Sunday, July 24, 2016

You Can't Be Wrong

You Can’t Be Wrong

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

July 24, 2016

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

Isaiah 40: 27-31

1 John 3: 18-24

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


I was having trouble finding full speeches from Shakespeare to use each week. There are still a couple I want to eventually do, but they don’t fit the times, and I think it is important to have it be right. I mean it would have been hard last week to ignore all of the things going on in the world just to fit an artificial sermon series plan I thought up back in June, and with Bible School this week, I think it is a good time for a pep talk. I looked over my sermons from the Sunday ahead of Bible School the last two years, and it is what I did. So a pep talk. . . I was looking for. . . there are some good ones, but they aren’t about taking the week to welcome some kids to Christ, to give of ourselves, and our time, to have a rewarding week of smiles, crafts, laughter, silly song, sillier games, instead they were about “screwing our courage to the sticking place,” or going “once more into the breach” and though the second, another from Henry V, leading his outnumbered men once again into the fight may seem appropriate, especially at about 11:15 or so on Wednesday or Thursday, when we are tired, and hopelessly outnumbered, by the pitter patters of so many pairs of little feet. . . or maybe we would almost feel like taking Lady Macbeth’s advice at that moment, but neither of those famous pep talks are quite right. So I thought that I would like to step away from the full speeches from Shakespeare, but still continue to some extent, with some of the shorter, but still more meaningful lines and famous lines. So many of our clichés and sayings come from Shakespeare and we hardly know it. So this week I took a line from Measure for Measure, it says,

                                 . . . Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.

Somehow that seemed really appropriate because many of us who will be working this week I’m sure are wondering if they made the right decision volunteering, or succumbing to so little arm twisting, thinking they should have held out for more. . . I want to say unequivocally this morning, “It will be fine. You are perfect for what you are doing. You will be great, and this week will mean so much to you, some kid, and to this church, and I’m sure God will be smiling. For we will be putting our love to work. . . and our hearts know, and the Bible of course teaches, that love is very much an action verb. Here check this out, from 1 John 3: 18-24.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Here we are again, back to love and loving our neighbor, but this time we jump into the idea of loving, not in word or speech, but in truth and action, and if we look deeper into these verses we hear much of same idea that Shakespeare was getting at, and we again can wonder if Shakespeare was taking his idea directly from the Bible because here is not exactly the same thing, but rather the perfect flipside of what Shakespeare says. He says that doubts are traitors to the good, making that good go away because the action was never taken. . . often Hamlet’s lines echo these, but what John’s letter is talking about is the boldness that faith gives when love turns from words to action. Faith gives that boldness, freeing us, reassuring us, and filling up our tanks. There is a real fuel that comes when you are doing exactly the thing you are called to do in any given moment. It is tangible and palpable and real. It is truly an amazing feeling. We might get some of those this week, working with these kids.

I can say that looking back over the last two Bible Schools we held here, I have had them. Can you remember back to before we tried it? We hadn’t done something like that in a long time. We weren’t sure if we were going to have kids. I wasn’t sure that we were going to have the volunteers, but DeAnna said, let’s go, and we did. And it all fell into place. That first year we had 25 or so kids, and they were all related to folks of the church in some way, grandkids, nephews, cousins, etc. . . but they were here. And it was a great week. We had puppet shows, and the songs were great, Workshop of Wonders. The next year we added some kids from the area, which was cool, and stayed steady with the numbers. Camp Discovery. . . remember we had a little rigged up camp fire with a fan and some toilet paper rolls and some red, orange, and yellow tissue paper. It’s cool what you can do on a budget. . . and we did, more smiles, more memories, more songs stuck in your head. . . there somewhere in your head, for the rest of your life, if someone says a song, or just the words, it will be there, and once you bring it to mind, it’ll be days until you can shake loose from it. “The Lord gives wisdom, courage, and understanding. . . and that’s the truth.” . . . . . . . I couldn’t be more proud of what we have been able to accomplish together. Thank you all for everything that you have done to make it all happen. It has truly been a team effort and will be again this week.

Imagine though if we had allowed our doubts to rule us. . . if we were to allow the, well, but what if. . . or I don’t think it will work, or we don’t have the kids, we’re an aging congregation afterall. . . imagine what good wouldn’t have been, and we would have been traitors to that good. . . but we weren’t. . . so now then we can build off of that success. . . we can be bold. I don’t have any doubts now that we can pull this off, that this week will be an amazing time. . . some bumps along the way sure. . . but an amazing time, and one that is good, and important, and fun, and memorable. . . and to tell you the truth it has to work, it has to be good, because we are offering ourselves in love. . . we are putting truth into action. . . and that should and does give us boldness. . . It does right?

I find that I often try to stay away from “action steps” when I am preaching. I’ve always felt that laying a good foundation, plants seeds, and that those seeds can grow into many different flowers, and too much direction could limit the growth. If I were to say, well because I said this, then you all will need to do this. . . and then we will get here. . . but what if we were supposed end up somewhere else. . . what if there were separate callings we are having? What if my interpretation is right, but my application is much more narrow than it should be. I don’t want to limit it. . . and I’ve also been on the other side of the pulpit, and have been turned off by someone saying from this power position. . . you need to do this. . . or you need to do that. . . there may be a place for it, but in my experience it is often overdone, and it is something that I am wary of. So I am treading lightly today. . . or trying to. . . but on the other hand, there is much more to the Christian life than simple discerning. . . and I spend so much of my preaching time talking about discernment. . . the listening for the word of God to tell you, what is it that I am to do, who am I and what am I supposed to do? That is the question we all seem to be asking. . . but once that discernment comes. . . when you know, when you feel called. . . when you know what you are being called to do, and it is time to move forward and do it. . . looking back over my time here, I don’t think I have put much time into those pieces of the puzzle. . . that side of the ship. The I got it, but now what part. . . the taking the steps. . . the putting the call into action. . . the, to quote John’s letter. . . the truth in action piece.

So when I am teaching my class at Blue Ridge, we spend a lot of time on discernment. . . who am I and what am I supposed to do. . . what are human beings, and what are we called to do. . . is it all one thing or are we each called to different? Or is it some kind of mix of both? But then eventually we get to the next step. . . so you know who you are and what you are supposed to be. . . now the next step is to Resolve to do it, to be it. . . this is important because action comes from the will. . . we are given free will, and we exercise that will. . .

We Presbyterians believe that our exercising of the will to do good is in response. . . God has loved us. . . saved us. . . and out of a gracious heart we bend our will to the good, not because we must, but because we may. . . as my communion invitation goes. . . so this free will that we put forward is about resolving, and resolving is two part. . . there is the deciding to do, and then there is the commitment of and in the doing. There is the first step, there may not be a second step, you’ll get to that one in a minute, but I am resolving to take that first step and you do. . . now what happens as a result of that first step. . . are you rewarded, punished, or sometimes worse. . . what is just nothing. . . just bleh. . . no change, nothing happened. . . it seemed like a complete and total waste. . . and your resolve is tested. . . which I think then comes the last part of this puzzle. . . and that is perseverance. . . to take the next step after that, no matter what. . . to commit to the action because you discerned that you were called to it. That is the cycle. . . discern. . . resolve. . . persevere. Don’t you think that is true? You figure out what you are going to do. . . you begin doing it. . . then whatever comes along you stick it out. . . that I believe is the beautiful process of faith, and putting faith into truth and action. . . and when done “decently and in order” like that, in theory, you can’t be wrong. . . you go forward in boldness because your action started with God.