Paths and Our Time on Them
August 30, 2009
Michael Maloney, Lay Speaker
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning!
Our topic on this beautiful Sunday morning, the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, is:
Paths and Our Time on Them…
Paths – we’re on them, here, this morning - All of our paths crossing.
In fact, it could be said that as we entered the church this morning, we were crossing a 300 year old path – that of John and Charles Wesley, largely responsible for the Methodist religion and church we know today.
We each have a path; we each walk a path, the path of life. It starts the moment we’re born and we’re on it until the day we die. In our life time, we’ll cross paths with others many, many times. There is so much on each of our paths as we travel, warm, bright days and cold, dark nights, happiness and sadness, high points and low points, peaks and valleys. And all that we do, or don’t do, on our paths is and will be, visible to others forever.
This morning we’ll be talking about the messages found in the scripture readings; among them, inner cleanliness and caring for the weak and how it affects our life paths.
I’m going to ask each of you to look up at the ceiling and focus on one spot for a moment. Now, while still looking up, close your eyes. Now open them.
Friends, for just a moment, you saw what a paralyzed person sees every minute of every day of every night. And for just a moment, you have seen what a blind person sees – every minute of every day of every night.
What are they seeing? What are they not seeing? When we as Christians need help, we look up, we know to look up. But for those suffering, do they know the comfort of looking up?
An important distinction, when talking about blindness, of course there is physical blindness. But there is also spiritual blindness, and for both, the mission is the same; we have a duty to be there with bells on and with a pair of glasses.
We all have heard the phrase “Walk a mile in another’s shoes.” By now, we all have walked many, many miles on our paths. Have we walked just one of those miles in another’s shoes? If your shoes could talk, what would they say?
I had a dear friend named Pablo. Pablo was always positive, always thinking of others. Pablo was paralyzed at age 14. We became friends in our 20’s and remained friends for many years. He was on my mind as I thought about my sermon and so I went back to where he lived for many years and spoke to someone there who knew him well. I asked if she knew anything of his spiritual life. She said no, I really can’t tell you. But she said something that really stuck with me, she said “Maybe me being back asking in the first place was a spiritual message in and of it self.” The fact that Pablo and I had crossed paths, that I was able to know him, that I was able to remember him.
I still ask myself, is there anything I could have done for Pablo?
My father, John was a wonderful man. In his later years, he was confined for the most part to a wheelchair. He was ill. And, I, as a young man, didn’t help him the way I could have today. I didn’t know how to tell him to trust in God. In essence, I wasn’t there for him, not the way I could have been. Fifteen years ago, he passed away suddenly on a Friday evening, the Friday evening before he was to be here for my son’s baptism Sunday morning.
I still tell myself, there were things I could have done for my father.
In our scripture readings today, In Mark, Jesus teaches us about inner purity (Vs. 20, tucked between today’s reading, he adds something very powerful; that “It is the thought-life” that defiles you”.) Jesus makes clear a most important point, that washing our hands, our outsides, is no indication of the conditions of our hearts. You are defiled by what you say and do. He taught us that true cleanliness emanates from within us.
It’s about understanding what makes a person clean and unclean. Anything on the outside can’t defile us unless we let it in.
James Chapter 1 talks about Faith and Endurance.
There is an underlying message in James – the guidance for the righteous life…
As with most all of the things written in the Bible, James’ teachings are as relevant for today’s believers as they were for his time. James is telling us that “God’s word is likened to a mirror, and Christians are measured against its standard of beauty. Those who see no need for adjustment are like people who look in the mirror and forget what they look like.” James’ expectations are clear: Christians live transformed lives….
“In James, religion is defined by the ways believers responded to teachings of the faith in their personal lives and their communities.” 1 What James is pointing to is our need for self control and an awareness of social responsibilities including care of the defenseless.
Part of our individual mission is to “ensure that the weak and vulnerable are connected and protected.” 1 We are called as advocates for the vulnerable and the voiceless, all the while keeping ourselves unstained from the evils of the world as we know it.
James “is about all of the mechanics of following Jesus Christ. It is the nuts and bolts, down to earth. It serves as the handbook for people who are ready to learn about getting down to the work of discipleship” 1, something we are all called to do individually. It clearly outlines that “faith without works is dead.” 1
When we get to the end of our path – and look back, what will we see? Will there be depressions in the footprints we left from the weight of carrying someone? When we look back and see both footprints and handprints from when we crawled, was there someone special who helped us to our feet? Will we be able to say that we reached for some hands along the way and helped someone up? Will we have helped the blind see? When we get to where we’re going, will we have led the way for others in our thoughts and actions?
A lot of questions, I know. But our questions lead to answers. And so by asking ourselves questions while we can, we get answers while we can. The day will surely come when we can no longer ask and only others will be able to answer.
The point I’m making is: You all have stories like mine. There are many, many stories on our paths. We are truly blessed to be here this morning, together, at this very moment our paths cross. We can help each other- help others. You all are loved deeply by Jesus Christ – In your travels walking onward, won’t you look, and listen, and feel for someone’s hand? Won’t you share that love - you might very well be the only bible someone reads. You can make a difference in someone’s life; you can be the difference in someone’s life.
September 13th is national “Back to Church” Sunday – this fall. I invite you to “come back” in a big way on that day – and each and every Sunday thereafter.
You see, we, as Christians, have great power. We have been given an awesome gift, a gift that truly keeps giving and we can share that gift with everyone we meet, everywhere we go, on every path we cross. The path to eternal life begins on our path here; daily, hourly.
[An hourglass is revealed and placed on the railing before the congregation.]
Brothers and sisters in Christ, may we know what path we’re taking each morning as we put on our shoes, may we know where we have been each evening as we take them off.
Time is a gift to us, for us, to others, for others. It is truly a treasure to be spent wisely…
In closing – I’d like to read something written by Bayard Gardineer, my father in law. He, like my mother-in-law Joan, was a long time member of this Church and because of our crossing of paths, I stand here before you this morning. He wrote this as a young man in 1951 to read at a church service:
OH GOD WHO PLOTS THE PLANETS PATH
WHO SETS FOR MAN THE FINAL GOAL
GIVE US THE TEMPORAL STRENGTH TO GUIDE
THE PATHS OF OUR IMMORTAL SOULS
BE THOU EVER AT OUR SIDE
NOT JUST WHEN DANGERS NEAR
BUT QUELL THE EVER-PRESENT PRIDE
THAT FOSTERS HATE AND FEAR
STRENGTHEN THOSE NOT PRESENT HERE
THOUGH SOME MAY NOT KNOW THE WAY
THEY MAY SPREAD THE WARMTH AND CHEER
THAT FILLS A CHRISTIANS DAY
ALL THIS IN JESUS’ NAME WE ASK
AND FOR HIS SAKE ALONE
THAT WE MAY FILL OUR GIVEN TASKS
AND REST BEFORE THY THRONE
1Copyright General Board of Discipleship. www.GBOD.org Used by permission.
© 2009 Michael Maloney