Yours Sincerely

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on September 23, 2018.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
— Psalm 56:3
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.
— John 14:1

Today, I thought I would do something a little different. I thought I would read a letter to you. It’s a letter from me to you. One I hope will convey my sincerity to bring to you my honest interpretation of scripture as it relates to life.

We begin our letters with the word “Dear”, which means: "precious, valuable; costly, expensive; glorious, noble; loved, beloved, regarded with affection".

Dear Congregation,

I am writing today as a way to express my gratitude for the trust you have placed in me as your pastor. I take this responsibility seriously. I understand we don’t always agree on everything, but I hope you feel comfortable enough to ask questions, and provide constructive criticism when it is needed. As I always say, I’m not here to tell you what you should believe or how you should interpret your faith. I can only share what I know from my own experience. Not right, not wrong, just “my truth”. For example:

What does it mean to say we have “trust in God” and to “believe”? I guess it boils down to the individual and their understanding of the concepts. Many times, people go about living their lives not thinking much about this. We are so busy doing, we forget about the meaning of it all. In other words, sometimes we don’t see the meaning in our everyday routines. Often it isn’t until something happens to disrupt what we consider our “norm” that we stop and go deeper. For example, we are bombarded everyday by stories of people suffering, at various levels. They may be local or they could be halfway around the world, and we are faced with the task of asking: What’s that got to do with me? What can I do about it?

But what if that was to change? What if we decided that what affects others does affect me - personally? What if we truly believe we are all “one” in this life? Perhaps it would change the way we respond to one another. Maybe we would let ourselves “feel” the suffering we see in others as if it were happening to me.

There was a story in the news this past week that illustrates some of what I’m saying. Unfortunately, it only got limited coverage. I say unfortunately because it’s these kinds of stories that should be getting more and more coverage.

Rhami Zeini was driving home from school when he spotted a black purse in the middle of the road.

The 16-year-old Santa Barbara, California, high school junior opened it -- and discovered more money that he'd ever seen in his life: $10,000.

Unable to find the owner's phone number, Rhami told his parents. They drove him to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office.

There, a watch officer was able to locate the owner and return the money.

"To me, I figured this is the right thing to do," Zeini told CNN affiliate KCOY. "If the roles were reversed and I had lost something with a significant sum of money inside, I know I would want it back for sure."

The purse's owner was so grateful that she gave Rhami $100. She believes she left the purse on the roof of her car when she drove away.

I think this kind of thing happens more than we know, but most of what we see in the news is how badly we treat each other. We are given the message that unless it’s negative, it isn’t “newsworthy”. The strange thing is that when something positive is reported, it does illustrate the hope and kindness we are all longing for in this world. To see an uplifting story has become a “disruption” so to speak of our “normal routine”. Why not turn the tables and bring honesty and integrity back into our lives? Why should we be surprised when someone does something good?

Once there was an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew it was coming time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It has come time for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!”

There was one boy named Ling who was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by. Still nothing.

By now others were talking about their plants but Ling didn’t have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by, still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, and to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by all the other youths. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kinds laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, “Hey nice try.”

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. “My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown,” said the emperor. “Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!”

All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front. Ling was terrified. “The emperor knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!”

When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. “My name is Ling,” he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!” Ling couldn’t believe it. Ling couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!”

Source: reported in More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks (Zondervan, 1995)

I ran across another “Good News” story from this past week. Notice that, like the first one, it involves teenagers. Teens, as a group in our culture often seem to get a bad rap, along with negative news coverage.

There was a scary moment on bus 1225 when the driver suffered a life-threatening medical emergency. On Aniyah Goldsberry and Shikita Scott's ride to school Friday, something went terribly wrong.

"First, I was thinking, this is not normal at all for her to swerve over," said Scott.

Their driver, Ms. Denise, said she hadn't been feeling well that week, but thought she could make it through her shift.

"I continued to get on the expressway, and then I noticed that my vision began to get blurry. I started seeing six lanes instead of three on the Waterson," said Denise.

Realizing she couldn't continue driving, she pulled over to the side of the road. Denise doesn't remember what happened next, but four courageous Seneca High School students jumped into action, and she credits them for saving her life.

"It happened so fast. So, everyone was like calling the police," said Scott.

Scott is the one who lifted Denise out of her seat, and, following prompts from the 911 operator, put her on her side and made sure she didn't swallow her tongue.

"I was thinking, I was like, 'Oh my gosh is this a dream, because I didn't want to actually be there,'" said Goldsberry.

A total of four female students jumped into action that day, and their courage may have saved Denise's life. She has been cleared to go back to work next Monday. -WLKY News

These kids acted out of concern for a fellow human being, a basic instinct. Again, it’s an understanding that we are all in this together.

How often do we see people who are willing to do just about anything for earthly “gain?” Whether it’s power, control or money, people who we would least expect are found out to be less than honest about what they are doing. I’ve known people who we would consider nice, honest, hard working people who get caught up in the day to day grind and try to “get ahead” by “cutting corners”. Take a little here, lie a little there and they find themselves slipping into situations they can’t get out of. It happens all the time! It’s no different now than it was in the past. For example; when we write letters we commonly end them with “Yours sincerely”. Have you ever wondered why you do this? The practice has its origins in ancient Rome. Roman sculptors often concealed cracks in apparently flawless marble statues with melted beeswax. When the wax dried and crumbled, the angry purchaser sought compensation. Reputable sculptors guaranteed their work as sine sera, which means ‘without wax’; Hence ‘yours sincerely’. Likewise, we are called to be people of integrity whose words are true.

Source: reported in Talkback Trash and Treasure

Dear congregation;

We begin our letters with the word “Dear”, which means: "precious, valuable; costly, expensive; glorious, noble; loved, beloved, regarded with affection".

What if we thought of everyone like that?

It starts with putting our trust in God first and an understanding that how we treat others personally and globally, reflects back on us. Only you can decide. Do we “put wax” in the cracks or do we guarantee our care for others is real?

It’s all up to you.

Yours Sincerely,

Pastor Jim