This is the message that I presented at the Neon (KY) United Methodist Church for the 4th Sunday of Easter, 25 April 1999. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 42 – 47, 1 Peter 2: 19 – 25, and John 10: 1- 10.
At this point, I had served Neon for six months but the situation required a change in my life and a move to New York at the end of May. As I wrote and spoke in this message, I was trying over the course of the next five weeks to prepare for the change and pastor and a possible renewal of the church.
Two weeks ago, after I learned that Pam Ison would be my replacement, I had an opportunity to call her and talk about a number of things that I could do to help her. And I was flying to New York later that week, I began to think about how the next five sermons would go. From one standpoint, I have to look at the sermons almost as one item because, with everything that is going on, I almost have to work on the last three sermons together.
The vision that Pam has for Neon United Methodist is one that I have and one that I am sure that every one of you has as well. And I found out yesterday that this vision of building the church in Neon is one shared by both the District Superintendent, and Bishop.
So it was that I as flew to New York last weekend, I was thinking about what I could say to make that vision clearer. Then when I came home from school Tuesday evening I found out about the tragedy in Littleton, Colorado.
I suppose that these shootings were a little closer to home because I was a freshman in high school in Colorado at a school probably about 30 miles from Columbine. And as a teenager, the son of a career Air Force officer, I knew some of the loneliness that the shooters felt.
In my case, I moved from school to school each year. That made it very hard to develop friendships that would last. And because friendships are a central part of the high school experience, not having them makes one very lonely.
Why those two students decided to take such violent action is something that I don’t think we will every truly understand. But I think it is important that we know what we can do, even here in Neon, so that no one, child, youth, or adult feels the need to take such drastic action.
In the Epistle reading for today, Peter speaks of the persecution that Christ endured and asked us how we would respond?
“For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.
If we are aware of God, then we can endure all that others do to us. What those students did was wrong and anyone who feels that the only way to get attention is to do something violent is also wrong. Doing something wrong just because others do you wrong is never a justification for actions.
So what are we to do? There are those who decry society’s impact on students saying that it is because society has allowed violence to be such a part of our day to day life that violence is seen as the only alternative. Yet, in condemning society, these critics fail to realize that we are society. It is the easiest thing in the world to criticize. Now is not the time for criticism; now is the time for action.
I keep meeting people who say that the problem with schools today is that we took prayer out of the school. But I wonder about that. Schools are continually being asked to do that which the parents should be doing. I also question how valid a prayer in school can be, especially in today’s diverse society. After all, with all the denominations, can we agree on a prayer? And with the possibility of Jews and Muslims, how can one prayer be from the heart? The problem is not within the schools but within each of us.
Keep in mind that every time a sinner came to Jesus for forgiveness, Jesus asked them to change their lives. Be it Nicodemus, the tax collector, the Samaritan woman at the well, or the woman about to be stoned, after meeting Jesus, they changed their life. Jesus did not criticize; He asked that they sin no more.
In the Gospel reading today, John writes “that sheep follow him because they know this voice.” In this parable, the sheep “will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not the voice of strangers.” But in today’s society, how do we hear the voice of Jesus? How do we come to know Jesus?
Last night, Ann and I spoke about our growing up and we both agreed that it was because we knew God as a loving father that we were able to endure the loneliness that came from being “different” from our classmates. Back in February, I told you that I came to Christ as a freshman in high school and I know that it was that single decision that provided the strength and foundation that I needed later in life.
When I started college in 1966, the first decision I made was to have my church membership at First United Methodist Church in Kirksville. That was because I knew that I need Christ in my life, especially at times when I would be alone. As I look back on my life and the wandering through the wilderness my soul endured, I know that it was Christ’s presence that made the difference.
The responsive reading for today, the 23rd Psalm, was very much appropriate for today. David wrote of the comfort that the shepherd provided to the lambs, “he makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.” And in a time when many dangers existed, David knew that God would protect him, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me, your rod and staff comfort me.”
Why is Neon Church here? What are we to do? In the reading from Acts today, the new Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The reading speaks of them being together and having all things in common.
The saving of souls, as described in Acts, was a result of the people of Christ coming together for the common good. There are two questions that kept coming up as I thought, prayed, and prepared for this sermon. How can those who felt left out hear in the din of today’s society the voice of Jesus calling them home? Society is loud and as hymn #348 tells us, Jesus is softly and tenderly calling. There must be a place where people can hear that call. This is the place. There must be an alternative to feeling alone and left out. This is the place.
As we go out into the world today, I want you to think about what Neon United Methodist Church can do. I want you to think about the question that this sermon is about, “Why are we here?” And I want you to spend time in prayer each day, asking for God’s support for this church. Lastly, you know someone who has been searching for a calmness in their live, you know someone who should be coming to Neon United Methodist Church. I would like you to invite your friends to join us on May 23rd, as we gather together on the Day of Pentecost like the early church did some two thousand years ago.