Monday, August 29, 2016

It’s Friday, But Sundays Coming

Galatians 6:15-16    (The Voice)
Let me be clear: circumcision won’t save you—uncircumcision won’t either for that matter—for both amount to nothing. God’s new creation is what counts, and it counts for everything. May peace and mercy come to all of you who live by this rule and to the Israel of God.

Matthew 27:27-31   (NRSV)
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Last week I shared with you about a God Who Comes
A God who promises to be with us in the good, the bad and the indifferent.

But when we talk about WHAT IS THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY we cannot escape the passion of Jesus.

When I say the PASSION of Jesus I mean the brutal torture, and ultimate murder of Jesus by the Roman authorities.

For many people --- the cross --- the electric chair or lethal injection of the 1st century is a road block in coming to Christianity.

How can Jesus --- the very son of God die?

Paul said this in 1st Corinthians:
Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

Many people still today, cannot get beyond the fact that Jesus was executed --- that Jesus was murdered by the Roman authorities

I don't know about you . . .
But I would love to have the opportunity to go back and correct some of the mistakes that I have made along the way.
·         Start that job interview over
·         start the relationship over
·         start the sermon over

Remember the movie Groundhog Day --- in which a weatherman named Phil (played by Bill Murray) gets to repeat the day over and over again until he is finally able to create the start of a healthy relationship with Rita his producer.

While it would be nice to be able to fix the past
the sad reality is --- we can't --- there is no do over machine --- you can't be transported back in time and redo what you did in a new way

Now I have been accused of many things in my life, but I would like to make something very clear
I really am! ---- at least about those things that I want to be traditional about!

My hunch is ---- if we are honest --- we all are to some extent
traditionalist about the thing we want to be traditional about

·         Tradition was, women and children ate in the kitchen ---  who is planning on keeping that tradition?
·         Tradition was, women did not speak in church --- there are probably some of you who glad that tradition has come to an end
·         Tradition was, women wore hats and gloves to church, and men wore suits and ties ---- I don't see too many traditionalists this morning
·         Tradition was, women sat on one side of the church and men sat on the other ---- should we get up and move? Cause I don't see many people keeping that tradition either
·         Tradition was, the only thing you did on Sunday was read the bible and spend the day at church with your family ---- no shopping, no sports ---- no stores would be open ---- There are many Sundays when I could go for that tradition --- but I know the Colts usually play on Sunday so . . .

          We pick our traditions
                   What are some of the things I am traditional about?
·         I can't stand it when Hollywood decides to "remake" one of the classic movies

For some reason, Hollywood loves to ruin classic Christmas films

          Miracle on 34th Street

About ten years ago, a movie from the 70's was remade.  It doesn't have the energy or the dynamic power of the original

The original movie probably influenced me and my decision to go into the ministry more than I want to admit.
And if you think about that statement it probably explains a good deal about me.

The movie that I am talking about is Andrew Lloyd Webber's rather loose interpretation of the passion of Jesus called JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

There is a powerful scene in the original movie when Jesus has just been tried by Pilate --- and Peter has just denied knowing Jesus.

The Romans are preparing to execute him and the disciples are wondering that same question that you and I often seem to ask
          Can't we start over --- especially now that we know --- what we know?

In the movie, Mary sings a wonderful song --- "Could we start again please"

It's a powerful song that tells of our longing to go back and start again ---- but we can't and neither could Mary Magdalene or Peter or Judas or any of the other disciples. 

Soon they were watching with horror as Jesus was executed as a common criminal.

The interesting thing about all the Gospel accounts is that all of the writers tell us that the Disciples were CONVINCED that the story of Jesus ended right there.

The men and women who had been following him on his ministry couldn't see past that day.

And they longed for a do-over.
          Can't we start again???

But, ultimately, we have come to understand that the story of Jesus didn't end there.

After Good Friday comes Easter.

And as Disciples of Jesus, as followers of his, Jesus says to us that if we are truly willing to commit ourselves to his way he will do something amazing.

While we can't go back --- we can move forward with confidence not allowing the failures of the past to define us.

Because the amazing thing that Jesus does is he transforms us by his unconditional love.

Jesus promises us:
          "See, I am making all things new."

Isaiah, the great prophet of the Hebrew Bible pointed out:
Isaiah 43:19   (CEV)
I am creating something new.
    There it is! Do you see it?
I have put roads in deserts,
    streams in thirsty lands.

Paul in 2 Corinthians tells us too:
2 Corinthians 5:17   (NLT)
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

And our Scripture this morning also says the same thing:
Galatians 6:15   (NLT)
It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation.

The good news of the Gospel is that while we may not be able to go back and have a do-over ---- we can start from here unburdened by the mistakes of the past.

We can be NEW
We can be whole and full of God's love.

There is a powerful story that is told about a Palestinian Priest by the name of Elias Chacour. 

I had the opportunity to meet with Father Chacour on one of my trips to Israel.

The story takes place on a Palm Sunday service at his church in Ibillin Israel (in the Galilee)  -
One of the unique features of his congregation is that it is filled with people who are at odds with each other.

Father Chacour realized that there was, in reality, no peace among his people.

At the end of the service, he made a startling decision.

He walked down the center aisle and at the back of the church locked the only two doors to the church and took the key.

He told the people both that he loved them and that he was saddened to find them so filled with hatred and bitterness for one another.

Then, in the midst of stunned silence, he announced that only one person could work the miracle of reconciliation in their village: Jesus Christ.

Then he told his congregation this --- he said:
"So on Christ's behalf, I say this to you.  The doors of the church are locked. Either you kill each other right here in your hatred, and then I will celebrate your funerals ... or you can use this opportunity to be reconciled together before I open the doors of the church. If that reconciliation happens, Christ will truly become your Lord."

Ten minutes passed, and no one said a word.

The people sat in silence, locked inside their church.

Finally, one man stood up.

His name was Abu Muhib, a villager serving as an Israeli policeman, who was in his uniform.

He stretched out his arms and said,
"I ask forgiveness of everybody here, and I forgive everybody. And I ask God to forgive me my sins."

He and Chacour then embraced, with tears streaming down Abu Muhib's cheeks.
Within minutes, everyone in the church was crying, laughing, embracing and sharing Christ's love and peace.

Elias Chacour then announced that
"this is our resurrection! We are a community that has risen from the dead, and we have new life. I propose that we don't wait until Easter to celebrate the Resurrection. I will unlock the doors, and then let us go from home to home all over the village and sing the resurrection hymn to everyone!"

This is the day
          This is the day that the Lord has made ---- the Psalmist declared

Let us make this a day of new beginnings for us as well.

A day of hope,
          a day filled with unconditional love,
                   a day filled with finding the possibilities God has planted in our lives

Robert Benton's Academy Award-winning film Places in the Heart is the story of a young woman, widowed within the first few minutes of the film, struggling against the principalities and powers of evil incarnate in everyday life of central Texas during the 1930s.

Forces work to take away the only thing her husband has left her and her two small children --- a small farm in Texas.
Lynchings, brutality, infidelity, racism, greed, duplicity all of these are woven into the lives of those who make up the tapestry of Benton's story.

The film ends with a communion service.

At first the camera shows you a few of the good folk in town.
Next, some of the not-so-good.
Then the banker and others who conspired to take away her farm.

The camera continues to move with the cups of wine.
There is the faithful black farmhand who helped bring in the crop so the widow might pay her mortgage; next to him, the blind boarder.

The plate passes to the children, then to their mother.

She is seated next to her dead husband.

As you are trying to take this in, the plate moves to the young man who shot and killed her husband.

They commune, and each responds: "the peace of God."
All are gathered at table, to share the bread and cup of salvation.

Suddenly this is more than Sunday morning; this is the kingdom, eternity captured in time

This is not a human point of view.

The camera has given us a look at life, the way Jesus said God looks at it.

God has done something to enable everyone to come home.

God lets us start over again.

We can't re-do the past --- we can only go into the future as new creations in Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:17   (NLT)
anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

For some of us --- it may seem like Friday (the day they killed Jesus

But I want you to know --- Sunday --- Resurrection --- is coming!
The truth is --- it is already here.

Yes, we can start again through the love of Jesus!

Monday, August 22, 2016

The God Who Comes

John 1:1-5, 14   (NRSV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being

So John begins the famous prologue to his Gospel.  A Gospel that is concerned to help us understand that Jesus is "the Word (that) became flesh and lived among us."

In mid September 2008, about 11 inches of rain fell over Northwest Indiana in a very brief period of time.  The result of that rain was flooding that had not been seen in the region in most people's lifetimes.  The storm, which was remnants of hurricane Ike, caused 2 deaths in the region and over 26,000 FEMA applications.

I will never forget how in the days following the storm we struggled to figure out how in the world we --- as individuals, communities of faith, along with the business community could help. 

I was at a Chamber of Commerce meeting the following week when someone came up to me and asked; "where was God in the storm?"  I invited them to come with me after the meeting across the street to the Munster High School which was being used as an emergency shelter and as we walked through, and see all the people being helped I said: "There, there is God!"

I want to be very clear about something --- I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT GOD CAUSES DISASTERS --- I know some that religious leaders have been known to proclaim that God does do that. But --- I DON'T BELIEVE IT!  What I have come to believe, is that God gives us the opportunity to respond to the hard places in our lives.

And when we try to understand what it means that God "became flesh and lived among us" I think many of us struggle with that concept when things become difficult.

When things are beautiful, when we seem to have the world at our fingertips, God seems everywhere.
          Every Sunset is the presence of God      
          Every baby is the presence of God
          Every good thing that happens we can sense God in the midst of it

BUT, when things don't go the way that we expect --- then we often wonder --- "Where is God."

Without a doubt, one of my favorite passages of scripture is the 139th Psalm. 
I imagine many of you know it as well.

Psalm 139 NRSV 
O LORD, you have searched me and known me. {2} You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. {3} You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. {4} Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. {5} You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. {6} Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. {7} Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? {8} If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. {9} If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, {10} even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. {11} If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night," {12} even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

If we read Psalm 139 carefully, we may be surprised by what the Psalmist writes. 

The Psalmist does not seem to raise the question of “Where is God, or where can I find God in the midst of all my troubles” which is the question that we often ask; instead the Psalmist seems to declare that there is no way to escape from the presence of the living God.

This is a God who permeates all of human existence, from the heights of joy to the depths of despair.  

I can't tell you how many times I have sat with a family in the midst of tragedy over the past 30 years.  And I have no doubt over the next few years; I will sit with some of you who are here today.

And when we confront these difficult moments, the question that often seems to be asked is WHY?

Why does God allow these terrible injustices to happen?  Where is God?  Why does it feel that God has left us in the midst of our grief?

Can any of you honestly tell me that at one time or another that you haven't cried out like Jesus did from the cross:
          My God, My God, Why have you forgotten me?

My first memory of the 139th Psalm is from a sermon my father preached the week my brother was diagnosed with a tumor --- and days before they surgically attempted to remove the mass from his stomach.

The Thursday before he preached on this passage he got a phone call from my 22 year old brother Stewart and this is what he said:
"Dad, the doctor has just called to tell me that I have a stomach tumor, and that I must go as soon as possible to see a specialist.”

Can you imagine having to stand in front of close to a thousand people three days later and preach from this passage? 
To try and answer the question: WHERE ARE YOU GOD?

In that sermon he said:
In that moment the world seemed to stand still and my life changed forever. Of all the bad things that I had feared might happen to Stewart as he grew up, it had never occurred to me that he might have cancer. Young people have accidents, get into trouble with drugs, but they do not have stomach cancer. By the end of the week we had discovered that Stewart had a large tumor in his stomach, ulcerated and bleeding, probably malignant. On Monday, Stewart will have surgery in a heroic attempt to remove this tumor.

And so now I cried out the words that I had heard on the lips of so many of you, “Where is God”.  “Why is this happening to a young man who is so full of life, who loves people so much, who is preparing himself for a life of service as a teacher?”

I do not know why this is happening. It seems so unfair, so devoid of meaning. I struggle to try and understand because if I can understand the “Why” then I will have a source of power to cope with this terrible event.

Despite what a few television evangelist try to tell us, and contrary to the very early Jewish belief that God rewarded good people and punished the wicked (--- using whatever means God wished --- weather, war, illness); Jesus, and even Judaism itself, turned that notion on its head.

Jesus very clearly reminds us that God does not cause evil.

In Matthew (5:45) Jesus tells us:
for (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Yet, as a 25 year old seminary student I had to wonder.
          Is that really how it works?

I read and re-read the book of Job trying to find an answer.

Where God, where are you?
Why is this happening?
What did I do to cause this?

I am sure many of you have heard of Thomas Aquinas --- probably nobody has helped to shape Roman Catholic theology as much as Aquinas and he certainly is still a major influence in our world today.

He was without a doubt one of the greatest intellects to ever live.

Thomas lived during the thirteenth century and wrote one of the greatest systematic theological works called the "Summa Theology."

Aquinas was a part of the tradition of scholasticism and wrote about how God could be known through the intellect simply by reason.  For Aquinas the final and complete revelation of God is found in Jesus as his story is recorded in the Gospels.

On December 6th, 1273, while Thomas was at the Dominican convent of Naples in the chapel of Saint Nicholas, after Mass, Thomas was found to be lingering in prayer with tears before an icon of the crucified Christ.

Something happened, but no one knows because Thomas Aquinas never spoke of it.

But whatever it was it was so profound and life changing that when his aide asked him to return to work on his Summa he refused and said: "Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me"

And Thomas Aquinas wrote no more on his great work of theology. 

Apparently in that unexpected religious experience, he had encountered a reality that was beyond description. 

I know you have all heard of Sigmund Freud, the Jewish Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis

Freud regarded God as an illusion, based on the infantile need for a powerful father figure.  Religion, in his mind, was a necessary creation to help restrain violent impulses earlier in the development of civilization --- but it could now be set aside in favor of reason and science.

Carl Jung was a disciple of Freud, and was the son of a Lutheran pastor.

Jung disagreed with Freud over the issue of God.

Jung believed that there is more to the universe than mere material things, that religion is not a human creation but a human response to the spiritual realities that inhabit the universe, that there is a Great Spirit that we can experience and know. 

When Carl Jung was seventy years of age he had a massive heart attack and for several weeks lingered between life and death.  

During this time, he had a dream or a vision.  

In the dream Jung thought that he was standing at the very portals of eternity, a doorway that entered into a great celestial room. The room was filled with light, and Jung believed that when he passed through those portals that he would enter into life eternal and that he would know all things, peace and joy. 

Jung desperately wanted to go through that door, but just as he was going through the door, his doctor came into the dream and said: “Dr. Jung, there is a great protest on earth, a great protest against your leaving, you must return.” 

Jung lingered for three weeks between life and death, until he rather sorrowfully chose to return at seventy years of age. 

He lived on for another eighteen years and in those eighteen years he produced his life's greatest work, and rose to become a man of great influence. 

Then at the age of 87, amidst visions of glory and light, he died. 

Jung once was asked on a radio interview on BBC the question:
“Do you believe in God?” 

And Jung, on the basis of his experience, replied with these words:  
"Difficult to answer, I know. I don't need to believe. I know."

In a near death experience, this great psychiatrist came to meet and know “The God Who Comes,” an experience that gave new direction and purpose to the last 18 years of his life. 

As I wrestled with WHY, why would God allow a 22 year old, with so much life ahead of him get cancer? I found no answers.

It was only later that I learned I was asking the wrong questions.

But in the midst of this tragedy in my family's life I found the more important answer.

As I cried: "My God, My God, Why have you forgotten me?" I came to realize that God hadn't forgotten me.

No matter where I tried to flee --- God was there.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? {8} If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. {9} If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, {10} even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. {11} If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night," {12} even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

I came to see that I was in love with a God who Comes --- a God who was willing to cry as deeply as I cried.

But I also came to see, that God was real in so many different people who also surrounded me.

When Stewart got sick, I was serving two little churches in North Carolina.

I have never experienced grace like they shared with me --- and I will forever be indebted to them for showing me a God who comes.

And then, the day before Stewart died and again a couple of days after his death, I was blessed with profound, unimaginable, unexplainable experiences of God. 
I will share them with you at some point, but when I do, I will be honest, I really cannot put the experiences to words that truly describe them. (I almost feel silly when I share them.)

But in both cases --- I awoke knowing that God was right there with me.

John wants us to know that we have a God who loves us so much, that he took on human form to come and be with us.

The truth is: John's description is beyond words.

At the end of the day, I can stand with Carl Young and say: I don't believe, I know, I know.

Carlos Carretto in his book: The God Who Comes, puts it this way"
"God has already come, and yet He is coming and He will come, as the kingdom which is already within us while we march towards Him."

May you too experience, not just in days of joy --- but days of sorrow as well --- a God who has come and dwells among us.

Audio version is available at:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Grace: It's not Just a Table Blessing

John 8:1-11    (NRSV)
while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”]]

Last Sunday Matt shared a great introduction to our series that is loosely based on the book by Rev. Martin Thielen called “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?”

The title of the book is actually a play on trying to help us focus on what is truly the CORE of being a follower of Jesus.

And Matt nailed it.

Jesus very clearly tells us that the core of his faith is the SHEMA, found in Deuteronomy. 

For our Jewish sisters and brothers, the Shema is the prayer that they are called to pray four times a day --- twice during morning prayers, once during the evening service and before going to bed at night.

Rabbi Teluskin in his marvelous work “Jewish Literacy” notes:
Although Judaism has no catechism, the biblical verse “Sh’ma Yisra’el, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Ekhad --- Hear, O Israel, the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One” comes closest to being Judaism’s credo.  In just six Hebrew words, it sums up Judaism’s belief in monotheism, and its rejection of all idols.

This prayer would have been at the core of who Jesus was.  But Jesus does something interesting.  He takes this famous creed and modifies it, as Matt shared last week, by adding to it.

Jesus is confronted by some of the teachers of the law following what appears to be a rather heated debate.  They want to know if Jesus has proper theology so they ask him:

“Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 

He answers with the Shema --- but he didn’t stop there.

The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Loving God with our whole heart, soul and mind is hard enough --- but loving our neighbors?

How in the world can we do that?

For me, the key is understanding who we are --- and maybe more importantly who we are not!

In other words, stop thinking that the world revolves around me and my agenda and recognize that God is God (and I or you are not!)

And the only way that we can really do that is when we understand GRACE.

Grace, in my mind, is one of those difficult words because in the English language it has many different meanings.
          Miriam Webster’s helps demonstrate this with their simple definition of grace
: a way of moving that is smooth and attractive and that is not stiff or awkward
: a controlled, polite, and pleasant way of behaving
When we talk about grace in the church --- I don’t think that is what we mean.

Miriam Webster’s gives 7 additional definitions from
·         A title for a duke, duchess or archbishop
·         A special favor
·         A sense of propriety
·         A musical trill
·         A table blessing

But the one that is most important to us is also the most difficult to understand.

·         unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification

The problem is WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Most middle and upper middle class followers of Jesus struggle with grace.

Not that we don’t on a certain level like the idea --- but there is one word in the definition that tends to trip us up.

Anybody know what that difficult word is?


That one little word goes against everything many of us have been taught our whole lives.
·         There's no free lunch
·         You get what you deserve
·         You want money? Work for it.
·         You want love? Earn it
·         You want mercy? Show you deserve it
·         Do unto others before they do it unto you.

I was down at the Family Promise/IHN day center and their executive director was giving me a tour of the facility.
We walked past a room with a huge 10 year old Big Screen TV (Not a flat screen mind you --- one of those big 500 pound TV's) and as we walked through he apologized to me for it --- I must have looked surprised because he said many people judge and say "Why do they have a TV?"

GRACE --- unmerited assistance --- unmerited love --- that is a hard thing for us to do.

But at the core of Jesus was GRACE.

Our Gospel story this morning is a powerful illustration of God's unmerited love.

A woman who has been caught in the act of adultery is brought before Jesus by the Pharisees to try and trap him.

My first thought on reading the story is --- Where is the man?  Why wasn't he brought before Jesus also? --- but that is neither here nor there.

What the story tells us is rather mysterious.

Jesus bends down and begins to write in the dirt as the Pharisees demand justice
          What did he write?
                   We don't know

But after he finishes writing he says:
“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And then we are told that they put down their rocks and walked away.

Jesus does not condemn her --- guilty as she may have been. 
Instead he offers her the opportunity of a new life.

A number of years ago the United Methodist Church adopted a new logo.
I think it is the best thing that we have done in a long time as a denomination because it helps to define who we are supposed to be.

Anyone remember what that logo or tag line says?
          Open Hearts
                    Open Minds
                             Open Doors

What would the church look like if we took that motto seriously?

Let me illustrate with a story that I think has framed my understanding of the Christian movement my whole life.

I heard Tony Campolo share this story probably close to thirty years ago.

It is also found in the book we are studying.

Tony tells a wonderful story about a trip that he made to Honolulu.

Now for those of you who have traveled any distance, you know that sometimes it takes a few days for you to get acclimated to a new time zone. (The one hour change from Central time to Eastern Time has been very difficult for me!)

Tony woke up his first morning in Hawaii, his body telling him it was time to get up, but the clock showing 3:30 in the morning.

Since he was wide awake he went out looking for someplace to get some breakfast.
As you can imagine, the only place that he could find open could safely be called a “greasy spoon.”

The cook/waiter came up to him and said: “What d’ya want?”

Deciding that the safest bet was a donut, Tony asked for one and a cup of coffee.

While he was sipping his coffee and eating his donut, the door swung open and in marched a group of provocative and boisterous prostitutes.

They sat down a short distance from Tony and he heard one of the women say:
          “Tomorrow’s my birthday. I am going to be thirty-nine.”

Her “friend” said, in a rather nasty tone:
“So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? You want me to get you a cake and sing ‘Happy Birthday’?”

“Come on!” the woman said. “Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that’s all. Why do you have to put me down? I was just telling you that it was my birthday. I don’t want anything from you. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?”

After a while the women left.

Tony said to the guy behind the counter: “Do they come in here every night?”

“Yeah!” He said.

“The one that was sitting right here, does she come in every night?”

“Yeah, that’s Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why d’ya want to know?”

“Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you say that you and I do something about that? What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her – right here – tomorrow night?”

The guy said sure.

“Look, if it is OK with you, I’ll get back here tomorrow morning about 2:30 and decorate the place. I’ll even get a birthday cake!”

“No way,” said Harry (that was his name), “The Birthday cake’s my thing. I’ll make the cake.”

At 2:30 the next morning Tony returned to the diner and began setting up decorations, including a sign made out of cardboard that read: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AGNES!”

At 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place.

And at 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friend and everyone in the place shouted HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Campolo says:
Never have I seen a person so flabbergasted . . . so stunned . . . so shaken. Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle a bit. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. As she was led to sit on one of the stools along the counter we all sang “Happy Birthday” to her. As we came to the end of our singing with “happy birthday dear Agnes, Happy Birthday to you,” her eyes moistened. Then, when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.

Harry mumbled, “Blow out the candles, Agnes! Come on! Blow out the Candles! If you don’t blow out the candles, I’m gonna hafta blow out the candles.”

After a few moments --- he did!

Then he handed her a knife and told her, “Cut the cake, Agnes. Yo, Agnes, we all want some cake.”

Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she slowly said, “Look, Harry, is it all right with you if I . . . I mean is it OK if I kind of . . . what I want to ask you is . . . is it OK if I keep the cake a little while? I mean is it all right if we don’t eat it right away?”

Harry shrugged and answered, “Sure! It’s OK if you want to keep the cake, keep the cake. Take it home if you want to.”

“Can I?” she asked. Then, looking at me she said, “I just live down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home, OK? I'll be right back. Honest!”

She got off the stool, picked up the cake, and, carrying it like it was the Holy Grail, walked slowly toward the door. As we all stood motionless, she left.

Tony said: Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, ‘What do you say we pray?’”

When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, said: “Hey! You never told me that you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?”

“I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”

Harry sneered as he answered, “No you don’t! There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that.”
That, to me, is GRACE.
          Unmerited assistance --- unmerited love

Brennan Manning, in his powerful book: The Ragamuffin Gospel, in 1990 wrote:
Something is radically wrong when the local church rejects a person accepted by Jesus: when a harsh, judgmental and unforgiving sentence is passed on homosexuals; when a divorcee is denied communion; when the child of a prostitute is refused baptism; when an unlaicized priest is forbidden the sacraments.  Jesus comes to the ungodly, even on Sunday morning.  His coming ends ungodliness and makes us worthy.  Otherwise, we are establishing at the heart of Christianity an utterly ungodly and unworthy preoccupation with works.

Open Minds
          Open Hearts
                   Open Doors

Come Jesus says --- not just the saints,
                             not just the righteous,
                             not just the saved,

Come Jesus says and know that you are loved.