Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Still More to Say

Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
May 26, 2013
© 2013


You may remember when I started preaching in Midwest City I said I wouldn’t pick out Scripture passages to nail you with a point I wanted to make. Instead I said I would work with the Lectionary selections to help us listen for the voice of God as we read them together. Sometimes as I puzzled over what connected the recommended passages, I found fresh insights into present situations. Sometimes the correlation between the text and current circumstances has been startling.

When we knew Mike Snell would be coming June 1, I looked ahead at the May lectionary and saw that it focused on Jesus’ farewell to his disciples at the Last Supper in John. I thought, how appropriate that my last Sunday to preach to you would be from John 16:12-15.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

When Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you,” I pondered what I still had to say to you. I concluded that I’ve said everything God has given me opportunity to say to you, and I should leave it at that. Then came the tornados, with their destruction, and my mind jumped to Romans 5:3-4 where Paul wrote, “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Putting this up against the deaths, injuries and destruction from the tornados, I thought, “My suffering is minuscule, and I don’t dare tell someone else to boast in their suffering.” Yet, my focus shifted to listening for the voice of God in the wake of the tornados.

Jesus was aware that the disciples could not bear some of what he still had to say to them. I would concur that any response to tragedy that is too simplistic or that dismisses or diminishes the pain of those who suffer is not from God. Yet, when we cry for answers that we cannot bear, the Holy Spirit does pour God’s love into us with the hope of sharing God’s glory.

I have sat on both sides of the spiritual director’s candle to both ask and answer, “Where can you find the hand of God in this event?” As I have listened to the news this week, people seem to be answering that question without knowing it.

Fred Rogers’ encouragement to “look for the helpers” has been frequently repeated. We have celebrated brave teachers and tireless first responders. We have affirmed our fundamental human connections. We have expressed gratitude for spontaneous generosity.

We have heard expressions of gratitude for the little details of life: a recovered pet, the finding of an heirloom, the preservation of a personal creation such as a painting, the appreciation for cold water and a hot meal.

We have heard perspectives on life’s priorities. “The house and car are gone, but they are only things. We are all alive and together.” “We’ll recover from our losses and injuries. We pray for those who have lost loved ones.” Though not in these words, many have affirmed that when we cry for answers that we cannot bear, the Holy Spirit does pour God’s love into us with the hope of sharing God’s glory.

That there are so few confirmed deaths when there was such extreme and widespread destruction is amazing. But being thankful for that cannot diminish the magnitude of this tragedy, especially for those whose loved ones died, which is most acute for children. Finding the hand of God in natural disaster tests our most basic presuppositions. We can blame human malevolence for things like the Murrah bombing, the 9-11 attack, the Boston Marathon bombing, but to blame or at least question why God allows natural disaster is both expected and profoundly unsettling and disorienting.

Not even hardened atheists will object to the frequent references to prayer and faith in the interviews with tornado victims. Who could fault a teacher for praying while trying to keep children from being sucked out of a bathroom shelter? Almost without exception the parents whose children were killed spoke of hanging onto their faith, which they felt was getting stronger in this time of crisis. In calmer circumstances, they might have debated the content of that faith, but now that didn’t matter.

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) wrote of desolations as a normal part of the spiritual journey. St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) wrote of the dark night of the soul as an entrance to an intimate relationship with God. As counterintuitive as it seems, some people become more acutely aware of God when God seems absent and silent. No one seeks the dark night of the soul, and no one grieving a tragedy should be told “Get over it. In the end you’ll see it was best.”

We do not “get over” tragedies. We incorporate them into our very being. They become permanent parts of who we are, especially when we can’t explain them. When we cry for answers that we cannot bear, the Holy Spirit does pour God’s love into us with the hope of sharing God’s glory.

Jesus told the disciples that since they couldn’t bear the things he still had to say to them, the Holy Spirit would guide them into all the truth and declare the things that are to come. He was not talking about the culmination of human history and his return in glory. No, Jesus was telling the disciples about what was to come for them in the near future. Until the Holy Spirit came they could not have grasped their mission or what they would go through to pursue it.

You may remember in Greek mythology the story of Icarus who flew with wings of feathers and wax. When he flew too near the sun, the wax melted and he plunged into the sea. The painting Landscape on The Fall of Icarus, attributed to Pieter Bruegel around1560, is a pastoral scene, and you have to look hard to find Icarus’ foot above the water, completely unnoticed by the farmer or anyone else in the painting. You can see it at the QR code or website on the bulletin, along with poems by W. H. Auden and William Carlos Williams that comment on it. Life goes on after tragedy, sometimes unaware of tragedy. (look under recent posts at http://fccmwc.org/)

First Christian Church will respond with generous compassion to last week’s tornados, as you did to the Murrah bombing. This will be a landmark on your journey as a congregation, and is likely to be more indelible than my 9 months with you. Yes, life will go on, but you are being changed. Jesus has promised that the Holy Spirit will guide you into all the truth and declare to you the things that are to come next. Mike Snell will be your pastor in a new era of ministry that will be changed in unexpected ways because of last week’s tornados.
You have left an imprint on Candy and me. By opening your lives and welcoming us, you have shaped us in ways we will treasure. With two interim pastoral experiences, I feel I have somewhat more credibility than I did when we started together last August. I’m still pondering the significance that one of my last pastoral roles with you will be Geraldine Morgan’s funeral after having lived in her house these last nine months. Perhaps we are all like Reepicheep the Mouse in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia story The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. As he was leaving the children to paddle off the end of the world into Aslan’s country, he tried to be sad for the children but was quivering with anticipation of what was ahead.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Welcome! Holy Spirit

Acts 2:1-13, 14-21
May 19, 2013
© 2013


Pentecost was the quintessential Divine Disturbance for the Apostles, for people in Jerusalem and for us. Jews from all over the Mediterranean had come to Jerusalem for the Festival of First Fruits fifty days after Passover, hence the Greek name Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came, they heard the wind and the Apostles speaking different languages. Word spread and a crowd gathered and asked, “What does this mean?”

Peter answered in Acts 2:14-21 by quoting Joel 2:28-32. He did not say this was a prophetic code that could have been cracked to predict the details of the specific events of Pentecost. Rather, he used Joel as a lens for getting perspective to understand the coming of the Holy Spirit. All were amazed and perplexed; others sneered.

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Seen through Joel’s prophecy, the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost meant that God was really among the Apostles and would be among all who joined the community of those who trusted Jesus. When the Apostle Paul concluded writing about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 14:25, he said outsiders would recognize that “God is really among you.”

Red is the liturgical color for Pentecost echoing the tongues of fire that rested on the Apostles. In Scripture, fire and smoke are often signs that God is present. For Moses it was the burning bush, the thick cloud of smoke on Mt. Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments, and the pillar of fire and cloud that guided Israel through the wilderness. At the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, it filled with smoke so the priests could not stay. In Isaiah’s vision of God the Temple was filled with smoke, and fire purified his mouth. Ezekiel had a vision of fire departing from the Temple before it was destroyed by the Babylonians and returning on the Day of the Lord. God sent fire to burn up Elijah’s offering at the contest with the prophets of Baal and a chariot of fire to receive him into heaven. We light candles in worship as a sign of God’s presence, and some churches keep a candle lit all of the time except Good Friday and Holy Saturday in memory of Jesus having been in the tomb. Roman Catholic churches keep a candle burning by the “sanctuary” with consecrated host for shut-in communion.

As the Holy Spirit blows through you – First Christian Church of Midwest City – outsiders will ask “what does this mean?”

When people in Jerusalem heard or heard about the sound of the wind and the Apostles speaking many languages, people gathered to find out what was going on. What is happening with this church that would gather people to find out what is going on? Yes, you hold some events, such as the car show, that attract people. Yes, you have programs in the JCAC that bring people on campus. Yes, you have quality ministries to children and youth that draw families. Yes, now you are going to add a creative, energetic new senior pastor to your excellent ministry staff. But “if you build it they will come” works better in baseball movies than real life churches.

When the people in Jerusalem heard the wind and the Apostles speaking different languages, they were mystified and asked, “What does this mean?” For a church, the Holy Spirit adds the intrigue that prompts people to ask, “What does this mean?” You may all be speaking English, but if you are “speaking about God’s deeds of power” people will ask, “What does this mean?”

Your answer won’t be to quote an ancient Hebrew prophet. No, your answer will explain how and why trusting Jesus is the most important and defining core of your life, not just individually but perhaps even more in the life you share as a congregation. Then outsiders will say, “God is really among you,” or at least say, “You think God is among you, and God is real to you.”

Two weeks from today Mike Snell will be preaching for the first time as your new pastor. Just about the worst thing you could do is to heave a sigh of relief and say, “Good, now Mike can grow the church and balance the budget.” Did you notice the spiritual democracy of Pentecost?

Though the visitors in Jerusalem for the festival may have spoken Greek to do business and Hebrew for Temple worship, they heard the Gospel in their native languages. Outsiders will hear you “speaking about God’s deeds of power” a lot better if it comes the way they get other information than if it is couched in church-talk. This is especially important for those in their forties and younger. To get an idea of what that is about, ask yourself, “How can our church become a church my grandchildren will enthusiastically want to be part of?”

Both Peter and Joel said that the Holy Spirit comes without regard for gender, age or social status. The Holy Spirit is not just for pastors, elders and deacons. The Holy Spirit is not just for successful, educated people. The Holy Spirit is not just for Mike, Julia and Andy. The Holy Spirit wants to use you for this church’s future.

Peter and Joel both said that God’s visions and dreams for the future were not just for a few but for all. The Holy Spirit is not restricting the dreams and visions for this church to the pastors, elders, deacons and board members. The dreams and visions the Holy Spirit gives to you are essential to the whole future of this church.

It is still a Divine Disturbance when the Holy Spirit blows through a church so outsiders ask “what does this mean?”

Theologically, Pentecost is the reversal of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 11, confusion came to the builders of the tower, though they started with one language. At Pentecost, people come with many languages and all hear the Gospel as one. The confusion at Babel prevents them from building their monument to pride. From Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowers the Church to accomplish spreading God’s redemptive mission to all humanity.

In C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, Aslan – the Christ-figure lion is not tame but wild and good. The Holy Spirit is not tame but wild and good. In her book Teaching a Stone to Talk Annie Dillard vividly cautions about God among us.

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.

Are you ready for God to show up at First Christian Church in Midwest City? The new energy and vision that Mike will bring as your new pastor is just opening the window for the Holy Spirit to blow through you, so many outsiders will say, “God is really among you!”


Friday, May 10, 2013

Expect Surprises

Acts 16:16-34; John 17:20-26
May 12, 2013
Ascension Sunday – Mother’s Day
© 2013

How do you imagine Jesus praying for you?

 I’m going to let you in on a preachers’ secret. Preaching on Mothers’ Day is challenging. Amid the joy, gratitude and sentimentality, is hidden pain for many folk. A mother who passed away or is far away or with whom the relationship is strained. A woman who has lost a child or couldn’t have a child. For many, it heightens anxiety for a wayward child.

As young adults, Candy’s parents both caused their mothers such anxiety. But their mothers, Candy’s grandmothers, prayed for them fervently and faithfully. Candy’s mother had been baptized as a girl in a Baptist church and Candy’s father had been baptized as in infant in a Lutheran church. That Jesus had claimed them fueled their mothers’ prayers when they were headed in a different direction. Candy’s parents told how God brought them together and drew them back to Jesus by the power of their mothers’ prayers, and Candy’s father was re-baptized in a Baptist church the same day that Candy was baptized as a girl. While all of our prayers are powerful, recognizing the importance of mothers’ prayers is appropriate on Mothers’ Day.

Perhaps you overheard your mother or someone else praying for you when they didn’t know you were listening. That can be humbling and exalting all at the same time. John 17:20-26 lets us listen in on Jesus praying for us. This is clearly not Jesus’ prayer in the Garden that the cup might pass from him, which John does not record, though it is in all three other Gospels. It seems to be the conclusion of his discourse with his disciples at the Last Supper that started in chapter 13, but it is so intensely intimate that Jesus seems completely unaware of the disciples or us listening in.

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, [That’s us!]  21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I’m going to tell you another pastors’ secret that as an interim pastor I can tell you but most settled pastors can’t. Hebrews 13:17 is clear that we pastors will give account for keeping watch over your souls. You benefit when those who keep watch over your souls do so with joy and not with sighing. So I claim Jesus’ prayer for myself and pray it for you.

Jesus asked that we who believe in him through the word of his disciples, come to us through Scripture, would be as one with him and with one another as he is one with his Heavenly Father. Jesus did not instruct us to be one. He asked God to give us a oneness we could never achieve.

That oneness comes from receiving the love and glory Jesus had received from God. We cannot generate that love and glory no matter how hard we try. We receive the love and glory of God as gifts. Our part is to welcome them in wonder.

The result of our oneness with each other and with Jesus is that the world will know that God sent Jesus. The human improbability, the utter surprise of our oneness has the power to convince them to believe! Our oneness in Jesus’ love and glory is not just about church harmony; but evangelistic magnetism drawing people to Jesus.

That surprising magnetism radiated from Paul and Silas as they prayed and sang hymns to God in the Philippian prison. They were not pioneering prison ministry; they were coping with a difficult situation by drawing on their oneness with Jesus. They weren’t preaching and singing to the prisoners. The prisoners listened to them praying and singing to God. The prisoners didn’t just hear Paul and Silas but listened to them. I’m sure some of them became one with Jesus that night, not just the jailer and his family.

Unlike Cornelius who we talked about at the end of April, the Philippian Jailer is not identified as a “God fearer.” He was a pagan who lived as a prisoner of fate. For him, being “saved” was to be released from that captivity by the love and glory of Jesus in Paul and Silas. The oneness Jesus prayed for was evident as this rough corrections officer and his family joined the church meeting in the home of Lydia, the elegant business woman.

If I had been Paul, I think I would have interpreted the earthquake as God’s way of releasing me from prison, much as Peter was released in Acts 12. Somehow the Holy Spirit prompted him to recognize an opportunity for the Gospel rather than escape. Curiously, Timothy and Luke who were with Paul and Silas were not jailed, though the use of “we” clearly indicates they were there when Paul cast the demon out of the girl. Probably because they were not identified as Jews. Anti-Semitism and economic loss motivated the charges against them.

Though released from prison, Paul was run out of town. Yet, his Philippian letter indicates it was one of the strongest of the New Testament. But oneness was not automatic. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:2 for Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Some have speculated that these may have been the names of Lydia and the jailer’s wife whose different backgrounds made oneness challenging. Still, Paul’s letter overflows with the joy this congregation was for him. The power of Paul’s letter to the Philippians indicates how they benefited from the joy with which he watched over their souls.

From Jesus’ prayer for his disciples and us at the end of the Last Supper to Paul and Silas praying in the Philippian prison, I believe prayer is the path to supportive, constructive relationships with those who keep watch over our souls. We benefit when those who keep watch over our souls do so with joy and not with sighing.

Rather than including the Lord’s Prayer with the Sermon on the Mount as in Matthew, in Luke 11:1 the disciples had observed Jesus praying and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” This is our most basic, fundamental prayer primer. Try praying it phrase by phrase for your relationship with Mike Snell, or any other pastor of spiritual leader.

Are you ready for a challenge that will stretch your prayers? Want to pray that Mike Snell will have joy keeping watch over your soul? Try extending the prayers for the churches in the Pauline Epistles to this church. Since we’ve looked at the church in Philippi the last two Sundays, start with Philippians 1:3-11. Ephesians includes two remarkably powerful prayers. You can find a list of these prayers at the QR code or web page in the bulletin.

Do you have things you don’t know how to say to God? There’s a Psalm for that. Think of the Psalms at the prayer app store. It’s comprehensive! The Psalms will prompt you to pray about things you never thought you could say to God. I have prayed through the Psalms once a month for well over 40 years, and I’ve not exhausted them. They keep stretching me. The Psalms offer plenty of fuel for praying for pastors and presidents, friends and antagonists. As we pray them, God changes us.

Prayers for the Churches in the Pauline Epistles
Romans 1:8-10
1 Corinthians 1:4-9
Ephesians 1:15-23
Ephesians 3:14-21
Philippians 1:3-11
Colossians 1:3-14
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

How to Pray Through the Psalms in a Month
·         Start with today’s date. Read the Psalm with that number. Is there a phrase or image in the Psalm that connects with something you’d like to discuss with God. Express your thoughts and take a moment of silence to listen for God to respond out of the Psalm.
·         Add 30 to today’s date and repeat the step above.
·         Repeat three more times until you have prayed through five Psalms.
·         When you come to Psalm 119 on the 29th of the month, skip it. Use Psalm 119 by itself (it’s long) on the 31st in January, March, May, July, August, October and December.
·         You don’t need to have a conversation with God about every line or even every Psalm every day. Let the Holy Spirit use the Psalms to prompt you to pray about what is going on for you at that moment. If you keep up this rhythm, you will find that ideas you skip over one month will be exactly right in another month.
·         You will find that many of the Psalms seem harsh (two thirds of them are laments or complaints) and want to avoid them. Yet, these Psalms express real emotions we all have at times, and they give us a way to talk with God about negative things.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Get Up!

Acts 16:9-15; John 5:1-9
May 5, 2013
© 2013


Four weeks from today your new pastor, Mike Snell, will preach to you for the first time. I hope you are all excited as you anticipate that day and the beginning of a new adventure for First Christian Church, Midwest City. I appreciate those of you who have said you’re going to miss my preaching, but I’m sure some of you will be glad for the change. Mike will bring a fresh voice with fresh insights and fresh energy. Like children anticipating a birthday or Christmas morning eager to open the presents, you will soon discover the gift God is sending you with Mike Snell as your pastor.

We read in Acts 16:9 that Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to “come over to and help us.” If you went back to the beginning of the paragraph in verses 6-7, you’d see that the Holy Spirit prevented Paul from going where he had planned. I sense the frustration of Paul, Silas and Timothy at knowing where to go next.

After Paul had the vision, the pronouns in the story change from third person – “they” to first person – “we.” From here forward in Acts, most scholars agree that the pronouns indicate when Luke, who wrote Acts, was travelling with Paul. Verse 10 says that after Paul’s vision we crossed over to Macedonia, convinced that God had called us to preach the good news to them. While we can’t say for sure, it may be that Luke was the Macedonian man in Paul’s vision. Practical and mystical worked together.

I know the Search and Call Committee put in a lot of practical work, and I know many of you have been praying for God to call just the right new pastor for you. I believe that through your congregational vote, Mike Snell heard the voice of God calling him to come to Midwest City and preach the good news to and with you.

Instead of waiting to see if Mike Snell will be a great pastor, together you can make him a great pastor.

Your new pastor, Mike Snell, will be a great success when you prevail on him with hospitality, listen for God to speak through him, and pray for him.

The Macedonian man in Paul’s vision said, “Come over and help us.” He did not say, “Come and take over for us.” Ephesians 4:12 says that among God’s gifts to the Church are pastors who “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Pastors do not do ministry, they motivate, prepare and deploy the people of the church – you – to do ministry. For that reason my personal preference is to be called “a pastor” rather “a minister.”

Some congregations are prone to what I call the “magic pastor syndrome.” They somehow expect that a new pastor will solve all of their problems and get the church and its budget to grow without doing anything themselves.

Counseling is not my specialty, but over the years I have learned that when people start to explain their problems to me by saying, “I’ve made a mess and need help,” they almost always get better. But if they start by saying, “Things just aren’t working out. People keep messing me up,” they almost always stay stuck in their problems. The man Jesus healed in John 5:1-9 seems to just such a passive dependent person. Only John’s Gospel tells of Jesus making visits to Jerusalem. The other three only tell of him going to Jerusalem for his destiny with the cross. Only John reports Jesus healing anyone in Jerusalem. In John 4, Jesus had been moving around Galilee and Samaria. In Cana he healed the royal official’s son.

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

This story leaves me with a myriad of troubling questions. Many invalids lay in those porticos. Why didn’t Jesus just shout, “Everyone who wants to be made will, get up and walk!”? This man didn’t ask to be healed. Jesus didn’t commend his faith, nor did he articulate any faith. As the story continued, when he was questioned about carrying his mat on a Sabbath, he seemed clueless about who healed him, and when Jesus identified himself, he ratted Jesus out to the Temple authorities. He didn’t even say, “Thank you.”

One curiosity of this story is that we don’t actually know the name of the pool: Bethzatha, Bethesda, Bethsaida all show up in good ancient manuscripts. As a result for many years scholars questioned if there was such a pool. But it has recently been excavated, revealing a trapezoid with a portico between two levels, making for five porticos. You can see a picture of the excavations and a model of what the pool may have looked like at the QR code or web page on the bulletin. You may have missed verse 4 from the KJV about an angel stirring up the water. That is not in those best manuscripts but seems to have been added to explain a superstition that apparently did circulate at the time but was not endorsed by John.

The man had been ill for 38 years, but the illness is not identified. Jesus asked, “Do you want to be made well?” As my granddaughter Elizabeth would say, “Well, duh!” But I think Jesus was challenging the man’s will, his mental and spiritual health more than his physical health. Jesus told him not to make excuses for not getting in the pool. Don’t blame Jesus when you’re challenged about carrying your mat on the Sabbath. No more sin, no more passive dependency: “Get up and start walking!”

The magic pastor syndrome I mentioned earlier is a form of congregational passive dependency. I think the words of Jesus to the man by the pool are also suitable for a congregation about to welcome a new pastor, “Stand up and walk!” Lydia whom Paul met in Philippi is a great example of how to welcome a new pastor. She was a Gentile, God-fearer who joined a Jewish women’s Bible study and prayer group in this Roman city with too few Jewish men to form a synagogue. Lydia will show you how your new pastor, Mike Snell, will be a great success when you prevail on him with hospitality, listen for God to speak through him, and pray for him.

She opened her heart to listen eagerly for what God was saying through Paul. When Mike Snell preaches, don’t compare him to me, Don, Les or any other preacher. Don’t analyze and evaluate his sermons. Open your heart to listen for the voice of God in what Mike Snell says.

That Paul met Lydia at a women’s prayer group is no accident. Prayer is not about us informing and instructing God about what to do. Prayer is about us getting enough in touch with God that we can be informed and instructed about what to do. So praying individually, in groups and even with Mike Snell is the way to tap into God’s leading and power for the new era opening for this congregation.

Lydia was apparently a wealthy business woman. She prevailed on Paul, probably with Silas, Timothy and Luke to stay in her home, which became the home base for the church in Philippi even after Paul and company were run out of town. Her example of radical hospitality suggests that by prevailing on Mike Snell to be at home with you, will open your hearts so he can prepare you to do the work of the ministry in Midwest City and Choctaw.