Wednesday, February 25, 2009


     The story from the Old Testament this week is one of mystery, one of surprise, one of amazing teaching, and one of great comfort. The story itself takes place outside time and space from the perspective of a faithful Israelite. Those who have read Kings and Chronicles note that the events in their history take place during the reign of particular kings. Yet our story this weekend takes place after Ahaziah has passed (1:18) but before Jehoram has ascended the throne (3:1). Sure, as students of history, we can figure the years, but given the context of how most stories in this book are related, we should notice that something is different.

     Another big difference is the location of the events. Most of the stories in Kings and Chronicles take place in the land of Israel, the Land promised to Abraham, Sarah, Jacob and the rest of the matriarchs and patriarchs of Israel. Yet, this story does not. We see a good bit of wandering as Elisha follows his master around, but the main even occurs outside the Land. The main event occurs after Elijah stops the waters of the Jordan and crosses back over outside the Land. Elijah and Elisha cross back over to where the people swore their covenant with God in Deuteronomy, to where God acts in mighty displays, and to that place thought of as the wilderness.

     So, why the emphasis on time and location? In one sense, one of the messages conveyed in this passage address a concern of the people of God no matter their location and no matter their time: change. Change is one of those events which matters to people no matter where and no matter when. We as American Episcopalians can probably understand this better than most. As Episcopalians, we are taught and trained that change is to be feared. Don't change the music. Don't let people serve on the Vestry without at least a decade of membership so they can learn how things ought to work. Heaven help us if the clergy leaves; he/she is the best thing to have ever happened to this parish. Don't change the order of worship. Don't upset my life. As Americans, we have a sense that we are entitled to that lack of change. I could choose to go to a changing church, but I choose to go here, to this church that does not change.

     God, of course, understands far better than we that change is always happening in our lives. I have joked above about us American Episcopalians hating change, but look at our lives. We have a new President for the first time in eight years. Eight years is quite a span. Heck, Karen and I have had three kids in that time frame. How will the President react to certain events? How will he govern? What campaign promises will he try to keep? Which ones will he jettison immediately? Questions like that run through our minds over this change, and we have not even touched upon the significant change that his election, as a minority member, heralds and confirms about race relations in our nation. And, although most of us are Iowans, nearly all of us have watched the change foisted upon our brothers and sisters across the river with the actions of their now deposed governor and his appointed Senator. Oh, lest I forget, there is that economic recession thing that is causing some changes in peoples' lives . . .

     At least our beloved church is immune to change, right? At least we as American Episcopalians can find that one place of surety, that one place that has no change in our chosen location and denomination of worship, right?  In the last two months a couple more dioceses have voted to disaffiliate from our General Convention, one of which is just across the river. We have been so affected by the economic malaise that the Executive Committee has crossed the MDG's line item off the triennial budget. We made such a huge statement about that being our focus and publicly called upon secular governments to follow our example. Now, with no fanfare, no apology, no accounting, no pulpit thumping, we have given them up for a season.
Well, at least our parish is immune to change, right? I mean, we are comfortable with what we have right here. Except for the fact that we will elect new members to the Vestry this week, some of whom may not have the required time put in "learning about how we do things at St. Alban's." Except for the fact that we will have to make some hard choices on the budget if non-pledgers and non-participants decide not to include themselves in the mission of St. Alban's. Except for the fact that we have to deal with personal traumas such as death, job loss, unexpected relationship problems, illnesses, addictions, and a list of other possibilities.

     Yes, change is a part of life. Yet, for the Christian, change is not something to be feared. Change, as scary and haphazard as it may seem to us, is still subject to God's sovereignty. And change is always furthering God's plan of salvation history. No matter how bad the change might seem to us, He is constantly at work in our lives. Job losses, relationship failures, illnesses, addictions and all those personal changes can be redeemed by the very God who redeemed us on the cross and conquered death that we might live for ever! The Church picked up on this understanding early, though perhaps we must needs be reminded from time to time. Bishops sat at the feet of bishops who sat at the feet of bishops who sat at the feet of one of the disciples who sat at the feet of Jesus. We read God's story, His story, to remind ourselves of His mighty acts, His amazing grace, and His unfathomable mercy. Even when things seem utterly hopeless and loss, such as at Christ's death or Israel's exile, He acts to redeem and to save His people.

     Part of our mission, part of our obligation, is to remind the world that the vagaries are not in control. The Creator who loves us each as a perfect Father ought has worked and is still working to bring all His children home. We are no more trapped by change than we are trapped by our circumstances. He is always able to overcome and to transcend anything in our lives. In a world fretting over change, is there a better message to relate?  Is there a better story to tell?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Who are the lepers in your life?

     At the risk of offending Charlie this week, I am somewhat glad he interrupted my sermon during the second service. A lesser man might think I was throwing darts at him, but Charlie would know better. Charlie always tries to be at whatever ministry St. Alban’s has undertaken. Whether it is AFM, Community Meal, entertaining us at the Renewal of Vows, working on the grounds, or any number of other ministry opportunities, Charlie is there. Charlie is always diving in to help others. His interruption, however, helped to make one of the points of this week’s Gospel. Of what am I talking? I was describing the illness called leprosy. I was describing the putrid smell, the physical deformities, and the utter sense of isolation and abandonment that often accompanies the disease. The numbness, the stink, the fear seen in the eyes of others can often lead to mental illness and, unfortunately, even suicide.

     In the Ancient Near East, the stigma of the disease was far worse than anything you or I could imagine. Most priests in the ANE were the possessors of the "secret" cures for the disease. People would come to them, pay them, and hope that the cure would work. It was a great racket, to be sure, much like some of our infamous faith healers today. If the cure for a skin disease worked, fame spread and money flowed into temple coffers. If it failed, well the one being healed had done something really bad to offend the gods.

     In Israel, the disease was considered God’s disease. The first mention of it occurs when Miriam, Moses’ sister, decides that Moses is just too uppity. She leads the people in rebellion against Moses. Unfortunately for her, her brother really was God’s anointed prophet, and so she actually led the people of Israel in revolt against God. Her punishment was leprosy. Unlike their fellow priests in the ANE, Israel’s priests could not cure leprosy.  The had no magic, no arcane rituals to give hope to the afflicted.  They could only identify the disease. Two entire chapters of Leviticus (13-14) are devoted to identifying the disease. If a priest of Israel determined that someone sufered from leprosy, the person was cast out of the assembly (Lev. 13, Num. 5). The disease made the infected religiously impure. And such a person could give their religious impurity to others.  So, for the good of the community, the individual was expelled from the assembly.  Possibly because of the view that the disease came from God and because of the fact that one afflicted with the disease was religiously impure, it is the only disease whose healing must be witnessed by others. Until the priests, who had cast the afflicted out, pronounced the leper clean, the leper could not rejoin society.

     Do we really understand the plight of the leper in ancient Israel, as Charlie groaned on Sunday? I doubt it. We have no disease that cuts people off from community, that abandons people in the way that leprosy did in the ANE. To be sure, the Black Plague likely had the same effect at first, probably AIDS, maybe even some others. But there are very few conditions which cause us to treat people as lepers were treated. Except maybe in our own hearts.
Think of the servant ministry that you hate the most. Maybe it is the Community Meal in July and August when those homeless men and women have not showered in the wonderful heat and humidity--their smell makes you long for “wet dog.” Perhaps it is the AFM person who comes in and does not know the meaning of the word “toothbrush” or “mouthwash”-- their breath is enough to make you want to live downwind of a paper mill or oatmeal factory. Maybe it is the AIDS victim in a hospital or hospice--whom you believe is rightly afflicted by God for past transgressions. Maybe it is the alcoholic or heroin addict -- whose very wasting away terrifies you. Maybe it is the chain smoker -- whom you know might cough up a lung on you at any moment. Each of has the terrible phobias and judgments which prevent us from being that light, that healer, that messenger of God which we are called to be. And, far too often, our judgments are merely behavior rationalizations. The smell might rub off and I am going out to dinner or meeting friends. The addict might try and steal from me to support their behavior. What if I catch the disease? We are amazing in our ability to try and withhold God’s grace.

     Jesus’ behavior teaches us an important lesson. He never condemns the leper or any other diseased person for that matter. Jesus knows that humanity is sorely afflicted. He, better than anyone else who has walked the face of the earth, knows the consequence and the cost of sin. Better than anyone else, He knows the healing power of God. He cures the sick, He strengthens the enfeebled, He casts out unclean spirits, He restores the outcasts, and He returns them all to community, to relationships, and to His service of others! He understands that people are not pollutants.

     Brothers and sisters, you and I are called to carry that Good News and that healing to the ends of the earth. The very people that we wish the least to share His message with are the very people in our lives who may need to hear it the most! They, of all people, understand the consequences of the afflictions. They, better than most, understand just how broken they are. They, better than nearly all of us, truly understad the need for a Savior. Do we get the picture, as Charlie said? I suppose our responses to others in the coming days, weeks, and months will be a testimony to us. Pray to God for the grace to go, not where you will, but where He will, not to whom you will, but to whom He wills. Pray to be that person whose presence, whose touch, whose words of the healing and hope found in Christ Jesus, restores another to His presence and ushers in the Kingdom in the life of the lost.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why creation matters . . .

     During the course of the Thursday morning Bible Study this past week, we took a close look at all the readings. We spent, relative to some of the other readings, however, a great deal of time on the Isaiah 40 passage. It struck more than a few of us as strange that God would address the concerns of an exiled people by returning to the story of creation. If these people truly felt abandoned by God, or that Marduk had conquered Yahweh in the heavens, why would God call upon His prophet to speak of His creation? Where is the pastoral concern in that? What need is He meeting?

     But think about the situation for just a second. Ancient Israel was not unlike us. We often believe that we are trapped, that we are captives of our own prisons. Therapists have made fortunes telling people that they are the way they are because of parent's mistakes or their own mistakes. Society is not allowed to seek justice with respect to criminals because those very criminals who engage in all kinds of activities do so because they were not loved enough or had too tough a childhood to overcome. We believe that we are doomed to be islands because we are unable to commit to relationships because of various hurts and wrongs we have experienced. In short, we have come to believe, like ancient Israel, that God cannot transform us. We have come to believe that God cannot redeem our life's circumstances. We have fallen into that worldly trap that claims you and I should be allowed to do whatever we want, but recognizing that we cannot ever really be changed. We are, and will always continue to be, victims of our own circumstances.

     So why is the story of the creation so important and appropriate to both ancient Israel and ourselves? Because it gives them and us that which we lack most: hope. Think about the world's argument that the cosmos all there is, ever was and ever will be. How can anyone have hope in such a stark worldview? Sounds harsh? Think of science's claims. If science is right about the the forces at work in our cosmos, we have some terrible choices. Does matter precede spirit? If it does, if the Big Bang of science is the truth, you and I are accidental at worst and insignificant at best. If the molecules that make our bodies precede our spirits, "we just got lucky" that we were paired with bodies at all. Did all of this truly happen by chance? If the world formed at the exact distance, and the sun formed at the exact temperature, and the atmosphere formed with this exact composition and the land masses and the water and so on and so on as a matter of random subatomic and larger collisions, then what meaning and purpose can you and I truly have? Put another way, if unstoppable forces caused you to come into being, what chance have you to make any difference in the world? What if the reality that you and I experience is the result of eternal conflict or opposition? What if matter and antimatter, gravity and antigravity, yin and yang, light and darkness are engaged in these ceaseless battle? How can we ever see peace? How can we ever be reconciled to one another, let alone this impersonal battle? Finally, if all these forces are everything that ever was, is, and will be, and if they march along in their efforts and cannot be resisted, what hope is there of transformation? What hope is there for salvation? We are simply caught in a web, caught on a wave, and expected to use it for whatever we can get out of it.

     The creation story and claim of the Bible may not seem important at first glance. Who cares whether God created? What difference does it make if He set these processes in place and stepped back? But for ancient Israel, and for us, it makes all the difference of eternity. Science is useful in that it helps us to understand better the ordering of God's mind. After all, He put the order into chaos. But without the Biblical understanding, without the Biblical claim that God created the heavens and the earth, all that is seen and unseen, you and I can, in the end, have no hope. Isaiah goes to the creation story in his care of exiled Israel because the creation story should give them hope. God ordered all things; God made all things. And God did so with a purpose in mind! We may not know it? His purpose may not work as quickly as we like? But He gives all of this meaning. Better still, He gives you and me a choice!

     Do we suffer the consequences of mistakes that are not of our own doing? We all know that we do. We also all know that we suffer consequences of our own doing, as well. The Gospel news, though, is that those consequences are not fatal traps for each one of us. If God has spoken truly through the ages, if God is working out His plan of salvation, if God has intimately united Himself to us as a perfect Father to His children, you and I have tremendous freedom!  We are free not to remain prisoners. We are free to claim God's love. We are free to accept His gift and pick up our crosses for His glory, knowing that He acts and redeems history at all times. We are free to pray for God's grace and so be transformed that we transcend our pasts! We are free to hope.

     And we are called to carry that message of hope to the rest of the world. We are called to go and claim that the God who created all things loves each individual whom we encounter in our daily life and work. We are called to proclaim the Gospel message that the one who created all things can recreate all things, even our hearts. We are called to proclaim hope to a world so desperately in need.

     "Have you not known? Have you not heard?" The same God who created, the same God who delivered, the same God who has called you can redeem you and and transform your life. Is there any better message? Is there any other person or thing more deserving of our worship, our praise, and our thanksgiving?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Church growth . . . not

     Why are we not growing? We feed people? We clothe people? We throw parties and invite people? So where is the growth? If I have been asked these questions once in the past couple of months, I have been asked a hundred times. To be sure, some are scared to death that we might actually grow, but, by and large, most people want to know why people are not flocking to our church. We have been featured on national radio, we have been written up in local newspapers, and many of us feel that we have begun to incarnate for the people of Davenport what a holy, Christ-filled life is truly like. So why are people not fighting over the pews for a place to sit?

     One of my favorite characteristics of Angel Food Ministries is that it gives me an opportunity to find out what people think of us. So often, Vestries and clergies are convinced about what people think of them, but they are seldom ever able to confirm those suspicions empirically. So, churches go about their business in a vacuum, never reaching nor hearing from the people for whom they are called to serve. To be sure, few know what I am doing as I engage them in conversation on the way to their car. But I love to be able (in non-priestly attire!) to hear what visitors are saying about us. I particularly love to hear what visitors to our worship have to say about us. A pattern, though, has certainly emerged. While it is true that a number of families cannot begin to thank us enough for the food that we provide, and while it is true that our visitors find us friendly enough, we seem to want to grow our church on our own terms rather than God's.

     It sounds like a harsh judgment, but think of your own attitudes toward growth. Admittedly, we all fear growth to some extent. Growth necessitates change. What might you have to give up were St. Alban's to begin bursting at the seams? To be sure, we are proud of our Episcopal/Anglican heritage, so most of us would be unwilling to give up the BCP services each and every week (nor do I think we should), but what do you fear the most about losing in the face of growth? Loss of power? Often when new families begin to join, the more "established families" do their best to maintain, if not wrest, control over particular ministries. Loss of intimacy? There is a real sense of family at St. Alban's, and it is no small wonder that people worry whether growth in numbers will lead to a loss of intimacy in our relationships. Loss of music? What if new people come and want us to change our music? Time with the priest? Let's face it, the more people there are the less time the priest will have. Loss of identity? Like Norm at Cheers, we all want to go to places where everybody knows our name. Were we to grow, would you or I become a bit more diminished in our own eyes? What do we fear that we will lose were St. Alban's to grow?

     When I first arrived at St. Alban's, I had to do a great deal of listening. Everyone was willing to volunteer to me what St. Alban's purpose was, what St. Alban's message should be. But the listening at the church also got me in the habit of listening to those away from the church. As I visited people at home or in the hospitals, I began to hear a story of how we had acted in our past to exclude people who did not measure up to our understandings of what it means to be a Christian. Over the years, we have driven entire families away by our behavior. I have sat at the bedside of the terminally ill to hear the pains that had been inflicted by us. Some were, no doubt, unintentional. Others were quite intentional. We have had adults bite children (hey, if we cannot get the parents to leave of their own accord, maybe we can make their kids unhappy.) We have had people shouted down in ministries with the ever-loving "we don't do that sort of ministry here" or "go do that at another church." And worst of all, we have gone to people to explain to them how they wee supposed to behave now that they were part of us, as if we were some completed work in Christ that needed to be emulated. Many times, I have found myself apologizing for the behaviors of some at the church. Truthfully, I do not know if those for whom I have a apologized are still members, but I see the stumbling block that our actions have become for some who used to be in our midst, and I know that our Father in heaven is grieved. And we have driven away many of those whom He called us to serve.

     Yes, many of us have had some major screw-ups in church. Yes, many of us have driven others away when we are explicitly called to draw others to His saving embrace of the cross. For that we must repent and ask God for the grace to do His will. But our letter Paul to the church at Corinth also should speak to us about how churches ought to be growing. Churches ought to be whatever the unchurched need them to be. In our passage from this weekend, Paul reminds his readers and us that he gave up everything to try and win some to the Gospel. To the Jews, he played up His Jewish roots. For the Gentiles, he gave up his Jewish heritage. For the weak, he discussed openly his own weaknesses; for the strong, he displayed great strength. Paul did his best, for the sake of the Gospel, to become all things for all people so that he might save some. Paul gave up his own identity to serve Christ and to save some. The greatest evangelist the Church has ever known hoped to save some for the sake of the Gospel. He did not expect to save all, and he certainly knew that he would lose many. But Paul tried hard to meet them where they were, to minister to them in their needs. And so he reminded the church at Corinth and the church at Davenport two important characteristics of church growth.

     First, we must become what the unchurched need us to become to hear His song of salvation in our midst? We should always be evaluating our ministries in light of that understanding. Is this a need that God has called us to meet? Is this a ministry He has placed upon our hearts? Is this a ministry He has placed upon my heart? How can this ministry be used for the glory of God? If we seek His honor and His glory, those issues of power, those issues of ownership fall by the wayside in our lives. We begin to realize that we do this all for Him and not for ourselves.

     Second, no matter how hard we try, no matter how gifted we are, no matter our resources, no matter of willingness to lay down our lives for those around us, we will only ever attract some. Even acting at its faithful best, St. Alban's will never convince all to join the church. Some will reject the Gospel. Some will refuse God's offer of salvation to follow their own idols. And while such rejections are to be lamented and mourned, they should be expected. If Paul could not win them all for God, what chance do you or I possess?

     As a final outgrowth of this understanding, and perhaps most importantly, maybe you have seen your actions in the accounts above. Perhaps you have reflected that you helped to drive others away, that you belittled the ministries of others. What can you do? Repent. Ask the injured person and God for forgiveness. He is so quick to forgive us our sins, why would you not take it to Him in prayer? And, in a world which sees far too much hypocrasy and self-interest on the part of everyone else, imagine the power of the apology and repentance. Who knows? With a hand out and a heartfelt apology, your repentance for past behavior may be that bit of light which leads others back to Him.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Annette's Stewardship Sermon

The following is a recreation of the sermon one of our Vestry members, Annette Zemek, gave to the congregation over the weekend.  While she was cajoled into the task by Jane's remembrance of chocolate, we were all blessed by her story, and so I choose to share it below.

     You know, I laugh sometimes at the way the Vestry does Stewardship. We began this conversation in October. “Who’s gonna give the talk” “Not me” “How about you” goes on for a while. Finally, Jane chimes in “I don’t know what she said, but when Annette did this a couple years ago, she brought chocolate. and chocolate is always good.” At that point, everyone offers their support. “Yeah, Annette can do.” “Annette can bring chocolate.” But then begins the real discussion. Everyone who avoiding speaking about stewardship for two months now decides to tell me what to say. I was polite. I listened to everyone. But I kept my own counsel. And, as you can see, I brought chocolate. Maybe what i say today won’t stand out, but maybe you will at least remember the chocolate.

     Church is the place where the tangible meets the intangible. You and I are called to to give of our talents, our time, and our resources to make it possible for all of this to exist. Our time, our talents, our money goes to the existence of the building, to its heat, to this altar, to this priest so that we can share the love, the mercy, the intangibles of God with people who may not even know they need those things. Our stewardship of these tangible things makes it possible for them to experience, to encounter those ineffable qualities of God. Here, in this particular place, because of our faithful stewardship, the tangible meets the intangible.

     Truthfully, that is all I had for this speech. But I knew I could not end it there. But there is no more to what I need to stay. We provide a place for the intangible to be experienced. So, I thought of a story. We’ll see if I can tie them together. As many of you know, I was the fourth child of six born to a Presbyterian minister. I was marked and sealed as one of Christ’s own forever very early in life. My mom would tell you that I was the quietest of the six. But I was also the plotter. I began taking classes in French. By the time I graduated high school, I had passed college French proficiency tests. I took a job as a sixteen-year-old and began the biggest plot in my life to that point. I worked hard (good Presbyterian girl, after all), and I saved my money. I worked for two years. And then, I bought a plane ticket to France. I bought a railpass. I got a passport. I even got a ride to the airport. I was going to France for a month! Then, I told my parents. On the way to the airport, mom fussed at me. I hope God will take care of you because I sure cannot. It was at best a backhanded prayer. But I am sure when she got home, she prayed like crazy.

     So, Carla and I were off for a month in France. We each had our tickets, our backpacks, and $500. if you are doing the math, that works out to about $16 each day. We had to eat, sleep, and shop on $16 each day. What a time we had! We were high school seniors. We were in France. I was translating for Carla. We were on top of the world!

     Naturally, we saved Paris, the City of Lights, for last. Paris was to be the grand finale of a wonderful trip. Of course, we did not budget quite the way we needed to. By the time we got to Paris, we were low on funds. So, when our train arrived, we began looking for a cheap hotel. We searched the local papers and found the Victor Hugo hotel in the Pigalle dristrict. Hey, it sounded great. He was famous. So we headed out, flagged a cab, and we told the driver our destination. The driver suggested that we should take the metro. It should have given us a hint that this was not the best hotel in Paris when the cabdriver suggested that we should take the metro rather than ask him to drive us. But we were high school seniors. We had been on the trip of a lifetime. We knew what we wanted and were not about to let anyone stand in the way! “Take us to the hotel,” we imperiously demanded.

     Well, this hotel was in a filthy part of Paris. There were no lights, no glitz, no cafes. Just lots of scantily-clad girls who were waiting for the buses on the streetcorners. The driver dropped us off at the Victor Hugo hotel, and in we went. We walked into the hotel to meet the man whom I am sure was the basis for Yoda. He was a wrinkled, sour-faced Vietnamese man. I told him we needed a room. He furiously ordered us to leave. I told him we needed the room as we had spent all of our money. We needed a room to be able to see Paris before our plane left in two days. Keep in mind I am having to translate all this as the man was fursiously objecting. Well, he finally relented. He told us our room number and instructed me that breakfast was at 9:00am sharp. Carla and I thanked him and went up to a room that was below standard, but was nevertheless a room.

     The next morning, at 9:00am sharp, we made it downstairs as instructed. The man who reminds me of Yoda was there. I swear, I wondered if he ever slept. Anyway, he asked us what we were going to do. I told him we were in Paris. We were going to see the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, all the major sites. The man snapped his fingers, and two gorgeous men stood up. I should say, two gorgeous, Italian men stood up in answer to his summons. Our little teenage hearts went pitter patter.  The man said, “These are Rocko and Marco -- they will be your guides.” “Ok.” We gushed. Remember, these Italian men were hunks, and we were teenage girls. “You listen to them.” We nodded. “You have any problems, you call the hotel and ask for grandfather.” And out the door we went.

     We went to the Louvre, ad Rocko and Marco sat out in the park for three hours. We went to the top of the Eiffel tower, and returned to find these beautiful Italians smoking a cigarette. Everywhere we went, they watched over us. Before long, it was after midnight. We found ourselves on the arms of these wonderful men on the Champs-Elysees. The lights were lit. It was a fairytale. And into this fairytale came the sounds of breaking glass. A barfight was spilling out into the street. And nearly 100 individuals swept us up into their fracas. And people were striking each other, people were cutting each other with broken glass. Fists were flying, legs were kicking. And I noticed a man at my feet. His head was bashed open, and his brains were falling out into the street. I had blood on my skirt! And into this chaos strode our chaperones. I have no idea where they got the brass knuckles. But they were laying about themselves wading towards us. Wham! Boom! Fists flying. And they get to us, and they say we have to flee. But I hear sirens. These are not nice guys coming, these are riot police. They have shields, and tear gas, and clubs. Run! And so we ran.

     Rocko and Marco guided us through alleys and through back streets. We passed places in a blur. But we got back to the Victor Hugo . . . to see another body. There in the front of the hotel was another body. It was too much! As I started to scream, a hand clamped over my mouth. Get into the hotel. But there is a body. Get into the hotel! So we go in. And there is the Yoda who calls himself Grandfather--the man who never slept. What did you see? There’s a body out front of the hotel, and it is only my second body this evening! Well, this is Paris and a man should not sleep with another man’s wife. Get upstairs to bed. Breakfast at 9am sharp.

     The next morning, our last morning in France, we woke up. I threw my skirt away because it was splattered with blood. We went downstairs. We ate breakfast. Grandfather told us there was a car out front to take us to Calais. We told him it was our last day in Paris. Girls, you have seen enough of Paris. You are going to Calais. But our plane does not leave for 11 hours. You foolish girls. Do you not know where you are. This place is a brothel. Marco and Rocko are professional car thieves. I run the largest stolen car ring in all Paris. I have been offered 50,000 Francs for you, and for some reason I do not understand, I feel compelled to help you. You are going to Calais and then home to your parents!

     How do they tie in, my story and my message? I am sure that when mom prayed for my protection on the trip, she hoped an army of nuns would watch over me or I would find my way to a church. I doubt, when she prayed to God to watch over me, she had in mind Marco and Rocko and Grandfather who disguised his car-thieving enterprise by running a brothel. Yet, what causes a crime boss to turn down 50,000 Francs, two professional car thieves to watch over two teenage American girls, and the residents of a brothel to accept two girls like that into their midst? The tangible things are needed so that the intangibles of God may be seen easier by people who do not know He exists let alone loves them. My mom prayed hard, and who better could God have sent than the very characters who made the streets of Paris dangerous to begin with! The tangible meets the intangible many times a day. It is our job to make it possible that the rest of the world can see the intangible, feel the intangible, and hear the intangible Word and love of God.

     I am going to sit down and Kaily is going to play. I want you to think and pray about those tangible things that you can offer to make it possible for the intangible love of God to be seen right here. And, after you have filled out your pledge card, I want you to come place it on the altar in the offering plate. And, as you place the card in the plate, I want you to grab a piece of chocolate out of those baskets on the rails. But do not eat it right now. Save it. Take it with you to work tomorrow. Take it to a Super Bowl party this afternoon. Take it to school with you. Take it anywhere. But notice that all of these are in pieces. I want you to share the sweet chocolates contained in those packages. I want you to share with someone in your life the sweet flavor and the comfort that comes from chocolate. And when they ask why you are sharing. Tell them of that sweet offer of God’s grace in which you and I are priviledged to share. Tell them of how God has become tangible in your life. That’s our job. That’s what all of this is for.