CHANCE ENCOUNTERS #7
There are so many distractions in life. So much that gets in the way of spending time with God, listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit and hearing God’s call in our lives. In Mark 7:31-37 we find a man who was deaf. He was trapped in the silence longing to hear. His friends brought him to Jesus who healed him.
Mark 7:31-37 (NRSV)
 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.
 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.
 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.
 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”
 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.
 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
This past week we had Vacation Bible School. Brooke and her crew did a wonderful job. Kellen made a great MC for the beginning. The youth a parent volunteers were great. It was just a good time. VBS is all about giving our children the Chance to Hear like the man who was deaf. They get a Chance to Hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and the love of God in a very fun and exciting way. So we want to celebrate and share.
The overarching them was an old fashioned Fun Fair sort of like the World’s Fair. And the overarching Scripture was Luke 10:27 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
In the process they also learned a little bit about our neighbors around the world.
I. NEIGHBORS ARE FRIENDLY:
On Monday, through the Biblical story in Genesis 18, the boys and girls discovered
how Abraham and Sarah welcomed God in the form of three strangers. The discovered that even strangers can be our neighbors. They also learned how as Christians we are called to live a life of hospitality, especially in the church, where everyone is welcome.
They talked about hospitality the context of the culture of Japan. Japan is known for its hospitality. It permeates all of society. You see it in the way they bow deferentially to you as a way of saying hello or you’re welcome. There are deep bows of forgiveness and acknowledgement of your status. They go out of their way to make you feel welcome.
We often think of the Japanese as being ‘shy’, but a better description would be that they are ‘polite’. Acting quietly and casually are very important virtues in Japan. There is a saying in Japan, which translates into English, “The hand reaches the itchy spot” which of course means, “Being very attentive to the needs of others.”
Hospitality was seen as one of the most important virtues in Judaism. The prophets railed against Israel for abusing the strangers passing through and the aliens in their midst. In Romans 12:13 the Apostle Paul says we are to “extend hospitality to strangers.”
And the author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 13:2 (NRSV) “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it;” which refers directly back to the passage about Abraham and Sarah and how they treated the three strangers who came to their camp that day.
The very first on the list of Bishop Robert Schnase’s book the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations is Radical Hospitality. Why? Because we are called to love our neighbors and NEIGHBORS ARE FRIENDLY.
II. NEIGHBORS ARE GIVING:
A. The next thing our Fair goers learned was that NEIGHBORS ARE GIVING. Through the story of the Widow who gave her last bit of food to feed the prophet Elijah. She was rewarded by having a jug of flour and a jar of oil that were never empty. All because she loved God, loved her neighbor as herself and gave with a cheerful heart.
NEIGHBORS ARE GIVING is a very important lesson to learn, you see we have a giveaway faith that only grows as we share it with others.
There is a story I read years ago, about a Methodist layperson who gave $100,000 to build a college in Africa in the early 1920’s. By the 1940’s the college had grown and was meeting the educational and spiritual needs of many young Africans, and on a special anniversary of the college’s founding, the administration decided it was time to make a formal “Thank You” to its benefactor.
It took months for our General Board of Missions to track down that Methodist layman. He had lost everything in the crash of 1929 and was living in a little house on the south side of Chicago. Twice he refused to see representatives from our Board of Missions, but he finally agreed to receive them. At their insistence, he was flown to Africa for a gala celebration of the college’s anniversary. As he looked out over the campus filled with hundreds of students with smiles on their faces and tomorrow in their eyes, he whispered to the college president, “The only thing I have kept is what I gave away.”
Ours is a giveaway faith that only grows as we share it with others. We’re called to share the Good News with our Neighbors. We’re called to give away what we have been given so that our faith and the Church may grow. Extravagant Generosity makes an “impression” on others because NEIGHBORS ARE GIVING.
III. NEIGHBORS ARE BOLD:
A. NEIGHBORS ARE BOLD. We learned, through the parable of the Good Samaritan, that neighbors don’t even have to look like us to be our neighbor. All a neighbor needs to do is be bold enough to live like Jesus and treat the people they meet like Jesus would.
Did you know that Texans and people from the United Kingdom are a lot alike? It’s true. Nine times out of ten when you visit someone in Texas, a sure sign that you’re welcome is when they ask, “Can I get some Iced Tea.” In the United Kingdom they ask if you’d like a “spot” of tea. It’s all part of our understanding of hospitality.
Part of what ties us so closely together, besides our language, is that fact that Methodism had its birth in the UK. John Wesley was an Anglican Priest who had a Bold Faith like the Good Samaritan. His Boldness translated into acts of kindness and love.
I don’t remember where I read this story that took place a few years before we all carried cell phones. It seems there was a tractor-trailer driver and who dreaded runs to New York City. His greatest fear was realized one day when his rig broke down on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
About 4:30 p.m., after he’d been waiting for assistance for over an hour, a police car stopped and the officer called a tow truck. More hours passed.
Then at 8:30 a young man stopped his car and walked over to the truck. He handed the driver a white bag with the familiar golden arches on it and said, “I saw you here about four o’clock, and I saw that you were still here when I went by again a half-hour ago. I thought you might be hungry by now.”
With that he gave the truck driver the bag of hamburgers, French fries and a coke and then drove away. The tow truck got there a little before 10 p.m.
NEIGHBORS ARE BOLD and do bold things for Christ.
IV. NEIGHBORS ARE FORGIVING:
NEIGHBORS ARE FORGIVING. Through the story of Zaccheus we learned that NEIGHBORS ARE FORGIVING. When Jesus called Zaccheus out of the tree and told him he wanted to have lunch with him, something changed in Zaccheus’ life and heart. Scripture says he “repented,” asked Jesus for forgiveness and then told the crowds about his change of heart. But he most amazing thing is, he showed them how he had changed by giving back all the money he’d overcharged. Everybody was completely dumbfounded.
We also talked about the country of Australia, Koala Bears (which aren’t really bears at all but related to the kangaroo) and the boomerang. Forgiveness is like a boomerang. You see a boomerang, when thrown correctly, will turn around and come back. When we repent and ask forgiveness, we are literally turning an going the other direction. We change direction and come back to Jesus. And that’s what the church is all about. Forgiveness and turn arounds.
Nine-year-old Jessica was nervous the first Sunday she was scheduled to be an acolyte. Before the worship service began the head usher tried to assure her that everything would be all right. As the prelude began Jessica picked up the candle lighter and turned to the usher to have him light it for her. She smiled at him and said, “It’s all right if I make a mistake, because I’m in church.”
Out of the mouth of babes. Jessica knew, both from what she had heard and what she had witnessed, that Church was safe, that it was the place of encouragement, understanding and forgiveness.
Jessica knew NEIGHBORS ARE FORGIVING.
IV. NEIGHBORS ARE WELCOMING:
NEIGHBORS ARE WELCOMING. We also learned that NEIGHBORS ARE WELCOMING. This time we talked about our closest neighbors in Mexico and how welcoming they are to everyone who enters their homes. That’s important because when you’re alone and new to a place, when you’re the stranger you feel like no one cares.
There was an elderly women who asked a little girl, “How are you today?” The girl replied, “Quite well, thank you.” After a long pause, the older woman said, “Why don’t you ask me how I am?” and the girl replied, “Because I’m not really interested.” That’s how it feels when you’re alone, when you’re the stranger, when you’re unwelcome.
In God’s house and in God’s Kingdom we’re never alone. We are always welcome. In God’s house and God’s kingdom there are never any strangers. God knows each and every one of us by name. We are created in the image of God. We are each unique creations and unique individuals. We’re unique in God’s sight and especially in God’s heart.
A Sunday school teacher had to correct a few mistakes that her 5 and 6 year olds were making while studying the Lord’s prayer. One little boy kept praying: “Our Father in heaven, Howard be thy name.” Another kept insisting that God’s name was “ART”, you know, “Our Father, Art in heaven.” But the one that fits today is the little boy who always prayed: “Our Father, who art in heaven, how’d you know my name?”
God knows us by name. God knows us inside and out. God knows the good, the bad and the ugly about us. God loves us and welcomes us. And we are called to be just as welcoming as God. We’re called to be Neighbors because NEIGHBORS ARE WELCOMING.
We can learn a lot about being faithful Christians through our children and what they learn at VBS.
NEIGHBORS ARE FRIENDLY. NEIGHBORS ARE GIVING. NEIGHBORS ARE BOLD. NEIGHBORS ARE FORGIVING. NEIGHBORS ARE WELCOMING.
Because our kids have had A Chance To Hear the Good News we’ve had a Chance To Hear the Good News in what they heard and learned. The Challenge for us is to not just Hear it but to show them how to Live it.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.