On Sunday, December 30, 2018, I had the privilege of speaking at all three worship services at Trinity United Methodist Church located at 903 Forest Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. The coupon graphic was created by communications specialist, Kim Johnson.
This Coupon Has No Exclusions by Bill Pike
Before we start, please join me in prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for bringing us here this morning. Over the course of the next few minutes, slow us down, focus us, and open our hearts. In your name we pray, Amen.
Most pastors with an ounce of common sense know that for the Sunday between Christmas and the New Year, it is a good idea to book a naive, unsuspecting speaker.
Thus, my appearance this morning, so, let’s get started.
Well, it is over.
The hustle and bustle are gone.
I can relax now.
Pretty soon the remnants of Christmas will be shoved back into our attic. Forgotten until next December arrives.
I can stop being Mr. Scrooge, the Grinch, and the despiser of all things glitter.
Now wait a second, I know what you are thinking.
Come on, go ahead admit it, grab your gumption, and tell me your thoughts:
“ Bill, how can this be? You are the snarky Scrooge, the grumpy Grinch, and Mr. Anti-Glitter all of the time, not just at Christmas.”
Well, I appreciate the courage of your constructive criticism.
Your assessment is true.
In fact, if it wasn’t for my wife, the Commander Supreme, there would be no Christmas at our house.
The decorating, the Christmas cards, the gift buying, present wrapping, the baking, the meal planning, holiday personality management, and all logistics for the family are thankfully under her eagle eyes.
When I finally decide to shop for Christmas, I’m always last minute.
I head out into the chaos, but I am not fearful. I have a secret weapon, coupons.
Snuggly tucked into my worn wallet, I’m loaded with an assortment of coupons.
Coupons that I have neatly cut out from the newspaper. Coupons that are going to get me the best deal ever.
Inside the store, I find the gift on my list.
I walk to the check out line. My turn arrives.
I hand the weary cashier my purchase and the appropriate coupon.
The cashier scans the price tag, scans the coupon, and then politely tells me, “Sir, I’m sorry, this coupon doesn’t apply. The manufacturer excludes the item you are purchasing.”
Now, inside, I’m raging. I’m close to a nuclear meltdown.
Sherwin Williams could add a new hue to their paint chart:
Christmas Coupon Failure Red
I should have known better. Read the fine print.
With the spirit of Scrooge, the Grinch, and Mr. Anti-Glitter, I make the purchase.
So much for a good deal.
But speaking of good deals, I have one for you.
Relax, there are no exclusions, no fine print. Check out the front of this morning’s bulletin:
Colossians is the twelfth book of the New Testament. It was written by the apostle Paul while he was in prison.
The letter is written to the people of Co – los – sae, a town smaller than a postage stamp, but where Paul had sent E-pa-phras to preach there in a new church.
Gradually, word trickles back to Paul that all is not well with the new church start.
A group of “false teachers” who claim to have expertise of divine matters are leading this young congregation astray. Paul sends this letter as a course correction for them.
Bible scholars break the book of Colossians into two parts: “the doctrinal section and the practical exhortations.” (May, Metzger, New Oxford Annotated Bible RSV 1973)
It is the practical application of these six verses that we need to ponder.
These are words of encouragement from Paul, but some might suggest that Paul is giving the Colossians a not so gentle warning too.
I had no idea that Paul had expertise in fashion, but he clearly suggests that we need to clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
And a little further along, Paul makes another clothing recommendation by stating: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love.
Where are those words in my daily living?
Where can I find them in me?
How can I apply them to those I encounter?
Why should Paul need to send me a letter reminding me that as a Christian those words should be an expected part of my daily living?
Why is it challenge for me to be compassionate and kind, while being grounded in humility and meekness?
Where is my patience?
Where is my love for people who are not like me, for people who I don’t understand, for people who have no reason at all to have hope?
Perhaps, in my daily living, I’m no better than that coupon full of exclusions.
If you, me, we, us are truly Christians how can compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love be buried in our fine print with an asterisk that reads:
*Oh, by the way if you are homeless, a substance abuser, a person with special needs, someone who is emotionally unstable, a refugee, someone who is traumatized, unemployed, temporarily lost, etc.—These exclusions apply: I have no compassion, no kindness, no humility, no meekness, no patience, and no love for you.
In the eight year run of the Andy Griffith Show, the producers only did one Christmas show. It was the eleventh episode in the series, and the show aired on December 19, 1960, the first year the award winning show was on television.
Bill, that was 58 years ago, how could a Hollywood script from that long ago have any relevance today?
Well, at one point early in this show, Sheriff Taylor with great determination states: “No by dogged, there’s more than one way to pluck a buzzard.”
In this case, Sheriff Taylor was referring to Ben Weaver a local merchant who is being a buzzard behaving like a very mean spirited Scrooge on Christmas Eve.
But as is often the case in Mayberry, Ben Weaver is transformed by the townspeople who gradually wear him down with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love.
Sometimes, I’m like Ben Weaver.
I’m a buzzard. I need to be plucked.
I need to hear and embrace Paul’s words of encouragement.
Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love should always be a regular focus for me. Paul’s words should not be in my rear view mirror, nor should they be on the outskirts of my field of vision.
While it is important not to lose sight of those reminders, I know and you know the expectation from Paul and his boss— as teammates we must make those words action words, not excluded or restricted words.
Back in August, I received an out of the blue nudge from God. He blindsided me, but it was a gentle blindside.
Has God ever done that to you?
For some reason, I think God enjoys blindsiding me. I have lots of examples to prove this to you. That snowstorm on December 9 would be a case in point.
But this August nudge was to apply to fill out a term on the Henrico County School Board for the Tuckahoe District.
I did not expect to be selected.
Deep inside, I thought to myself, ok God, I think I understand your nudge—it is quite clear that you are attempting to kill me with this appointment.
Deep inside, my friends were thinking the same thing. While they were quick to congratulate me, they were also silently giving me their condolences.
So far, the learning curve for me on the School Board has been steep. Somedays my pulse is barely detectable, but I’m hanging on.
One night I was driving back from a school board meeting. I was on 64 west coming up on the 95 merge. The words on this billboard caught my eye.
It was an advertisement from the United States Marine Corps, the words were very simple:
“Battles are won within.”
Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love are battles fought within ourselves.
Paul knew that.
God knows that.
I wrestle every day with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love.
Remember, I’m a buzzard. I need to be plucked.
“Battles are won within.”
There are other strong words found in these verses from Colossians. We can’t gloss over: forgive, harmony, peace, hearts, teach, wisdom, and thanks.
At age 65, I still have much to learn, and there are clearly times when I need to revisit lessons that I have been taught from an early age. There was so much wisdom around me in my younger days, I wish my heart had been a better sponge absorbing that advice.
I wonder about my heart a lot.
While I exercise to keep my physical heart in shape,
I wonder about my emotional heart.
Does my emotional heart have the capacity to forgive?
Are harmony and peace in my heart somewhere?
Is my heart truly thankful for my blessings?
Can my heart love people who are not like me?
Paul’s message to the Colossians was designed to make them think. He did not want them to miss opportunities to transform themselves, or the people they encountered on a daily basis.
Perhaps you noticed during Advent that we asked children to be scripture readers during our Sunday services.
Having children as readers broke a predictable part of our Sunday morning worship. Their voices made us listen more intently to the scripture readings.
Why was this?
Perhaps, children are more capable of leading us to embrace Paul’s advice to the Colossians.
Maybe, children know more than we suspect about winning battles from within.
American singer, songwriter, Brian Wilson has fought a lot of battles from within. Wilson’s emotional stability, the expectations of his Beach Boys’ family, and challenges with substance abuse are well documented.
I might guess that many of you have not heard a Beach Boys’ song titled “Surf’s Up.” That song is a clear departure from the California lifestyle captured in the Beach Boys’ early recordings.
Just as Paul, references “perfect harmony, with gratitude in our hearts through our songs and praise,” to the Colossians, the closing tag of the song “Surf’s Up” is a swirl of harmony as well with one key line of lyric:
“I heard the word, a wonderful thing, a children’s song, have you listened as they played, their song is love, and the children know the way.” (Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks)
One more time—“Their song is love, and the children know the way.”
Friday afternoon, I was on Amtrak train #95. We were stopped in Ashland. After passengers had loaded and departed at this stop, the train started to slowly pull out of the town dubbed the “center of the universe.”
I noted Christmas lights decorating the station building, and one strand of lights on a section of fencing caught my eye. The lights framed the word— Love.
Folks as we prepare to depart 2018 and board 2019, don’t be like me and toss Christmas back into your attic.
Don’t be like me, a buzzard looking to pluck the best deals in life by putting my hope in coupons that exclude and restrict.
No, if you really want to win that battle within yourself, then choose Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Chapter 3, verses 12-17.
That is best coupon for your wallet or purse.
There are no exclusions, no expiration, and it is available for all.
None of us will have immunity from battles in 2019.
But, we can be better prepared if we ground ourselves with Paul’s wisdom, and that one key word—love.
That love was found in a manger, a long, long, long time ago.
That child has tried to teach us about love.
When it comes to love, I think my heart has been letting him down.
How about yours?
Don’t shove the love and hope of Christmas back into storage until next December.
Shove that love and hope into your heart, and use it everyday in 2019.
After all, Jesus is counting on us.