Pastor Sherry’s message for January 22, 2023
Scriptures: Isa 9:1-4; Ps 27:1-9; 1 Cor 1:10-18; Matt 4:12-23
John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, of “Two Bubba’s and a Bible” fame share the following story:
“Back in the 1980’s there was a man named Larry Trapp living in Lincoln, Nebraska. His name was doubly ironic: He was a man trapped in his own hatred and trapped in his own body. Larry Trapp was suffering from a fatal disease and was confined to a wheel chair; he was nearly blind; he was also the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska. He truly was a man trapped in darkness.
“Larry Trapp became obsessed with driving Michael Weisser out of town. Weiser was Jewish and the cantor of the Lincoln Synagogue. Trapp barraged Weisser with hate mail, at home and on the job [Remember, this was in the days before cell phones and internet]. He made incessant threatening phone calls, he organized demonstrations; he did everything he could to make life a living hell for Michael Weisser and his family.
“Cantor Weisser was truly intimidated and scared. He had a wife and children he wanted to protect. But Michael Weisser was also a man who was unwilling to let another person’s hate prevent him from showing love. So he started calling Larry Trapp’s home, always getting the answering machine. So, he always left a message. He said, ‘This is Michael Weisser. I’d like to talk to you. I want to know why you are doing this to me.’ Finally, one day, Larry Trapp answered the phone, screaming and cursing and threatening, ‘WHAT DO YOU WANT? YOU’RE HARASSING ME!’
“And Michael Weisser said, ‘I know you have a hard time getting around and can’t drive, and I was wondering if you might need a ride to the grocery store or something?’ After a very long stunned silence, Larry Trapp quietly replied, ‘Uh, no, I’ve got that covered, but thanks for asking.’
“Larry and Michael kept talking by phone. After a while, Larry Trapp started going over to the Jewish Cantor’s house for dinner, they became friends, and when it became apparent he had nowhere else to go the Weisser family invited Larry to move in with them and he did, dying there in Michael’s arms some months later.
“Somewhere along the way, Larry Trapp left the KKK. He spent his last time on earth spreading a message of love in a world of hate; Larry Trapp became an apostle to Klansmen and other hate groups, trying to let them see the great light of love and forgiveness he has seen and experienced.”
(Originally reported in Time Magazine, February 17, 1992)
I wish I could tell you that Michael Weisser was a Christian. He was not a Christian, and yet he offered Christ-like love, compassion, and mercy to someone who had been thoroughly hateful to him. Obviously he lived by God’s admonition in Leviticus 19:18: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. What a great example for us! We overcome hate not by repaying it in kind. We overcome hate not by exacting revenge—as the culture advises us. We overcome hate with a calm manner and a loving heart.
The plain truth is that disconnectedness — isolation and alienation (way too common in our nation today) is at the root of most human problems. We are disconnected from God, from each other, and even from our true selves. Think about those who instigate mass shootings—or even those who suicide. They tend to be loners, people who feel like outsiders. They lack genuine, open, trusting, and loving relationships. They don’t feel a sense of community and envy those who do. Over time, they become angry, disappointed, without hope and, I believe, then fall prey to acting on Satan-inspired thoughts like killing or destroying.
Now think about how we are to function as a church: We are to gather together to (1) Worship God; (2) Learn more about Him so we can love Him; (3) And to form a community that demonstrates His love for us to others. The church should be the antidote to the poison of disconnectedness, isolation, and alienation.
This is the clear message of three of our passages today.
A. Our Gospel is from Matthew 4:12-23, and describes how Jesus began His public ministry: Matthew 1st tells us Jesus’ motivation for moving His base of operations from Nazareth to Capernaum. We know from the prophesies of Isaiah in 9:1-2 and 42:6-7, that Jesus was/is meant to be a light for the Gentiles (a corrective for what the Israelites had failed to do). Additionally, Luke 4:14-30 tells us that Jesus was rejected by His friends and neighbors in Nazareth when He essentially claimed He was the Messiah. So, He moved His base of operations NE to a larger town, Capernaum. It was a fishing town on the banks of Sea of Galilee. Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew all came from there. It was also a busy border town with a customs house meant to regulate trade from two major trade routes: One running East and West; a second, “The Way of the Sea,” joined Arabia and Egypt with nations north of Israel. It was a region which contained a large number of Roman citizens (there for vacations, retirement, and “peace-keeping” purposes) and other folks from all over. As a result, Jesus could teach and interact with many, but without the scrutiny He would have received in Jerusalem.
There He enlisted His first disciples…out walking on the shoreline. First, He calls brothers Andrew and Peter (Remember, Andrew had been JtB’s disciple, an probably heard John call Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Then He calls brothers James and John. All four guys fish for a living, but He promises to make them fishers of men. Apparently they drop everything and follow Him. Jesus is picking the original leaders of His as yet to be formed Church.
The Church was/is His strategy for reaching us, the Gentiles. We know He lived and traveled with these guys for 3 years. They learned from His teachings; their observations of Him; and the practice opportunities He gave them. Jesus could have established His church any number of ways, but He gathered together a small group of committed followers. He developed deep, personal relationships with them. He then sent them out to transform the world–to carry His light to Jews, and to rescue Gentiles from the darkness of paganism or unbelief.
B. St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 1:10-18) emphasizes 2 points: He wants us to be as unified as we can be…Not to argue the merits/strengths of different pastors; not to hold a special allegiance to the ones who baptized us, married us, or buried our mothers, etc.; not even to come to church to make ourselves feel better. Rather, we must remember we are in the church in order to learn to know and to love Jesus, and to offer love to those who don’t yet know Him.
Paul wants us to follow Jesus—just like James, John, Andrew, and Peter. Rather than competing with each other, we need to keep our focus on Christ. Our loyalty is not to this church building—though we may love it–or even to our denomination. Our loyalty is to Jesus.
I reviewed my old sermons and realized I preached what I am about to say three years ago. We are at a cross-road in our denomination: Those who favor ordaining active gay persons and allowing same sex marriage are once again bringing that issue up for a vote. I said then and I think it is still true: I believe the United Methodist Church as we know it, will soon split, with those who hold to Scripture separating from those who appear to be following the dictates of the culture. We will be holding a parish meeting this Wednesday, January 25th, to discuss what we feel called to do. If we want to remain true to Biblical teachings, we may opt to leave the UMC and either join another denomination or remain independent. I urge you to pray about this, and to remember that Paul is urging us to remain faithful to Christ above all things. If the denomination is bowing to pressure from the culture—and chooses to depart from the teachings of Scripture–we may want to disassociate ourselves from the denomination. I was ordained an Episcopal “priest,” and left that demonination when the same split arose in favor of the Anglican Church. Please note I don’t take such a move lightly. In fact, I find it heart-breaking.
Meanwhile, it may seem like a big disconnect to consider a denominational split while also speaking of building relationships. When we pursue the Truth, sometimes we have to walk apart from the culture, from the denomination that nurtured our faith, and even sometimes from our families, or members of our families. Nevertheless, we strive to build relationships when we focus our spiritual energies on loving God and loving our neighbors.
May God give us His wisdom in this hour. Amen!
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams