Sermon: “Jesus Will Never Leave You or Forsake You” (August 28, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Jesus Will Never Leave You or Forsake You” (Hebrews 13:5)
August 28, 2016
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Be forewarned…this is a heavy sermon, and it may apply to some of you more than others, though I hope it connects with all of you on some level—but it is a gospel sermon, so there is good news too, because the gospel is always good news.

You are ten years old.  It is a crisp spring Saturday afternoon in 1979.  You are riding in the back end of an olive green 1970’s station wagon complete with wood siding.  You are on your way to your soccer game and wearing a Kelly green jersey and socks, shin guards, black Adidas cleats.  Riding with you is your friend and teammate named Paul.  Paul is a goofball, hilarious, happy-go-lucky.  You love hanging out with Paul.  At first you cut up with him and at traffic lights you make funny faces together out the back window at the passengers in the car behind you.

Then a song comes on the radio and Paul suddenly becomes very quiet and somber.  He is suddenly not in the mood to joke around.  The two of you quietly listen to the song called “Just When I Needed You Most,” a melancholy hit by Randy Van Warmer that he wrote after his girlfriend walked out:

You packed in the morning
I stared out the window
And I struggled for something to say
You left in the rain without closing the door
I didn’t stand in your way
But I miss you more than I missed you before
And now where I’ll find comfort God knows
‘Cause you left me just when I needed you most

Now most every morning I stare out the window
And I think about where you might be
I’ve written you letters that I’d like to send
If you would just send one to me…
Now I love you more than I loved you before
And now where I’ll find comfort God knows
‘Cause you left me just when I needed you most

Continue reading

Sermon: “Our God is a Consuming Fire” (August 21, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Our God is a Consuming Fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29)
August 21, 2016
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today I am going to begin by juxtaposing the experiences of a renowned Anglican priest of the eighteenth century with the experiences of a brilliant singer-songwriter of the late twentieth century.

Late at night on February 9, 1709 there was a fire at the rectory in Epworth, Lincolnshire, in England.  Everyone in the house managed to escape except a five year old little boy, the fifteenth child in this family.  The stairs had already burned down and the roof was about to collapse, but one parishioner managed to stand on the shoulders of another and lift the boy out of a second story window.  That little boy was John Wesley.

After studying at Oxford, John Wesley was ordained in 1725, and eleven years later was invited by James Oglethorpe to serve as the primary Anglican priest in the colony of Georgia.  On Friday, February 6, 1736 he landed on a small island near Savannah.  Last year I visited that spot where the marker includes the following quote from Wesley’s journal:

About eight in the morning I first set my foot on American Ground.  It was a small uninhabited island…over against Tybee, called by the English Peeper Island.  Mr. Oglethorpe led us though the Moorish land on the shore to a rising ground…we chose an open place surrounded with myrtles, bays, and cedars, which sheltered us both from the sun and wind, and called our little flock together to prayers.

In Savannah John Wesley experienced another fire, this time in his heart, which burned for a young lady named Sophia.  Unfortunately Sophia married someone else and John Wesley later denied her communion and was in the process of being sued when he returned to England in December 1737, depressed and disillusioned.

Five months later Wesley attended a Moravian Bible Study on May 24, 1738 and had yet another burning experience, as he famously recorded in his journal:

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

That burning experience in his heart proved to be the turning point of John Wesley’s life and ministry. Continue reading

Sermon: “Running Fools” (August 14, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Running Fools” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
August 14, 2016
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A recurring theme in the classic 1994 film Forrest Gump is running.  As a young boy Forrest has to wear braces on his legs and as he is being chased by bullies one day his leg braces suddenly break apart and with a huge grin he begins running.  After outrunning the bullies he runs along some county roads and then runs through town, where he races by a barber shop where an elderly gentleman glimpses him and comments, “That boy sure is a running fool.”

Later Forrest falls in love with Jenny, serves in Vietnam, and starts a thriving shrimping business with Lieutenant Dan, but he also loses his friend Bubba during a battle and loses his mom to cancer.  Jenny spends her life running as well, running from an abusive childhood, running from the faithful love of Forrest.  When Forrest proposes to Jenny, she declines because of her past life replete with promiscuity and substance abuse, “You don’t wanna marry me,” she tells him.

The next morning Forrest is sitting alone on the front porch, wearing khaki pants, a blue gingham shirt, and his white Nike’s with the red swoosh.  He then dons his Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. cap and starts running.  In a voice over Forrest then tells a lady sitting next to him on a park bench what he did:

That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run, so I ran to the end of the road, and when I got there I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town, and when I got there, I thought I’d just run across Greenbow County.  I figured since I’d run this far, I’d just run across the great state of Alabama.  That’s what I did.  I ran clear across Alabama.  For no particular reason I just kept on going.  I ran clear to the ocean.  And when I got there, I figured since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around and just keep on going.  When I got to another ocean, I figured since I’d gone this far, I might as just turn back and keep right on going….”

The lady on the park bench smiles at him, “And so you just ran!” Continue reading

Sermon: “Your Faith is not in Vain” (August 7, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Your Faith is not in Vain” (Hebrews 11:1)
August 7, 2016
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One of my all-time favorite movie series is the Indiana Jones trilogy of the 1980’s.  I’ll never forget going to see the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark with my dad when I was twelve years old.  In the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, and his father Henry, played by Sean Connery, are on a quest for the Holy Grail.  Near the end of the film Henry is mortally wounded and his son Indiana manages to press on and navigate a series of deadly traps only to arrive at the edge of a cliff overlooking a chasm so deep he could not see the bottom of it.  The chasm is too far to leap across—“It’s impossible,” he says to himself, “nobody can jump this.”  If he steps off the cliff, he will most certainly fall to his death.  It looks like it is all over.

According to the ancient guidebook he is using on his quest he is to step off the cliff onto an invisible bridge.  Indiana Jones is terrified and shakes his head, “It’s a leap of faith.”  Meanwhile, his dying father Henry is praying for him, gasping as his life is slipping away, “You must believe, boy, you must believe.”  Indiana Jones is faced with the most important choice of his life—to either give up and turn back, which would mean not only the death of his father but also the end of his quest for the Holy Grail—or to trust what was written in the ancient guidebook, and step out in faith.

After a long pause, Indiana Jones takes a deep breath, puts a hand over his heart, lifts his left leg high and steps off the edge of the cliff…and finds himself on a bridge that he could now see.  The camera angle pans to the side and the audience can see that pattern on the bridge blended perfectly into the pattern of the cliff on the far side of the chasm, which created the optical illusion of there not being any bridge at all.  Indiana Jones crosses the bridge, and after acquiring the Holy Grail and filling it with holy water, returns to his father, who drinks from the Holy Grail and is instantly healed.

Indiana Jones’ step of faith paid off. Continue reading

Sermon: “Your Hour Upon the Stage” July 31, 2016

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Your Hour upon the Stage” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)
July 31, 2016
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In this sermon I will try and show you the gospel connection in today’s lessons from Ecclesiastes and Luke to Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, and hopefully your life as well.  A couple weeks ago I visited Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, the iconic recording studio where Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and many others including Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis got their start.  Our tour guide led us into the very room where these legends recorded.

There is a literal “x” on the floor where Elvis stood on July 5, 1954 when he recorded “That’s All Right,” which is considered by many the very first rock ‘n roll record.  Many years later when Bob Dylan visited Sun Studios he knelt down and kissed that spot.  Not only could all of us tourists take turns standing on that spot, we were also allowed to hold the same microphone into which Elvis and Johnny and the other legends sang—how cool is that?  It was also at Sun Studios on April 2, 1956 that Johnny Cash recorded these familiar lyrics:

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine I walk the line

Continue reading

Sermon: “Luke 11:1-13” (July 24, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Proper 12, Year C”
July 24, 2016
Patricia Marks

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  +

Earlier this week, I walked outside to feed the birds in my usual place, under the crepe myrtle that has grown taller than, I suppose, crepe myrtles are supposed to grow in well-trimmed gardens. It’s a wild garden, I’ve been told!

In this place, the whole earth was singing—birds, with their myriad voices calling to one another, flowers speaking in the language of color, deep blue for the hydrangeas, yellow the zinnias, crimson for the roses. And all around, from treetop to grassy lawn, you could see the different shades of green, the deep emerald greens quietly crooning “I am wisdom—I have been planted here for a long time!” and the brand-new shoots reaching upward in their tender green garb, shouting in triumph, “Here I am! I am new life!”

I stood rooted to the ground, remembering the far-off sound of the wind and water on the holy island of Iona, where I went on pilgrimage; and remembering also the time I stood outside the time-worn walls of Penmon Abbey, a monastery in Wales. There, in the wee hours of the morning, on the green, green hills, the sheep were grazing, and the gentle rays of the sun held promise of new life among those ancient stones.

Standing in my own garden, I found myself planted in those holy places as well. So I quietly said a morning prayer—it’s one of my favorites. It comes from the Northumbria Community, which is in North-East England, and it embodies the Celtic belief in the sacredness of all places.

It begins this way:

One thing I have asked of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life;
to behold the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.

Continue reading

Sermon: “The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (July 3, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14)
July 3, 2016
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Have you ever been at a lunch or social gathering and been trapped in a conversation with someone who will not stop boasting?  They may be boasting about their job, their exercise routine, their new boat or car, or their amazing vacation trip to Europe—as if Facebook posts weren’t enough.

Sometimes this takes the form of what a friend of mine calls “parent poker” in which parents try to “one up” each other when it comes to their kids.  “Your kid plays soccer?  That’s cool, my kid plays on a travel team.”  “Nice—my kid plays for their high school team—varsity, not JV.”  “My kid played for their high school team but now plays in college—Division 1, not D-2 or D-3.”  “Excellent, my kid plays for the national team—looking forward to the next World Cup.”  “Well…my kid invented soccer”—on and on it goes.

“Parent poker” of course can also revolve around areas like grades or SAT scores or the college to which they were admitted.  Whenever my friend finds herself enmeshed in one of these conversations she goes the other way and will make a comment like, “Your son is valedictorian?  My son spent the weekend in jail for his second DUI” or “That’s great about your daughter being admitted to an Ivy League school—my daughter was admitted to rehab.”  This brings the game of “parent poker” to an abrupt end.  She takes great pleasure in the palpably awkward silence that invariably follows—“cricket…cricket…cricket.”

People tend to boast about things with which they are obsessed—and there are many obsessions besides our kids from which to choose.  Some are obsessed with money.  In 1959 Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, wrote a hit song called “Money (That’s What I Want).”  It was originally sung by Barrett Strong in 1959 and was later covered by The Beatles 1963, and my favorite version is the 1979 cover by The Flying Lizards, but I digress.  Berry Gordy gets right to the point:

The best things in life are free
But you can give them to the birds and bees
I need money
That’s what I want, that’s what I want, that’s what I want

Many people are obsessed with sex, as professor Jessica Spector writes in her book: Continue reading