wanted to give her something for her part in the festivities. So he promised her the moon. He offered her anything she wanted. After a brief side conversation with her mom, Salome asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter per her mother’s, Herodias’, suggestion. Herod reluctantly ordered it done. (1)

After burying John’s body, his disciples went to Jesus and told him about the incident. As a direct result of hearing the news, Jesus “withdrew by boat to a solitary place” - to grieve? - to wrestle with the reality that the cost of discipleship had drastically increased? - to reflect on what it might mean for his ministry and life from then on? - to lay low for a little while? - to check in with God? - to get away for a little R & R, a little rest and relaxation? - to get refueled or to rechart his ministry plans? We don’t really know why for sure - probably partially for a little bit of all those reasons.

The disciples probably welcomed the thought of some time away from the daily grind of the ministry that was growing daily and becoming more and more demanding of their time and energy. The crowds were getting larger - the number of sick that were being brought to Jesus was growing. The disciples probably were feeling overworked and overwhelmed by all the human misery with which they had to deal.

And so, they were glad to take off their beepers and unplug their earphones and put up their “closed for the Day” signs and head out on to the lake with Jesus for a little fishing and sleeping and goofing off. (2) However, neither Jesus nor the disciples got the R & R they went after that day. By the time they docked their boat on the beach, the crowd was already forming. They deserved the rest they had planned. They deserved some time away to regroup - to refocus - to reflect - but it didn’t happen.

Now, Matthew doesn’t tell us how the disciples felt about the interruption of their time away, their much needed rest, but we can about guess. In an article by Roger Talbott he proposes for us some of the times when we’ve felt like how we guess the disciples felt: “you know, how they felt when the crowd showed up.”

* “The two of you haven’t had a night out without the kids in weeks. You finally get away. The waiter has just brought your appetizer when the babysitter calls and tells you the youngest has a high fever and has started throwing up.”

* “You’ve been planning this vacation for six months. Your reservations are all made and three days before you are scheduled to go your mother calls and says your dad is going to have a quadruple bypass as soon as the doctors can get his sugar stabilized.”

* “You haven’t had a day off in three weeks. Friday morning your sister calls, says her father-in-law has died and wonders if you could take her kids for the weekend.”

* “It has been a very long day. You woke up before dawn because your arthritis hurt so much. You had to go to the grocery store and take your dog to the vet and on the way home your car started to act up and you had to leave it at the garage and get a taxi to take you home. All you want to do is go to bed when the phone rings and it’s your friend who lost her husband last month and she just needs someone to talk to.”

* “And always, when we think we have given all we have to give there is always more need: the starving people in the midst of a famine; refugees from war; the devastation of floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes; to say nothing of our neighbors who are hungry; the children who need someone to care about them; the youth in our community who have nowhere to go and nowhere to grow.” (3)

Yes, we know how the disciples probably felt when their planned and hoped for R & R got interrupted without any help from the author of Matthew. And he apparently didn’t feel the need to report it either, since there’s no reference to it in the text.

Such is not the case when it comes to how Jesus felt though. The author wasted no words describing it - he said it clearly and bluntly: “he had compassion for them.” He felt their pain, their questions, their seeking spirits, their guilt, their need to have him pay attention to them, their needs. And so he put aside his fears for his life, his doubts about his career, his questions about what direction his ministry should take from that time on, his need for personal spiritual refreshment, renewal, his need for rest and relaxation and went to work compassionately satisfying their every need.

Compassion, you see, knows no boundaries. There’s no protection from when it might be necessary to call upon our reserve energy and attentiveness and caring and understanding spirit and sincere smile or hug. Compassion never takes a vacation nor can it ever be withheld.  There’s nothing any more important than offering compassion, being compassionate, when a situation develops around us. There is no limit on the compassion this world, our neighbors, friends and family members, yes, but also strangers to us - people we don’t have a lot in common with - the poorer than us and the richer than us - the more educated than us and the less educated than us - the more physically advanced than us and those more physically challenged than us.

A very good friend of mine, Deb Campbell, died several years ago. It was almost one year from the day she was diagnosed with cancer. Deb was a truly unique person - she lived her faith - she was a Servant Leader - the leader of Servant Leadership groups throughout the conference. I went to her funeral. She prepared a piece for us all to read at her funeral. It was entitled “The Chemotherapy of Love” and one of the paragraphs in the piece seems apropro for today.

She wrote: “Being Love. So often we stop with the me-and-Jesus part of our faith. But, as Tony Campolo said at annual conference a few years ago, 'The problem with Jesus is that when he comes into your heart he brings his friends. And they may not be people you would choose as friends.' It is through our relationships with others that Jesus grows us up in love. The scripture puts it clearly: If we do not love our brother and sister we cannot love God (I John 4:20). This is our lifetime work. How can we love, i.e. accept the other in loyalty and seek their good, the people who drive us crazy? Perhaps the problem is that we never fully accept the fact that we are the beloved.” (4)

There’s simply no limit to compassion when it comes to being a follower of Jesus Christ’s. We’re always on duty - always. If there’s anything that bugs me about we Christians, it is the way we have turned the priorities of the Christian lifestyle around in recent years partially because of pop psychology. Instead of: Jesus first, others second and ourselves last (J.O.Y.), we’ve replaced it with: ourselves first, Jesus second and others last.

Do you mind if I get something off my chest? I hope you answered in the affirmative in your hearts and minds because I’m going to do it. There’s nothing that gets to me anymore than we Christians walking around complaining about how overworked we feel - complaining that too much is expected of us - complaining that the church needs too much of our money, our time, our skills.

Friends, Jesus Christ died for us! He had so much compassion for us, he gave his very life for us. And when we said yes to him, yes to his offer of forgiveness and grace and removal of guilt from its stranglehold on us, yes to his lifestyle - we died to ourselves and were born again in him. As a result, we have committed everything about ourselves to his work - our time, our money, our children, out attitude, our lifestyle - everything! It takes more than one hour/week praising God or one day/week of our lives doing church things. Being a Christian is 24 - 7 = 24 hours/day, 7 days/week. If you’re looking for a one day a week church, a one day/week Christianity, where nothing is expected of you the rest of the week, you’d better look at one of those mega-churches on the edges of town. You’ll find out that it’s not the way it is in any church that is trying to live out the call of Jesus Christ. Compassion never goes off duty.

Nothing is to stand in the way of our being compassionate - that’s what Jesus showed us is our lot in life when he willingly took that detour from his planned schedule and paid attention to the crowd that day. And he did so with such concentration, such intensity, that the day got away from him. He lost track of the time. His disciples didn’t though. They were still in touch with what they lost out on - they recognized the grumbling going on in their stomachs - they had sized up the situation and knew there weren’t any fast food restaurants close enough to feed the mass of humanity that surrounded them. And so they said so to Jesus. They finally said what they probably had wanted to say all day long, “Send the crowds away, Jesus.”

And, as the disciples prepared themselves to help direct the crowd to the surrounding communities and to recommend their favorite eating establishments, Jesus threw them another curve and revealed yet another important aspect of being a follower of his. “You give them something to eat.” “You feed them.” And then the complaining, the whining, really got going: “We have nothing here, Jesus, but these five loaves and two fish. There are 5,000 men here, which means there are probably 10,000 people here counting wives and children and they all need to eat. There’s simply not enough to go around, Jesus.” They tried to beg off by making excuses that sounded legitimate to them. They tried to get out of doing what Jesus instructed them to do by confessing their limitations.

Truth be told, the disciples taught us well - we’ve developed, refined, our own excuses for not serving the way Jesus calls us to. “I’m too old for this sort of thing.” In the last couple of churches I've been associated with members in their 70's, 80's, and 90's worked at soup kitchens and food pantries, went on mission trips, sorted clothes, etc. “I’m too busy.” “I’ve already given and done my bit.” “I’m not ordained.” “This is not my gift.” “I’ve got too much on my plate right now.” (5)

Jesus refused to accept the excuses of the disciples and he refuses the ones we’ve come up with as well. His response to their excuses was: “Well, bring what you have to me.” “Bring me the five loaves and 2 fish.” The disciples did and Jesus took the 5 loaves and 2 fish, looked up to heaven, gave thanks to God for the fish and bread, blessed and broke the bread. Then he gave it to his disciples and sent them to their waitering ministry. After everyone had all they wanted to eat, the disciples gathered up the leftovers - twelve baskets of broken pieces.
Now comes my favorite observation about this reported event. The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 or 10,000 happened not when Jesus did his thing but when the disciples did their thing - when the disciples served what they had. The five loaves and two fish didn’t suddenly explode into giant loaves of bread and Cedar Point carp size fish after Jesus took the bread and blessed it and broke it. No, the miracle happened when the disciples passed the baskets through the crowd - when they did their part and the others in the crowd perhaps pulled out the food they had on them and selfishness and hoarding, got replaced with giving and sharing. (6)
“Meals By Jesus” are meals his followers serve - they are the meals served on Sunday mornings to the homeless or down on their luck - they are the meals served at soup kitchens - they are the cans of cookies college-age ministry teams prepare and send several times a year - they are the funeral meals funeral meal ministry team provides after a funeral for families who need to be ministered to in this way - they are the meals provided for families after a new baby is born into their household - they are the sacks of groceries volunteers hand out at pantries - “Meals By Jesus” are those things his followers do after they’ve offered Jesus who they are and what they have. (We've been the recipients of such meals for several months and sense Jesus present with us through the providers.)

Do you hear the call of Jesus Christ in your heart? Do you feel him tugging at your gut, your billfold, your schedule? What will be your response? Jesus says to each one of us - “bring me what you have, who you are, and I’ll bless it and it will be enough for you to fulfill your ministry. I’ll make it worth more than it seems to you.”

I hope the sequence of actions the writer of Matthew reported sounded familiar to you - Jesus taking bread, blessing the bread, breaking the bread and then giving the bread to his followers to distribute. If they remind you of Holy Communion - they should. We say them every time we celebrate the Lord's meal. I invite you to remember that this holy meal is both to fill us with a sense of God’s grace in our lives when we perhaps don’t deserve it and to fill us with the desire to go from our places of communing to live a life through which others will experience forgiveness and grace as well - to go forth and be the servers of Jesus’ meals. It’s a means of grace this meal - freely offered to all, just as God’s grace is freely offered to all.

1 Clergy Journal, April, pg. 36.
2 “Prayer and Compassion Fatigue”​
3 Ibid.
4 Deb Campbell, “The Chemotherapy of Love”
5 Homiletics, pg. 48
6 Frank Schaefer, “Feeding 5000"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bill's Backers Ready to Go for Fourth Year!

Here we go, Backers, here we go!  Here we go, Backers, here we go!

Dear Family and Friends,

(PALS  who receive this simply know it's for your ideas , not a solicitation for Bill's  Backers.)

The 2014 Walk to Defeat ALS will be held on Sunday, September 21 at a new site: the Columbus Commons in downtown Columbus. Registration will again begin at 9:30 am and the walk at 11 am. This is the fourth year a team of my family and friends (Bill's Backers) will participate as we do what we can to combat this challenging disease. The Walk raises funds to support the Central and Southern Ohio ALS Association Chapter as it provides support for those of us living with the realities of the disease and needed research. Our team (YOU!) has raised close to $100,000 in the first three years and are much appreciated in the ALS community. THANKS!

Most of you are aware that I was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) in August of 2010. If you follow my blog, "Giving Wings to Thoughts", you know that in 2013 the disease progressed to the point where I stopped driving in December, 2012; helped to my feet by paramedics four times in one week resulting in my no longer standing to transfer from power wheelchair to shower, toilet, and bed but learning to use a slide board; switched to an A-pap machine with a battery so I can still be mobile as my bi-pap needs increase; am showered and dressed by hospice aides. More recently Dorothy has hurt her back because of the care my needs demand and several folks now aide around the house as needed.  We are blessed to be living in a handicapped accessible house. Our traveling continues to slow down but I can still join Dorothy for a meal out once in awhile. I began sleeping in my power wheelchair when we were in Florida in February and have continued to do since. It's just more comfortable. Dorothy now feeds me certain foods when I am unable to stab them or tire.

We want to continue doing what we can to support research as well as the work of the local chapters providing support groups and needed equipment. We want to invite you to join us in this year's efforts in one or more of the following ways:

1)       Go to If you simply wish to join our team and make a donation, proceed to the Register drop down box and join the Bill's Backers team as a walker or virtual walker and make a donation as a team member or to any of the team members already registered.

2)         Or, this same area will also give you the opportunity to develop a Personal Page about our relationship and why you are participating. You simply make the donation to your own effort and then email this information to 5, 10, or 20+ of your family and friends thus further increasing the awareness of the disease and potential resources for this fight. You can also repost on Facebook. We want to see many of you as Bill's Backers Squad leaders which is what we will refer to the people you are able to contact - Ideas include: Bill's Backers OG Squad, Bill's Backers ONU Squad, BB Maple Grove Squad, BBLim's Squad, etc. Remember: this event is both about sharing information about ALS and raising funds. Most of the work done this way is done electronically, which means you don't have to do the face-to-face ask. If your family, friends or work associates understand why you are interested in this effort, it's amazing how willing they are to join the fight to Defeat ALS! If you are interested and need help setting up your personal page, feel free to contact one of the persons noted below.

3)         We've had wonderful success with ALS fundraising nights at City BBQ, Jersey Mike's, and the Folk Music Sing-a-Long. Would any of you be interested in hosting such a night at a local restaurant in your community? Bill's Backers captains, Nicki Crellin & Megan Croy, are willing to help with the paperwork part of it if anyone is willing to give it a try. Again, their contact information is below. (An ONU football teammate who does fundraising for Sarris Candies, John Smith, is going to roll-out a new effort on September 1. More information will follow.)

Please note: If you make a gift, you will have the option of making an anonymous gift.  Otherwise, your support will be recognized on the "Fundraising Honor Roll" scrolling on the right side of the page.

My daughter, Megan Croy (, son and daughter-in-law, Jeremy & Meladie Croy (,, sister, Phyllis Macke (, and niece, Nicki Crellin (, have all agreed to serve as contact persons if you have any questions.

Thanks and God's blessings on you all as you consider what you are able to do!  Below is an additional note from the ALS Association.

Why We Need Your Help

Often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive, fatal neuromuscular disease that slowly robs the body of its ability to walk, speak, swallow and breathe. The life expectancy of an ALS patient averages 2 to 5 years from the time of diagnosis.

Every 90 minutes a person in this country is diagnosed with ALS and every 90 minutes another person will lose their battle against this disease. ALS occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic boundaries.

This crippling disease can strike anyone. Presently there is no known cause of the disease though support is bringing researchers closer to an answer. In the mean time it costs an average of $200,000 a year to provide the care ALS patients need. Help make a difference and donate or join a walk today.