ESPN, Syracuse, and a Moral Obligation to Report

The sports world has been impacted again, unfortunately, by allegations that an assistant coach at high profile athletic program sexual assaulted young boys. Former Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine has been accused of molesting at least three individuals, all of whom had ties to the basketball program serving as ball boys.

This is the second time, in recent weeks, that allegations of sexual assault has impacted the sports world. Penn State is still dealing with the allegations involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, which it will for some time.

Syracuse’s case is bizarre story. It is one that is just beginning to be played out, and is made even more bizarre by the fact that ESPN had this story in 2002. At that time, the media giant was given a tape from one of the alleged victims that was allegedly the voice of Fine’s wife, Laura, admitting to knowing of the abuse. ESPN had the tape since 2002 and decided not to report at that time, but did hold onto the tape. On Sunday, ESPN aired the tape after additional allegations against Fine had been made.

There is a question that must be asked, and has been asked by others. Did ESPN have a moral obligation to provide New York authorities with a copy of the tape, even though, it says, the accuser had given the tape to the police?

This is a murky question and one that must take into account various situations, including a reporter’s responsibility and an individual’s responsibility to protect children.

In my opinion, ESPN failed in its moral obligation to report the story to the authorities by holding onto the tape for nearly 10 years. Then again, the reason for this opinion is murky and can be debated.

First, ESPN is a multimedia organization that has a journalism footprint, albeit one that suffers from a conflict of interest from time to time. A reporter’s primary role is to report the story, as it develops, without influencing or impacting the story one way or another. It is a hard code to follow at times, because of various circumstances. From a merely journalistic perspective, it is not a reporter’s responsibility to provide news tips to organizations that the reporter seeks to cover. For instance, a sports reporter would not share game film he or she has collected on one team and give it to another. In the same way, a political reporter would not share campaign information from one campaign to another campaign.

ESPN defenders will argue that this is the company’s only role, in regards to its journalism business. From a professional standpoint, this could be correct. Yet, this is a situation that goes beyond professional ethics and responsibilities. It must include an individual’s moral obligation to protect children.

The Fine case is not a normal news story. ESPN did not receive information regarding point shaving or recruiting violations, but, instead, information regarding an alleged sexual assault of a child. The normal rules of journalism ethics and a reporter’s responsibility do not apply in this situation.

In receiving a tape from an alleged sexual assault victim purporting to be the abuser’s wife admitting to the assault, ESPN was in receipt of critical information. This information could have been used in a police investigation. ESPN claims the accuser provided authorities with the tape, but to merely claim that as an excuse to do nothing is indefensible. There is a human responsibility to make sure that the information is given to the proper individuals, while maintaing the right to report the case.

ESPN’s decision to hold the tape was based on journalism ethics and ignored the individual’s responsibility to protect children. ESPN is not separated from this responsibility.

There is an element of irony that should not be missed in ESPN’s handling of the Fine allegations. The network’s analysts were among those who claimed former Penn State coach Joe Paterno should be fired for failing to uphold a moral obligation to report an abuse. In this case, with ESPN directly involved, the network is choosing to take a protective stance and argue it had no such obligation. This baseless defense shows ESPN does not get the larger picture, which is that children were allegedly abused.

As a former journalist and now a pastor, it is my hope that journalism schools will adapt their ethics classes to teach perspective reporters how to handle these difficult moral situations. Reporters must not forget that while they report on a story, they also maintain their humanity, which, then, calls us to care for the “least of these” in our society, especially children.

Hopefully, ESPN will learn from this and adapt its coverage here forward.

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Sunday’s Sermon: Incarnating the Emmanuel: Living Hope

The end of the Thanksgiving holiday brings the stretch run of the holidays into full force. Many of us celebrated the change in seasons by going to the mall or shopping centers, looking for the best bargains on Christmas items. Others spent it by finding every possible way to enjoy leftover turkey and ham.

For all of us, there is a much deeper reason for the season. While this season is filled with celebration and activities, we know that it’s not about the gifts or the parties. This season leads us to our celebration of Christ’s birth on Christmas morning.

Today is the first day of Advent and the first day of our journey together toward Christmas morning. Advent is one of the most significant times of the Christian calendar, and not just because it starts a new Christian year. In this season, we are reminded and called to live in expectation of Christ’s return. Advent isn’t just about getting to the celebration of Christ’s birth, but it reminds us that each day is an opportunity to live in expectation of Christ’s return. The first Advent, Christ’s initial coming, has occurred, and today we live as people of the Second Advent who await Christ’s return.

Advent gives us an opportunity to take on more of the characteristics of Christ and make them part of the lives of our worshiping community, our communities at large, and our own personal lives. During this season of expectation, this is where our focus will lie. Our focus will be on what it means to “Incarnate the Emmanuel.”

What do I mean by this? Incarnation means God taking on human form. We see this in the introduction to John’s Gospel, when he writes about Christ, the Word, being present at the start of creation and taking on the form of humanity at Jesus’ birth. With Emmanuel, we are speaking of one of the names for Christ. In Isaiah 7:14, we see the promise of a child being born to a virgin. This child, the Christ, would be given the name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

There is something here for us when we put these two great concepts together. As followers of Christ, we are called to allow Him to be incarnate in us. This means that as we grow in our relationship with God, we are to take on more of the characteristics of Christ in our own lives. Essentially, we become less and Christ becomes more. Our needs and our hopes become secondary to Christ living in us.

We are going to focus on this throughout the Advent season, on what it means for us to be more like the Emmanuel. Our devotion book will serve as an enhancer for what we will talk about on Sundays, so I want to encourage you to take time to read these devotions. May this be a time of spiritual growth and development as we await the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Part of what we will do is look at various Advent themes and how they apply to our desire to live more like Christ. Some are traditional ideas that come out at Advent, but we will apply them to this idea of what it means to live Christ-like lives, so that we may influence the world and our communities through our witness and our hope.

Speaking of hope, this is the first Advent theme we will examine. Typically, it is one of the first themes of the Advent season. Paul tells us that hope is one of the three greatest gifts that God gives us through the grace of the Holy Spirit, with the other two being faith and love. In our passage for today, Paul writes that we are to live with hope as we look forward to the day of Christ’s return. Hope, then, is an important idea for us in our relationship with Christ.

This is an important statement, but we are left with a question. What do we mean by hope? It’s a word we know, and I am sure we use it in regular conversations with our friends and family. We say this word “hope” a lot, but sometimes it seems to be one of those words we drop in our conversations without really knowing what it means.

When we say we have hope in something, we are placing our confidence that something good will happen. We hope for someone’s recovery from illness. We hope for someone to find a job when they have been laid off. We hope for many things at many times. Notice what we are not doing here. We are not placing our hope in things that are negative. Augustine once wrote that true hope only has its object in that which is good. This means we don’t hope for bad things to happen, but we place our hope in the positive things of life.

All of this to say that when we place our hope in something, we are placing our confidence in and trust that something good will happen.

Hope says something to us as followers of Christ. It shows us where our hope comes from. We can place our hope in many things, but only one hope will not fail us – our hope in Jesus Christ. Our hope comes out of the grace we receive when we place our trust in Jesus Christ. It is a fruit of our relationship with Christ. We place our hope and confidence in the truth of the Christian message, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We say that we believe in Christ’s words, his teachings, and his life. We hope that one day Christ will return. We hope that God desires his kingdom to be seen in this world, because this is, as Revelation 21 tells us, the world we will inherit when Christ returns.

In a way, hope is something that is common to all of us, but is uniquely Christian in its application. When we think of hope in a Christian sense, there are two general concepts that come out, and both have been alluded to this morning. The first is that our hope rests in the life of Jesus Christ. I call this our hope in God’s promises. We are placing our trust in God’s action, anticipating and hoping that God will fulfill the promises he has made. We see this type of hope throughout Scripture. Abraham was guided by hope to follow God in leaving his home to move to Canaan. The people of Israel clung to their hope of a savior during their time in captivity. In Luke 24, the disciples on the road to Emmaus talk to Jesus, whom they thought was a stranger, about having hope in Jesus being the long-promised Messiah. Even more, throughout Paul’s writings, we get this idea that our hope comes as confidence and expectation that God’s promises are real and God will fulfill his promises. In Colossians 1:23, Paul writes about the hope of the gospel, which is the message of Jesus Christ.

We know we can place our hope in God’s promises, because we know they are real and true. As people who await Christ’s return, we know God fulfilled his promise of a savior and we know that at Christmas, the savior came and began to live among us. What a joy it is to know that we can freely and confidently place our hope in God’s promises. Unlike the world’s promises, these promises will not fail us.

There is also a second kind of hope, which goes in line with what Paul writes in Titus. This hope is what I call the living hope. It is the hope that sustains us and guides us each day of our lives. It is a hope that gets to the idea that God wants to bring forth New Jerusalem, a new creation, and desires for his kingdom to live among us.

This might be the most difficult of hopes, because it is the hope that says God’s love and grace will impact the world, even when it is clouded in darkness. It is the hope that binds this tension that we see in our passage from Titus. Paul says we are to live in this world with “wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God,” even when it seems like it is difficult to do so, or when darkness surrounds us. This tension points to what it means for us to live as followers of Jesus Christ, as we await for the expected return of Jesus Christ.

In the middle, tying the two together, is our call to live with hope each day of our lives. We can have a living hope because of the resurrection, as we see in 1 Peter 1:3. Christ’s resurrection says this world does not have the final say, but God has the final say. Because Christ lives today, we can have hope that God is at work in the most difficult of situations and the most unhopeful of times. God is present, so we can have hope. Living hope is what guides us to live each day as followers of Christ, who desire to live in faithful obedience to God, through faith in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is what helps us endure the difficult times, and it is what humbles us in times of blessing. Our living hope in Christ is what should define us as followers of Christ, not just in this season of Advent when hope serves as our focal point, but at all times.

When we tie together our hope in God’s promises and our desire to have a living hope, we see this as our calling as followers of Christ. We are called to be people who live with hope, and not despair. To allow our expectation of Christ’s ongoing ministry through God’s Spirit to define us. To allow the hope of Christ to be at the center of our heart.

In our time together, I’ve probably made hope seem like an easy thing to grasp. We all know that hope is not as easy as simply saying “I hope in God.” We struggle with not always being able to see God in our midst. We struggle with faith and hope, because we want something tangible to believe in and hold onto – like our government, or our paychecks, or even the work of our own two hands.

But it is not hope if we can see it. If we see something with our own two eyes, we don’t need to have hope. What good would this world be if we did not need to have hope?

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that our faith in Jesus Christ serves as our confidence to live as hopeful witnesses in all times. It inspires us to live as witnesses of Christ, and it guides us when it seems like the darkness of the world has overcome us.

Our hope in Jesus Christ sustains us and helps us be patient and enduring as we await Christ’s return. It picks us up. It encourages us. It defines us.

In this season of Advent, let us live as people of hope. Let us place our confidence in Jesus Christ  – that the words of the Gospel are true and God’s promises are real. We can, because hope has come in Jesus Christ, and we will celebrate his birth on Christmas morning, as we await his glorious return.

Let us also be people who live each day with hope. Let our hope in Christ guide us to grow in the likeness of Christ. As William Mounce writes, our hope should allow us to live “reverently” as faithful witnesses of God’s love. May our hope inspire every person we meet. May our hope be a true reflection of Christ and his love for us.

May this season of Advent be a reminder of our call to be children of hope each day of our lives.

Sunday Sermon: Serving Christ

Atlanta is a city known for several things. It has the Braves, heritage from Martin Luther King, Jr., and, in my opinion, the absolute worst traffic jams in America.

It’s a great city, and one I’ve enjoyed visiting from time to time. Atlanta has been on my mind this week. Not because I’m wishing to sit in traffic james on Interstate 85. Instead, it is because of a mission trip experience there that still impacts me today.

In 2007, I was a youth counselor for a middle school mission trip to Atlanta. My role was to chaperone and drive one of the vans. We were scheduled to be in Atlanta for a week. When we arrived, we were separated into smaller teams and assigned certain ministry areas. My team had two projects. Our first two days were spent at a home doing painting and general cleaning. The final two days were spent at an adult day center that focused on mentally handicapped patients. At this facility, we did several activities, from helping with a talent show to simply visiting with the residents.

When we talked with the residents, we would enter this cafeteria-like room. The residents were spread out all over the room, and it was where they spent a lot of their recreational time. Their activities would range from reading to putting together puzzles. In some case, the residents just sat alone.

Our group went around and spent time with many of the residents. However, the kids who were with me only really talked to one person. It’s not because we didn’t want to meet people. We did. We were lost in conversation with this one person.

I can’t remember his name, so we will call him “John.” When we met John, he was sitting alone. I can’t really remember what he was doing, but I do remember that he was full of life and loved to talk. On both days we met with him, he wore a lanyard that was decorated with footballs. He loved to talk about football. We spent a decent amount of our time just talking about football. At one point, he wanted me to get him an autograph from Rich Rodriguez. (I always have a way of bringing up West Virginia University in a conversation.)

The time we spent with John was special. It wasn’t because of anything we did. We just talked. I’m convinced that John had more of an impact on us than we did on him. He gave us memories that are still precious. My time with John was some of the most meaningful I experienced during the trip.

At the time, I didn’t understand why. I thought it was because we had an enjoyable experience with John. He made us laugh. He made us smile. That’s not why it was memorable. I firmly believe we met Christ in those two days with John. We weren’t talking to a resident of an adult day care center. We were talking to the Risen Lord and the King of Kings.

We were serving Christ when we talked to John.

Now, I have a feeling I know what you are thinking. Either you are thinking I am not making any sense, or you are praising God I am going away for a few days of rest. I can’t be making any sense, right? How were you serving Christ, Shannon? Christ is in Heaven, he’s not on earth, right?

Hear me, today, when I say Christ was surely there. In our conversations with John, Christ was sitting right there. We were talking with Christ. As we see in our Scripture passage for today, Christ our King is served when we minister to the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the prisoner, and anyone society would call “the least of these.” We meet Christ when we serve the needy in our communities. These are very important statements, and we need to unpack them. Our passage for today helps us to understand what it means for a community of Christ to be in community with Christ and the world.

If you haven’t already, I want to invite you to turn to Matthew 25. Let’s walk through this passage and see where Christ may be calling us today.

This is the final parable in Matthew’s gospel. Meaning this is the last teaching moment Jesus has his disciples before being arrested. That alone should tell us this is an important passage.

In verses 31 and 32, Jesus begins by saying the Son of Man, Christ, will come and sit on his glorious throne. When that day comes, there will be a separation of the sheep and goats. The sheep will be placed on the right side, while the goats will be on the left. When the day of judgment comes, Jesus will sit on his throne as King. He will have all the authority in heaven to make judgments based on our actions. Everyone will be gathered around Jesus. He will separate the people. Some will put on his right, and some will be on his left.

There is a symbolism here. Being placed at someone’s right hand would be to give them a place of honor. This is what we see in Mark 16:19. At the Ascension, Jesus rose to heaven and took his place at the right hand of God. From there, Christ will judge everyone based on how they responded to his call to faith.

People known as sheep were given the place of honor, and the goats were not. Why? Why would Christ separate them? There was something about their response to God that required their separation.

In verse 34, Jesus applauds the sheep for their actions. Almost like our passage last week, Jesus says the sheep did something that is worth adding to our own faith journey. When Christ was hungry, they fed him. When he was thirsty, they gave him water. When he was lonely, they gave him community. The sheep served Christ by reaching out to the least of God’s children, those society says to “leave behind.” Instead of leaving them behind, the sheep welcomed society’s outcasts with hospitality and love.

The sheep recognized that when they ventured into the world, there was a potential of seeing Christ. Even more, the sheep were willing to follow Christ’s teachings about loving God and loving their neighbor and applied it to everyone. The sheep saw those in need as their neighbor and someone God called them to serve. Chrysostom, an early father of the church, says the sheep were able to see that they were welcoming Christ. For this, Jesus says, they will receive their inheritance of an eternal life with God.

The sheep do not receive this inheritance because they do “good things.” This is not the way to God. We cannot earn our salvation based on what we do. Our good deeds flow out of our faith in Jesus Christ. Service to the needy in our community is a fruit of our relationship with Christ. Those called “sheep” understood this.

Something else stands out with the sheep in their acceptance. To understand this, we have to understand why the goats were not accepted.

Goats are prized animals. If you’re a farmer, you would rather have a goat than a sheep. There is more money available for their meat and milk products. In a way, this plays out in our parable. Goats represent the community’s “righteous” members. They believed their righteousness, or their way of understanding faith, was important and secured their salvation. Because of their membership in a church, or their good name, they believe it ensured them a place in heaven. They were not concerned with becoming more like Christ. Instead, they wanted to be more like themselves.

In a way, what we see is Christ saying he did not know the goats. You can imagine their shock when they find out they did not receive the inheritance of a life with God. They questioned the King by asking when they had the opportunity to serve him. I almost wonder if what they really wanted to say was “Don’t you know who we are? Don’t you know what we have done for the church? How dare you keep us from heaven! We earned this!”

Jesus says the goats never did what he asked. They were never concerned about the needs of others. Goats were only concerned about their own needs and their own righteousness. For this reason, Jesus says they will have no part of God’s kingdom. They would not receive the promised inheritance of a life in heaven. Their self-focused attitude prevented them from experiencing the fullness of a life in Christ.

It’s hard to hear these words from Jesus. We want parables to have a happy ending. Scripture doesn’t always give us the “sitcom ending,” where everyone is happy at the end of the story. Scripture challenges our basic ideas and thoughts about life. It does this so we might all grow in what it means to be followers of Christ in our communities and our personal lives.

More than that, it’s hard to hear these words from Jesus, because we might be more like goats than sheep. When we see Christ’s call to care for the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, we might have paused for a moment and thought about the opportunities we have missed in serving someone else. Those might have been a missed opportunity to serve Christ. All of us have been guilty of missing a chance of caring for the poor and needy.

I could say a few words about caring for people. I could remind all of us how we’ve been blessed beyond our wildest imaginations and how we are called to give to others as Christ has given to us. These would be good and well-intended thoughts, and we need to be reminded of them today. But they would miss a greater point. Why does it matter if we serve others?

Ministry to others gets a key aspect of Jesus’ words from Matthew 22. He says we are called to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. These two ideas must be held together. We cannot separate them. They cannot act on their own. We cannot say “Well, I only need to love God, so I don’t need to care for the world.” At the same time, we cannot say “Well, if I change the world then God will love me.” Both are goat-like statements that put us in the role of determining the course of ministry to others and ignore God’s desires. If we truly seek to serve Christ, we must hold loving God and loving our neighbor together. We cannot do one without the other. We must love God and love our neighbor as a community and in our personal lives.

True mission and ministry to others comes in community. As followers of Christ, we are not called to a faith of isolation. Our faith is not just a personal faith, though it certainly has personal implications. Faith calls us to community with God and with each other. As we are in community with God and other believers, we are called to be in community with the world. In our Christian communities, Acts 2:44-45 calls us to care for the needs of each other in Christian love. Our call to love God and love our neighbor is our calling to take the principles of Acts 2:44-45 and apply them to our communities and world. By our relationships, by our service, and by our witness, we are called to serve others and, most importantly, serve Christ.

Faith calls us to unconditionally love others, because God unconditionally loves us first. We are called to grow in our relationship with Christ, both personally and as a community. We are called to go out from these walls and serve our neighbor and make a difference in the lives of others. We must do this in service and worship of God.

This is not about us. It is not about seeking our own fulfillment. It is about seeking an opportunity to serve Christ. When we gather food at the first of every month, we are serving Christ as a community out of our relationship with God. This is a great ministry that is making a difference in the lives of those who are hungry in our community.

Our faith must challenge us to meet Christ in our communities, and we must do so as a community. We must love God and love our neighbor. We cannot do anything else and expect to receive our inheritance as children of God.

Sermon: The Dangers of Inaction

Growing up, I think my mother had a hard time trying to raise two different sons. We shared nothing in common.

My younger brother, Brandon, is more of a hands-on guy. He can fix anything. His passion is to work with his hands and repair things. I’m not as handy with things as Brandon, much to Abbi’s chagrin at times. Yet, Brandon is gifted at what he does.

I’m the complete opposite of my younger brother. I was, and still am, a thinker and a communicator. I love talking and expressing ideas and supporting things. I’m more gregarious than my brother, and enjoy going out and exploring the world.

I’m sure each of you can think of things that make us different from our siblings or other members of our families. Each of us are made uniquely by God, which is simply humbling.

Even more, each of us gathered here today are different. We have things that make us unique and stand out. These gifts and talents that we each possess make us special in the eyes of God.

Something else makes us all special in God’s eyes. We each have a purpose for our lives and talents that God has freely given us that makes us unique and special.

God doesn’t just love us. He also gives us gifts and and a purposes for our lives. We’re going to explain this in our time together this morning. For now, we can say God freely gives us gifts and callings so we can glorify God and live as witnesses of God’s great love and grace.

Now, I should explain this.

We are part of something known as the royal priesthood of believers. This phrase comes from 1 Peter 2:9. It helps us to understand why we have certain gifts and talents. The idea is that each of us have a calling, a purpose, which allows us to do certain things in the church and in our communities. All of this is so we can glorify God and proclaim his love to all people.

Our callings bring us together and they also define us. We have two callings. Our first calling is to be in a relationship with God. As followers of Christ, we are called to grow in our relationship with Christ and strive for holiness in our lives and in our communities. As we grow in Christ, we become like Christ in our lives. That means that everything in our lives flows out of our relationship with Christ.

That is true when we think of our second calling. Our second calling is how we, as individuals serve God. We may think of this as our vocations. This is more than our careers. It those things we know we were put on this earth to do for God. We have been given a purpose by God and our gifts were given to us to live into that purpose. How can we find our second calling? We can find our vocation by knowing our passions. We can know our passions by finding those things that gets our heart pumping and energy flowing.

There are several areas where God may have called you to serve. Paul gives us an idea of what some of these could be. In 1 Corinthians 12, he writes that some of the gifts from God are generosity, discernment, great faith, healing, prophesy, being an apostle, teaching and leadership. This sounds like an exclusive list, but it is not. There are many ways God can call someone. Parenting is a gift and a calling from God. Having the ability and willingness to be self-sacrificial is a gift. Having the gift of administration is calling from God. We can keep going. All of these gifts come from God, because of God’s love and desire for his name to be known.

What about the church? God’s gifts seem to be only applicable for an individual. Can they also apply to the church? As we use our gifts, we will see that they have an importance for the entire church, which is the representation of Jesus Christ. When we use our gifts and callings, the church grows in its ministry and mission. Our collective callings can work together to proclaim the love of God in our communities.

What would it look like if for each of us, together, with our individual passions and gifts worked together to serve God in our community? Who could we reach? Who could we proclaim God’s love to? Who could we inspire?

Not only are we equipped by God with various gifts and passions, so is the church. The church has two callings. First, the church is called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and participate in the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ through the work of God’s Spirit. Churches also have second callings. This is the church’s mission and ministry. It is what a local body of Christ is known for and does to serve God. This is more than a niche. Each church has a specific call and mission. Some churches are called to be places where people outside the faith seek the Lord. Some are communities that focus on discipleship. Some are communities that promote God’s justice.

I wonder what our mission and ministry might be? Where is God calling us to serve in our community? Let us pray and discern God’s will for us as individuals and a community.

No matter how we are called by God, we are all called to serve God in honor and worship. It is out of our great love and faith in God that we serve.

Our passage for today paints a picture of what it means to use the gifts God has given us. Jesus tells a parable of a master who is going on a trip. Before leaving, he gives his money to his servants. Each servant was given amounts according to their capabilities. God doesn’t give us anything that we cannot do. God knows our character and strengths and gives us a purpose that is in line with who we are. This is so we can go and “make disciples of all the nations.” If you cannot write well, chances are God will not call you to be an author. If God has given you a generous heart and the ability to work with your hands, there is a chance God might have called you to help others in need.

Regardless of our gifts, Jesus makes clear that we each have a responsibility to serve. Two of the servants did that. They multiplied what they were given. As we serve God, we will produce fruit that will multiply in the kingdom of God. The smallest of gifts can glorify God and produce the biggest field of fruit of a witness of God. That fruit can be growth in discipleship. It could be leading people to know Christ for the first time or renewing their faith in Jesus. It could even helping those in need. When we use our gifts, we are living out a faith that works through a love of God and our neighbors.

Jesus says those who produce fruit will be called “good and faithful servants.” They will also be given more responsibilities. Our gifts will grow and God will trust us with more things in our lives.

Not all of the servants produced fruit or were called good and faithful servants. There was one who was terrified of what the master gave him. He was given a small amount, but he didn’t use it. He hid his gift. For this, he was called lazy and was tossed aside.

We can be like this servant. We may feel our talents are not “big enough” to make a difference. We may believe we’re not qualified to do anything for God. We may wrongly believe we’re just laity and not supposed to do ministry. All of these mindsets goes against God’s desires for us. It abuses what God has freely given us.

Instead, what we see in this servant, and in these attitudes, is a sense of inactivity. This inactivity of faith is a failure to do what God has called us to be and do. It might be one of the things that separates us from Christ the most. We live in disobedience if we do not following God’s calling, both our primary and secondary calling. Should this happen, we are no longer are trusting God. We end up trusting ourselves more than God. Trusting ourselves means we believe we know better than God. It also means we ignore what God desires.

Inactivity causes us to forget that life and faith is not about us, but about something bigger than us. Our gifts are given to us so we can glorify God and make a difference in our communities and in the lives of others. We have a responsibility to use our gifts to glorify God and serve our communities in God’s name.

We have been shocked with the continuous news reports coming out of State College, Pa. It is horrific to think at least eight boys were allegedly molested not just by a former football coach, but someone they trusted. Their lives will never be the same because of these actions, and our heart breaks for them and their families.

In this tragedy, we see the consequences of when good men and women refuse to live out their callings as leaders. It is shameful to think that leaders failed in their callings to lead and to provide for the safety of others. My prayer is that all involved, from those who did nothing to the alleged perpetrator, in this tragedy will find repentance and forgiveness at the foot of the cross. My prayer is also for the families and the victims that they might find healing and comfort through the love of Christ.

Granted, this is an extreme example, but lets not overlook the dangers of inaction of our own callings. A missed opportunity in leading our children in discipleship could have consequences in their spiritual growth. A missed chance to provide leadership could harm a community. A missed chance to give of our selves to others could mean we miss the opportunity to provide food for the hungry, or hope for the hopeless.

The cost of our inactivity is too high. The cost of not following Christ and his example of servant leadership is more than we can bare. We should never miss a chance to be a living witness of Christ, no matter how big, no matter how small. Let us not think for one moment that the call to serve God is too big for us. The smallest of tasks, the smallest of gifts, can be used to glorify God in ways that we cannot imagine.

We are all called to participate in what God is doing. Each day is a new opportunity to participate in God’s ministry by using the gifts God has given us. I encourage you to ask God to use you and your gifts so that God will be glorified. If we are willing to give of ourselves, the results will be astounding. We will have the opportunity to do some amazing things, and it is not for us, but all for God.

All it takes is for each of us to allow God to use us and to be willing to be used by God. This is not about us. Our gifts are not ours for our disposal. They are God’s gifts freely given to us, so that the kingdom of God will be seen in our community and midsts and that the kingdom will multiple.

Thanks be to God for the gifts in our lives. Let us as a community, and as individuals, use what God has given us to be witnesses of God’s kingdom in all places, and all times.

Penn State Students Show Ugly Side of Sports

Last night, Joe Paterno was fired. The termination is part of the fallout of a sexual abuse scandal that has overwhelmed the Penn State community.

Almost immediately, Penn State students took to the streets and caused a riot that was disappointing and embarrassing. It also shows how sports are an idol in America.

The scandal began Saturday when former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of at least eight boys he met through his The Second Mile foundation, which is a charity geared towards helping underprivileged children. Two school officials have been charged with perjury for their failure to allegedly properly report the case when informed. Penn State president Graham Spainer was also fired for his involvement in the scandal.

The entire scandal is heartbreaking. For years, children were allegedly harmed by a man they trusted. When officials learned of the situation they did the bare minimum and nothing more. It is a sad story when leaders are more concerned with protecting their position and programs than protecting the lives of innocent children.

National consensus has been that Paterno could not continue as head coach. His presence would be a distraction to the school. For all the good that Paterno had done at Penn State, he failed in upholding his moral obligation to protecting children. That cannot be overlooked. This is a moral obligation that well have as humans to protect children.

Paterno’s lack of involvement in protecting children will be a lasting scar on an otherwise historic career.

In his career, Paterno was held in high regard by the Penn State community. He had become, sadly, god-like by students, fans, and alums. They believed he could do no wrong. Sadly, this god-like stature that Penn State held Paterno to prevents some, not all, to hold Paterno accountable for his actions in this scandal.

Paterno’s god-like stature was on display last night. The Penn State student body refused to take a rational look at Paterno’s involvement when they rioted throughout the streets of State College. In an utterly disappointing scene, students overturned vans, vandalized streets, and showed their anger at the termination of “their coach.” The New York Times quoted a student who said that the riot was their way of showing their anger. There are better ways of showing anger than causing damage and causing riots.

Students decided to put football above the lives of children. That is a sad commentary on all of us.

What the Penn State scandal and the riot shows is how idols keep us from putting life in a proper perspective. Idols are like blinders and prevent us from seeing things fully. They are things we worship. Anything can be an idol, but for so many it is sports. They take up our time, our attention, and our energies. When our team loses, we get upset for days. When our team wins, we act as though we are the kings of the world.

When our coach is fired for moral failings, we try to blame others for their failings while not seeing the failings of the person we worship.

Last night, Penn State students responded to their idol of football.The students who rioted showed more anger at a coach being fired than the inexcusable allegations involving an adult sexually assaulting a child. That point cannot be missed.

This firing was not about Paterno’s career or a football program. The firing was about making people accountable for their actions. Paterno had to be held accountable for his inability, as a human, to protect children. We all must be held accountable for our actions. No one is outside of being held accountable for the decisions they make.

This is a learning experience for all of us. Maybe we should all ask ourselves this question: How do we view sports? It is not wrong to like sports, don’t get me wrong. Sports are a great hobby for me. But, do we allow sports to overwhelm our lives to where it clouds our judgment. For that matter, is there anything that is in our lives that can cloud our judgment? These are serious questions for all of us to ask.

It is not easy to remove our idols, but our lives will be more fuller when we can eliminate worship of false gods and focus on worship toward the True God.

My hope is that the students will see the fullness of this scandal. It will take men and women in State College acting as leaders and leading all involved to a higher standard of accountability. The first steps were made last night in firing Paterno and Spainer. It is a difficult road, but it is a road that all must travel.

Penn State Scandal is a Lesson for All of Us

It is hard not to be shocked by the allegations coming out of State College, Pennsylvania.

Former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has been accused of assaulting 15 young boys, including some who came from his charity The Second Mile. Two school officials at Penn State were arrested on perjury charges for failing to properly report the case to state officials. Penn State President Graham Spanier is under the microscope  for his role in the scandal. Finally, Joe Paterno’s career as a football coach could be coming to an end because of his involvement in the case.

These allegations are all disturbing. They will have consequences for all involved. (Not to mention the lives forever impacted by the victims of these alleged abuses.)

Yet, they could have been prevented.

That is what is most disturbing, and frustrating, about this case. All of the alleged abuses could have been prevented had proper boundaries and protocols been put in place. If Penn State officials had boundaries and protocols in place to protect children on campus, it is possible some of these abuses and allegations might have been caught sooner or not happen at all.

So often we think that churches and public schools (K-12) are the only institutions that need boundaries. If there is anything that we can take from the Penn State case is that we all have a responsibility to care for the protection of our children. We each have a moral obligation to provide for the care and safety of children. This is not something for a few, but for all of us. Unfortunately, this is something that officials at Penn State were not concerned about.

What boundaries do is they provide proper limitations for interactions with others, especially children and individuals of the opposite gender. These limitations are for all people. They do not infer that someone beliefs you are capable of doing something wrong. Instead, boundaries are put in place to make sure that everyone is protected and feels safe.

For instance, I have multiple layers of boundaries. I have boundaries when I interact with other females. I have boundaries when I enter into people’s homes. I have boundaries for when I am alone in the church. I have boundaries when I interact with children. I do not feel limited by these boundaries. In fact, they provide comfort and relief. I know that I can have fruitful ministry and interactions and do not feel limited. In fact, I feel better equipped to do what I am called to do as a pastor and leader.

Having proper boundaries is not just something for pastors and teachers, but it is something we must all be concerned about. Each of us should take time to set-up boundaries to provide for the safety of our families and children. As well, all institutions and professions should take time to set up boundaries and protocols for caring and providing safety for their customers. This is something for all of us, and is something that Penn State was not concerned about.

Setting up boundaries and protecting children is a moral obligation that we all have. It is the issue of moral obligation where Spanier and Paterno have failed as leaders. They refused to protect the children. They refused to look into the allegations brought against Sandusky. Their unwillingness to do shows a lack of judgment that is unacceptable.

Paterno should resign as head football coach today during his weekly press conference. He should not return next season. His career as a football coach. This is a sad tragedy that will put a dent on an otherwise brilliant and statesman-like career. Spanier should resign immediately. He cannot be trusted to lead at Penn State. If he is unwilling to resign, he should be fired.

Boundaries are something we should all take into consideration. If you have not, I would suggest looking into materials on how to build proper boundaries. The United Methodist Church has a great program called “Safe Sanctuaries,” which I believe can be applied to the corporate world as well.

Let us make sure that our children are protected and we are doing everything we can to provide for their safety.

Sunday’s Sermon: The Communion of Saints

During my four years of seminary, I had a hard time answering the telephone, especially when my family was on the other end. Whenever they would call, I would wait a second, take a deep breath, and prepare for the conversation.

Now, I’m not preparing to preach a sermon about how we are called to be obedient to our parents, or even how we are to honor our mothers and fathers. Those are relevant topics for another day and another time.

The reason I prepared for the conversation is because I lived in fear of “the call.” It was the phone call I would receive moments after a family member passed away. It was a call I received at least five times during my four years at Asbury. I played a part or led in the funerals of four of those family members.

In 2007, my first year at Asbury, we lost my Aunt Doris. She was instrumental in keeping my name in the good graces of the church that I grew up in, which helped to secure some funding for books through the first couple of years of seminary.

In 2009, we lost my Uncle Jimmy. He was one of several men in my family that I considered as a “father figure” growing up. I always admired him, because he had this deep fascination with the world around him. I think it inspired my fascination with the world and the larger issues that exist in our culture, communities, country, and world.

In 2010, we lost my cousin Amy, who was just a few months younger than me. Her life was young and tragic, but also redemptive. She spent most of her life chasing the thrills of drugs, but in the end, she was working on being clean and knew Christ as her Savior.

In January of this year, we lost another uncle, Bill. He was one of the first in my family to open up to me and see me as a pastor. He was a good man with a great laugh and love for life.

These are memories that I take joy in recalling today. Death is something that is common to us all. We each have lost someone in our lives who was close to us. As well, at some point we will all pass from this life onto the next.

But, today, we have hope. This hope is that we are part of a communion of saints which includes this life, but also extends into the life beyond. We are all part of a great body of believers who are united by something greater than death. That is the love of Jesus Christ and his blood that cleansed and made us right with God.

Today, we honor the saints who have passed away. Those people who have played a role in our lives, and have shaped us to be the people we are today. We honor husbands, wives, brothers,  sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and many others, who all loved us, cared for us, and shared their life with us. Their lives were special and we miss them.

Here these words of comfort, they are still with us. That is because life does not end at death, but begins.

This seems like an odd statement. Death ends life, doesn’t it? At least that is what it seems to us, in the here and now. When we die, it ends our life as we know it. But, death not does have the final say. It is not the end, but only the beginning to a fuller life that we all will experience in heaven.

In heaven, we will stand in the fullness of the communion of saints and be in the presence of the risen Lord as one body, unified together. That’s the picture we see in our New Testament passage for today from Revelation. We see this imagery and symbolism of a great multitude, a great crowd of believers standing together as one body of saints worshiping the Lord. Think about this for a moment. Everyone worshiping together, in one loud voice, with praise and thanksgiving directed toward God because of His great gift of grace and salvation for us all. As the old hymn goes, this is a glorious day.

But let’s unpack this image for a moment.

John tells us there will be people in this great multitude from every nation and every tribe. Every group of people imaginable will be there worshiping the Lord. It’s this imagery that shows us the dual aspect of this idea of the communion of saints. It includes the living and the dead.

Of those who are living, we are all in communion with each other. We share a common unity in our humanity and the fact that we are made in God’s image. For all the things that make us different, for all the things that tear us apart and separate us, there is something that we can find in common with each other. God loves us enough to create us. Even more, God loves us enough, even in our disobedience, to send his Son to bring us back into fellowship with the Father through his death and resurrection.

This word communion reminds us that we are in relationship with God. We are called to have a deep and personal relationship with God, and allow God to abide in the center of our soul. Out of that relationship, we are called to be in communion with the saints who are living. Those who are in fellowship with Christ are called to be in communion with one another and with all people. Galatians 3:28 says that we all one in Christ, and this never more so than when we talk about the communion of saints. The body of Christ knows no boundaries. It knows no ethnic walls. It knows no political division. It reaches across our walls and our distinctions, it breaks through our prejudices and our insecurities, and proclaims Christ died, resurrected, and exalted.

The image we see in Revelation is the fullness of the kingdom. This image is of a beautiful day, when we will all live in peace and accord with one another. A day when there will be no strife, no war between cultures and races, no animosity, but something more beautiful. There will be a day when all of us together, as the body and community of Christ, will worship together and proclaim “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” It may not happen today, but the kingdom, in all its fullness, will come.

There is something else that is striking about this imagery we get in Revelation 7. Our friends, our family members, those saints who are gone on before us, are alive and worshiping the Lord and our worshiping with us today. Former Anglican bishop and scholar N.T. Wright said, “Since both the departed saints and we ourselves are in Christ, we share with them in the communion of saints. They are still our brothers and sisters in Christ.” Through the love of the Holy Spirit, our family members and friends are here with us today. Even more, they are participating in the grand worship that is occurring in heaven. As we sing to the Lord, they are singing directly to the Lord.

Their life did not end, but it began. It began because death does not destroy life. As Thomas Oden writes, when we die we are raised to “a higher sphere of communion in which the praise of God is the focal event.” When we pass away, we who believe in Christ get to experience something quite beautiful, which is life with Christ.

It’s a beautiful life the saints in heaven are living, and we, one day, will surely live. It’s a day where there are no tears. There is no pain. There is no mourning. There is no illness. There is no disease. There is no frustration. There is no anger. There is no violence towards anyone.

What exists in heaven is a life lived for God in worship. Beautiful worship in the presence of the Lord. Peace and harmony because we live in the presence of the king.

Our faith in the cross and in Jesus Christ ensures that we will experience New Jerusalem one day, just as our saints who have passed away are currently enjoying it. We will see the promised land. This is our hope that we can hold onto in these times of mourning, of pain, and hurt.

It’s not easy to remember our saints. Even though we have the confidence of knowing that they are not forgotten and that they are worshiping the Lord today, we want to be with them. We want to share life with them.

So let’s hold onto that hope that one day we will share life with them. Let’s hold onto the hope that the kingdom will come, and the communion of saints will live in its fullness.

But, let us never forget the lives of the saints and how they have touched us. Today, as we celebrate communion, I invite you to find time at the altar to remember the lives of the saints who have touched you. Remember and give thanks to the Lord for their life, and rejoice in the promise that we will worship the Lord in the presence of all the saints one day.