Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Losing and Finding--A Sermon On Words- 9th Sunday after Pentecost

photo by Calamity Meg / flickr


I want to talk today about losing. Losing something that is important to us.  We lose things all the time. Keys, glasses, I lost an appointment book—I kept everything in that book. Never found it. We’ve all lost something. But my question today is: Have you ever lost a word? Do you know what I mean?  We all keep looking and looking and we can't seem to find what we lost. We know we put it down somewhere. We look high and low, in the chair cushions,  in the back seat of the car,  run our fingers underneath the car seats. We move the newspapers—look even in the driveway. It isn't there. We can't find the word.


I know someone who lost the word, home. Just lost it one day. His marriage broke up. Shattered into a hundred pieces. He lives in the same house. But he has lost something and can't seem to get it back. Do you know anyone like that?


There are people today in Iraq and Afghanistan that have lost the word, peace. Some of their children and young people do not even know the meaning of this word: peace. And those who live there  have known is war and destruction and pain ands death.  But this word, peace just slipped away. Some of our troops come home wounded and broken. Wives and sometimes husband whisper I just want peace back. Somewhere the word got lost with PTSD and depression and sadness. Many people today  here and there have lost this word, peace.


Some of us have lost the word, forgiveness. Why did the newspapers put the word front and center when they talked about the survivors in Charleston? It made headlines when the people who had lost loved ones said to this disturbed young man: "We forgive you.”  It made front page news because so many folk lost this word along the way. Forgiveness. I know people inside the church—come every Sunday just bitter. Over some will or some slight or some mean person that tripped them up. They hardly know the meaning of this word, forgiveness. The word got lost somewhere.


Ever known anybody that lost the word, ‘I’? Oh, we can all say the word, “i” with a little ‘i.”  Sometimes now we can say: "i." Little i. But we can't say: "I." Big I. Something happened. We got ground down, beat up one time too many. Doors slammed shut in our faces. Disappointment followed disappointment. And slowly, ever so slowly we lost this word: I. And some of us have spent most of our lives trying to get it back.


Many people in our time have lost another  word, church. The word means less and less to a lot of people today. And if it does mean anything it is something negative and unpleasant. Church, they say sarcastically. Fussy people. Looking down their noses. Turned inward. Cold and hard. Meanest people I ever met. They lost a word. Church. And they're not here today. They don't understand what church was supposed to be. They have lost a word.


photo by Allan / flickr

But sometimes we find a word. Have you ever done that? Last fall, I was out in the yard, I brushed back the leaves, I was digging a hole to plant some daffodils. And as I was digging I struck something hard. It wouldn't budge. Probably a rock, I thought. Old concrete block left over from when they built the house. I kept digging. Guess what I found? It was a word! I pulled it up, brushed it off.  It was a church word. Old as most of the Bible.

Kerygma--Good News

The word had a strange name: kerygma. You might say I don't know that word. But you do. At least you've heard it. Kerygma. It means good news. It means to tell the old, old story.  Preaching.  Herald. Proclaim. It means to tell a story, the old, old story.

Many people have lost this word. When they hear kerygma they think about anything but good news. Good news?  Don't preach to me! Why down at that church they look down their nose at me or my child that got into trouble. And such preaching becomes a lethal weapon used to clobber somebody, to manipulate and push around. It's bad news. No wonder so many lost the word. Don't preach to me. Nobody likes that. That droning on and on and on about things that you care nothing about. Mark of the Beast. Great Whore of Babylon. Is the Bible literally true? Where did Cain get his wife? Who cares. We lost a word somewhere.

Jesus came preaching, Mark says on the first page. "Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God."(1.14) And the result? The people came in droves. They just kept coming because of this fresh, good, good word. It addressed them. It spoke to their hearts. This news touched the things of their lives. Nothing about the Jebusites and the Ammonites. No. It challenged all their presuppositions. It made them human. And they began to entertain the strangest of notions. And this finding of a word led to the finding of other words. The Prodigal found the word home when he thought it was lost forever. In a jail cell, sentenced to death, Paul found the word peace. Simon Peter, after the crucifixion, after he had lied and betrayed the best thing he ever, ever knew he found a word. He thought it was lost forever. It was the word forgiveness. Zaccheus was short and a despised and hated tax collector. He found the word: "I." I am. I am. I am somebody. And all over in Corinth, in Ephesus,  Galatia, Jerusalem, Philippi and even in Rome they began to find this word, church. A special, special place where they were stretched and forgiven and brought into a circle of healing love. And many of you here wouldn’t be here if you had not heard this word, kerygma—good news.

Koinonia - Community

But there’s more. Early last Spring, as the bulbs I had planted in the fall were beginning to come up, I turned up a spot where I would plant my tomatoes. And deep down in the hole I struck what I thought was a rock. I had to dig around it. It was a pretty good size. I finally knelt down and began to pull on it. Finally it came out. It left a big hole. It was not a rock. It was a word. Much like kerygma, but different. I brushed it off. There was printed these letters on this word. It read: k-o-i-n-o-n-i-a.

Koinonia. It got lost somewhere. It is supposed to mean fellowship, sort of. But that really doesn't do it justice. It's bigger than the word, fellowship. But we've almost lost it. Koinonia doesn't mean soggy chicken or cold beans at a pot luck.  And it doesn't mean agreement. We're all in agreement—we’re in fellowship. It doesn't mean everybody is a Democrat or Republican and we just meet together to undergird each other's prejudices.We lost something precious when we defined it as a circle of like-minded who just enjoy each other other's company immensely. Having the best time in the world. Fellowship is far more complicated than that. It means to take in. Period. Not just your own kind.  All kinds.

John Fawcett came to understand this the hard way. He was born in bleak Yorkshire in 1739. He was left an orphan when he was twelve. And he lost the word, fellowship. He was an apprentice to a tailor in Bradford, which was almost slavery. For when he was just 13 years old he worked from 6:00 Am until 8:00PM every day. Learned to read at night by reading Pilgrim's Progress. When he was 15 he heard the great George Whitfield preach and became a Christian. He was married when he was 18 to a woman several years older than he was. He was called to the Baptist Church at Wainsgate. Ugly, ugly little village on the top of a hillside. Little money. Few people. No parsonage so they "boarded around." His wife and children must have loved that.

It was hard place and so five years and four children later, Carter's Lane Church in London called him. He went and talked to them and accepted the church. More people. More money—almost enough to live on. When he returned home to Wainsgate they were shocked. And when he loaded his belongings on a wagon to leave for London, the people gathered around and began to cry. "Please don't go. Pastor, please don't go." His heart won out over his head. And he unpacked the wagon and stayed. He was Pastor at Wainsgate for 54 years. The Sunday after he unpacked the wagon, before he preached, he led them in the singing of a hymn, he had just written the night before. He lined it out, line by line, and this is what they sang: "Blest be the tie that binds, Our hearts in Christian love, The fellowship of kindred minds, Is like to that above”.  John Fawcett had found a word and it changed his life and theirs too.

Diakonia - Service

Just last week I was raking leaves. They keep falling even in summer. The dog next door came and stood by me and when I saw him, I swear he was thinking: “What is he doing?”  And I raked over something. It was not stick. And it was too large for the plastic bag. I brushed it off. It was a word. And old-fashioned word. Almost out of date. It was beautiful when I brushed the dirt off it was strong and solid. It read. Diakonia. It means to serve.

We've largely lost it today. I pull into the gas station. I pump my own gas. If I want my tires checked I do that myself. If I want the windshield cleaned I do that. If I want to know if my oil is all right I pull up the hood and try to find the dip stick. And when the gas is through I take out the pump handle, replace it, screw my gas top on, close the lid, go into the station because the pump won’t take my credit card.  The man behind the counter looks up from his newspaper and says: How much gas did you get? And when I don't remember, he asks if I will go out and find out the amount and let him know. And as I drove off I looked back at the sign: Service Station. We have lost a word.

But in my yard I found a word. It doesn't mean to serve the church really. It doesn't mean that we come here to get our needs met though we all do and should. Or like the man said we're like a filling station, we do come here to get filled up. And I hope that happens.  But this word means a whole lot more than that. Jesus said we find diakonia when we give it away. We're supposed to be a real service station.

People don’t come to church to help you pay the preacher—or just to help out in the nursery.  Sometimes they tell me I come here to get my needs met—emphasis on the I. It really is a me, me, me age. But they keep coming back because they discover this word: service. When they got sick and could do hardly anything—somebody came over and cut the grass and somebody brought a casserole—or several. And when I visited their hospital room—on the table by the bed were about 18 get well cards. Somebody cared—and that’s what we call service. I lead a lot of Grief groups. Folks who have lost children. Some have had to say goodbye to husbands, wives,  grandparents, brothers and sisters. And do you know what they tell me? I couldn’t have made it without: and they name a husband or wife or neighbor or child or a Pastor that stood by them.  And weeks later when they can stand it they will be back in their pew and when church is over people who love them surround them and hug them and whisper: “I was praying for you.” They know this word diakonia. It’s a healing word.

After a long and distinguished career as a Minister, Carlyle Marney preached a sermon to his last congregation:”They were the most church I ever knew.” For somewhere in those crowded busy years he had found in that all-too human church what Jesus had in mind. The Most Church he ever knew. In that place they had found three words—probably more. But the church had discovered: kerygma—a good news—even for the preacher. They had polished the word: koinonia—a fellowship that really is a circle that takes people in and helps heal them and change them forever. And my friend, Dr. Marney must have discovered this third word where he served. Diaknonia. Service. For this Pastor saw a people reach out and try to help wounded world. And what they found made a profound difference in other people’s lives and their own.

photo by comeonandorra / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

(This sermon will be preached at the Mount Zion Presbyterian Church, Sandy Springs, SC July 26, 2015)


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