On the Sunday before Christmas, I preached a sermon in which I talked about my childhood experience of Christmas as a Moravian here in Winston-Salem. I know that preaching is “the communication of truth through personality,” but I feared that sermon was a step too-far.

Interestingly, you responded to it with enthusiasm. Not so much because I talked about my experience, but because I talked about experiences that were common to many of us.

Just this week, as I was planning my sermon for Mother’s Day, a man I respect said to me, “Worth, don’t talk too much about Synod this week, talk about your mother.”

Those were his exact words. He did not say, “Talk about our mothers.” He said, “Talk about your mother.” I expect he said that, thinking that all of us have mothers, and every story of a mother and her child is both very specific, and well nigh universal. When I mention how my mother loved me, and fed me, and cared for me, and taught me, and disciplined me, and picked me up when I fell down, you nod your heads and say, “Amen!”, because your mother loved you, and fed you, and cared for you, and taught you, and disciplined you, and picked you up when you fell down.

Therefore, I am going to talk about my mother, in hopes it will enable you to think about your own.

My first memory of my mother is that of an invalid. My mother gave birth to me when she was living with my father in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where dad was a student at Moravian Theological Seminary. In case you are wondering, I was born in Bethlehem, lived there for three weeks where I picked-up my accent, and moved back to North Carolina. My dad stayed in Bethlehem, but my mother came home, because the physical shock of my birth was too much for her. Back in Winston-Salem, my mother was in bed for almost a year, and my grandmother took care of her, and also took care of me.

I am proud of my grandmother, Stout, “Granny.” She had a hard life—but a good one. She came to North Carolina from South Carolina after her father’s death. That is a story in itself. My Great-Grandfather Henderson was a chicken farmer and a conductor on the rail road. The train ran by his farm, and would stop there to pick him up. One day, after he left, a road-gang arrived. That night, a member of that gang came over to my great-grandmother’s house and tried to break down the door. My Grandmother Stout, just a little girl at the time, told me that she was clutching her mother’s legs in fear, when Great-Grandmother Henderson pointed a large “horse pistol,” at the door and told the man if he did not leave she would shoot. He did not leave, and continued to beat on the door—with renewed effort, so, terrified for her life and the life of her child, she shot through the door. My Grandmother Stout told me that the next morning they found the man dead in the pea-vines that grew along the front porch. I am not celebrating this violence, for it escalated, as violence often does. It was not long after that my Great-Grandfather Henderson was killed, perhaps in reprisal, and his body thrown from the train.

The two women, mother and daughter, then moved to North Carolina where my Grandmother Stout managed to stay in school through the fourth grade before she took work to help support herself and her mother. At the age of 17, she married my grandfather, E.L. “Pop” Stout, already 30 years old, who had a produce business. Pop hauled fruit and vegetables from Florida to Winston-Salem, and he also had business interest in California. He was often away. That left Granny Stout to raise their 6 children on her own. My mother was the oldest. She was born when My grandmother was still 17, and she was 17 when her youngest sister was born. My Granny Stout did a pretty good job with her children. My mother was valedictorian of her high school class, as was her next oldest sister, my Aunt Lee. My Uncle Boyd had a distinguished career in the U.S. Air Force, serving in two wars; and my Uncle Archie was the first man to win two $5,000 innovation awards at the now defunct Western Electric Plant on Old Lexington Road. My Aunt Ella Mae was smart, sweet and strong. It was she who gave me the baby doll for Christmas, in hopes of making me kinder and gentler, perhaps. And my Aunt Anoree looked like a movie star was one of the best athletes of either sex I have ever known. If you think I am proud of my family, you are right. But I am prouder still of the woman with the 4th grade education that raised them.

Anyway, my Granny Stout took care of my mother, and she took care of me. My earliest memories are not of my mother, but of my grandmother. I can still remember waking up in her bed, and scrunching over next to her to stay warm under a stack of quilts. The house on Cotton Street where we lived did not have central heat, and it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Don’t for a minute think we were the unwashed poor. We did not have a bathtub or hot water, but I got a bath every Saturday night whether I need it or not. I took it in a galvanized tub in the kitchen with water heated on a wood stove. Between those big baths my mother gave me “bird baths” in the sink, and bird baths are always better than spit baths (let the reader understand). Likewise, we had an indoor toilet, which was installed on the closed-in back porch; and later, long after mother and I move out, my granny got a hot water heater and a shower installed, too.

I remember my mother best when Dad graduated from Seminary and we moved to Enterprise Moravian Church. Enterprise was in the country then. I remember my mother letting me wonder in the woods and play in the mud behind the house, though she did caution me to look out for snakes. She had concerns because the house was built on a snake hill. I will never forget the day I went into the basement to see my Cocker Spaniel going one on one against a mama copperhead while her babies crawled all around them. he snake would strike, and my dog would dodge the strike. It happened over and over until finally, the snake struck, and my dog, apply named Butcher Boy, caught her behind the head and chewed until her head fell off. I went upstairs and got my mother and she came downstairs and killed all the baby copperheads by cutting their heads off with a garden hoe.

In the Bible a snake is the symbol of evil. One passage in Amos talks about how a man can outrun lion, and then run into a bear, or lean a hand upon a wall and be bitten by a serpent. Snakes can sneak up on you, and so can evil. My mother always tried to protect me from evil. However, every mother eventually realizes that she cannot protect her children forever. It is the nature of children to wander outside a mother’s sight and control. Early on, my mother turned to prayer to protect me. We started every day with prayer at the breakfast table. And we finished with prayer every night. Until I was 8 or 9 my mother would kneel by my bed and listen as I prayed:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake;
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Like many of you who also learned that prayer, after she left, I would lay awake thinking that I was not yet ready for God to take my soul. I had too much life left to live. I also thought about how I did not want to God to take my my mother’s soul either, and that was far more likely for she was well past thirty, and older than dirt.

Even then I could not imagine anything worse than for a mother to loose a child (especially me), except perhaps for a child (especially me) to loose a mother.

Mary the Mother of Jesus knew what it was to loose a child. Her brave suffering has been a comfort to mothers of every generation. In my study, I have a small soap-stone statue of Michelangelo’s sculpture of Mary holding the broken body of Jesus. This small copy of the Pieta was given to me by a mother who lost her son—not to death, but to a disagreement. She sent him away because she considered him immoral. She was so afraid of God and God’s punishment, that she no longer felt comfortable loving her own child. She gave me the statue because I told her it was all right to love him, even if she could not understand his behavior.

The other side of this equation is when a child looses a mother. Nothing tugs on the heart like watching a young child who has lost a mother, except, perhaps, watching the child’s father try to do double duty as father and mother. We always hope and pray that God has a special consolation for such folk and, thankfully, he often does. The consolation sometimes comes in the form of a loving step-mother, who steps into a vacancy left by the loss of a mother to help a father raise a child or children she chooses when she chooses him.

Finally, I would recall for you how traumatic it is for anyone to loose a beloved mother, regardless of age. In one of his many books, Father Richard Rohr says that when we loose a beloved mother to death, it is like God has died, for our mother is our first God image and our divine security. I can add to that. When our mother’s are no longer themselves, such as those who have dementia and Alzheimers, and we cannot communicate with them as we once did, we sometimes feel as if God no longer knows us or hears our prayers as he once did. My mother is in memory care. Often, not always—but often, she acts normally toward some people, like my wife. Most of the time she is anything but normal with me. Most of the time she thinks I am my father, and everyday when I leaver she accuses me of leaving her forever, and plotting a divorce. She has often used that language. So, too, when I am with her, she makes me uncomfortable because she tells me things about her relationship with my father that I do not want to know. TMI! Too Much Information! How do I deal with this? First, I tell myself, I must now love my mother as she once loved me, not expecting much in return, as she loved me when I was a tiny helpless infant. Even though she sometimes does not know me, I always know her, and understand my continuing debt of love to her. Second, I tell myself that despite my mothers inability to recognize me and understand me, God knows me and hears my prayers as he always has. I like to think that God says to me what he once said to Israel,“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; and I have called you by name, you are mine.”

I remember a lot about my mother! I remember the time, at my cousin Robert’s birthday party when she showed unusual creativity. We were in the dining room in Granny’s house on Cotton Street. It was early November, and already dark out, and as we gathered around the table to cut the cake, I saw a face in the window. It was the face of a notorious neighborhood peeping Tom. I looked at my mother with wide-eyes. She put a finger to her lips to caution me against speaking or calling attention to myself, and slipped out of the room. She returned with a blank cartridge starter’s pistol my dad had left her for protection. Perhaps he knew from experience that it was never good to put a real gun into the hands of a woman in my mother ’s family. Anyway, mom came back into the room, and slipped around the wall like Dirty Harry. Then she jumped into the Peeping Tom’s face and pulled the trigger of that blank cartridge pistol. It went off with a BANG, and he fell over backward. He was soon on his feet and running away. My mother took off after him. Just as she cleared the front door she yelled, “I missed him, but I will get him next time.”

I have many more memories. I remember my mother working at the Downtown Garage, allowing me to belong to an early generation of latch key kids. I have memories of my mother writing a song for our 1966 Parkland High School Football team. She set it to the tune of ghost-ridders in the sky. And I remember how she let me have a 1947 Chevy Fleetline for a graduation present, even though it cost $60 dollars, and she and dad had already spent almost as much as on a Bulova Self-Winding watch. And I remember how, when I went off to college, mom let me take the car that we were supposed to share. And I remember how, on the day I got married, she met me on the steps of the church with her little box camera, and took a picture of me before I went into the church to tie the knot. Elayne has always loved my mother like her own, and mother has always loved her right back. Elayne has always said that my mother loves her more than she love me, because she has taken better care of her. The only evidence I can find contrary to Elayne’s opinion is that picture from the steps of the church, which still stands on mom’s dresser.

And I remember how when I was at sea with Battalion Landing Team 3/6, my mother wrote me to tell me that when I got back to North Carolina she and dad would not be there. And I remember visiting with them in Indiana where she gave me a bible to carry with me to my temporary duty station in California. And I remember how it was an encounter with the Risen Christ inspired by that very Bible that caused me to decide to become a disciple of Jesus Christ for myself. Mom and Dad had presented me in baptism when I was just a child, and they had sent me to confirmation, but my mother lived for the day that I would own the faith for myself. Of course, mom was thrilled when I declared for the ministry. She said she always expected that I would go in the ministry, and she told me that, when I was just a little boy, she had come into my room one night, and heard a choir of angels. I have no doubt she thought it was a miracle. I did not have the heart to tell her, but it was more than likely Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, because when the atmospheric conditions were right, my old record player would sometimes pick-up WTOB even after the records had quit playing.

The hardest thing any of us ever have to do is go beyond the convictions of parents who loved us before we were born, and gave us life, and watched over us, and taught us all that they could. Yet, that is precisely what every generation must do. If humankind had never advanced beyond our first parents, we would still be dressed in skins, and living short lives in small, hunter gather communities. Karl Barth said that when we see beyond our parents, and make decisions for ourselves, whether religious, or political, or practical, we are like midgets standing on the shoulders of giants. We do not see father down the road than they see because we are more able, but because they have lifted us up so that we can see further than they.

In handing out the paper I have crafted this morning—which is available here, I have the hope you will read it carefully, not once, but several times over. I am not proposing anything new. You will not read in it anything I have not said many times from this pulpit and in private conversations. That said, I know that I am asking you to see things that former generations, even the generation of our parents, may not have not seen. Some decisions are not theirs but ours. Of course, God continues to cares for them and us, parent and child, and so on through out the generations. The devout orthodox Christian Kahlil Gibran wrote a poem that describes this perfectly entitled, “On Children.” It goes like this:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.


Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min

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In 2nd Corinthians 12:14 the apostle writes that  “… children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children.” Paul was willing to spend and be spent for the church in Corinth, for the members of that church were his spiritual children. In the same way, we who are parents are willing to spend and be spent for our children.

“Parents ought to lay up for their children,” and it is perfectly natural for parents to want to pass on their material advantages.

I once knew a woman of advanced age. As a young woman, she worked as a secretary for about a decade, and then she became a full-time housewife and mother. When she reached the age of 65 she started receiving a small Social Security check every month. She never cashed a single check for her use. Instead she put it in the bank for her children. She told me that “parents ought to lay up for their children,” and she wanted to lay up for hers.

Or what about this. I have a friend who was living in the state of Florida when his first child was born. He and his wife had a little extra money, so they took advantage of a Florida law, and paid their infant sons college tuition at a greatly reduced rate. This year their son will be graduating from college, in Florida, debt free. When it comes to material benefits, “parents ought to lay up for their children.”

It is never too soon to start putting something aside for our children. The parents and grandparents of Baby Boomers worked hard, and we are in the midst of the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world. Unfortunately, we are also in the midst of a huge transfer of poverty. Several years ago, I went to a Safe and Sober Prom Night presentation and heard David Daggett give a statistic that frightened me. If a person drops out of high school, there is a 90 percent chance they will spend their lives in poverty. Likewise, if they have a baby, or help to make a baby while they are in high school, there is a 90 percent chance they will spend their lives in poverty. And if they drop our of high school while having or making a baby, there is a virtual 100 percent chance they will spend their lives in poverty. Who then can save them from poverty? Thank-fully, what Jesus said about saving people from wealth in Mark 10:27 is equally applicable when it comes to saving people from poverty. “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

Of course, this text is not just about laying up material benefits for our children. It is also about laying up spiritual benefits for our children.

What is true of poverty and wealth is also true of sin and righteousness. Both the Bible and life teach that what we are, whether good or bad, we almost invariably pass on to our children, whether we want to pass it on or not.

For instance, the author of 2nd Kings warns that when we serve idols, we sow the seeds of idol worship in our children and grandchildren. In those days, an idol was made from wood, stone or precious metal and was shaped by human hands. Today, we are more likely to worship idols of plastic, silicon and steel that are shaped by robots. Even more dangerous, we worship at the alters of beauty, wealth and power. Bertrand Russell warned against the worship of “that bitch goddess success.” Success just for the sake of success is a terrible mistake. We may climb the ladder of success, and get to the top, only to discover it has been leaning against the wrong wall.

What is the point? Simple either we serve God, and God treats us like children, and the world serves us; or we serve the world, and the world treats us like slaves, and prevents us from enjoying the blessings of God.

Both the Bible and life teachs that we reap what we sow. The prophet Ezekiel reminds us that God keeps steadfast love for untold multitudes, but visits the sins and mistakes of the parents upon their children’s children. When God visits our sins upon our children and grandchildren, God is not being cruel, for God is simply following the same laws he laid down for us in the world. We reap what we sow. Writing in the 6th century B.C., the prophet Isaiah said, “The father’s have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” In the first part of the 20th century, Ann Franke wrote, “Our lives are fashioned by our choices. We make our choices and our choices make us.” I would add only that our choices make us, and our children, and our grandchildren. This is a hard truth; but life is a lot easier for those who learn it. Frankly, if we love our children, the only decent choice is a decent life. In Psalm 103:17,18 we read:

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

We want to lay up material benefits for our children, and we want to lay up spiritual benefits for our children. Naturally, above all, we want our children to know they are loved and accepted.

Mothers communicate love and acceptance quite naturally. A mother’s love is physical. It is tightly connected with the mother’s body. Before birth a mother is connected with her child by the umbilical cord. After birth, a mother is connected with her child literally “at the hip.” A mother’s love is expressed when she holds, touches, feels and feeds her children. An old Jewish proverb declares, “God cannot be everywhere so he made mothers.” An old Scottish proverb captures the same truth in more detail when it declares:

Baby has no skies, but mother’s eyes;
No God above, but mother’s love.
Her angel sees the Father’s face,
But she the mother’s, full of grace;
And yet the heavenly kingdom is of such as this.

There is no substitute for the kind of love a mother gives. No young child can survive without some mothering from somebody. Children have to be hauled about, and fed and changed. A child needs his mother like a fish needs water and trees need sunshine Likewise, every child—whether a baby or an adult, is challenged to the depths of their being by the loss of a good mother. In his book, “From Wild Man to Wiseman,” Richard Rohr says that:

When a good mother dies, it feels to the child—even the adult child, like God has died, because our mother is our first clear God image and she is our Divine security.

And what about a Father’s love? A father’s love is different from a mother’s love. For a child, the father is the other person in the house. A father’s love is not so immediate and physical as a mother’s love. It exist at a greater distance. A father does not have to love his children; a father must choose to love his children. A good father decides in our favor. He picks us out of the crowd, and picks us up, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually.

I think it is interesting that in most primitive cultures, God’s love is almost always perceived as feminine. People worship a mother goddess. But the religion of the Bible is different. In the Bible, though the God we know as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a sexual being, God reveals God’s Self to his children in the way that human Fathers reveal themselves to their children. For instance, when God choose Israel to be his people, he picked them out of the nations of the world, and lifted them up out of slavery in Egypt to claim them for his own. God gave them an identity. Thus in Deuteronomy 7:7 Moses says to the people:

When God set his heart on you and chose you, it was not because you were greater than other peoples, you were the least of all the peoples. It was simply for love of you that God chose you.

Every person wants God to love them freely, without qualification. That is why Nathaniel said to Jesus, “Show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.” And that is why Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” Jesus wants us to know that the Father loves us like he love us. And every child wants his or her father to love them freely, without qualification. Listen carefully. If you remember nothing else from this sermon, remember this: When a child gets a father’s love in abundance, whether that child is male or female, they enter life with confidence and energy. We want to do great things, and we have the energy to get them done.

By contrast, when children—especially men, don’t experience the love of the father, and there is no father substitute—like a step father who steps in to love them, or a mentor such as a Scout Leader or teacher, disaster follows. Let me give you an example.

Father Richard Rohr, whom I have already mentioned, tells the story of meeting a Catholic sister who worked in Peru’s central prison. During her first year at the prison, as Mother’s Day approached, the inmates came to her and asked her for Mother’s Day cards. No matter how many cards she gave them, they were always asking for more. As her first Father’s Day at the prison drew near, anticipating a similar rush, she ordered several cases of Father’s Day cards. Several years later those cards still in her office, for not one prisoner asked her for a Father’s Day card. Then she realized why.:The men in the prison had no real father figures in their lives.

As fathers and grandfathers, and as friends of the family, and as those those who love and work with children such as teachers and pastors, men must pay careful attention to the children in our care when they are young. We must pick them out of the crowd, and find ways to “pick them up” (psychologically and spiritually) and make them feel special. The opportunity is passing quickly. By the time our children are teenagers, they will care more about the opinions of their peers, than the opinions of their parents and grandparents and teachers.

The truth is that all children are easily reached—though some take more reaching than others. In his book, “The Road Less Traveled,” Scott Peck says that we spend time with what we love. Children know this instinctively. When we spend time with our childen, they know we love them.

Years ago, I had a friend who had a young son who was born with a tragic illness. He knew he would have limited time with his son, so he treasured every moment. He had a little poem hanging over his desk that summed up his attitude:

What shall you give to one small boy?
A glamorous game, a tinseled toy?
A pocket knife, a puzzle pack?
A train that runs on some curving track?
A picture book, a real live pet?
No, there’s plenty of time for such things yet.

Give him a day for his very own,
Just one small boy and his Dad alone,
A walk in the woods, a romp in the park,
A fishing trip from dawn to dark.
Give him the gift that only you can,
The companionship of his “old man.”

Games are outgrown and toys decay,
But he’ll never forget If you give him a day.

Naturally, though we may have to vary the activities, the same approach works with our daughters. The apostle said that, “Parents ought to lay up for their children.” Ironically, when we do that, we find that we are also sowing the seeds of our own happiness.


Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

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Mark 11:1-11 & Philippians 2:5-11

It was Michael Jordan who said, “Some people wish it would happen, some people wait for it to happen, other people make it happen.” Jesus made it happen, no matter what “it” happened to be! No where is this more evident, than on that first Palm Sunday. Let me explain.

In the 5th century B.C. Zechariah prophesied the coming of a new and mighty king, the Messiah, saying:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter
of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and
victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the
foal of an ass.”

Five centuries later, in the time of Jesus, this prophecy was as familiar to the people of Jerusalem as the wall that encircled the city, or the gates that opened to those who would enter it. In that time, Pilate, and his officials and soldiers, and other proud Romans and Gentiles, often rode into the city on horseback; but few devout Jews would dare to ride into Jerusalem. As the typical devout, Jewish traveler approached the city, he would dismount, and then lead his beast into the city, so that people would not accuse him of being bold enough, or foolish enough, to enter the city in a manner that the prophet had reserved for the coming of the Great King.

On the Sunday we call Palm Sunday, Jesus did what few Jews in their right mind would have done. When Jesus drew near Jerusalem, walking, he sent his disciples into a nearby village to procure for him an animal exactly like the one described by Zechariah. It appears that Jesus had arranged for the animal in advance, indicating that he had been planning his triumphal entry for sometime. Anyway, when his disciples returned with the colt and threw their garments upon it, Jesus sat himself upon it, and entered the city in the exact manner that Zechariah had prophesied of the King who was to come.

Mark tells us that when the people of the city saw Jesus riding into the city on the colt, some of them came out to greet him with enthusiasm. They spread their garments on the road, and stowed his path with leafy branches they cut from the surrounding fields. And those who went before him and those who followed after him, cried out:

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus did what he did, because he knew that the common people who heard him gladly, and loved him, would come out and give him a royal welcome. Jesus did what he did, too, because he knew that other people, important people, would give him a very different kind of welcome.Three times in the gospel of Mark (8:31, 9:31 and 10:33), Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer. He tells them that he must be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, who would condemn him to death, and deliver him to the “Gentiles”—or, Romans, who would mock him, spit upon him, scourge him and kill him, which the Romans alone had the power to do. Then, on a hopeful note, Jesus told his disciples that after three days he would rise. In predicting his resurrection, Jesus was counting on the God he called his Father to vindicate him, and put a seal of approval on his obedience unto death, even death upon a cross.

There is little doubt that Jesus expected to die on a cross. We know this, because in Mark 8:34, just after predicting his own death, Jesus predicted a cross for his followers saying, “If anyone would come after me, let them take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus expected the Romans to crucify him and his followers because that is what the Romans did. The day they crucified Jesus, they crucified two others, two thieves, one on his right and one on his left. And Josephus , the Jewish historian, reports that, in A.D. 70, when the Romans sacked the city of Jerusalem and razed the temple, they crucified so many Jews on the hill of Golgotha, there was no room for another cross, and no trees left from which to fashion them. There is a sense in which Jesus chose the manner of his death, and a sense in which he did not.

Anyway, things went exactly as he predicted. Jesus was welcomed by the common people; rejected and condemned by the important people; and mocked, scourged, and killed by the Romans. We know, too, that a friend, a respected member of the council, who was looking for the kingdom of God, named Joseph of Arimathea, too courage, and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. And Pilate gave the body to him, and he laid it in a tomb cut into rock. And rolled a stone before it. And two of the women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses (and James the Lesser and Salome), who were brave enough to follow Jesus even to the cross, even after his disciples forsook him and fled, saw where the body was laid. And for three days, the body of Jesus rested in the tomb. And, then, on the third day, God raised him from death, and hi”…ghly exalted him, and gave him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’ to the glory of God the Father. ”

Now some people will accuse me of running ahead with the story. They say, “Worth, when we came it was Palm Sunday, and you have rushed us through that, skipped over four days, including Maundy Thursday, briefly touched on Good Friday, and Great Sabbath, and then rushed right along to Easter Sunday.”

That is true, and because it is, I hope you will spend this week with us as we share the Holy Week Readings.

However, I also want you to know, that I have done what I have done to illustrate a point. Some people wish it would happen, and some people wait for it to happen, and some people make it happen. Jesus made it happen. When Jesus mounted the colt and rode into Jerusalem, he was like a chess master, executing not one move, but a series of moves, based upon his knowledge of the board, the situation, and upon his knowledge of his opponent. Besides, the triumphal entry led directly to the cross, and apart from the resurrection the cross is meaningless. Without the resurrection, the cross of Jesus is just the bad end of a good man; but add the resurrection, and study the cross in the light that breaks forth from the empty tomb, and the cross of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the King, is revealed as a road traveled once, for all, by our now victorious Lord and Savior.

Next Sunday, we will talk at length about the resurrection, so, today, let us spend just a few minutes on the cross, on which Jesus choose to die. I will say just this:

1. Jesus died for a reason, and that reason is my fault, and yours. In 1st Corinthians 15:3, St. Paul said, “he died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” We are all sinners. The scripture tells us that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together (we) have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.” Life also teaches us that we are sinners. Sin is anything we do, or fail to do, by which we hurt ourselves or another, and we are constantly tearing at someone, even if that someone is ourselves. People who don’t believe in God believe in sin. We know that when we reach down inside ourselves we dredge up that which is unworthy to be spoken of. The New Testament is reaching back to the Hebrew Bible for inspiration when it teaches that Jesus Christ died “for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,” the righteous, for the unrighteous, like a lamb without spot, or wrinkle or blemish. St. John verifies this when he calls Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

2. Jesus died in accordance with the will of God. Mark tells us that, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, not once, but three times saying:

“Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will.”

There are those who say that Almighty God would like nothing better than to dangle us all over the fires of hell until we are roasted and toasted. They say that a Jesus had to appease God’s anger for us to be saved. The New Testament will not allow this. The New Testament teaches that God the Father so loved the world, that he sent his only son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world. There is a picture in London’s National Gallery which describes the relationship between Jesus and his father perfectly. It is a picture of Jesus on his cross, surrounded by clouds and darkness. You can see his nail pierced hands, and the crown of thorns that his been pressed down upon his head. More than that, you can see the look of abject poverty upon the face of Jesus when he cried out, “Elo-i, Elo-i, lama sabachthani?”, which is to say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” However, if you look closely into the clouds and darkness, you will see something more. Look closely and the figure of God the Father emerges, and it is his hands support the outstretched hands of his son, which received the nails, and his tears, drip hot upon the face of Jesus, even as it is twisted up in agony. We will forgive the artist this anthropomorphism, for he has beautifully captured the truth that God not only willed Jesus go to the cross, but fully participated in the event with him. Jurgen Moltmann says, that, in the cross of of his son, Jesus, God takes death into himself. It is the cross of Christ that justifies human beings before God, yes; but it is also the place when God is justified before human beings.

3. Jesus died on the cross to ransom us. In Mark 10:45 Jesus himself said, “The Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The question becomes to whom does Jesus pay the ransom? Some say that he paid it to the devil. The Bible will not allow this. God owes the devil nothing, ever. The true answer is that Jesus ransoms us from sin and death. Jesus must ransom us from sin because sin permeates every aspect of human life. We think that sin is a choice. That may be true of our first faltering steps into sin, but as soon as we make our choices, our choices make us, and sin takes control and leads us into places we would never willing go. The Japanese have a saying about Saki, a powerful liquor. They says, “First the man takes a drink; then the drink takes a drink; and then the drink takes a man.” That is true of sin, too. But in the cross of Christ, we see that God can defeat sin, and the effects of sin. He delivered Jesus and he will deliver us.

Likewise, Jesus must ransom us from death, because death hangs over our heads from the cradle to the grave, and it cast a pall over all that we do, especially as we grow older. Apart from Jesus, we live in the anxious middle. We don’t know where we have come from or where we are going. But in Jesus we see that we have come from God and we are going to God, and because he lives, we will live also, and death no longer has a hold on us.

Perhaps you have heard the story of a boy who made a model boat, about ‘so long,’ and he set it out in a city pond, and then, storm came up, and he lost it. Weeks later, he saw it in the window of a shop. With joy he went in and explained to the shopkeeper than he had made the boat, and lost it. The shopkeeper responded, “Well, you may have made it; but it is mine, now.” The boy left the shop saddened, but he went to work, and he earned the money to buy back his boat, and he went to the shop, and he bought it, and as he left the shop he said to himself, and to his boat, “You are twice mine. First I made you. Then I bought you back.” In the same way, we are God’s twice over. First God made us, then God lost us to sin and death, and then God ransomed us, or bought us back.

Let me say it one more time. Some people wish it would happen, and some people wait for it to happen, and some people made it happen. Jesus made it happen!

He made it happen for us. Now it is for us to seize the opportunity he has given.


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This remembrance is personal. However, it is my hope that
my memories of Christmas may remind you of your own. Remember
a classic novel is set in a particular time and place, and deals with
particular people, yet it tells a universal story. WNG

Several years before my dad’s death we drove down east in late December to attend a family funeral. It was one of the last trips I made with my dad, just the two of us, and I really enjoyed it. We left Winston-Salem about lunch, drove to the little Eastern North Carolina town, attended the funeral at 4:00 p.m., greeted the few family members dad still remembered, and stopped for supper at burger joint. Then, as darkness fell, we pointed the car back up the road to Winston-Salem. The road was completely different after dark. On the way down, we drove through one little town that was so drab we hardly noticed it. On the way back, the same little town had switched on its Christmas lights, and it was transformed. We were treated to some of the most lavish and colorful decorations we had ever seen. As we passed through the business district, we saw numerous depictions of the Elves hard at work. There were snowmen, and snowflakes, and the reindeer leapt from corner to corner. Santa Claus himself occupied a place of honor in the main square. As we drove, dad delivered a running commentary on the abundance of beauty added to that drab little town by all the lights. Then, he stopped in mid-sentence, and said:

“Wait a minute, Worth! There is no nativity! They did not set out a single angel, shepherd or wiseman, not one, much less three; and the Holy Family has been left completely out. It is as if Jesus had never been born! I am afraid that this town has lost the true gift of Christmas in the wrappings.”

Then, always on the lookout for his next great sermon idea, Dad quickly added, “Worth, that would preach: ‘Don’t Loose the True Gift of Christmas in the Wrappings!’”

Now, please notice, that my dad did not say that the true gift of Christmas must be enjoyed without the wrappings, he simply said we should not loose the true gift of Christmas in the wrappings! At my house, when I was a boy, we always enjoyed the wrappings. For instance, we always put-up a Christmas tree, visited Santa Claus, exchanged gifts, and gathered for a big family meal.

As I look back on those days, I don’t remember Christmas tree lots like we have now. We may have had them, but in my family and neighborhood, either people put up an aluminum tree with colored lights, like the one in the window of Thalhimers on 4th Street, or they went out in the woods and cut a Christmas tree of their own. Dad used to know a farmer named John James, whose daughter, Virginia Barber, is still a member of this church. We used to go to the James’s farm, and Mr. James would hook his tractor to a tobacco sled, and my dad and I would climb in, and Mr. James would pull us all over his farm, until we spied just the right tree, always a cedar, and then dad would hop out with an ax, and, quick as a wink, or two, or three, or ten—-anyway pretty quick, we had a tree of our own to take home and decorate.

My mother made a big deal of decorating the tree. She had exactly five boxes of Christmas ornaments, each containing a dozen, single-color, glass, Christmas balls in gold, silver, red, green, and blue. We also had boxes of icicles made from tin foil that we bought at the drugstore. The icicles had to be tin foil, not tensile, because tensile was too light and did not hang properly. We did not have lights; but mom always popped pop-corn, and we would string a little of that, and eat a little of that, and string a little of that, until we could drape the tree with a garlands of white. My grandmother always used snow from an aerosol can on her tree, but mom would not permit it on ours. Dad bought a can one year, but mom pointed out that it said “Flammable,” right on the can, and she would not take the chance.

We had the wrappings. We had a Christmas tree, and I was permitted to visit Santa Claus, too. Back in the day, there may have been more than one department store Santa in Winston-Salem, but the only one I ever saw was in the Sears and Roebuck Store that was located on 4th Street, across from Modern Chevrolet. We usually parked dad’s 1953 Plymouth Suburban station-wagon in the lot on Four-and-a-Half Street, and entered the store through the upper entrance. I can still remember the smell of the hot nuts, fudge, and candies that wafted-up the those stairs to the parking lot as we walked down them. And I can still remember the long walk to the back of the store. We walked past the jewelry counter, and the toy department, and the housewares, and the hardware, and the garden supplies, and at last, there was Santa, seated on his elevated throne, usually at the end of a long line of kids my age. Most kids sat on his lap; but even as a youngster, I never did want to do that. I much preferred to keep my feet on the ground, shake-hands with the old gentleman, and speak to him face to face. I was always careful not to ask for too much, because, I knew, as my mother often told me, that Santa Claus had to keep something for the other children. When Clyde Manning proofed this sermon, she old me her mother simply told her and her sisters not to be greedy.

Santa was the bringer of gifts, but not the only bringer of gifts. My uncle Paul, my dad’s brother, usually brought a gift by for me, and my Aunt Ella Mae, my cousin Robert’s mother, always gave me something. Both Robert and I were deep into the cowboy life, and, I suppose, Aunt Ella Mae wanted her boys not to grow up to be cowboys. Anyway, one year, she surprised Robert and me with a different kind of gift. She put the matching gifts under the tree at Granny’s, and marked them “From Santa.” We were initially delighted to get something extra. Then we tore open the packages to discover a matching pair of dolls, both named, “Betsy Wetsy.” All of our aunts and uncles roared with laughter, and they kept laughing until tears streamed down their faces. The rest of that episode is a blank for me; but, several years ago, my cousin Robert sent me a picture of us holding those dolls. Both of us are dressed up as cowboys. His flashy little suit, complete with chaps and a vest, was embroidered with the name of “Hop Along Cassidy.” I am dressed more conservatively in a cowboy shirt, jeans, boots, and a black hat. Both of us are wearing a pair of chrome plated-pistols. He is clutching his Betsy Wetsy to his chest with a look of chagrin on his face. I am holding mine down by my side, either by a leg, or by the hair of her head, I don’t remember, and the look on my face is one of pure disdain. Today, a Betsy Wetsy will fetch quite a sum on eBay. Despite my shame I have been tempted to go on over to 10 West Devonshire, and sneak into my old back yard, and see if I can find the shallow grave where I put her after she met a tragic and violent end, on December the 26th, 1956.

When I was growing up, I received gifts, and I gave gifts. In those days, my mother always gave me enough money to buy my father a gift, and my father always gave me enough money to buy my mother a gift. Year after year, I bought mom a nice handkerchief, and I bought my dad a pretty nice tie. Then, one year, I saved up my allowance and went to the drugstore without supervision. I bought my dad a bottle of “Old Spice,” and my mother a bottle of “Midnight in Paris.” Interestingly enough, several years ago, when I had to empty my mom’s house, I found that empty bottle of “Midnight in Paris,” still in the original box.

I have to mention one more thing. The traditional Christmas family gathering. In those days, when I thought I would always be A member of the youngest generation, we went to my grandmother’s house for Christmas Dinner and there were no empty chairs. I was an only child, but I had five aunts and uncles, on my mother’s side alone, and more first cousins than I could reliably count. We had special guests, too. I particularly enjoyed the years that my dad brought an old bachelor preacher named J. George Brunner to eat with us. Dad always asked Mr. Brunner to say the blessing, we enjoyed his blessings, because they were like a preview of good things to come. He always took time to thank God for every single item on the heavily laden table, one at a time, “O Lord,” he prayed, “Thank you for the turkey and dressing, and for the ham with pineapple slices and cherries, and for the green-beans, and for the mashed potatoes with lumps in them, and for real butter, and for the coconut cake, and the chocolate fudge tunnel cake….” His prayer went on much longer, for the feast was abundant and diverse, but you get the picture.

When I was growing up, our Christmas never lacked for wrapping! However, there was no danger that we would loose the true gift of Christmas in that wrapping.

Take the songs we sang. I don’t remember that we ever sang “Jingle-Bells,” but it seems like we were aways singing carols like, “Away in a Manger,” “Joy to the World,” and “Silent Night.” Indeed, my first solo was part of a trio. Steve Calloway, Lenny Canada and I played the Three Wisemen, and we sang, “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”

I told you that we did not have lights on our Christmas tree; but we always had them at the Christmas Eve Candlelight Lovefeast. I always loved it when the preacher, always my dad, held up his candle and told us how Jesus had said, “I am the Light of the World.” And then he would invite us to lift up our candels says, “And Jesus said, ‘You are the light of the world…’”

Then there was Christmas morning. In those days, we always had gifts under the tree; but we never opened them until dad took down his big Thompson Chain Reference Bible, in the King James Version, and read the Christmas Story. He had read it the night before, at the lovefeast, but he always read it a second time, just for our family.

More than sixty years have come and gone since my first Christmases. John James’s farm is a golf course, and Granny and Pop are gone, and dad is gone, and most of my aunts and uncles are gone. Even one of my cousins is gone. Others who have lived as long as I have have even more vacant seats around the Christmas table. However, despite all these changes, for some of us, hopefully for most of us, the true Gift of Christmas is still as longed for, appreciated, and treasured, as it ever was. For though we know we can never return to those long ago Christmases of yesteryear, the True Gift of Christmas continues to give us hope, for today and tomorrow. As we grow older we see that night is coming, but beyond the night, there is a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. This makes us bold to believe that we are moving toward a future that is even more special than our past, a future in which every person we have loved and lost, has some part to play, and the part they play, and the part we play, will never be diminished. That hope is possible, because the true gift of Christmas, the child of Bethlehem, grew-up to become not just a man, but the Man, the Son of Man and Son of God who showed us the Father by showing us Himself. Then he died for our sins, and rose again to give us a future and a hope that is beyond our wildest expectations. My dad always read the Christmas story from Luke chapter two, twice, on Christmas Eve, and again on Christmas Day. The rest of the year, he often used a different version of the Christmas story. It is found in John 3;16. Do you know it?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that 
whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.


Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

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The apostle wrote to the church in Ephesus, telling them that he remembered them in all his prayers. The substance of his prayer for them was simple and revealing.

  • He did not ask God that members of the church might have an easy life.
  • He did not ask God to inspire members of the church to tithe a portion of their income to God’s work.
  • He did not even pray that God would make the church a strong, growing, dynamic and attractive gathering of saints.

He asked simply that God might open “the eyes of their hearts” so that they might know the hope to which God had called them. Obviously hope is a powerful concept, the seed of many great things.

The ancient Greeks understood the dynamics of hope. You remember the story of Pandora. According to Greek mythology she was the first woman. The head of the God’s Zeus gave Pandora a beautiful box with instructions not to open it under any circumstance. Impelled by her curiosity, which had also been given to her by the gods, Pandora opened it, and all evil contained therein escaped and spread over the earth. She hastened to close the box, but the whole contents had escaped, except for one thing that lay at the bottom, the one thing that we really need to make life bearable: hope.

Very few people in the history of the world have believed the story of Pandora to be literally true. Yet, most people would agree about the importance of hope.

Let me give you an example. Some years ago I was asked to serve on a committee to help our local school system to define a list of character traits to be taught our children under the umbrella of “Good Citizenship.” More than a dozen parents and educators spent hours and hours discussing traits we thought should be included on the list. We finally adopted more or less the same list of eight character traits proposed by our State Legislature: 1. Respect, 2. Integrity, 3. Kindness, 4. Good Judgment, 5. Responsibility, 6. Courage, 7. Self-Discipline, and 8. Perseverance.

As we finalized the list, I suggested that we add one more characteristic of Good Citizenship: Hope. Of course, by that time, everybody in the room knew I was a pastor; and I suppose that made many people suspicious. Maybe they thought the character trait, hope, introduced by a pastor was too religious, for my suggestion was voted down. However, when we stood to vote, every non-white parent and educator in the room voted with me. They voiced their approval, too. One woman rich in the wisdom of motherhood said:

“If our children don’t have some hope of success in school, and some hope for a better life when they have finished school, then nothing else will matter to them.”

She went on to say that it was a lack of hope that drove our young people, red and yellow, black and white, to drugs and promiscuous sex, and led them into lives of crime and violence. Powerful!

Obviously, hope is not just a religious concept. Everybody needs hope, no exceptions! Thus hope can be an educational strategy, and hope can be a political strategy. In his book, The World Is Flat, Hot and Crowded, Thomas Friedman that the Muslims who become Jihadists are those who live in countries where there was no hope for a better life. They choose martyrdom and the hope of Paradise over a life of poverty and hopelessness. Friedman says that if we are to defeat the Jihadists we must help them discover hope for their own lives. Wow, imagine that, hope is a strategy in the war on terror!

Hope is a medical strategy, too, especially for those who are seriously ill. If people believe that their illness is unto death, they either give-up the fight and become despondent, or they reconcile themselves to the inevitable, and make the best of the time they have left. However, if they have even a slim hope of beating the disease that has attacked them, then they fight back, and their attitude helps their doctors help them.

I trust that you can see, in almost any situation in life, real hope is a very good thing, for it inspires effort. By contrast, false hope is a very bad thing, for false hope is the source of much disappointment, pain and anguish in the world.

Counselors who treat people with situationally induced depression (as opposed chemically induced depression) say that it is the gap between what people hope to gain from a situation and what they actually gain that sinks them down in depression. For instance, a woman hopes for a 10% raise and gets 4%. She can’t help but be a little disappointed and discouraged, especially if the men in her office received the higher rate. Or what about this? A man hopes to marry a woman he has secretly admired for years; but he never lets her know how he feels. Then, one day, she shows up at church with a diamond on the fourth finger of her left hand. Oops! It was Frankie Valley who asked: “What becomes of the broken-hearted? They had a hope that has now departed?” I could go on to touch on all the things children want for Christmas, but never get, things as simple and as expensive as an Apple Watch or a Google Plus. When I was young, at the start of catalog season, I always asked my parents what they thought Santa Claus could afford this particular Christmas. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was trying to avoid a gap between what I hoped for, and what I received.

Now, at this juncture, I would be less than honest if I did not point out that some people think that religious hope is the source of a great many of the worlds ills, whether personal, economic or political. In his book, The True Believer, Eric Toffler mentions two kinds of hope. He makes a distinction between “hope that is just around the corner,” which he regards as good, and right, and true, because it often “spurs people to action,” and “hope that lives in the far distant future,” which he regards as ultimately dangerous, because it robs people of their desire and ability to act in the present. To illustrate Toffler used the example of slaves, and other politically oppressed peoples, who accept their miserable present and pin all their future hopes on the pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-by that the people in power dangle before their eyes. Obviously, Toffler agreed with Lenin who said, “Religion (and by extension religious hope) is an opiate for the masses.”

Now let’s talk about religious hope. The New Testament teaches that as Christians we have two kinds of legitimate hope, hope that is just around the corner, and hope that lives in the far distant future. Both are rooted in the same action by the same actor. The action is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the actor is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In Ephesians 1:19 the apostle is talking about hope for the here and now, when he says that he wants us to know “what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe.”

Then in Ephesians 1:20-21 the apostle is talking about hope for the far distant future—a future beyond the grave that was revealed in Christ when:

(God) raised Jesus from the dead and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come.

As Christians, by faith, we believe that we have a surplus of legitimate hope. If we read the New Testament carefully we discover that our surplus of hope reveals itself in four stages.

I. The first stage of hope is the stage of false hope. This is the stage of idolatry. In this stage people people put their faith in God’s of their own making. St. Paul says that idols have no real existence. Jeremiah said that idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field. They cannot talk. They cannot walk. They have to be carried everywhere they go. They cannot do us good, and they cannot do us harm. The idols we make for ourselves today are more dangerous. They cannot do us good, and they can do us harm.

II. The second stage of hope is stage of no hope. No hope is better than false hope. In Ephesians 2:12 those who do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus are said to be “without hope, and without God in the world.” People who reject God are forced to live with “the benign indifference of the universe.” It is the best they can hope for; but no hope is better than false hope.

III. The third stage of hope is the dawn of real hope. Real hope dawned when Jesus came into the world to reveal God, and God’s future for humankind. In John 5:39 Jesus spoke to the Jews saying, “You search the scriptures, because in them you think you will find eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.” When Jesus said this, he already knew he would have to prove it. He knew he had to lay down his before he could demonstrate that he had the power to take it up again. During the final week of his ministry, Jesus set his face steadfastly toward Jerusalem, knowing he would be rejected by his own people, and then crucified, killed, and buried by the Romans. Unbelief says that the cross was the bad end of a good man, but faith declares it to be a road traveled once, for all, by our now victorious Savior, for on the third day, Jesus was raised from death, showed himself alive to his disciples by many proofs, and ascended to the right hand of the majesty on high, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and far above every name that is named, in this age, and in that which is to come.

The resurrection of Jesus has implications for all humankind. In 1st Corinthians 15:20-23, St. Paul says that Jesus:

Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam (the man of the flesh) all die, so also in Christ (the man of the Spirit) shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

IV. The fourth stage of hope is spread of hope to all people. This spread of hope is the work of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is variously called, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God. We are talking about the mystery of the Trinity. In Ephesians 1:13, the apostle writes that the Holy Spirit is “the guarantee of our (heavenly) inheritance until we receive possession of it.” And in Romans 8, St. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is not just the guarantee of our inheritance until we receive possession of it, but the means by which we attain possession of it. He writes:

Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him, But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The Holy Spirit gives us hope for the Far distant future. He also give us hope for the present age. In the letters attributed to him, Paul uses the word “hope” forty-eight times.Two-thirds of the time he is talking of the hope of eternal life that is laid up for us in Christ. This understandable, for this is the hope that cannot be shaken. However, one-third of the time, Paul is talking about the same things we hope for in the here and now. The apostle talks about the hope we have for our family and friends, and the hope we have that others will think well of us. He talks about the hope that God will supply our financial needs, and bless our plans, and comfort us in our weakness, and heal our diseases. In Ephesians 3:20 Paul reminds us that, “by the power at work within us (God is able to do) far more abundantly than all we can ask, think, or imagine.” No wonder the late James S. Stewart, the great Scottish Presbyterian preacher said that:

The central business of preaching today is to tell men and women that the same power that took Jesus Christ out of the grave is available to them, not just in the moment of death, but in the midst of life.

Paul never says that God will deliver us from every situation in life; he does say that God will delivers us through every situation in life (read 2nd Corinthians 11:16-29), and make us stronger for each (“..suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character and character produces hope…” Romans 5:3-4) until we come at last to the final trial, and he will deliver us through that one, too, lifting us from this world into the world to come.


St. Paul himself had tasted God’s power in the Midst of life. In 2nd Corinthians 1 he wrote:

8   For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. 9 Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; 10 he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.


Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

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I am planning a short series on “Times and Seasons,” and this morning I want to talk to you about time. The young live with the myth that they have unlimited time. All mature human beings know that we have limited time available to us. Psalm 90 declares that:

The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;

In speaking of seventy or eighty years, the Psalmist is talking about what we might call a normal life, lived chapter by chapter through birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age, ups, downs, illness, and death. Some people do not have a normal life. Children die of childhood diseases; teenagers and young adults die in accidents they thought could not happen to them; men and women who have barely achieved middle-age die from from various causes, often through no fault of their own. When people die before their time, we say that their lives are like an unfinished symphony, or a painting that has been put away before all the details of it have been drawn-in and properly colored. We are sad, but we know, too, that they have had their time. Their time is past, and it will not come again.

We fear death, but the ancients were terrorized by something worse. They were terrorized by the endless cycle of existence. They thought no event, and no life was unique, but each repeated itself endlessly, like the sun that rises and sets, and the season that recur year after year. According to Thomas Cahill, the idea of time with a beginning, a moveable middle that some have called “the eternal now,” and an end is one of the gifts of the Jews. The idea is rooted in the God who has created, sustains, and will perfect the whole created order as we know it. Christians say that the history of salvation has a similar movement. The center of salvation history past was Christ on his cross, his body, broken for us, and then, Christ, risen from the dead, his ressurection the sign of his vindication before God, and the guarantee of the new life beyond the bounds of time, for all those who have faith in him. The center of salvation history present is the Holy Spirit, at work in the world, at work in our lives, enabling us to believe in Jesus Christ, and calling us into the church, which is Christ’s body in the world; and then sending us back out into the world, to be Christ’s hands and feet, always busy, until he comes. The center of salvation future is Christ coming back for his church on earth, or, our being called home to him in death, which are but two-sides of the same coin. Either event brings to an end time as we know it personally.

The gospel lesson from Matthew 25 fits nicely into this understanding of time and salvation history. Jesus told the parable about a Master and his servants, but the parable is obviously about Jesus and his disciples. Do not overlook how Jesus says, “It will be.” In saying, “It will be,” Jesus is speaking of a future time when he will no longer be with his disciples, bodily, and they will be left alone to serve him in his absence. Jesus said “it will be as when a Master was going on a journey.” The Master called his his servants to him, and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, to another one. He gave to each according to his ability. Then the Master went away. The five talent man went “at once”, don’t over look the phrase, “at once,” and traded with his five talents. He made five talents more. The two talent man also went, though perhaps not so quickly, and made two talents more. The one talent man was not so bold. Knowing his Master to be a hard man, who sometimes took what was not necessarily his to take, he went and hid the one talent the Master had entrusted to him in the ground. When the Master returned, he asked his servants for an accounting. He was pleased with the work of the five talent man, and with the work of the two talent man. He praised each of them using the same words and saying:

Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.

Then the Master heard the report of the one talent man. He was very disappointed. He said:

You wicked and slothful servant! By your own confession, you knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed. So why didn’t you invest my money with the bankers, so that, at my coming, I could have received what was my own with interest?

Then the Master ordered the man’s one talent be taken from him, and given to the man who had ten talents; and he ordered the worthless servant himself be cast into outer darkness, where men will weep and gnash their teeth. Do not jump the the conclusion that this “outer darkness” is hell and nothing but. In this case, the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” may also be associated with the regret we experience when we realize we have wasted our time and opportunity. What did the poet, John Greenleaf Whittier say:

Of all the sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these, “It might have been.”

And perhaps you will recall the name of Horace Mann the great 19th Century American educator and politician who promoted universal public education . It was Mann who wrote:

Lost – yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty, diamond-studded minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.

In his book, “Today Matters,” John C. Maxwell, tries to communicate the value of the time we thoughtlessly waste. It was Maxwell who wrote:

To know the value of one year… ask the student who failed the final exam. To know the value of one month… ask the mother of a baby born a month too soon (Who must wait to bring it home.)To know the value of one week… ask the editor of a weekly newsmagazine. To know the value of one day… ask the wage earner who has six children.To know the value of one hour… ask the lovers who are waiting to meet. To know the value of one minute… ask the person who missed the plane. To know the value of one second… ask the person who survived the accident. To know the value of one millisecond… ask the Olympic silver medalist.

No wonder Jesus encouraged his disciples not to waste the time available to them. In John 4:35 Jesus said: “Do not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest.’ I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest.”

We Christians do not compete for the silver, nor do we compete for the gold. We do not even compete against each other. We compete against the relentlessness of time. And we compete simply to hear the word of the Lord:“Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful in a little, I will set you over much; enter into the Joy of your Master.”

Now, if we know that time is precious, how then should we live?

First, we must let go the past, all of it. In Philippians 3:13 St. Paul wrote:

This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

We certainly need to let go of our sins and failures. Too many of us sit around trapped by our past, reciting the liturgy of “woulda, shoulda, coulda.” As Christians, we must remember our sins and failures, so that we can use that knowledge, but we must remember them as if they happened to somebody else. In 1st Peter 2:24 the apostle writes that “(Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” When we give our sins and failures to him, we are free as never before.

We also need to let go of our successes. Billy Graham said that God will not take our sins and failures and unless we also give God our successes. Too many people sit around reliving our “glory days,” when God wants us to live in the now. It may be that God wants to say to us what Robert Burn’s Rabbi Ben Ezra said to his wife: “Come grow old with me; the best is yet to be.” It occurs to me that is exactly what God said to Abraham and Sarah, who were the Father (and Mother?) of all who have faith. Many of you will remember the name of Lib Green. You will not be surprised to remember that Lib and her husband Gene lived long and full lives, dedicating much of it to God’s work at New Philadelphia. It may surprise you to learn that, in 2017, thanks to an annuity that Lib set up before her death, she was our single largest donor. It may be so for years to come.

Second, we must bloom where we are planted, and make the most of the opportunities we have. God holds us responsible only for the time, talent, treasure and opportunities he has entrusted to us. God does not hold us responsible for the time, talent, treasure and opportunities God has entrusted to others. If you think you could handle more responsibility than you have before you right now, blessed are you. All you have to do is prove yourself faithful over a little, and God may give you the opportunity to be faithful over much.

Third, we must follow a plan. That plan is a lot simpler than most people imagine. In Ephesians 2:10, the apostle said that “God has created us in Christ for good works that we might walk in them.” John Wesley spelled this out for the early Methodists saying:

Do all the good you can; by all the means you can; in all the ways you can; in all the places you can; at all the times you can; to all the people you can; as long as ever you can.

That is about perfect! I would add only, that you should do good “as soon as you can.” Not only is time our most precious commodity, but many good intentions have died in delay.

Fourth, once we have put the plan into action, me must not give up! The best advice I ever received was from a dying man. He called me to himself and said, “Worth, never give up, never give up, never give up.” As I have grown older, and as I have piled up almost thirty years doing one task in this one place, I have come to think that Galatians 6:9 may important counsel believers can ever receive. Therein St. Paul writes, “And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.” (In the Bible the heart is the seat of the mind, emotions and will!)

Fifth, take a long view. Human beings have a life of very limited duration. It maybe that God has called us to start something that God will call upon someone else to finish. St. Paul understood this. In 1st Corinthians 3:6 he wrote, “I planted, and the preacher who came after me, Apollos, watered; but it was God who gave the growth.” As I have drawn nearer to the time of my own retirement, the long view has become more and more precious to me. I am confident that someone will join you to continue the work that we have done, and I hope and pray that together you will do more and more. I am not yet ready to retire, but at 68 I am certainly thinking about it. I was thinking about it this on Saturday as I finished my walk. I went by the front desk at the downtown YMCA. As I passed by, looked at the jar of inspirational sayings and Bible verses they keep at the desk, and I spotted a one green slip of paper down deep in the jar. It was the only green slip I saw. Since my name is Green, I thought it must be for me, so fished it out. It was from 1st Corinthians 3:7: “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who gives the growth.” Some people would call that coincidence. I wonder what the mathematical odds of that would be? And what about this? The New Testament text for Sunday, November 19 was also 1st Corinthians 3:7! Coincidence? It is hard for me to think that.

So, in conclusion, only one question need be answered: “When do we start ?” Well, according to Jesus, the five talent man went “at once,” to trade with his money. And in 2nd Corinthians 6:2 St. Paul gives us good advice when he quotes the prophet, who speaks for God, saying:

At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, today is the day of salvation.

With this in mind let us do all the good we can; by all the means we can; in all the ways we can; in all the places we can; at all the times we can; to all the people we can; as long as ever we can. And let us begin, as soon as we can. Let us begin today. What are your options?


Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

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