Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Insensitivity Is Donald Trump's Middle Name

photo by Alan / flickr

Of all the things I could say negatively about Mr. Trump--I guess his insensitivity bothers me more than anything. Now he is going after Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's top Aide. Her husband, Anthony Weiner has been caught yet again sending out salacious pictures of himself to women over the internet. Somehow Trump has linked this sorry incident to Hillary Clinton via Huma Abedin. His paranoia has run wild saying Abedin must be connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. He has implied as a Muslim she may have even be in league with Islamic terrorists. There should be nothing of political fodder about this story. Think of the burden of embarrassment and shame this woman must carry because of her husband's sorry behavior. But finally she has had enough and has separated from him. How heart-broken this woman--or any woman--would be. Six years of marriage, a baby--and her husband's pathetic behavior. But Mr. Trump's response reflects his utter insensitivity to human brokenness and this woman's pain. He only sees another chance to make some points for his campaign. Winning has no boundaries. 

We've seen his cruel responses so often that maybe we just look away. He began with those ugly remarks about Mexicans and how so many of them were rapists and murderers and maybe, he generously said, there might be some good ones among them. Who cares what he says now about his immigration policy? Making fun of a newsman with physical disabilities. Dismissing the five years that John McCain spent as a prisoner of war. Snarling at candidate after candidate in his own party just to win the nomination. Linking Mr. Cruz' father with Kennedy's assassination. His remarks about women. His tirades after Mr. Khan's impassioned remarks about his Muslim son giving his life for his country. Bringing up all of Hillary Clinton's painful past about her husband's pathetic behavior with Monica Lewinsky. This must have been the darkest, most painful experience in Hillary's life. All their dirty linen spread everywhere with their child in college. Did Trump even think for a moment what this must have done to all these people he has personally attacked.

Public figures--whomever they are--are human beings. Just like the rest of us. And to use shootings and grief and the poverty of black Americans and questions about President Obama's birth certificate--Mr. Trump in his desperate desire to win has run rough-shod over everyone who gets in his way. The feelings of his opponents do not matter at all. 

We have never seen the likes of him before in any national election. And we have had some lulus in our past. The opposition calling Andrew Jackson's wife a whore. The mean-spirited antics of George Wallace. These are just a few of many other hard-hearted examples. Donald Trump is certainly not the first candidate to lie again and again hoping to win the Presidency. But this continual pattern of merciless disregard toward just about everyone is alarming to say the least.

Have you read the long article about Mr. Trump's treatment of just the workers that built the Trump Tower by a Time Magazine writer? Failing to pay Polish immigrants and threatening to "send them back" if they were illegal. His pattern with so many who were partially or never paid for work done. Are all these hundreds of lawsuits just greedy folk after a millionaire?

We all know that Hillary Clinton has a dark side and a multitude of faults.--but this is only part of who she is. Look at her record of public service. None of the multitude of charges against her have stuck. She may have made some very serious mistakes but she is no traitor.

These words are not a "Vote for Hillary" piece. Far from that. But Donald Trump's insensitivity is a character trait of the first magnitude. All the hoopla and the glitter cannot erase what we have heard during this last long year. Mr. Trump cannot re-invent himself any more than any of us can. And to elect in any age a man who cares so little for anyone but himself would be scary indeed.

(You might want to read Laura Clawson's take on thrice-married Trump's attack on Huma Abedin.)

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Church says Welcome to Muslims

photo by Santi / flickr

Unfortunately the church often gets bad press. Rightly so much of the time. ACLU sent me a questionnaire the other day asking if I thought: "Religion was detrimental to our society." I wrote back--some religion, maybe. Don't paint us all with the same brush.

With all this anti-Muslim sentiment floating around out there--if we didn't know any better we would think all those Muslims in our country (and others) are just here to do us harm. Once upon a time we heard the same thing about the Irish, the Poles, the Chinese, the Japanese, the blacks, the poor, the gays--and now the transgender. Many of us have muttered about "them."  We are all in the same boat--and if we puncture our vessel with too many holes  we'll all sink.

On it's better days the church reaches out to all those that feel disenfranchised. There should be no them or they--there should only be we. The Gospel writes across every page: all...All...ALL. We are all the same under the skin.  This is why I stand and applaud the Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia. And especially it's Pastor, Chris George.

Recently he said in a sermon, "I have a proposal for you today.. What if Smoke Rise developed a reputation as a community of welcome? What if here, in this church, we were known first and foremost as a good neighbor?"

The Pastor had already written church members about Malik Waliyani, whose gas station and convenience store just a block away was burglarized and ransacked earlier that week. After learning about the crime in the gas station, Pastor George went by the store and visited the owner. Waliyani is a practicing Muslim born in India. He had purchased the business just three months earlier.

As the Pastor talked to his church staff they decided to challenge the church to do something besides just paying lip service to their faith. He challenged the church "to offer hospitality, care and compassion because this is what Christians do."

That afternoon an estimated 150 to 200 church drove over to the service station to buy gas or make other purchases. Over the next week an estimated 350 plus churchgoers had stopped by the gas station.

That Church and Pastor needs a standing ovation. This is the task of all Christians and churches. Quit the Muslim-bashing.  Put our fear-mongering in perspective. Reach out in positive ways to our brothers and sisters who come to us from foreign lands dreaming of a better chance.

What is your church doing to practice love and hospitality? Looks like we all have some work to do in our time. 

photo by Hernan Pinera / flickr

(I am indebted to Bob Allen of Baptist News Global, August 16, 2016 for spreading this good news.)

--Roger Lovette /

Does God Know Your Name?

photo by Geoffrey Fairchild / flickr

A man standing in the checkout line of the grocery store came up to pay and get his groceries sacked. As the bag boy was sacking his groceries, the man turned to him and said, “What is your name?” The boy said, “Humphrey Bogart.” The man said, “Well, that’s a pretty well-known name.” The boy said, “Well, it orta be. I’ve been sacking groceries here for four years!”

When Paul wrote a circular letter to the churches in Asia Minor, he wrote for a lot of reasons. One of the reasons he wrote was for them to get a clear understanding of who they were. He also wanted them to catch a vision of a church big enough to take everybody in.

Not just Jews. Not just Gentiles. He had already told them what his intention was in that first chapter. “God has made known to us the mystery of his will…as a plan for the fullness of time to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” If that was not enough, a few paragraphs later he says, “God has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in our body through the cross.”

He gets at this dream by using a word over and over. Remember. Remember who you are. Sit down for just a moment. Relax. Put on your thinking cap. Remember. “Remember that at one time your Gentiles by birth (outsiders) called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’ (insiders)—remember that at that time you were without Christ…aliens…strangers…having no hope and without God.” Do you remember? Paul said.

It is a word for us too, Sit down. Relax if you can. Put on your thinking cap. Remember who you are, Paul says. Remember. When we begin to remember, it begins to come back in focus. Things get a little clearer. We begin to make connections that we have never made before. All this happens when we remember.

He asked them to remember three things. Remember who you are and who you are not. Buried in that nineteenth verse of that second chapter of Ephesians, he gives us the answer. Remember “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

Listen to what he says. You are no longer strangers. The Greek word here means“foreigner.” Outsider. Those that were regarded with suspicion and disliked. They had no rights in the community. They were the uncircumcised. They did not bear the mark. They didn’t really belong.

photo by Dennis Skley / flickr
There were four courts in the old temple. It was ringed in four circles. Larger. Smaller. Even Smaller. Very Small. The largest ring, the outer ring, was called the Court of the Gentiles. Anybody could come there. It was furthest away from the altar. Way up in the balcony, you could hardly see and certainly couldn’t hear. Maybe stuck behind a post. Then next there was the court of the women. It was a little closer. Sorta like the top of the mezzanine. It was real high and if you looked straight down you could get dizzy. Some people couldn’t sit there. But that’s where the women had to sit. But then closer to the altar were God’s chosen people, in the orchestra section. The real bonafide Israelites—male, of course—they could sit there. They could all see—and they could hear every word. It was a good view. Then there was even a smaller circle. First and second rows probably. It was called the Court of the Priests. God’s anointed, of course. Not just anybody could come. But they had a big sign by the Court of the Gentiles that read: “No foreigner may enter within the fence and enclosure surrounding the sanctuary area. Whoever is caught so doing will have himself to blame for the death which is to inevitably follow.” You could be killed if your broke rank. That was some pecking order.

Have you ever felt like you were in one of those outer circles—left out? Have you ever felt not quite a part? One of my favorite stories is the one Merle Miller tells about President Truman, who after he retired, moved back to Independence, Missouri. He built his Presidential Library there and he loved to walk down every morning with his cane and greet the boys and girls and talk to them and find out where they were from. One morning as he was visiting, a little tiny boy with hair and big ears raised his hand when they had the question and answer time. He asked, “Mister President, wuz you popular when you wuz a boy?” Mr. Truman sorts of smiled and looked over his steel-rimmed glasses and said, “Well, no. I was not popular. The popular boys were the ones who were good at games and had big tight fists. I was never like that. Without my glasses, I was blind as a bat. To tell you the truth, I was kind of a sissy. If there was any danger of a fight I would always run, and I guess that’s why I’m still here today.”

Merle Miller wrote that the boy began to clap and everybody else began to clap, until the President had been given a standing ovation. Merle Miller said it was an eminently satisfactory answer for all those of us who have ever run from a fight, which is really all of us.

We all sometimes feel like an outsider, don’t we? A couple of years ago my phone rang and somebody on the other end of the line wouldn’t identify himself. He said, “You don’t know me, but I picked your number out of the phone book. I want to tell you a story and I want to ask you a question.  My girlfriend and I are going to get married about six months from now. I had a hard time, got downsized at work, lost my job, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I was going to move back home, but my girl friend asked me to move in with her.” He kept saying, “We are going to get married in the fall.” And then he said, “We’ve been going to this particular church and last week we decided to join. So we walked down the aisle and joined the church. The next day the preacher called. He said he had been reading our cards and he asked, “Are you all married? You have different last names. I told him we weren’t and I told him my story about what a hard time I had. And the preacher said, “Well, you can’t join our church. We don’t take alcoholics or drug addicts and sure don’t take homosexuals and I want to make it clear. We don’t take people who are not married to each other and are living together.” I asked him if the pastor had helped him find a job or a place to live and he said no. This is what he asked me, “Can we come to your church?” I said, “It’s not my church. It’s God’s church. And if I understand it, everybody is welcome.”

Paul told those people scattered all across Asia Minor in that letter, “you are not foreigners. Even if you say up in the upper level where it is dizzying. You are not foreigners.” That’s not your name.

photo by Ted Eyton / flickr
And then Paul said, “But you are not aliens either.” The word in the Greek means “temporary residents.” It means visitors. It means those who have limited rights but they are not really residents.

The Greek word meant to live among the Jews, but not to be one of them. The word meant to dwell nearby. Sometimes it meant to visit. We all have been visitors at somebody’s house. And if you wash your hands in their bathroom, you don’t know what to do with that little bitty hand towel in the bathroom with all that fancy embroidery all over it. Are you supposed to touch it? I don’t ever know. You try to be quiet and hope you don’t knock over something on the coffee table. You are a guest. You don’t live there. Aliens were those that were in-between. Not really at home. Just a visitor.

Paul said you are not foreigners or aliens. No! He gives us all a new name. He says: You are citizens. You are citizens with the saints. You are members of the household of God. You belong. You are kin.

The Greek word here is oikos. This is where you live. You put your stuff in the drawer. Hang your clothes in the closet. You put your little photographs on the dresser and it’s home. Now that’s different from just being a guest or a visitor. This is the place where we all belong.

This is the only time in the New Testament that this word, citizen is used. But it flows out of acceptance and grace. And do you know how very rare that is in 2016? The divisions are everywhere. Rich--Poor. Black--white. Red-necks--sophisticated. Illegals--citizens.  Republicans--Democrats.  Men--women.  Us--them. And one of the worst categories going around: College-educated and Blue collar. We know about strangers. We’ve felt like that a lot. We know about visitors. We felt like an outsider just visiting a lot. But what about kinfolk? Have you ever felt like you are really a member of the household of God? That’s the name he calls us. 

Since it is getting to be football season very soon and the players are already at school and
photo by Sameh (Sam) Fahmi / flickr

practicing—it reminds me of a story. The greatest football player in the little county seat town lived way out in the country. He lived with his grandmother and she had been somebody's maid all her life. And so when the word got out about this young man who could really play football the scouts started coming. They’d find that little town and ask directions to the boy’s house and go down past the pavement where the red mud road began. And a mile or so down there they found the house. It happened over and over. Everybody knew the boy was good—very good. And everybody wanted him. Finally he made up his mind where he was going to school. And the TV commentators with their cameras came to that little four room house and got the signing on the news. Weeks later it was time for the boy to leave home. He would be the first child ever to go away to college. So that last morning his Grandmother got up early and put on the bacon and sausages and a slice of country ham. She made biscuits as big as your fists and there were eggs and grits galore. And then she called him and told him to get up and get dressed. Breakfast was ready. After finishing breakfast he went back to his room to get his suitcase tied with a cord. There was a car from the college waiting outside. And as he came back into the kitchen his ninety pound Grandma said, “Baby boy come here.” And she reached up, up and he had to lean down so she could put her little arms around the neck of this mountain of a grandson. She hugged him hard. And she tried not to cry. As he straightened up, she looked him straight in the eyes and whispered, “Son, remember who you is. Remember who you is.” And she kissed him. And he turned, picked up his suitcase and went out to the car.

I think this was what Paul was trying to tell his brothers and sisters in those little scattered churches. Remember who you are. Remember your name. You’re not a stranger and you’re not an alien—you are no visitor. We—you and I—have a different name. We are citizens with the saints. We are members of the household of God. We belong. We asl belong. Thanks be to God!

photo by Daniel Fuller / flickr
(This sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church, Pendleton SC August 21, 2016)

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Garrison Keillor Ain't So Dumb

photo by Alan Kotok / flickr

I've been a Garrison Keillor fan for a long time. Just recently The Greenville News (SC) has been running some of his thoughts on Saturdays. Vintage Keillor. Just a mite off-the-wall--but right on target. Nobody loves the U-S-of A more than Garrison Keillor. But he gets at this love in a wonderful side-ways kind of a way. Here are a few of his quotes from his latest column: "Where is the old America?" 

"Apparently we are on the verge of losing our Second Amendment rights and will need to defend ourselves with tent stakes and bug spray."

In the amiable America I grew up in: "You didn't blame your hemorrhoids on the party in power in Washington."

"If you were a Syrian refugee resettled in Grover's Corners, you should come to church suppers. Buy a raffle ticket to win the outboard motor and sit down with a plate of beans and baked chicken and potato salad, a roll, a slab of pie, and learn the art of small talk."
  "So how are you doing?
  "Not so bad. Can't complain."
  "Drove by your house and your lawn in looking pretty good."
  "Well, we've had enough rain, that's for sure."
I skip a couple of lines to quote : "You will find common decency here, the common crucial values which are about marriage, parenthood, friendship, work, faith and attitude."

"Style is what keeps us going. We survive by virtue of people extending themselves, welcoming the young, showing sympathy for the suffering, taking pleasure in each other's good fortune. We are here for a brief time. We would like our stay to mean something. Do the right thing. Travel light. Be sweet."

Wish I'd said that.

You can read the whole newspaper piece by checking:

Her Name Was Joy--A Tribute

"Joy is the grace to God for gifts given."
--Ray Bradbury

Sunday afternoon I was asked to speak at the funeral of my old neighbor, Joy Harwell. They lived next door to us for 13 years in Clemson. We loved her and the whole family. And this is my tribute to a very great lady and her family.)

We come today to honor and remember the special life of Joy Summers Harwell.  Our history with the Harwell’s goes back 41 years. They were our neighbors and moved into the house next to ours in 1975. Neighbors. Maybe we were nosy neighbors. Maybe they were too. We were close. We know all about them and their family—and they knew all about the Lovette’s. We watched Karil and Kristi grow up. We met Kurt when he came home from college and we would see him on holidays and during the summers.

They had moved from Oklahoma and somehow they never really got all the Southwest  out of their shoes. Lynn worked for the University—Joy was the Mama and joined the Foothills Real Estate Company and sold houses from 1976 to 1997. She must have been very good because she was the President of the Tri County Board of Realtors. She and her family were members of the First Baptist Church. Years before a guy named Lynn walked into her office in Amarillo and neither one of them knew that would be the beginning of a marriage that lasted 61 years.

So many things were important to her. Good cook, fine Mama, faithful wife—good neighbor, good friend.  Kept an immaculate house even though she worked full time and tried to keep her kids in line. In her earlier years she sang in the church choir, played the piano, enjoyed gardening, and was a good friend. 

Speaking of cooking one day when Lynn was farming he wanted her to make two pies. Lemon meringue and Chocolate. At lunch he ate a piece of the lemon pie and that evening when he came in he said he thought he would have a piece of that chocolate pie. Dead silence in the kitchen. Finally Joy said: “There is no more Chocolate pie—I ate the whole pie.” 

Another time Lynn told Joy, “Reckon we could have some variety in this menu—instead of just potatoes and meat.” Joy got the message. That night she served green potatoes she had decorated with cake coloring. And she brought Tapioca pudding out except it was pink. I don’t know what Lynn said but it might not have been appropriate for this occasion.

How do you measure a life? Daughter…sister…wife…Mama…grandmother and so many other layers of her life. Many of  you here could add your own special Joy stories. You know it is a very strange thing—but in this place of death—our minds turn to life—and not just life in general—but life in particular—Joy Harwell’s life. The Apostle Paul said it well: “Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We think about all the things of her 82 special years and we thank God for Joy’s journey and for her life.

But we would be remiss without saying a special word to those that sit on the front rows: Lynn, Karil, Kristi, son-on-law Herb and two grandchildren: Michael Lynn Tyler and Christopher Scott Tyler. And to us all who come to surround this family.

I think this story is appropriate. High on the hill was a monastery where priests prayed and worked and lived. And at the bottom of the hill farmers worked their land. And one day a farmer asked one of the Priests, “You know I’ve always wondered what you all do up there all day behind those walls in the monastery. It must be great just praising God and praying all the time. Tell me about it.” And the Priest said: “What do we do? We fall down and get up and we fall down and we get up.”

And this is the message of the Gospel—Joy knew that. Upon those hard, hard days—when she didn’t think she could do it—she got up and started all over again. And so did Lynn and Karil and Krtisti and us all. We fall down…but thank God we don’t have to stay down. We get back up and start again.

Why? Jesus told his disciples: “In this world you will have tribulation but I have overcome the world—and so can you.” Our Lord told them in that first sermon he ever preached in his hometown: “I have come to heal the broken hearted.” And when later he taught his followers on a hillside he said: “Blessed are those that mourn for they shall be comforted.” And then in an Upper Room when he knew his time was limited and his days were running out—he told them, “Let not your hearts be troubled…neither let them be afraid…” Why? He said that even though he was going away he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them. I like the way he put it: “You are not orphans…but you are children of the Heavenly Father.”

One of the best stories he ever gave was about the boy and his father. The boy left home and his Father did not know if he would ever see him again. And night after night, month after month he wondered about his boy. Where was he? Was he cold? Was he safe? Where was he? And on day, Jesus said the old Father looked at the window and could not believe what he saw. His son…whom he never thought he would see again was coming home. And when the boy got close the Father the old man stretched out his arms and took him on.

Joy Harwell fell down and got up and fell down and got up. And that was not the end of the story.  When she slipped away so quietly into the mystery last Sunday morning there was someone on the other side whose arms were outstretched welcoming her saying, “Joy, Joy, Joy.”

And this is not only Joy’s story but ours as well. After we fall down laden with grief and so many other things—worries and frets—there are those strong arms that take us all back and lead us on. 

At the end of his on long, hard journey Paul wrote: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship,or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

So family—you will fall down—but you will get up yet again for the love of God stretches out his arms and takes you in—and us all. Thanks be to God for a woman well-named Joy. Joy. Joy. Joy Summers Harwell. And for a Father whose arms are outstretched to us all

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Why So Much Anger Out There?

photo by Mikael Marguerie / flickr

As a minister I have been trying to figure out what I want to say about this election. My first response is just to run out the door screaming. But that won’t help me or the situation. In every place of worship there are folk on both sides of this political divide. And we, on one side, look across the chasm at other Americans on the other side. Many are relatives. We think to ourselves: How can they be so blind? Why can’t they see what we see?
Nicholas Kristof's recent articles

What’s obvious is that there are a lot of angry and unhappy people out there. Many Republicans and Democrats and the not sure fall under this angry umbrella. I scratch my head and wonder where all this rage is coming from?

It is evident that we have two very rich candidates running for President. This is no crime in itself. Looking at our history a great many of our Presidents were rich, white, aristocratic and male. And if they were not wealthy they made up for it after they left office. Despite all the gloom and doom talk a whole lot of us are doing quite well. 

Jesus warned us about riches saying that it would be easier for a rich man or woman to go through the eye of a needle than to enter the Kingdom of God. Why did Jesus seem to pick on the well-heeled and the prosperous?

The only answer I can come up with is not that Jesus wanted to particularly target the
photo by Adam Skowronski / flickr
wealthy. No. Many of his friends were people of means. I think then and now that many of us fortunate ones find ourselves in a bubble. We only talk to people like us. We don’t see those others at Hilton Head or the Country Club unless they serve us or mow our grass. I live in a very nice neighborhood. Took me a long time to get here—but here I am. My streets are clean and safe. We don’t have to worry about crime very much. I don't lose sleep wondering if some terrorist will march down my street and invade my territory. It isn’t a problem.

It would be easy to judge all those out there hurting by my middle-class standards. Why don’t they get a job, quit smoking so many cigarettes, cut down on the tattoos, pay their bills on time and quit relying on the government? That’s my bubble talk.

Outside my bubble there are almost 8 million that are jobless. The unemployment rate is down further than it has been in a decade. Yet too many are having a hard time making ends meet. This is why pay-day loan offices have popped up like mushrooms. Teachers in Title One schools tell me almost every child gets breakfast and lunch. Some take food home on Friday afternoon to have something to eat over the week-end. Many parents in poorer neighborhoods are terrified of drugs and the safety of their children. Some black folk say they have been stopped nine times by law officers in the last year. Policemen’s families wonder when their loved ones leave the house if they will come back home that night.

Outside my bubble there are women wearing burqas and habibs. They are scared to go to the mall alone these days. They don’t know what kind of situations they might encounter. Some tell me their kids ask: “Have they built the wall?” “Will we have to move?” “ They call me terrible names at school." Read Nicholas Kristof's timely article on the meanness today.

Outside the bubble there are vans driving up to college campuses and unloading young men and women. But so many young people will not be there. They don’t have the money or their grades were not that good. Their hope got ground out somewhere along the way.

Inside and outside the bubble we have to bring everyone along. No one should be left out. The dream really was: liberty and justice for all. Every one ought to have a chance not only to dream but also see promise out ahead.

Pitting one group against another is not the answer nor the American way. Pouring gasoline on the angers and fears of so many is dangerous business. Fearful, angry peopler make poor decisions.

I’m not going to tell you how to vote. That’s your business. But it is my business to move outside the bubble and see people very different than I am. And my hope is that whomever is elected—Congress and the White House will begin to tackle the hard task of helping us work together. And, if I’m not mistaken, it’s also our job to make it happen.

-- Diversity Quilt - Oregon Dept. of Transportation / flickr

(This article appeared in the Op Ed section of The Greenville News (SC), 8-27-16)

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Disappointed? It Goes With the Territory

photo by Adam Pomerinke / flickr

One Pastor tells that while he was on vacation he visited a church in Virginia. At the end of the service several people came forward and joined the church. As the Pastor was introducing the new members he said the strangest thing. “If you stay with us long enough, we will disappoint you.” Now how is that for beginning your membership in the church?

But as I think about it, I believe the Pastor was right on target. We don’t talk much about disappointment in the church. And we don’t talk much about disappointment in the world. But the mood of so much around us says that a whole lot of people are disappointed. 

We see it in church. Fewer and fewer people are going to church. Some are disappointed in church and some bring their disappointments with them—or just stay at home. Southern
photo by Quinn Dombrowski / flickr
Baptists have about 15 million. We’ve lost over a million members the last few years. And statistics say that 37% of our church members are inactive. That’s close to 6 million members. I wonder how many of those inactive members faced some kind of shattered hope that they had a hard time living with.

But disappointment pervades our whole culture. It’s everywhere. people say: “I don’t like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I’m just going to stays home or vote independent, maybe. It doesn’t matter who we send to Washington—nothing changes.”   

Our mood reminds me of the story of a father who was watching TV with his 12-year old son . The boy had gone out for football—but the boy never got to play.  So the father watching the football game said, “OK. Pick a position that you play. Watch that person on the field. You’ll learn a lot.”  In a few minutes the Daddy asked his son, “Are you doing what I told you to do?” And the boy said, “I would but they are not showing the bench.” We’ve all been there or will. Sitting on some bench just watching the game. Ever felt like that?  The Pastor was right: “If you stay with us long enough, we will disappoint you.”

The dictionary says that disappointment means to fail to satisfy some hope or expectation.  Sometimes it means to break a promise or experience some kind of defeat. All of us who have lived very long have come to know something about failure in one part of our lives or another. Most of us have been hurt or defeated by something or someone and we still carry the scars. Some of us have a hard time of trying to letting it go. 

The Bible does not use the word, disappointment very often.  But Scripture deals with the problem. Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel. The children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. Their gripes and their revolt against Moses. King David and his bout with Bathsheba. God’s people dragged into exile. And the Psalmist wrote: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’’

 Disappointment is sprinkled all over the New Testament. And Jesus was not immune. In
photo by Christopher Brown / flickr
that Upper Room, knowing full well he wouldn’t be there long—In utter frustration one day Jesus looked at his disciples. Fewer and fewer were listening to him. He had enemies everywhere he turned. And in his disappointment he railed out at his disciples:  “Will you also go away?”

In the Upper Room, in that last meeting before his death, Jesus looked around at those he had worked with for three years. There were 12 disciples there—not much for all his work really. It was a strange fellowship. James and John jockeying for power and the others furious because these two brothers had Tried to  push ahead in the line before they did. Judas who would betray him and was at that very time working on the negotiations. Thomas who doubted until the end. Simon—cocksure Simon—who said, “I will never deny you!”

 If you trace your finger down that sad story, it says that “they all forsook him and fled.” Not only then but also after Calvary when the blood had dried and it was all over, Luke writes that the disciples said to one another after Easter, “We had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel.” You can hear the pathos and sadness in those plaintive words. “We had hoped…” If you stay with us long enough, we will disappoint you. Jesus knew it well. And so did his followers.

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There are two points here that I want to make today. The first point is that Jesus realized the reality of disappointments. So many times we think of Jesus of some kind of starry-eyed idealist who just did not quite see things the way they were. And here we encounter the rugged pragmatist Simon. Nobody more meat and potatoes than Simon Peter. Yet who is the realist here? Who is the idealist? Jesus is the realist. Old practical Simon did not quite have his feet on the ground.

“Simon, Simon,” Jesus said, “Satan will sift you like wheat.” And Simon said, “Not me.  Not me.” “I will pray for you that you do not fail…” “Lord,” Simon Peter said, “I will not do that. I could not deny you ever.” “You will deny me three times…” Still Simon shook his head. “Not me, Lord, not me.” The whole history of the church is the story of people who suddenly realized they had  ailed and were disappointed. Sitting on the bench.

I think this is why one of the last books that Dr. Seuss wrote made such a hit. It is entitled, Oh, the Places You Will Go. It’s still selling a lot of copies because it deals with the complications and failures of life. In the book the lead character faced lonely times , he lost games and he came face to face with monsters.  He went up in a hot air balloon and got tangled up in the treetops. He came to a hard place which he called the waiting place. He
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said it is the hardest place of them all. But at the end of the book Dr. Seuss writes, “You are finally going to get there, but oh, the places you will go.” People resonate with the book because when children or jobs do not work out and we lose friends and the fabric of our lives is torn irrevocably we understand what the Pastor told his new members.
If you stay with us long enough, we will disappoint you. Disappointment goes with the territory. 

So we come to our second point. How do we move beyond disappointment? The Bible never said it would be easy. Judas never learned that lesson. He got stuck. He stood there with his thirty pieces of silver and threw them back at the feet of those who had set him up. And he killed himself because he could not stand what he had done. He never got beyond disappointment
We all need some direction on handling disappointment because most of us do not know how deal with disappointments when they come. The answered is not to vote. And the answer is not to move your membership or just quit coming. Somebody we love dies and we say: “I’m not going to get that close to anyone ever again. It hurts too much.” A friend betrays us and we put up this wall and it never comes down. 

 But back to Jesus and Simon. Jesus told him that he could move beyond disappointment. We don’t have to be stuck. “I have prayed for you,” Jesus said, “that when you turn again…” And we know that promise was true. Remember on Easter morning the angel came? She said the strangest thing to weeping Mary, “Go tell the disciples and Peter.” Why did she say that? A little later at breakfast, when the mist was coming up over the sea and they had fished all night and caught nothing. They came in and Jesus, the risen Lord, had fixed breakfast and after they had all eaten, he called Simon aside. Simon had denied him when Jesus needed him the most. And now Jesus asked three times, “Do you love me? Do you
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love me? Simon, do you love me?” Three times he had betrayed, three times the Lord asked the question. Why did Jesus keep asking unless it was his way of knowing the wonderful possibilities that lay before old betraying Simon? Jesus said three times, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep, Simon.” 

Oh, yes , Jesus did say: “In this world you will have tribulation.” But that is not the end of the sentence. He added, “Be of good cheer—I have overcome the world.” Disappointment is not the last word, thank God.

Just yesterday I had a funeral. And they asked me to read that beautiful passage in Matthew where the disciples were in a boat middle of the sea J esus was not there. And a terrible storm came up. The water was raging and the winds blew the little boat in all directions. And they were so scared. And in the middle of the storm someone came walking toward them. On the water. And they thought was a ghost. As the figure came nearer--they saw it was the Lord. He got into the boat and whispered, "Be not afraid." And the winds ceased and the waves were calm and the disciples were safe once more. And what I said to that family
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sitting on those first rows--this is a hard, hard time. One of the hardest you will ever face--but in this storm you are not alone. Jesus would say to you: "Be not afraid." For he is here--in the middle of your storm--and you will be safe.

Now back to Simon Peter. If you turn to the end of the New Testament you will find two short letters that were written back to back around AD 64. They were written in a horrible time when it was very hard to be a Christian. Nero had vowed to stamp all the Christians. It looked like the end of the church in Asia Minor and in the capital city, Rome. And in that year when things were so bad, there came these two tiny letters that were words of encouragement, written to Christians who were suffering a great deal.

Do you know the man that wrote those documents? You know. It was the same man that had stood by a blazing campfire one night and said, “I do not know this man, Jesus.” It was the same man who heard Jesus ask him three times one misty morning:” Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”  We know who it was.
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Later that same man preached with power on the Day of Pentecost and three thousand came forward to hear and to know. And then even later we are told that when  the shadow of this same man fell across the broken lame bodies that lined the road--they were healed because he passed by. You know the man. For years later, when the hearts of all those struggling Christians failed them he sat down--this same man--and wrote with shaky frozen fingers, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed."(I Peter 4. 12-13) No wonder they named those two letters First and Second Peter.

Dr. Seuss understood this. The journey is winding and twisting. Sometimes there are dead-end streets and things that go bump in the night. If we live long enough, we are all going to have to run downhill.  But the man who wrote First and Second Peter was right. For you see, we can move, with the grace of God, beyond these disappointments of our lives to something better and something greater. “In this world,” Jesus said, “you will have tribulation—but be of good cheer—I have overcome the world.

Even after failure—Oh, the places we will go. Dear Pendleton, even after failure--oh, the places you will go!

photo by nrg_crisis / flickr

(This sermon was preached at the First Baptist Church, Pendleton, SC, August 7, 2016)

--Roger Lovette /