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Does life sometimes seem like something not worth it to you? Do you ever feel like just giving up? Do your thoughts wander annoyingly from those great moments of celebration when you are feeling very positive about your life in some way or when you feel you have descended down to days when it is hard to just get going in any way that seems meaningful, helpful or even pleasant?

In todays’ reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul appears to be having a time like that. Paul was a faithful Pharisee. Or at least he wanted to be. At least in his more confident moments he saw himself as one. But Paul could sometimes slide easily into a rut, a rut in which he blamed the desires of his own physical body for his own descent into a destructive hatred and dislike of himself. There seemed to be so many things that he both hated spiritually and intellectually and yet, that he also felt himself sliding into, things or actions or activities that he found himself desiring and wanting emotionally and carnally as he sought to live out his life as a viable, effective leader of the Christian faith. Here, he seems to be opening himself up for his readers to see the frustration he feels in trying to be faithful in ways that he thinks are proper for himself, while at the same time, his physical body seems like it is trying to drag him into the arms of a purposeless but passionate despair. Paul shows himself to be a person of intense feeling, incredible drive and exceptional direction.

I have often imagined God looking down on Paul, and seeing how determined, driven and unique Paul was as a person. I don’t believe there could have been anything like full approval of him as yet but I envision God saying to himself, “What a passionate, determined and intense person he is. With all of his faults, I need a person with that kind of drive to become a leader on my team! I need a person like that to see to it that my Church gets established. I well may have to go out of my way to bring him the awareness of who I am and my desire for him to help me build my church.”

When I was just a young lad, I became very close to a girl whom I had met in the Methodist Sunday School where my mother was a teacher. The girl was a person of strong personality, opinions and determined actions. I liked her because she came across as someone who cared about the truth and about the welfare of her friends and fellow students. Over time, we began to see each other in a way that seemed to say that we were comfortable in our friendship. On many a summers’ vacation day, I would hop on my bicycle, and pedal my way over to her house where we could spend some time together, talking and sharing the faith that we had both discovered.

As time passed, however, she seemed to become less and less satisfied with what was being taught, or perhaps not being properly taught at that Sunday School. And so with her persuasion, we began looking for other venues for worship and finding faith. Our home city of Fulton, New York was a small city of about fifteen thousand people. A city of about fifteen mainline churches. We began finding times and opportunities to attend various religious services.

At that time, there were a number of new, more fundamental churches springing up in Fulton. It seems only natural that we would go and see just what  faith experience might be awaiting us. There were three newer churches that I remember trying. I won’t say their names because they all exist in some form today.

We had both arrived at the point in our lives where we were sure that our starting point would always be Jesus Christ. The birth, life, teaching, offering, suffering, passion, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus were realities we both felt we could not ignore or deny. We both had experienced times when we felt the real presence of Jesus Christ in our lives.

As time went on for us as friendly teenagers, we both began to feel that the local mainline Christianity of the day spoke too little about Jesus Christ and was mostly involved with white, moral, political considerations and very little about an inspiring, emotionally charged,  grateful expression of the Christian faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior, Redeemer and Sustainer of all. Probably the most distressing things we saw going on around us in the Christian community involved ways in which the more seemingly involved Christians treated others. Yes, we sought, we were longing for, a faith that was heartfelt, non-judgmental (or so I thought), joyful, full of love and respect. A faith that was Christlike in every way. To try to put it in understandable words, I was seeking a faith with absolutely no judgmental predispositions. But in that statement which is by itself judgmental, she and I began to differ a bit in our opinions and outlook.

On the television, I saw gay people being condemned to hell by a number of relatively unscholarly, undereducated preachers, several of whom had founded so-called colleges so they could call themselves Doctor. They said they knew they were speaking the will of Jesus Christ by condemning men who dared to love another man, or women who dared to love another woman, people who in my opinion found love in the way that God had created them to find love, who were brave enough to stand up just for being who God made them to be.

Of course that was not the only problem I saw. I saw that one early on because it was a situation which was personal to me. I also saw good, hardworking people being persuaded to turn up their noses at those they considered to be inferior; human beings that were on their way to purgatory or perdition or whatever other creation of the human mind that we use to dismiss each other. Some Christians were too happy to judge others just because they didn’t live or believe in the judgmental way that the fundamentalist preachers were teaching.

What troubled me most, I think, was that my friend had begun to display a judgment on me because I had been honest with her. I had made the mistake of telling her that I was only attracted to people of the same sex. I told her because I did not feel that I should lead her on into some romantic hope for marriage with me. Oh, I did spend years trying to pray the gay away, but deep inside, I hoped, I thought, I always knew that as long as I behaved with respect and love for the dignity of every human being, and sought to follow Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, it would be all right.

More and more, I began to notice that some of those same wonderful people I had met who were thinking and talking and speaking of the joy in discovering Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior didn’t seem to hear him when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Up to this point in this sermon, let me just say that I have gotten us into a big attitude of negativity. Bad boy! Hey, I am supposed to be talking about the most wonderful, the most hopeful, the most joyful event and situation in the world, the birth, life, death and resurrection of our personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

That’s right, I called him my personal savior! After all, who am I that I should consider myself important enough to have Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior? And just what is the point of this sermon? Just this: Yes, we, you and I, whoever you are and whatever you have, you can declare Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior too. Probably most everyone here already has.

Oh yes, you and I, we, have been called to be members of an important human organization called the Christian Church. It is good and important that we become members and worshippers and givers. But do not let that fact reduce your awareness that the call of Jesus Christ to you and to me and to us all is first and foremost a personal call. Whoever you are, whatever you do, Jesus loves you with his infinite love. God the Holy Trinity loves you beyond all measure.

Lord Jesus, we know that you are truly lover of all. We know the Father, you and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity, love your creation and have pronounced it good. Through your saving grace help us to live into that reality. You have already pronounced your creation good.

But, God has not pronounced his work of creation finished. To quote a line from another very fine preacher I have heard recently, “Jesus, are you kidding me?” Have you had a look at what is going on? As many wonderful things and people and blessings that we have, there is still much that no one of us can call good. The work of creation is not perfect in our eyes because it is not finished. Very often the things we see as evil are in fact, the pangs of birth. Oh, but don’t get me wrong; evil is still very real. The evil one is still trying to subvert the work or our Creator.

Yes, there are still those of us who come to; who go to church. When I was young, not everyone went to church, but most people who didn’t go at least knew to which church they didn’t go. Nowadays, so many have no idea to which church they would go to if they were to go.

It is apparent that the Church of Jesus Christ has some newer challenges added to the old familiar ones. Our society changes with such rapidity, who can see where it will all wind up? That is why the personal call of God to each one of us can be so important. I believe that one day the Church will once again become one with Jesus as the universally recognized head. That will probably be way down the line in the future.

In the meantime, I hope, I pray, I suggest that we who seek to follow Jesus as the Christ will be brought closer and closer together, so that as individuals and as the Body of Christ, the Church, we can enter into whatever blessed hope that God has in store for us. We can be like the lady who tells the undertaker that when she is to be laid out in her coffin, she is to be holding a fork in her right hand. Ever been to a church dinner?

Wanna know why?

She knows the best is yet to come.  Amen.