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       Sermons | Passionate worship
      ►Our guest pastor for today ... 

      Dr. Walter Lawrence

      Dr. Walter J. Lawrence is a 1977 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He received master’s degrees in liberal arts from Washington University and public health from Johns Hopkins University. After graduation from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed residencies in both family practice and aerospace medicine. After Army retirement, he served as an associate professor in family medicine at Ohio University. He currently is in private practice in Enterprise.

      Dr. Lawrence is a member of Geneva Presbyterian Church and an ordained elder. He holds a certificate in congregational leadership from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary and is a past moderator of the Presbytery of South Alabama. He has four grown daughters and five grandchildren.

      Feb. 20, 2022 | Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

      Exactly as You Are
      Romans 5:6–11 Romans 12:4–10  Luke 6:37–38

       W E ARE AT THE TIME in the traditional church year when in two weeks we celebrate the season of Lent. For some, Lent is a 40-day period that calls us to remember and reflect upon the 40-days Jesus spent in the desert, facing and overcoming temptations by Satan, just prior to beginning His ministry.

      For others, it calls to a deeper meditation concerning our relationship with God, the meaning of His sacrifice, and the directions our lives should take in following Him.

      Yet for others, it may be a period of self-denial, penance, and personal sacrifice. Lent may be celebrated by a token sacrifice, or very substantial sacrifice, to remind us of the death and resurrection of Christ, and what He gave to us by His sacrifice.

      † † †

      THE NUMBER 40 is very significant in the Bible. The period of 40 days is also reminiscent of the 40 days spent by Noah on board the ark, the 40 days spent by Moses on Mount Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments, the 40 years spent by the Hebrews in the wilderness, the 40 days’ time to repent prophesied by Jonah to the Ninevites, the 40-day trek by Elijah to Mount Horeb, or the 40 hours Jesus spent in the tomb prior to his resurrection.

      Although there are no direct references to the period of or the practice of observing Lent in Scripture, we do receive very concrete and direct guidance concerning practices observed during Lent.

      What it really comes down to is not an outward show, but our inner change of heart, our sincerity in our worship, and our actions with which God is concerned.

      Lent is an excellent opportunity to reflect upon how we engage with and get along with one another.

      † † †

      ONE OF THE STRENGTHS of our reformed faith, I believe, is mutual forbearance toward each other (F-3.0105 in our denomination’s Book of Order). And it is to that topic that I speak this morning.

      Judgment of others plays a large and often hostile role in our society today. For example, I will now ask you several hard and controversial questions that require your judgment:

           ■ Who is right — Democrats or Republicans?
           ■ Was the election stolen from President Trump?
           ■ Should there be a wall along the border?
           ■ Do we need masks or a vaccination mandate for COVID?
           ■ Do Black Lives Matter or do All Lives Matter?
           ■ What is the role of openly homosexual persons in the church?
           ■ Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone to assassinate President Kennedy?

      † † †

      DO ANY OF THESE questions make you angry or uncomfortable?

      I am sure that most of us have answers to these questions, but how many among us have actually studied the issues, in detail, so as to make a cogent and coherent argument based on fact and not emotion or the sound bites fed to us by the television?

      So, we have made decisions and judgments based upon what? Opinion? Opinion of partial fact? Unsubstantiated views of others? See, I told you these would be hard questions. Unfortunately, judgment is all around us — it surrounds us and impacts and distorts much of our thinking and actions.

      When it comes to others, Jesus cautions us not to judge, or we face being judged. As we judge others, so are we ourselves judged. As we condemn others, so may we be condemned. When you think about it that way, how comfortable is that for you? Is it fair? Is it right? Is that the way that you want others to think about you? Do you want God to judge you as you judge others?

      † † †

      WHEN SOMEBODY ACCEPTS YOU just the way you are, regardless of your past, ignoring your baggage, without any preconceived notions or judgment upon you, it might feel to you as if a heavy burden is lifted or as if you are forgiven. Your joy probably is described in terms similar to that of the scribe who wrote in Psalm 32:

      Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!
      Yes, what joy for those … whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

      Paul addresses this issue in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Romans:

      “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

      What does God require? Is there some test to pass first? Do I need an interview to qualify? How about a resume? Are there preliminary tasks to be accomplished? No, friends. The only thing you need is faith in Christ.

      † † †

      AS FOR GETTING ALONG with each other, we tend to like those like us, people in the same community, people with the same jobs, interests, or hobbies. But it’s OK to be different than others. As Paul writes in the 12th chapter of his letter to the Romans:

      “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.”

      And in Romans 15:7:

      “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ accepted you so that God will be given glory.”

      Does that work? I believe it really does!

      † † †

      WE ALL HAVE contemporary personal heroes, leaders whom we emulate and hope to be like. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, the Rev. Peter Marshall, and Winston Churchill are some of mine. I seek and study their qualities of integrity, honor and humility, courage and bravery, hard work and sacrifice, insight, imagination, and ingenuity, speech and prose, and attempt to incorporate their examples into my life to make me a better person. Most, if not all of them, are very well known to most of you.

      But allow me to share another of my heroes with you, if I may. This man was an ordained Presbyterian minister (yes, PCUSA) who was born in 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Latrobe is in western Pennsylvania, near the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers, where the city of Pittsburgh is located. My hero was quietly and intensely self-disciplined, with high standards. This inner drive helped him keep the focus on his message for nearly 33 years. He prayed every morning, swam every day for exercise, and as an accomplished pianist, practiced every day.

      Yet, he was a humble man, truly with the mindset of a servant. In fact, on his deathbed, he asked his wife, “Am I a sheep or a goat?”, referring to Jesus’s teachings as recorded in the 25th chapter of Matthew.

      His ministry to others was really encapsulated in a very simple, perhaps deceptively simple, message. For although it was easily understood and accepted, to consistently practice it as Jesus did, is very difficult. He found his calling in TV ministry, although it was not what you might expect. There were no long-winded sermons (such as this), no pulpit pounding, no healing services or demonstrations, no requests for donations. He never emphasized that he was a minister or his religious denomination, for fear that some people would then feel excluded. But his faith was as fundamental to him as his DNA. It structured who he was and what he did, and with God’s help, accomplished. Through his ministry, he was able to address the important social issues of his day, when others found it seemingly difficult to do or avoided it all together. He took on the issues of racism, war and peace, poverty, gender and discrimination issues, children’s’ rights, and the fear of change.

      Yet, busy as he was, he always took time for others, often to the ire of his staff and the upset to his schedule. When talking to others, he might ask them, “Do you know what is the most important thing I’m doing right now? It’s talking to you.”

      He believed that his audience thrived most on honesty and consistency, and strove to maintain that in each of his programs.

      † † †

      THE MINISTER to whom I am referring is the Rev. Fred Rogers, known to the world as “Mr. Rogers” and his ministry was in quality children’s television. His simple yet powerful message: “I like you exactly the way you are. “Think about that. What does that mean to a child to be told that? What does that mean to you to be told that?

      You know, that is really the very same message Jesus proclaims. When he called his disciples or intervened in people’s lives, he didn’t select them from the higher and refined social strata, make them bathe, or pack a suitcase, or test their Hebrew knowledge. When he healed beggars and lepers, he approached them just as they were.

      When Jesus fed the multitudes, he looked upon them with compassion. He didn’t require reservations, or give out menus. Jesus always accepted others as they were, seeing them in and for their faith. Hence, the problems with the Pharisees and the rich young man who wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. They all thought they had to change to follow the Law, not realizing that the Law does not save, it only condemns.

      Faith in Jesus is what is needed for salvation. And, in faith, you can safely approach him, because he likes you exactly as you are. Jesus calls you exactly as you are.

      † † †

      REMEMBER WHAT Jesus told Nicodemus in John’s gospel:

      “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

      God loves us so much, exactly as we are, that He gave Jesus for everyone, who, in turn, gave everything he had to secure eternal life for each one of us! There are no preconditions, there is no judgment or condemnation, there are no requirements of good works; only faith, and faith alone. Exactly as you are.

      In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

      — Walter Lawrence   


      «God loves us so much, exactly as we are, that He gave Jesus for everyone, who, in turn, gave everything he had to secure eternal life for each one of us! There are no preconditions, there is no judgment or condemnation, there are no requirements of good works; only faith, and faith alone. Exactly as you are.»

      SCRIPTURE FOR THE DAY

      This is the Word of God for the people of God:


      Romans 5:6–11
      Holy Bible, New International Version

      6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

      9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

      — This is the Word of the Lord.
      — Thanks be to God.


        

      This is the Word of God for the people of God:


      Romans 12:4–10
      Holy Bible, New International Version

      4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

      Love in action
      9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

      — This is the Word of the Lord.
      — Thanks be to God.


      Footnotes:
           a.  Romans 12:6  Or the
           b.  Romans 12:8  Or to provide for others


        

      This is the Word of God for the people of God:


      Luke 6:37–38
      Holy Bible, New International Version

      Judging others
      37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

      — This is the Word of the Lord.
      — Thanks be to God.


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      • Presbytery of S. Alabama
      • Synod of Living Waters



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                   —————
      23208 Swift Church Road
      Foley, AL 36535
      Phone: (251) 943-8367
      email: swiftpc@gulftel.com


       

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