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Now Is The Acceptable Time

1 Samuel 17:38-49;Psalms 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13;Mark 4:35-41 June 20, 2021 –Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

I finally guessed it was obvious that I was moving on Friday as a car drove up and parked in front of the parsonage.

The driver got out and asked me if the house had been sold yet. I told them that I was the old pastor moving out and the new pastor would be here in about a week.

“So no one has bought the house?” they asked. The house belongs to the church just around the corner. They let their pastors live in the house.

I am leaving. A new pastor is coming. The house is not for sale.

They still didn’t get it, but they knew we were done talking and they got back into their car and drove off …looking for a new home.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to break down, and a time to build up.

In Psalm 69, the psalmist cries out, “It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. …But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.”

We are People of the Book and we share a story of a people that begins with God calling to Abraham to leave his home and his family “to go to a land I will show how.”

It ends with praise for the one who told us that the land God was whispering to Abraham about is within the soul and spirit of each one of us…and Jesus, too, was calling us to leave the home we have known to go to a land he will show us.

We begin the journey when we come to a place in our lives where we can see it. Sometimes the way ahead is clear and we plunge into it.

At other times, the way is winding and narrow and we have to find the way step by step, seeking light in a land of darkness.

But the way was always there, waiting to be discovered…and traveled…and proclaimed to all the world. It still is.

It is always the acceptable time for those who are zealous for truth and justice, peace and justice, and the kingdom come to earth, to cry to God for some direction in all the distraction…some light …some victory…some answer.

But when we have lifted up that prayer, we don’t just remain there with our eyes closed. We open them and see the world with new eyes and a new understanding.

When I first started serving a church in 2001…20 years ago now …people I had known for 20 years then…came up to me on the street and said, “You?”

It hurt my feelings a little at first, but as I thought about it I could see that, yes, even me. It had happened to me. And a whole new world, a whole new life…a whole new understanding…had opened up to me.

The Bible kept jumping out of the book and pushing me…pulling me …drawing me forward. And the people that came up to me then who asked me, “You?” started getting the same response.

I would look back at them, maybe lean toward them a little bit, and say, “ Yes. Me. It can happen to anyone, you know.”

And it can happen to anyone. It happens, I think, to everyone, but we are distracted by the world and we miss it right there in front of us.

We are marvelous creations of Almighty God and we are so much more than we can understand…so our great sin is to sell ourselves short… and miss the vision God had when all these strengths and weaknesses were packed into one package… and saw that we, like the first light on the first day were…good.

David did not suffer from this spiritual disability when he came to the Forward Edge of the Battle Area in Israel’s war with the Philistines. He did not know that he was the one to defeat his countrymen’s fears, but he would just lean into the promises of God…open himself to all the gifts God had given him… and use them…for…the glory of God.

The result was astounding. The lesson was clear. It is our spiritual strengths…more than the brute forces we can muster…that gives humankind the grace to see…the right to boast…that somehow…some way…we are created…in… God’s…image.

David gives power to the claim I made…and make today…that this can happen to anyone.

You are my witnesses and my proof. You have built this beautiful building in a quiet corner where this congregation has come to worship for almost 120 years now. You are almost as old as that old Boo Radley of an apple tree standing across Commerce Street for your front door.

You have a tradition of being a community church…a United Methodist Church…and a community church…a community United Methodist Church. Your DNA is to engage with the community and engage in the Word and prayer and singing and worship… and clothing the naked…and feeding the hungry…and showing mercy to those who have known what it is to live without seeing mercy.

There is much that you have done over the years to extend that mercy beyond the walls of this building… beyond the brow of the hill it sits on …beyond the ridgelines on either side of this lake…beyond the great ocean that all the waters around us flow into.

We have found ways together… because so many people were willing to do so much…and they inspired all the rest of us to do more …and we all surprised the neighbors around us…to see that ‘church’ is not a catechism…but a way of seeing…and engaging with …the world.

We can’t do everything…but we can do some things…and it can happen to anyone…so let’s try this. Let’s keep working on that. Now that we have Zoom and YouTube and crazy hot Wi-Fi in the building, let’s see what we can re-do with that new capability…to bring people together…to look for ways to be the grace of God to our neighbors …in a new way…and in old ways…

to become the grace of God to our own selves.

I think it was the first SPRC meeting that I attended that we had a fairly animated discussion about what this church already had and what it was already doing and where that could go. I heard someone saying, over and over, “This is going to be fun. I think you are going to like this.”

There has been a lot of fun in it, but more than that, there has been a tremendous amount of joy…doing what we were doing not only because we could, but also because there was anew appreciation of what we could do if we decided to do it.

We discovered strength that had been there all along. We were just letting it out…into the world…to do what God had sent it to do.

Having an adequate idea about why we were doing it was a good start. But then we could see what might be if we got rid of the mortgage and used the money we used to reserve for mortgage payments for ministry in the community.

We could reach out, and be more than we have been, without straining ourselves any more than the mortgage had been straining us.

A whole new horizon was there.

Ministries came to our door. Bridge Club…Boy Scout Troop 1916G… Threads…AA…School Board candidate forum…Jack Horner, the dinosaur man…dark skies…the healing power of sound…supper and a talk on fire, environment.

When the Flathead Camp needed money to bury the power lines at the camp, the bulk of it came from their Bigfork church.

When the pandemic hit, we went online with worship, committee meetings and conference work.

The traditional Thanksgiving dinner tradition was presented in a new way: on the doorsteps.

Lay people came up with an online curriculum for a confirmation class.

We became aware of the vital role our ministries played in the community.

One Sunday we listed all of the ways we serve each other, and the community and it was over 30 different initiatives…and we thought of more that we left out.

Lay people became point people. I still think that the Hearts & Hands gatherings had more to do with our capital campaign than any one other group…but everyone offered their time, their talent, their prayers and their service and it was done…and more than done…ahead of schedule.

You are the only United Methodist church in the valley to pay all of its apportionments this past year. You rallied, then took stock of what the task would be…and rallied some more.

What’s more, you moved your pastor’s position from ¾ to full time. And the transition that we complete today is a model for keeping the main thing the main thing in the midst of change…not taking our eye off the local mission field…or Jesus…ever.

You are a hardy team of team players. When Paul writes of God’s love for the Corinthian church, “When the time came [in the NRSV translation “an acceptable time”], I listened to you” he could be writing of your relationship with God.

And when he goes further, “See. Now is the acceptable time. See now is the day of your salvation” he describes the humility and the dignity with which you have found a way to accomplish the surprising things you have done.

You are the ship full of disciples who came into a storm as they crossed the lake. When storms hit you do not give up all hope. You awakened your Lord and master and let him calm the waves and lead you on through the night.

The next morning, you could see it was your faith that got you to turn to him…and saved all souls aboard.

You have lived out your faith and you continue to do it. The woods around us are lovely, dark and deep, and you have promises to keep and miles to go before you sleep.

We see today that this church was already firmly established on this spot in 1926…and that we are still here today. The mission field has changed in many ways, but it is still there waiting for caring souls to speak bold and caring words to a world in need of faith and truth and love…and hope.

Now is the acceptable time for all of that to become not just a part of your history but also of your character, your spiritual DNA. When many people follow the one who came to save us all, they reveal to the world the omnipotent power of love.

On the occasion of Brother Van’s 70th birthday in 1918, Charlie Russell sent a letter to be read remembering the first time they had met at a cabin in Pig-Eye Basin, some 50 years before.

He went on, “I have met you many times since that, Brother Van – sometimes in lonely places. But you were never lonesome or alone, for a Man with scarred hands and feet stood beside you; and near him there is no hate, so all you met loved you. ‘Be good and you will be happy,’ is an old saying which many contradict and say goodness passes with windfalls, and swift, deep rivers to cross.

“I have never ridden it very far myself, but judging from the looks of you it’s a smoother, flower-grown trail with easy fords, where birds sing and cold, clear streams dance in the sunlight all the way to the pass that crosses the Big Divide.”

With the goodness I have seen in you these last few years, I know you will always be happy…and your happiness will spread throughout the village and the valley and every place Jesus is praised.

Be good and be happy.

Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us – and through me – this day? Amen.